Friday 29 August 2008

42 Was The Answer I was Looking For...

I submitted picks today for my 30 films at the Toronto Filmfest. My envelope went into box number 42. Once all the picks had been submitted, they had 78 boxes and then randomly selected a number between 1 and 78 to decide at which box to begin processing submissions (after which they proceed upward to number 78 and then circle back to number 1 and back up again until all boxes have been processed). Of course, the sooner your form gets processed, the better chance you have of getting all your first choice picks. So I wanted them to choose #42.

They chose #9.

Well, not too bad I suppose. I'll likely get shut out of a couple of first choice picks, but I'm pretty happy even with most of my second choices so I think I'm in good shape. Also, I don't pick a lot of big name films, so the likelihood of my choices getting sold out is less than, say, "Burn After Reading".

Here's what I picked (second choices are in italics):

Thursday Sept. 4th


  • Soul Power (Jeffrey Levy-Hinte) 6:30PM - Three and a half decades after the Zaire '74 concert (bringing the best of American R&B together with the top names in African music in conjunction with the Ali/Foreman "Rumble In The Jungle" boxing match), the unseen footage has been put together into a document of the music and civil rights issues of that time. Just seeing mid-70s James Brown and The JBs will be worth it alone. (Zift - 6:00PM)
  • O'Horten (Bent Hamer) 8:45PM - I've been in a Scandinavian mood of late...Hamer's last feature was the oddly entertaining "Kitchen Stories", so I thought this might have merit. I've heard praise and pans so far. (Ocean Flame - 8:30PM)

Friday Sept. 5th

C'est Pas Moi, Je Le Jure!

  • C'est Pas Moi, Je Le Jure! (Philippe Falardeau) 4:30PM - I'm due to delve further into some recent Quebecois cinema, so why not start here? A 10-year old boy grows up in 1968 Quebec with self-destructive behaviour and squabbling parents. (Three Wise Men - 5:30PM)
  • The Paranoids (Gabriel Medina) 8:00PM - Argentinian comedy about a narcoleptic children's entertainer with a fear of STDs. His misunderstood behaviour inspires a character on a hit TV show produced by his long time friend. (Vinyan - 9:00PM)

Saturday Sept. 6th

Still Walking

  • Tony Manero (Pablo Larraín) 9:15AM - What does the main character from Saturday Night Fever have to do with Chile's dictator Augusto Pinochet? I figure I gotta find out. (The Sky Crawlers - 9:00AM)
  • Detroit Metal City (Toshio Lee) 12:00PM - A little Midnight Madness at noon. A young singer of a makeup covered controversial metal band who only wants to sing sugar-coated pop songs tries to conceal his identity from the girl he has a crush on. There's no way that this can be bad. (The Biggest Chinese Restaurant In The World - 12:00PM)
  • Flame & Citron (Ole Christian Madsen) 6:00PM - Danish resistance fighters against the Nazis, the titular characters were apparently a little more complex than just your run of the mill national heroes. The film is already a huge smash in Denmark. (Every Little Step - 4:30PM)
  • Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda) 9:30PM - I loved both "After Life" and "Nobody Knows". I need no further discussion. (Religulous - 9:00PM)

Sunday Sept. 7th

Faubourg 36

  • Faubourg 36 (Christophe Barratier) 9:00AM - Modern musical comedies are few and far between, so grab 'em while you can! (Horn Of Plenty - 9:30AM)
  • Kisses (Lance Daly) 12:30PM - Two young children run away from home and land in the streets of Dublin to experience a wide range of humanity. (Food Inc. - 1:00PM)
  • Real Shaolin (Alexander Sebastien Lee) 3:45PM - A documentary that goes behind the scenes of the Shaolin Temple as it follows two Western and two Chinese students. (Afterwards - 3:15PM)
  • White Night Wedding (Baltasar Kormakur) 6:15PM - I wanna go to an Icelandic wedding. (Real Time - 6:30PM)
  • Country Wedding (Valdis Oskarsdottir) 10:00PM - No seriously, I really would love to attend an Icelandic wedding. (Gomorrah - 9:00PM)

Monday Sept. 8th

Cold Lunch

  • Cold Lunch (Eva Sorhaug) 9:30AM - Despicable characters doing darkly comic things can be a difficult balancing act, so who better than a first time director to attempt it? (Hunger - 9:00AM)
  • New York, I Love You (13 directors) 12:00PM - An omnibus film along the lines of "Paris, Je T'Aime" containing 13 short stories set in New York City by a variety of directors from around the world. (Disgrace - 12:15PM)
  • Fear Me Not (Kristian Levring) 3:45PM - Michael volunteers to be part of a medical testing group of new anti-depressant drugs since he believes he isn't as happy as he should be. Strangely enough, there are side effects. (Ashes Of Time Redux - 3:00PM)

Tuesday Sept. 9th

The Brothers Bloom

  • Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) 5:30PM - Kiyoshi Kurosawa's new film. That's all I need to know. (Maman Est Chez Le Coiffeur - 6:00PM)
  • Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson) 9:00PM - Likely a wide release candidate, but I'm really eager to see how Johnson follows up his terrific debut "Brick". The trailer has more than a touch of Wes Anderson (which is fine), but I hope his own style comes through. (A Film With Me In It - 8:30PM)

Thursday Sept. 11


  • Sauna (Antti-Jussi Annila) 9:15AM - Finnish brothers marking out the new border between Finland and Russia in 1595 come across a vengeful demon housed in a sauna.(Hooked - 9:45AM)
  • Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman) 12:15PM - Another film that will likely find a theatrical release in Toronto later this year, but I'm dying of curiosity. Especially after some very confused reviews from its premiere at Cannes. (Winds Of September - 12:30PM)
  • Toronto Stories (4 directors) 3:30PM - Omnibus film alert - only 4 stories this time, but I want to see how my city comes across. (The Burrowers - 3:30PM)
  • Plages D'Agnes (Agnes Varda) 6:15PM - Agnes Varda looks back at her life and career in her own way - so it'll have to be interesting. (24 City - 6:15PM)
  • Daytime Drinking (Noh Young-seok) 9:15PM - Korean mumblecore is one description I've read and now I'm oddly curious... (Me And Orson Welles - 9:00PM)

Friday Sept. 12th

Cooper's Camera

  • Cooper's Camera (Warren Sonoda) 6:00PM - I hadn't even realized that Daily Show correspondents Samantha Bee and Jason Jones (real life husband and wife) were two of the stars of this Christmas time comedic examination of a family's issues. Now that I know they are, it's just increased my desire to see it. Here's a recent article in Toronto's weekly Now magazine about the film and its stars. It's accompanied by a very favourable review. (Not Quite Hollywood - 6:15PM)
  • Better Things (Duane Hopkins) 8:45PM - Though the themes of the movie may well be interesting (addiction, escape, etc.), it appears that director Hopkins is using that as a base for his shot compositions, "aesthetic choices" (as per the TIFF description of the film) and interesting narrative strategies. It all sounds intriguing. (Deadgirl - 9:00PM)

Saturday Sept. 13th


  • Achilles and the Tortoise (Takeshi Kitano) 9:00AM - I didn't think I'd get a chance to see Kitano's third film in his deconstruction trilogy so quickly following last year's "Glory To The Filmmaker". Yay! (Tears For Sale - 10:30AM)
  • Chocolate (Prachya Pinkaew) 12:45PM - Action first, story second. Acting and script? Afterthoughts. Occasionally all of that is perfectly fine. (Sexykiller - 1:30PM)
  • Salamandra (Pablo Aguero) 3:15PM - The image above was pretty much enough to sell me. (Eden Log - 3:45PM)
  • Inju, La Bete Dans L'Ombre (Barbet Schroeder) 6:45PM - Based on a story by Edogawa Rampo - usually described as Japan's Edgar Allen Poe. (Plastic City - 7:00PM)
  • All Around Us (Ryosuke Hashiguchi) 9:30PM - A two and a half hour quiet observation of the human psyche. How better to wrap up 10 days of film from around the world? (None)

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Random Notes #3

The 400 Blows (1959 - Francois Truffault) - Why yes, this is as good as all the critics say it is...We all have our classics not yet seen, but at least I've finally rectified catching up with this early Truffault. I guess I put it off for so long because I already knew about that final image (which actually comes at the tail end of an over minute long take) and I expected a certain arc for the main character. And if the arc wasn't that different than I expected, the time spent with him was far warmer, funnier and sadder than I could've foreseen.

And the film also contains these great shots:

These are not taken from the recent Criterion release by the way, so the images can only look better...

One Day In September (1999 - Kevin MacDonald) - If you're like me and know only the basics about the 1972 Munich Olympics tragedy (when 11 members of the Israeli team were killed by terrorists), this documentary will likely astonish you. The incompetence and negligence, the sloppiness of the firefight at the airport, the treatment of the Israelis during the siege, etc. Some of the music choices are odd ("Child Of Time" by Deep Purple?), but otherwise it's pretty jaw-dropping and heartbreaking.

Manda Bala (2007 - Jason Kohn) - I suppose I shouldn't have watched this right after "One Day In September". I kinda lost a little faith in humanity...Kohn deftly juggles stories about frog farms, plastic surgery, kidnappings in Sao Paolo, government corruption and police SWAT teams and somehow manages to relate them all. It's highly stylized, but it never detracts from its harsh look at modern day Brazil.

Guatemalan Handshake (2006 - Todd Rohal) - If "Indie quirks" drive you up the wall, you may want to avoid this film. That's not to say that's all it is since Rohal has a real interesting talent for shot composition and there are some characters in the film that rise above the simple patchwork of random characteristics given them. But I was disappointed overall. I'm willing to admit that I just missed the point and didn't get the overlapping stories and what they had to do with each other, but I just got tired of it all by the end. I also have to admit that the precious duet shot in black in white halfway through the film took whatever remaining wind I had right out of my sails...

Quiz Time!

Dennis Cozzalio has another movie quiz going on at his blog Sergio Leone And The Infield Fly Rule. This one is entitled the "Dr. Zachary Smith's Lost in the Space at the end of Summer movie quiz". I love participating in these (though I missed the last one) and reading everyone else's answers. If you can, pop over and contribute. Here's what I submitted:

1) Your favorite musical moment in a movie

- In "Almost Famous" when young William Miller drops the needle on The Who's album "Tommy" and we transition several years ahead as Townsend's guitar kicks in.
- The fun and energy of "How could you believe me when I said I love you when you know I've been a liar all my life?" from Stanley Donen's "Royal Wedding".
- The moment a woman in a bathtub begins singing in "You, The Living" - I've only seen it once and it still gives me chills...
- Just about anything from "Young Girls Of Rochefort".

2) Ray Milland or Dana Andrews

Milland feels like a long time favourite friendly uncle that I might see at family gatherings once a year. Andrews is the new grumpy boyfriend of one of the aunts who won't speak to any of the kids unless it's to get them to bring him another beer. So if I'm watching a film, it's gotta be Andrews...

3) Favorite Sidney Lumet movie

"Network" and "12 Angry Men" are (at least for the moment) tied right at the top of my favourite films of all time list. So I guess that makes them my favourite Lumet movies too.

4) Biggest surprise of the just-past summer movie season

That I managed to avoid having to go see "Clone Wars" with my son (he went to it as part of a friend's birthday party). Phew!

5) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth

Tierney is splendiferously gorgeous and always came across with a sense of mystery about her. Sorry Rita.

6) What’s the last movie you saw on DVD? In theaters?

On DVD, it was my first viewing of the Canadian classic "Mon Oncle Antoine". It starts a bit slow, but the middle section is chock full of wonderful slices of rural Quebec life. I was taken aback a little by where things ended, but after thinking it over for a bit it feels like an appropriate place to end his "coming of age" - he learns a great deal about love and trust.

In the theatre, I just saw "Man On Wire" which was a completely compelling amazing documentary about Philippe Petit's high wire walk between the World Trade Centre towers in 1974.

7) Irwin Allen’s finest hour?

"The Towering Inferno" - Newman, McQueen, Holden, Dunaway and thousands of gallons of water pouring over them...Without CGI!

8) What were the films where you would rather see the movie promised by the poster than the one that was actually made?

"Detroit Rock City" promised a good time road movie with friends having fun on their way to see the band Kiss. I saw no evidence of any fun and certainly did not have a good time.

9) Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung

Chow Yun-Fat was beyond all previously known limits of cool in John Woo's Hong Kong films, but Leung has spanned many different genres and is the superior actor.

10) Most pretentious movie ever

Hal Hartley's "The Girl From Monday". Claptrap. Flapdoodle.

Of course, the Oscar winning "Crash" was a condescending lecture, so that probably belongs near the top as well.

11) Favorite Russ Meyer movie

"Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill". Also the only Meyer movie I've seen. But it was quite a lot of fun if not, you know, good.

12) Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, “This is me.”

"Airplane" or "Raising Arizona" - not that I'm overly funny or absurd myself, but I appreciate those qualities. Recently, "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" - I just feel like I'm all bundled up when I watch that film.

13) Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo

Dietrich, if only because she was the inspiration for Lili Von Shtupp.

14) Best movie snack? Most vile movie snack?

The very refreshing Junior Mints or anything with chocolate and mint together. As far as vile goes, those nacho chips with the thick gooey cheese dipping sauce make my stomach churn just thinking about them.

15) Current movie star who would be most comfortable in the classic Hollywood studio system

Edward Norton - then he couldn't be tempted to tamper with scripts and try change the director's intent. He could just act.

16) Fitzcarraldo—yes or no?

Yes. Even if the rest of it was terrible (and some of it is pretty slow), the sequence pulling the boat over the mountain is just fascinating - not just to watch it, but even just as a concept ("he did what?!?!").

17) Your assignment is to book the ultimate triple bill to inaugurate your own revival theater. What three movies will we see on opening night?

"Midnight", "Ball Of Fire" and "One, Two, Three" - great rapid fire screenplays with elements of screwball to each of them. And they all just happen to be co-written by Billy Wilder. They're all dated to a certain extent, but that doesn't impact any of the laughs.

18) What’s the name of your theater? (The all-time greatest answer to this question was once provided by Larry Aydlette, whose repertory cinema, the Demarest, is, I hope, still packing them in…)

I can't compete with Aydlette! Maybe something like "The Movie Parlour" - makes it sound inviting and relaxing.

19) Favorite Leo McCarey movie

It's hard to go against "Duck Soup" ain't it? He may have had a stronger hand in directing the comedy in "The Awful Truth" though - and that was pretty terrific as well.

20) Most impressive debut performance by an actor/actress.

Jean-Pierre Leaud was likely just playing himself in "The 400 Blows", but his character was so strong that he played it again in three other feature films as the character grew up (technically, it may have been his second film, but are we really going to split hairs?).

21) Biggest disappointment of the just-past summer movie season

That I haven't seen "WALL-E" yet.

22) Michelle Yeoh or Maggie Cheung

Maggie Cheung is the single most "watchable" presence on screen I've ever come across - not just because she is gorgeous (and dammit she is), but because she just radiates warmth. I love Yeoh too, but I can't take my eyes off Maggie when she's on screen.

23) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Overrated

I don't understand the love for "Breakfast At Tiffany's" - and that's coming from someone who pretty much adores Audrey Hepburn.

24) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Underrated

Both "The Ox-Bow Incident" and "Royal Wedding" jumped to mind as, if not neglected, just not as praised as they should be.

25) Fritz the Cat—yes or no?

No. I'm glad it's out there and I love the fact they did something so anti-everything in a cartoon. There are some scenes that are pretty cool, but that style of animation just makes me slightly ill for some reason.

26) Trevor Howard or Richard Todd

Richard Todd was in "Asylum" and "Stage Fright" which ain't too shabby, but Trevor Howard has "The Third Man", "Green For Danger" and "Brief Encounter" in his back pocket. What the hell would I do without IMDB?

27) Antonioni once said, “I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.” What filmmaker working today most fruitfully ignores the rules? What does ignoring the rules of cinema mean in 2008?

Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater seem to be two American directors that love to bounce between experimenting in artier realms and then doing something a bit more mainstream. Sometimes they do both at once.

28) Favorite William Castle movie

"House On Haunted Hill" - I thought it would be cheesy minor fun. I didn't expect to actually be scared and even jump during a few parts. When that old lady crept in off the side of the screen I think I actually said out loud "Oh shit!"

29) Favorite ethnographically oriented movie

Depending on how you read that question, it could really encompass a huge range of films that set themselves in specific times/places and have strong characters who exist within that scope. The above mentioned "Mon Oncle Antoine" is a great example of this - showing the culture and community of rural Quebec in the 40s.

30) What’s the movie coming up in 2008 you’re most looking forward to? Why?

"Synecdoche, New York" - because it's Charlie Kaufman and I have no idea where it'll take me.

31) What deceased director would you want to resurrect in order that she/he might make one more film?

There's so many of course, but the one that jumped to mind (and these quizzes are all about what comes to mind first - not long thought out perfect answers) is Jacques Demy. He left too soon and I'd like to think he had another "Bay Of Angels" or "Lola" in him (I'll skip mentioning his musicals, because you just can't reclaim that kind of magic).

32) What director would you like to see, if not literally entombed, then at least go silent creatively?

Is it too obvious to say Michael Bay? Yeah? OK, in that case I'll still say Michael Bay.

33) Your first movie star crush

I think it may have been Kristy McNichol...I seem to remember liking her in that awful TV show "Family" (or whatever it was) before she moved into awful movies.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Flickr Meme

While browsing Tractor Facts (been meaning to check out Fox's blog for sometime, so I was trying to catch up) I came across his post about being tagged by a new Flickr meme:

1. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Flickr Search.
2. Using only the first page, pick an image.
3. Copy and paste each of the URLs for the images into fd’s mosaic maker.

It sounded kind of cool and even though I hadn't been officially invited to play along (sniff), I thought I'd try it. Here are the questions and my answers first:

1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favourite food? Thai
3. What high school did you go to? Richelieu Valley
4. What is your favorite color? Green
5. Who is your celebrity crush? Kate Winslet
6. Favorite drink? Diet Coke
7. Dream vacation? Barcelona Spain
8. Favorite dessert? Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
9. What do you want to be when you grow up? A radio DJ
10. What do you love most in life? My son
11. One word to describe you. Doorknob
12. Your Flickr name. None

You just never know what kind of photos will show up for any particular word search, so I made two separate mosaics from the answers and really like them both:

At the very least I found that cool Mosaic tool. Try it out...

Photo credits for both mosaics (numbering goes left to right starting on the top row):

1. "Bob Ross" paintbrush
2. reflections-thai
3. Explore - !Mimosa! - Poisson d'avril! April Fool! page 1/13
4. green day!
5. hungry giantess kate winslet
6. Amazing Circles: Diet Coke Cans
7. Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain
8. Pink Loves Ice Cream
9. AJ the DJ "Phat Beatz": Winner of the XBox Jet Set Radio Future contest
10. for my son - friday 2.15pm
11. doorknobs on the run
12. Time and Tide waits for none!©

1. Bob
2. Thai Fried Rice with Recipe
3. Lac champlain
4. Go Green!!!
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Kate Winslet - Original Movie Promo Poster
6. 365.5 (Diet) Coke is it.
7. Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain
8. mint chocolate chip ice cream
9. Shimokitazawa Radio DJ
10. embracing my decending son.
11. doorknobs and handles
12. bun... none

Goin' In Blind #1 - "Only Human"

"Goin' In Blind is a series of reviews of movies that I had never heard of in any context before I picked them up off the (physical or virtual) DVD rental shelf.

Like many people who are overly obsessed with movies, I have a long bursting-at-the-seams list of films I NEED to see (not want...need). And the problem is that the damn thing never shrinks. Oh sure, I knock some of 'em off the list but not as fast as all these other damn blogs keep recommending stuff to put back on - old and new films alike.

Not a particularly terrible problem to have I suppose, but there you have it.

And yet, I still occasionally take chances on DVDs that I just stumble across and know absolutely nothing about. Squat. An interesting title, intriguing blurb or even just a good looking DVD cover might get me to take a flyer on a rental. It doesn't always work out of course, but with no expectations going in it can provide some terrific results.

Case in point - Spain's "Only Human" ("Seres Queridos") from 2004. I'm not sure what prompted me to even pick it up in the first place, but the little writeup on the DVD made it sound like it could be an enjoyable character-driven comedy. Spot on.

It's a simple outline for the plot - woman brings recent boyfriend home to meet her slightly eccentric family. Hijinks and misunderstandings follow. Through it all though, the quirks of the characters come through as being real aspects of their personalities and not just as something manufactured to make them seem more interesting. The story plays out with subtlety while also allowing for silliness. And there's the fact that Leni's new boyfriend Rafi is Palestinian while she and her family are Jewish. A minor detail that...

Things start to go wrong for Rafi early. While helping in the kitchen, he tries to amuse his girlfriend's sister's young daughter. The frozen block of soup he was trying to empty into a pot goes flying out the window...

...and knocks out a passer-by.

It goes downhill from there as Rafi begins to suspect that the knocked out man below is actually Leni's father who was on his way to join them. Through complications and misunderstandings, they don't fully figure out who the man is before he's carted away via ambulance. The meal goes on and Rafi needs to deal with the younger brother's dabbling in orthodox Judaism, the sister's flirting, the Grandfather's myriad issues and also a variety of family squabbles.

Eventually a search for Leni's Dad begins at his office building. More arguing ensues, accusations of infidelity occur and a pet duck goes missing. The timing of the comedic elements is effortless throughout and the film never misses a beat. The cast never overplay their parts and this allows the gags and script to build upon previous moments in the film. It's the kind of film that makes you rush to IMDB to find everything else the filmmakers have worked on since things obviously had a sure hand to guide them. Directors Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri don't seem to have a great deal of experience behind them, but you'd never know it.

Terrific stuff and a good way for me to start this hopefully ongoing series.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Happy People Dancing on Planet Earth

This could be my favourite Internet video ever:

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Also found here.

Thanks to Greencine Daily for finding it.

Random Notes #2

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987 - Louis Malle) - Beautifully told story of an event from Malle's past - a sheltered Jewish boy being removed from the Catholic school he attended - is likely going to lead me down the path of investigating the rest of his stuff. "My Dinner With Andre" didn't quite do it for me (I found Wallace Shawn's character far more interesting than Andre), but both "Murmur Of The Heart" and "Elevator To The Gallows" were terrific and now this has sealed the deal...

One, Two, Three (1961 - Billy Wilder) - Aside from "Double Indemnity", this could be my favourite Billy Wilder film. From the get-go, this film is paced brillantly with little time to pause as Jimmy Cagney kicks into higher and higher gear. The last half hour literally sprints to the finish and is packed with gags and one liners a-plenty. Who knew that mixing Communists with Coca-Cola could be so much fun?

Otto Ludwig Piffl: Is everybody in this world corrupt?
Peripetchikoff: I don't know everybody.

Otto: They have assigned us a magnificent apartment. Just a short walk from the bathroom.

Otto: I'll pick you up at 6:30 sharp, because the 7:00 train for Moscow leaves promptly at 8:15.

Man, this was good.

Midnight (1939 - Mitchell Liesen) - More quality old comedy from Billy Wilder (though this time as script writer). A great entry into the screwball genre, "Midnight" stars Don Ameche, Claudette Colbert (who usually annoys me a bit, but not here) and John Barrymore (who also usually annoys me a bit, but is perfect here). Barrymore apparently refused to learn his lines for the film and used cue cards throughout, but his timing and reactions are impeccable in every scene. It also manages to inject subtlety into the nuttiness going on around the characters. Will Claudette keep up the charade as a Baroness in order to marry into money or will she give it up to be with her taxi driving true love? Ok, the answer is obvious, but the journey to it is highly entertaining.

El Topo (1970 - Alejandro Jodorowsky) - I can honestly say that, scene to scene, I had no idea what the hell I was going to see next...That's by no means a bad thing.

Dog Bite Dog (2006 - Pou-Soi Cheang) - The Dragon Dynasty label is releasing a whack of classic Asian action flicks as well as a number of more recent ones. There's some great stuff and some cheesy stuff. And there's some damn freaking awful stuff like this one. Why? Well:

  • It's one of the darkest looking films I've ever seen. You can rarely see characters faces and most of the time you don't even know who you're looking at.
  • There's very little action in the first 75 or so minutes. What's there is dull and uses far too much shaky cam.
  • It's not that the cops aren't overly bright - it's that they are to stupid to live. They have two methods of gaining information - screaming at suspects or hitting them. At one point in order to entice a suspect out into the open, they begin kicking his defenseless young girlfriend who is crippled with a tetanus infection. Doesn't make you really care for them as protagonists.
  • Which kind of sets up this suspect (a ruthless hit man) as the good guy. That's kind of tricky since we've already seen him cold-bloodedly kill. But in this film, that's apparently excusable - you see, his initial victim is a woman who wanted to divorce her husband and take all his money...As a matter of fact when the police interrogate the husband and find he contracted the killing, they all seem sympathetic for his reasons for doing it.
  • To prove that the killer is good hearted, the film shows him teaching a young timid girl living in a landfill how to fight back - but not so much that she could actually be of any use without him.
  • The only other female character in the film - the whole film - is a scared nurse who whimpers and runs away instead of giving aid to a patient. Of those 3 females, only the timid one is given any dialog - though it's only one single line repeated several times in one scene - and she's not depicted as the sharpest tack in the box. I don't think the film can be viewed as anything but misogynistic. There is a good dose of homoeroticism, but I doubt any of it was intended.
  • Everything is always at full tilt emotion wise. If you YELL it, then you obviously really meant it. Oh, and make your eyes really big too.
  • The music is uniformly bland or outright bad. The sappy acoustic guitar ballad during the "aw, look their in love" montage is cringe inducing. Not to mention the church choir showing up at "really serious" moments.
  • The sound design is awful - way over the top sound effects and bad foley editing (especially during some early eating scenes where the sound just doesn't match up) make this difficult to sit through at times.
  • For the hell of it, there's slow motion at several points for no discernible reason at all.

So it's no wonder you just don't give a crap when some of the characters get killed.

Flashpoint (2007 - Wilson Yip) - Better than "Dog Bite Dog" - if in this case I can define better as "sucking just a teeny bit less". This and Yip's previous film "SPL" (aka "Kill Zone") were both positioned as over the top action films. I can't remember a single thing from "SPL" (seriously, not one single image) and "Flashpoint" just grated on me, had little to no action and suffered from some of the same stupidity as the above. Bleh.

Fortunately, I've been able to wash out the bad taste those last two left...It's a good thing I watch a lot of movies.

Friday 1 August 2008

The Sound Of Dread

This post is part of the Kiyoshi Kurosawa Blog-a-thon happening over at Michael Guillen's The Evening Class.

"With Kurosawa, his films seep into your consciousness and rattle around for days."

That quote from Joseph B.'s (itsamadmadblog2) earlier entry to the blog-a-thon, regarding the 2001 film "Pulse", just about sums up my feeling towards Kurosawa - especially his "horror" films. Joseph does a terrific job of describing why this is: it's the dread, the overwhelming dread that drips from these films. And one of the main tools he uses to accomplish this is the sound field.

Kurosawa knows that sound is an essential component to being frightened. Sometimes it's those things that go bump in the night that you just can't quite ever pinpoint. Or maybe it's a sudden loud crash that jump starts your heart. Kurosawa pairs his unforgettable images with eerie moans, almost inaudible low rumbling and, worst of all, occasionally no sound at all. It's a stylistic difference that seems to separate him and many of his fellow Japanese filmmakers from their Hollywood counterparts. Subtlety in the use of sound.

Here's three examples (of course, these are all much better viewed on good size TVs with proper sound, but I hope these videos give a sense of what I mean):


It's probably the most well-known scene from the film - some people call her the crab lady. Note how the sound field sets things up and then raises the creepy factor by a hundred. There's that ghostly "ooooo" that rises up as the light comes on and then it's replaced only by a background high pitched squeaking/screeching sound as we see the ghost. And then the sound drops out completely as it moves.


Again, it's the sudden drop of all the ambient sounds - in this case the clanging of dishes and chattering of the restaurant - as we get the first glimpse of the ghostly figure in red. That's followed by a barely noticeable low chant in the background (almost like a howling wind) that keeps you on the edge while the camera pans across the restaurant.


After the ghostly woman in red shows up via the mirror with a disturbingly piercing scream, she begins to move towards the cowering Koji Yakusho. The longer this shot goes on and the closer the woman in red comes to the camera, the harder it is to watch with no sound. There's a strong sense of anticipation created - when will the normalcy of the noise around us return?

It's as if the presence of all these ghosts simply sucks out all the sound around you. And that's creepy.