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Friday, 18 July 2014

Birds Don't Sing


August is shaping up to be an exciting month! As I am every year, I'm stoked for the Melbourne International Film Festival to roll into town and have already booked a fair share of films to see! No surprises that I'll be seeing mostly Asian features as I have a feeling some, if not most, won't get a distribution deal of some kind here in Australia. Which films am I gonna try and catch, you ask?:

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
The One I Love
A Girl At My Door
Han Gong-ju
Happy Christmas
The Grandmaster
Still The Water
Rigor Mortis
Black Coal, Thin Ice
A Hard Day


Oh hai Mark! In other news, I attended a Q&A/meet and greet session with The Room's Greg Sestero who penned the amazing book, The Disaster Artist. You may recall that I received this book as a birthday present months ago. Pretty fun times with Mr Sestero, even though he seemed a little dejected by the whole craziness of Tommy Wiseau and The Room.


THE ZERO THEOREM: Remember how I saw Terry Gilliam's new film, The Zero Theorem, a while ago? Well its theatrical run here in Australia has come and gone but you can still find my review of the film over at The Australia Times!


EDGE OF TOMORROW: After some surprisingly positive reactions towards Edge of Tomorrow, I thought I'd give it a go. I liked the idea of the film before word-of-mouth got around but prior to the positive response, I honestly thought it looked a little too generic as far as high-concept blockbusters is concerned.

Based off a manga/Japanese novel which has a far more impressionable title, All You Need Is Kill, the film sees William Cage (Tom Cruise) get shipped off into war against an alien race called Mimics. He soon discovers through some strange phenomenon that he has the power to restart the day, with the only kicker being that he has to die in order for this power to trigger.

To the film's credit, Edge of Tomorrow manages to find a way to get around being repetitive quite cleverly, purposefully leaving gaps of time in the narrative to build the relationship between Cruise and Emily Blunt's character, Rita (nicknamed the "Full Metal Bitch"). And while they certainly have a nice rapport, Blunt's character is unfortunately downsized to the point of being a waypoint for Cruise's character, leading him from plot point to plot point which is disappointing considering how much Blunt does a great job of really embodying her character.

Once the film begins to take form, its story becomes all too familiar with the general look of the movie eventually becoming as generic as its title. That said, kinda cool how the death-reset functions like a video game where you pick up from where you left off and learn from your mistakes, anticipating the enemy's move with each "game over" screen.


THE ROVER: David Michod's debut Australian feature, Animal Kingdom, turned a lot of heads when it was released some few years ago. It put Michod on the map as well as Jacki Weaver who has since gone on to work in Hollywood. Michod's follow-up feature, The Rover, is a step away from the family-crime drama with Michod entering genre territory.

Set in an undefined future where Australia has become something of a free-for-all wasteland (the likes of which you'd expect to see in Mad Max), the film is about one man's obsession to take back his stolen car, which was taken from him by a passing gang. I wasn't a fan of the film and thought it was too slow for my liking. While The Rover certainly looks like an accomplished film and transcends the genre boundaries that something like Mad Max has set, it also felt incredibly detached. While I'm all for plotless films, I feel like The Rover could have at least benefited from a good story as the one that was shown between Eric (Guy Pearce) and Rey (Robert Pattinson) felt dry and unconvincing.

That said, Pearce and especially Pattinson are in top form here. Seems RPattz is more than ready to shed his skin and show that life outside of Twilight can be good. I'm at odds with this film though my initial opinion towards it is that it's not nearly as great as Animal Kingdom (and is ultimately a bit of a disappointment). A damn shame cause a lot of the movie left me wanting so much more - Michod built an incredibly fascinating world!


DIRTY WARS: Nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature section this year, I remember Dirty Wars as being one of the film's that last year's Melbourne International Film Festival really pushed at the program launch. After seeing it the other night, I had a few problems with the film but altogether found it a thoroughly engaging expose on the private wars that America ignites around the world with its privately-owned military.

Following journalist Jeremy Scahill, who was also the one to shed light on the Blackwater scandal, the doco follows the intrepid reporter around the world as one random attack against a family in Afghanistan leads Scahill to find out a much bigger story.

I've always liked the idea that journalists are heroes in their own right and Dirty Wars is a great film about war-reporting and the general process of journalism. I liked the methodical qualities of the film which at times reminded me a lot of All The President's Men, another great film about journalistic heroes. That being said, some of the gripes I had with Dirty Wars included the often repetitive and monotonous use of narration (which admittedly put me to sleep on my first attempt to watch the film) as well as its awfully drab colouring which shouldn't have bothered me that much but took me out of the film sometimes (a simple interview would be way too oversaturated in colour!). But these are, for the most part, minor gripes.

War documentaries are so commonplace that it takes an interesting angle to make the genre feel a little less crowded Dirty Wars most certainly takes an interesting approach.


CUTIE AND THE BOXER: This was on my MIFF watch list last year but I only got to see it now. Like Dirty Wars, this too was nominated in the same category of Best Documentary Feature at this year's Oscars, and if I had to pick a winner, it'd be this one here. Cutie and the Boxer is an exceptional documentary and while the focus of something like Dirty Wars might be large and international, sometimes it's the smaller stories that can have a strong, personal effect.

Telling the story of two New York-based Japanese artists, Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, the film weaves in a grand narrative that touches on so many things in its short time frame. Most of the time, you forget that it's even a documentary at all as it feels so naturally paced and structured and comes off as a fictitious feature. But no, these people are real which makes the film all the more fantastic.

While the documentary mostly focuses on Noriko's struggle as a mother, a partner, an assistant and as a woman (told through Noriko's animated paintings), it also sheds light on art's pull on an artist and how that can effect a number of things from financial security to raising a family. A number of times, the doco really hit home for me (on different levels) and that's probably why I enjoyed it so much and have a rather strong attachment to it.

Gorgeously shot, Cutie and The Boxer strength lies in its emotional and light-hearted heft, which will no doubt resonate with a great many. It's not challenging in the way Dirty Wars is but certainly comes with its own set of obstacles that viewers might like to chew on. Highly recommended!


THE GREAT BEAUTY: Paolo Sorrentino's Italian feature won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year and I'm genuinely baffled as to how Sorrentino's love letter to the city of Rome managed to walk away with an award as highly-sought after as the Oscar! Maybe I'm just not as educated or high-brow enough to appreciate the film but this honestly was one of the most sickeningly pretentious things I've seen in quite some time.

The Great Beauty follows Jep, a 65 year old gentleman who, after celebrating his birthday, receives word of his first love's death which causes the writer-cum-socialite to wander around his beloved city with new eyes. People generally avoid arthouse films because of films like this as The Great Beauty would rather abandon its audience in the chaos of it all than subtly ease them into the experience.

As I said, perhaps it's cause I'm not as literate with the cinema of Italy but for me so much of what makes The Great Beauty a hard film to absorb is how disconnected the film feels. The characters are shallow and unremarkable and moments of grandeur are made to be scoffed at it completely. It wants to be art but there was nothing of value that I could ascertain from the film that could lead me to assume it as such. I have no desire to revisit this film.


THE CAT RETURNS: Not a Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata film but that's okay! The Cat Returns is a delightful film in its own right with plenty of Studio Ghibli whimsy and charm to satisfy audiences of all ages (as most great SG films tend to!).

High school student Haru saves the life of a stray cat one day and sees her efforts repaid in the form of marriage as Haru soon learns that the cat she saved is in fact a Prince of the Cat Kingdom. The courtship doesn't go too well which forces Haru to look for the Baron, an engimatic cat who helps Haru.

Yes the film is admittedly quite silly and childish but it's also quite fun! And with a runtime of only 70+ minutes, the film knows exactly how to pace itself and doesn't faulter as it knows that the novelty of its bizarre, almost fairy tale-like story, will eventually run thin. It's art style is closer to what now passes as 'the standard' in anime and I liked that the film was based more in reality (as much reality as you're gonna get anyway with a movie about a cat kingdom) than other SG films.


DOOMSDAY BOOK: I'm unsure as to why an anthology film such as this needed to be made but I always appreciate the need to make more science-fiction (especially the kind that goes out of its way to be quite socially conscious). Happy Birthday and A Brave New World were written/directed by Yim Pil-sung while the other, The Heavenly Creature, was made by Kim Ji-woon.

Of the three, I'd probably have to rate Kim's segment as being the best of the three. The short sees a future where a robot/artificial intelligence living in a Buddhist temple, has believed itself to be Buddha reincarnated and has believed it has reached enlightenment. This upsets the company that made/designed him which forces the robot and its creator into a messy argument over social and religious babble. It was the most original film of the three and had more merit as a sci-fi than the other two which were mostly just genre films passing off as science fiction (A Brave New World focused on zombies while Happy Birthday used an 'end-of-the-world' scenario). 

Yim's segments, to his credit, are quite funny though and you'll likely think twice before eating meat again after watching A Brave New World but I just thought that his films weren't particularly special and didn't have anything worth showing. Kim's segment was more resonant but didn't always work for me. Altogether, quite average. 


NEW WORLD: The last time I saw a true Korean gangster film was at MIFF in 2012 for a film called, Nameless Gangster. It starred Oldboy's Choi Min-sik and had the look of an awesome Goodfellas-style mob movie. But the movie left me wanting more and never hit the mark it set. New World, which sees Choi hang around in a supporting role, is another Korean gangster movie which I hoped would meet my expectation for a solid Korean gangster flick. 

An undercover cop has been embedded into the Korean mob for years and wants nothing more than to get out and return to a normal life. Coming close to nailing the mob for its involvement in a dirty corporate scheme, the newly-instated police chief asks the undercover cop to stay on a little while longer until the cops can bring down as many people as possible.

What struck me first and foremost was how much of a Hong Kong movie, Park Hoon-jung's film felt(who I'm learning also co-wrote I Saw The Devil). Crime thrillers continue to have staying power in Hong Kong and for fans of things like Overheard or Infernal Affairs, I feel confident that those who come into New World will no doubt feel something familiar here.

While the film does start out quite slowly, setting up exposition and establishing genre conventions, the ride that comes along afterwards moves really nicely and inserts a few surpising twists to the story that keep it remaining interesting. The three leads are awesome in their parts and imagine my surprise when I learnt that this film was the first of a trilogy! Excited to see where things go from here.


I'M A CYBORG BUT THAT'S OK: One of Park Chan-wook's 'lesser' movies and for good reason as I feel that it's not particularly strong. Never mind that the film tries to paint mental illness in a whimsical light, I'm A Cyborg But That's OK lacks the substance found in his more serious fare.

When a young woman cuts her wrist in attempt to 'charge' herself, her mother sends her to a mental institution for rehabilitation. It is here where she meets a young man with a tendency to steal things from other people, including other patients' personality traits, and the two begin to strike up a relationship. It's an odd film that tries to play it mostly for laughs but fails as a comedy, I feel. It's somewhat disappointing that Park had to take the comedy route as a lot of the serious stuff that happens in the film (namely the relationship between the young woman, played by Im Soo-jung and her grandmother) is played out really well.

And as far as I know, this is Rain's movie acting debut and I was pretty impressed with the pop stars turn here. It's a role that one wouldn't expect from the seasoned singer (who manages to find a way to sneak in a song into the movie) but it's certainly a welcome one. I think more Korean pop stars ought to find roles like this that will make their transition into acting appear more credible.

You made it to the end! Here's a nice summer song to cure those winter blues by way of independent LA-based band, TV Girl.

I'm thinking reviews in the next post will be all MIFF stuff + Snowpiercer. SNOWPIERCER! OH YES, IT'S HAVING AN EXCLUSIVE RUN IN MELBOURNE AT THE NOVA STARTING NEXT WEEK! 

End post.