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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Moonage Daydream

Hello all! 

MIFF is well and truly here though the festival will be wrapping up come this Sunday! While I haven't seen as many films I would have liked, I feel like the amount I did get around to seeing was good enough. Unfortunately that didn't include seeing The Grandmaster or The One I Love cause I had been rostered to work the evening of those films' screenings. It doesn't bother me so much though since The Grandmaster is already showing at the Nova soon. Not sure about The One I Love though...

While I have already posted reviews of some of the films I've seen at MIFF over at Japan Cinema, I won't completely link them all here as I figured I'd leave that for the next post.


Recently, I got to live out something that I've only imagined and that was having the chance to see WWE wrestlers perform live in the flesh, right before my very eyes! After spending a ridiculous amount of money for seats on the floor (which is so well justified after that night), I walked away from my first WWE live event with a lot of fond memories.

Even if the show mostly consisted of matches I'd already seen on television a dozen times over, seeing it in person was completely surreal. Now to one day book flights to America for a live televised show (or god forbid, Wrestlemania).


Recently discovered the amazing Plain Archive, a Korean-based distributor that operates on a similar level to America's Criterion Collection. The company put an amazing amount of detail and work into packaging their items and distribute limited edition copies of these films which make owning them that much more special. I bought their Blu-ray steelbook of The Wrestler (pictured above), one of my favourite films of all time for obvious reasons, and was extremely impressed with what was provided.

Though the catalogue Plain has is fairly small right now, currently they're working on distributing two Korean classics that I'm keen to get my hands on: Oldboy and I Saw The Devil. The former I'm more inclined to buy immediately once its available as, again, it's one of my favourites of all time and is a movie that I've been waiting to see truly get the treatment it deserves. Support them if you can!


SNOWPIERCER: Between this and The Grandmaster, I'm not sure which I've been more looking forward to. After finally catching Snowpiercer (and resisting every urge to download the thing), I can safely say that it certainly met my expectation though there were parts of the movie I felt were a bit lacking (lost a bit of momentum here and there as far as pacing is concerned). 

I'm willing to look over it though as everything that director Bong Joon-ho has presented was extremely compelling. There's so much to mine from Snowpiercer - from its rich thematics to the overall presentation of the film - and so much to appreciate. Chris Evans is at his best here and let's take a moment to appreciate how original a film this felt, how un-Hollywood it was and how pleasantly diverse its cast is (cause a movie about the last survivors of humanity ought to be multi-racial, duh!)

Personally speaking, I think my own fascination with the film is more heightened by the fact that it's a very Bioshock-like universe that the passengers/citizens aboard the train in Snowpiercer are enclosed in. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface but like all good science fictions should, Snowpiercer presents a uniquely fascinating world with heaps of interesting ideas to fall back on. Volumes of discussion to be had over this, I'm sure!


LUCY: I'll admit that I was pretty excited to see this film regardless of the commotion it caused regarding the film's treatment of Asian people and culture. I wasn't as offended as most others were about this particular conflict (and they're not wrong in being offended at all) but I still had a reason to be offended by Lucy cause it's kinda just really lazy and kinda dull.

I can definitely buy into the "humans use 10% of their brain" idea regardless of whether or not it's scientifically proven cause I do think it's a cool idea. From what I can remember of Limitless (another similar film that uses the same concept) I thought it executed that idea decently and worked within the reality of that film. But the way Lucy goes about showing the increasing capacity of human potential really felt like it jumped the shark one too many times. Luc Besson doesn't bother explaining much of anything in the film and would rather the audience not ask questions and enjoy the ride but its too hard to ignore how consistently illogical Lucy can be. 

Scarlett Johansson - who has proven she can be a capable action star in some of Marvel's films and, if she wanted, could fill the void that Angelina Jolie has seemingly left behind - is painfully robotic through most of the film which is frustrating considering how genuinely great she is in the beginning before she gets her 'life-changing' abilities. I really can't recall Morgan Freeman doing anything particularly useful in the film either other than provide the audience with enough exposition to understand the concept of the film. Choi Min-sik deserved better than this.


GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: Maybe it's the mammoth hype surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy but I honestly felt like GOTG, as fun as it was, was a bit of a letdown in some ways. Don't get me wrong though; it's a fun movie in its own right but I feel like as though if you've soaked up enough of the trailers for this film then a lot of its humour might seem a little underwhelming! It wasn't the laugh-out-loud comedy that I felt it was being billed as though it certainly had its good comedic moments.

That said, GOTG is an incredibly charismatic film altogether! It's the most unique of all of Marvel's films and is incomparable in so many ways. While the film still follows the formula established by previous films, GOTG remains refreshingly exuberant thanks to its cast of lovable rogues, eclectic soundtrack (who would have thought that a deluge of rad tracks from the '70s and '80s would work extremely well within a space opera comedy?!) and its approach towards the space opera genre (which infuses the blockbuster sensibilities of Star Wars with the ragtag crew and stylised action/humour of Cowboy Bebop and Joss Whedon's very own Firefly).

With all the exposition out of the way now though, I'm hoping GOTG's sequel will be a more confident with its story and characters as there is a whole galaxy's worth of things that this particular series can take on board from here on out. Also, year of Chris Pratt!


BLUE RUIN: Having little to no preconceived ideas about Blue Ruin other than its basic outline, I gave it a chance and found myself pleasantly surprised by this little American indie. Despite it being a slow-burn thriller, Blue Ruin is surprisingly smart and builds to finale that's intense and hugely rewarding. 

After the murder of his mother and father, everyman Dwight exacts revenge on the man responsible for their deaths which soon lands Dwight and his sister's family in hot water with the murderer's family. There's nothing particularly stylish about the film and as previously mentioned, it is a bit of a slog to get through as there are long moments of quiet, drawn out dialogue between characters. 

But what works is how the film inverts the typical revenge formula and establishes the commitment to that act very early on the film. From there, the film continues only to show Dwight's ramifications of acting out of revenge. If anything it's an anti-revenge movie and it works well as that, I think. I wouldn't rush out to see this film but would still recommend it as a great example of what little money and a whole lot of imagination can do for a film (fun fact: this movie was backed by Kickstarter!)


SAUSALITO: Named after a city in California where the film takes place, Sausalito is a romantic comedy starring Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai. Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) tries to recapture the magic of 1996 Hong Kong romantic drama, Comrades Almost A Love Story, which starred the aforementioned Hong Kong starlets but unfortunately the film falls terribly short of success.

Ellen (Maggie Cheung) is a single mother who makes a living as a taxi driver. Mike is a computer whiz who has started a business. The two meet and fall in love and the film charts the couple's relationship. Far from what you would call good, this pointless romantic comedy is awfully dry and packed to the brim with cliche and ridiculous, cringe-inducing moments that made me feel embarrassed as a willing viewer. Material like this is typically reserved for actors who're perhaps just starting out and for vets like Leon Lai and especially Maggie Cheung, Sausalito feels far beneath their feet - even if it was just for the cash and a vacation.

Sausalito is frustrating, joyless and terribly embarrassing to even watch. Nothing about this is redeemable whatsoever. The same year Sausalito was released, Maggie Cheung starred in Wong Kar-wai's masterpiece, In the Mood for Love. I think that really puts things into perspective.


THE PROPOSITION: "Australia. What fresh hell is this?" Like the sick lovechild of Dead Man and Apocalypse Now, John Hillcoat's Australian western is a great film albeit a little flawed in parts. Like Snowpiercer, I too thought this was lacking in parts as far as pacing was concerned. Overall though, it's a really rewarding film that is unquestionably one of Australia's finest.

After a violent shootout with authorities, Irish outlaw Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) is apprehended by Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) and given an ultimatum. Kill his dangerous older brother Arthur (Danny Huston)in nine days or the authorities will kill his younger brother, Mike. The Proposition is a very stark film but ridiculously gorgeous to look at. It's a movie that, as far as I can see, is probably one of the most realised visions of the Australia that once was - a hellish place where morality doesn't exist. 

Top grade acting talent lend this picture more credibility as a solid Western, one that moves lyrically to the beat of its own drum. A fully nuanced piece and an incredible reminder that the Western, one of film's most beloved genres, still has plenty to give, especially in an unfamiliar territory not known to audiences outside of Australia.


LAWLESS: After watching The Proposition, seeing Lawless felt like a huge step down and is an obvious attempt by John Hillcoat to jump into commercial filmmaking after trying to do so with the post-apocalptic survival drama, The Road. As a result, Lawless lacks the personality and nuanced vision that Hillcoat imbued in The Proposition.

Set in 1920s America during the prohibition era, the film follows three brothers who are threatened by a new authorative figure and rival bootleggers who want a cut of their business or drown them out entirely. Despite an all star cast featuring the likes of Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska, Lawless doesn't utilise these talents as much as it ought to. Their potential in a film like this is wasted, particularly Oldman who, really, isn't in the film all that much. Then there's the film's leading man (though an argument could be made that he isn't), Shia Lebeouf who in all honesty I had no problem with in the film. His character is a bumbling idiot and Labeouf works it well (cause maybe that's typical of Shia right?!).

Other than that, there really isn't anything to write home about with Lawless. It's an painfully average film with nothing much to add to the genre and is by all accounts, utterly forgettable. Such wasted potential, what a shame.


ANCHORMAN 2: Another disappointment, who would have thought?! The first film was something of an incredible fluke and helped catapult Will Ferrell into the star he is today. For such a dumb film (and yes, let's not pretend like Anchorman isn't dumb), it's impressive that a period-based comedy at the time could become such a hit (and it certainly won me over too at the time) with its throwaway, seemingly improvised humour quickly becoming the model for comedies today. 

In the sequel, Ron Burgundy is fired from his network gig due to his blunders as a newsman. His wife Veronica leaves him and his news team has moved on with their lives. It isn't until Ron receives a tip from a brand new 24/7 news network that he assembles the crew for a comeback to news reporting.

Other than the film's final news team war, everything else in the film tries too hard to capitalise on the surprise success of the first. Jokes from the first are repackaged and delivered without the conviction of the original, humour is drawn out to the point of boredom, story drops in and out and it's also stupidly offensive, particularly during one scene in particular involving Ron Burgundy and a dinner with an African American family. I hated this movie and am fairly glad I never saw it during its theatrical run.


OKI'S MOVIE: I've only seen one other Hong Sang-soo film, The Day He Arrived, a nice little film shot in beautiful black and white photography featuring lovelorn filmmakers and an abundance of soju, hallmarks of Hong's films.

Oki's Movie is no different though in terms of its visuals is a lot more lo-fi. Showcasing a love triangle between a film professor, and two filmmakers at different intervals of their lives, Hong's film might appear mundane but I think Hong's style of capturing realism with his quick zooms and unconventional character staging is quite interesting and works well for him. There's no sense of pretension here as Hong's film captures reality so well.

I can't seem to muster up the right words to describe what makes Oki's Movie a pleasant movie but I definitely thought it was quite playful and felt genuine. And that's probably what I enjoyed about The Day He Arrived as well - that it was so unconventional and different yet at the same time endearing, thoughtful and tender. I've not yet fully 'adjusted' to watching Hong's films as they are quite different but I enjoy them for what they're worth.


KIMI NO YUBISAKI: Something a little different! I think this might be the first short film I talk about on this blog (actually Wong Kar-wai's The Hand might have already had that distinction). This is a short I've been meaning to see for a while now as its from one of Japan's most sensitive filmmakers, Hiroshi Ishikawa (who I've talked about PLENTY on this blog previously and across other publications).

The short is quite simple, as far as story goes, and is basically about two schoolgirls who spend their time outside of school before one of them has to move away. Like any Ishikawa film, there's a lightness to the movie that makes it feel quite elegant and his sensitive style works really well in a short film format. Though by no means 'impressive', I'd probably show this short to anyone who wants to ease their way into Ishikawa.

The actresses, Mari Horikita (who many will remember from J-Drama, Hana Kimi) and Meisa Kuroki (Crows Zero series) are competent in their parts (you can only do so much with the material Ishikawa gives here) and play off each other in what appear to be very improvised scenes of bonding. Give it a shot if you can, I think it was only 15 minutes long. 


ONE PERFECT DAY: Another short film! This one's from Korea's Kim Ji-woon - a favourite of mine and many others who are captivated by Korean cinema - and is the director's first foray into the very popular genre of the rom-com. 

One Perfect Day is the story of a bumbling, lovelorn dude who goes from one date to the next with less than ideal results. It isn't until one sour date where he inadvertently meets a girl who might just be worth it. Kim Ji-woon is one of the world's most versatile directors it's almost like as though Kim is able to adapt to any genre and make it unique. As far as I can tell, there isn't one characteristic that makes Kim 'definable' but that's okay. 

One Perfect Day's look is very much like that of any modern Korean rom-com with its glossy presentation. Its actors are great (including Park Shin-hye in a small but very pivotal role) and the cutesy story of conquering love by way of 'rock, paper, scissors' is well-earned. It's an easy enough short to enjoy, runs at roughly half an hour and though parts of it can feel overextended, it nevertheless is a warm and funny distraction if you just want to admire modern Korean film aesthetics.  


And there we have it! This week's blog post title is thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy's Awesome Mixtape Vol. 1! It's a brilliant track by David Bowie that's more than appropriate within the context of the film - some madly groovy tunes, ya'll. Check back next post for a write up of the MIFF films I managed to catch! 

End post.