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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Keep Silence


So it's not like I haven't been writing, I've been doing plenty of that! Just not for the blog. No, I've been contributing a lot in the past couple of months to Japan Cinema and to Modern Korean Cinema with reviews from the Melbourne International Film Festival and the Korean Film Festival in Australia too! I couldn't include all my MIFF reviews in this post unfortunately simply because the tags won't be able to hold all the films I've seen in this one post.

I wrote a separate post for the films I saw at MIFF so if you're keen to read up on some of the things I saw from this year's festival, follow this link to see what films caught my attention!


Treat yourself purchases! Picked up DVDs of Hoop Dreams, Broken Flowers, Dead Man, Dogtooth and Departures as part of a collective sale that Readings had on. Meanwhile, Maboroshi no hikari was bought from YesAsia. Sweet, sweet, Japanese import!


If it wasn't obvious, first three reviews are from the Korean Film Festival in Australia (KOFFIA). Click onto the sentence for the full review to the corresponding movie found at Modern Korean Cinema.

HOPE: "Hope might not be a challenging film but what it lacks in subtlety and nuance it more than makes up for in its performances and overall message."


NORA NOH: "Nora Noh is a scintillating exploration of Korea's cultural history and - including its celebration of a woman who fought to better the lives of her fellow Korean women in her country at the time - is also a film makes a point to champion local, homebred talent."


THE DINNER: "Director Kim Dong-hyun tries his hardest to be [the type of filmmaker who can create compelling family drama] but unfortunately lacks the astute direction and strong scripting that a poised filmmaker such as Japan's Hirokazu Koreeda possesses."


COMMITMENT: After hearing some negative press towards this movie, it made me all the more curious to see Commitment. Starring Big Bang's resident rapper, T.O.P (or his real name which he's using as an actor, Choi Seung-hyun), this messy action movie indulges in many cliches and well-worn tropes of its genre which is unfortunate given its admittedly intriguing set up.

Set in 2011, the film talks a big game with its sleeper cell agents and North Korean spies but comes up short with what is essentially a trite and unremarkable film. Commitment frustrates with its continual need to start and stop the action. Unlike The Man From Nowhere, there's never a sense of emergency and the drama doesn't quite feel like it escalates. And when it tries to, the film throws in ill-conceived plot points that distract from the rest of the movie (for example, one of the film's bad guys suddenly bargain for a MacGuffin with no real value to either the protagonist or the villain).

Essentially a vehicle for T.O.P to display what he can do as an actor, the film more or less succeeds in trying to convince audiences that he's an action star but as an actor the rapper isn't convincing. Commitment puts all its eggs into one basket but nothing from that basket materialises into something of worth. Forgettable 'action' film all around.


HOT YOUNG BLOODS: High school romantic comedy, Hot Young Bloods, is enjoyable here and there but I found the whole film to be a little undercooked. Taking place in the '80s, at a countryside high school, the film concerns the rivalries, relationships and secret crushes of a group of high school students. Admittedly, there are quite a few bits of genuinely good comedy here but the film's story and its characters don't hold up as well. 

There are a lot of tangents in the film that don't add up to the main story. The subplots of the film are mostly distractions and do little to service the ongoing teen romance of the picture. There's a subplot involving a pair of teachers and a subplot involving playboy Joong-gil's father which together are half-baked distractions on part of the movie. It's story isn't nearly as involving either, I felt, as other romantic Korean films like Architecture 101 or Watcha Wearin' as the scenario here feels far too familiar and unexciting. Now, maybe it's cause I'm not a fan of goofball characters like Joong-gil (actor Lee Jong-suk is actually quite good in the part though) but I thought it was really strange why the characters in that film were pining over him to begin with (though the ending which involves a great soaring power ballad is quite redeeming quality to that character). 

It's certainly no Sunny (which I feel is a better example of using the '80s in a modern context) or for a closer and recent comparison, A Werewolf Boy (which also stars actress Park Bo-young who's in this film too) and it's not trying to be either of those as it is still mostly ridiculous in its own way. Hot Young Bloods works as a comedy but the rest of the film falls short of trying to inspire interest. Sidenote: Anyone else who has seen this film... did you get the feeling this was based on a comic? I did. Hrm.


BEGIN AGAIN: I had no particular judgement towards this film prior to watching it. All I knew was that it involved Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo and some degree of music. Cool, I'm in! Starting out in a dingy basement bar, two defeated souls meet. Ruffalo's character, a music executive displaced with the music he's producing and dumped by the label he started, and Knightley's character, an English singer/songwriter who has been kicked to the curb by her boyfriend (Maroon 5's Adam Levine), agree to a collaboration with Ruffalo's character helping Knightley's create an album.

There's a fair bit of suspension of disbelief involved in order to get on board with the film but for the most part, I found Begin Again to be quite the satisfying crowd-pleaser. It definitely hit a chord with the audience I saw it with who applauded the film at the end (something I actually find to be quite rare after a nationally released film!). The film serves as a love letter to the city of New York and to the creative minds it brings together, evidenced by the music in the film (which thankfully is quite agreeable). 

Ruffalo and Knightley are well-cast in their parts (who knew Keira Knightley was actually a decent singer?!). Hell even Adam Levine is perfectly cast as the smug ex (the Shia LaBeouf effect). Begin Again is unassuming winner of a movie and a fun musical trip around New York City. 

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS: Well this could very well be the funniest movie I've seen this year. I've yet to see Flight of the Conchords but if this film's sense of humour is anything to go by, I might have a new favourite show on my hands.

What We Do In The Shadows is a great example of a film that's so unique in its execution that it almost feels incomparable. I don't think I'm gonna be able to conjure up a film to compare this mockumentary-comedy-horror movie to and I'm not even going to try. Setting the film in New Zealand in the ordinary-looking city of Wellington is a genius move for what is basically a fake documentary about a group of vampires who've decided to live in Wellington, New Zealand of all places.

The film has a lovely charm to all its humour too! With its colourful cast of clueless vampires, each of the guys in this shine in their parts. I was taken back by how inventive and clever of a comedy this was! Go out there and give it a go, guys!


CAVALRY: It's weird to say but I'm still processing Cavalry even though I saw it a couple weeks ago. With no real desire to see the movie, I went on a whim and, based on the thoughts of a few people who liked it, figured it would be at least be decent. Instead, what I got was something that tasted too dry for my liking. I think a lot of the film's humour was lost on me and I really couldn't find anything in the film to hold onto.

One Sunday, a priest is told he will die by an unknown parishioner. The parishioner confesses he was abused and sodomised as a young boy and that killing an innocent priest, one who stood by and did nothing, would make more sense than killing the man responsible for the crime. With a death sentence looming over his head, Father James makes preparations before he accepts his demise on the following Sunday.

I think the film does a lot of interesting things visually but it's hard for me to describe just how its visuals correlate to the attitudes of its characters or its thematics. While certainly lovely to look at, I found it hard to grasp. I dunno, I just felt like this was a film I couldn't well understand and I'm not sure I want to give it another go. Oh well.


THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA: The latest Studio Ghibli movie and supposedly the final one from Isao Takahata, the studio's number two man, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a timeless and enthralling piece of work that outdoes Miyazaki's own swan song, The Wind Rises, in every way possible.

Based on a Japanese fable about a bamboo cutter who finds a minature baby princess inside bamboo, Takahata's turns the film into something of a coming-of-age story about a young girl forced to accept a role and lifestyle she never asked for. Takahata's sense of visual storytelling is overwhelming as The Tale of Princess Kaguya is unlike any other Studio Ghibli film produced thus far.

A rather distant world away from the studio's other films, Takahata paints his film with soft colours and patchy pencil work, bringing to mind classic children's picture books. The style perfectly complements the type of story Takahata tells in more ways than one. It certainly adds a majestic and whimsical look but also perfectly captures the surprisingly bittersweet tone of the movie too.

All in all I thought it was a fantastic film, it doesn't lull and keeps a steady momentum throughout. A rich film in more ways than one, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a brilliantly realised coming-of-age animated work from one of Japan's modern masters in animation.


BOYHOOD: Pretty safe to say that Boyhood was one of my most anticipated films of the year. While I may have missed it at MIFF, it's not all bad as the film was going to be released some few weeks after its premiere in Melbourne anyway. If you're unaware of what Boyhood is, the concept of the film is quite unique in that throughout the film's nearly three-hour running time, audiences witness the 12 year-growth of a six-year old boy to an 18-year old college freshman.

A unique film that likely won't be imitated by any other filmmaker from here on out, simply due to the technicality of it all, Boyhood is a great achievement in moviemaking. As others have said, it really is the ultimate coming of age movie but that doesn't necessarily make it the 'best'. I really enjoyed Boyhood and it's really interesting to see just how some of the film's big moments characterise the growth of Mason but I still feel like the film left me wanting. I'm not sure what else Boyhood could have done since it already was almost three hours long but I still feel like there was a lot that could've been shown to build Mason's relationships.

And maybe it's just me but Ellar Coltrane's acting in the film looks like as if it gradually gets worse as he ages. He's an unconvincing mess towards the end of the movie which really makes the last moments of Boyhood an excruciating experience to get through. That said, its nice how the soundtrack of the film dictates each year and it's especially fulfilling and nostalgic to see the film take make a trip to see how big something like a Harry Potter book launch was back in the early 2000s as well, wow. It's a time capsule!


RUMBLE FISH: Been keen to see this one for a while and the prospect of "lesser" Coppola fascinates the hell out of me. In fact, the lesser works of most filmmakers tend to. Bringing Out the Dead by Martin Scorsese, for example, is one such film that compels me despite its reputation among hardcore Scorsese-fans.

Rumble Fish takes place in a dreamy American city that suggests that it could be both the '50s and the '80s. It looks familiar but feels distant all the same. Rusty James is the leader of a street gang and a high school delinquent. The sudden return of his older brother, The Motorcycle Boy, as well as the chaos of his life, eventually forces a change of perspective from Rusty James. Rumble Fish isn't a great work by any means but it frequently incites interest with Coppola's exceptionally moody black/white cinematography. Mostly story-less, the film drifts from one scenario to the next without much thought too which is a bit annoying as it leaves a few loose ends. There's grounds for a great film here and one can argue that the source material hints at this, but there's a fair bit in the film that feels quite wanting.

Including the gorgeous cinematography of the film, another saving grace is its cast. It's awesome to be able to see young Matt Dillon, Nicolas Cage, Lawrence Fishburne, Chris Penn and a BABE as Diane Lane rock it in the film but its Mickey Rourke who blows it out of the water in this. Cool, mysterious and soft-spoken, Rourke's gentle presence on screen can always be felt. Interesting to say the least, I wouldn't mind revisiting the world of Rumble Fish.


THE OUTSIDERS: This right here looks like one of the biggest films of the '80s (is it?). Based on its cast alone, I can only assume how popular this movie might have been with audiences back in the day. Featuring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe, I imagine this to have been quite a hit with the girls of the '80s.

Francis Ford Coppola filmed this movie back-to-back as he was filming Rumble Fish which is why Matt Dillon features here (Diane Lane too actually). In fact, Rumble Fish and The Outsiders were written by the same author so both work as companion pieces (both are coming-of-age dramas about young men lumped together in gangs). Unlike Rumble Fish however, this actually makes an attempt at building a story but and tries to tie all its loose ends but rather unconvincingly. There doesn't feel to like a natural progression in its story. Furthermore, I think The Outsiders' very Hollywood look takes away from the film too (preferring the rough, gritty, independent feel of Rumble Fish instead).

Also, someone's gonna have to explain the significance of Gone with the Wind in the film to me. A lot of visuals from this reminded me of that movie (and I know that the book is featured in the film too) but I wasn't sure if there was any other connection outside of Coppola borrowing the visuals from it. I thought this was mostly a superficial affair.

And that is all for the time being! This blog post is brought to you by Predawn, a Japanese acoustic folk singer who I'm gonna call the Japanese Lisa Mitchell. There's probably a better comparison but I'll go with that for now. I found out about Predawn through the Japanese movie, Petal Dance (a great film which I've reviewed before!). I dunno, she's got nice soft vocals and its pretty easy going.

End post.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Melbourne International Film Festival 2014 Reviews

Compiled here for your own convenience is a complete list of my published Japan Cinema reviews from the 2014 edition of the Melbourne International Film Festival:

KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER (USA): Despite being rather flat and ordinary, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, does do one thing interesting and presents what may be interpreted as a study of depression.