Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: Damsels in Distress

Help Them

Greta Gerwig is a Damsel in Distress
It's the rare feeling to leave a cinema not entirely sure whether you liked or hated a film. Damsels in Distress evokes a confused response, and does so with great passion. While there's no doubt that much of it is funny - occasionally very funny indeed - and the film's exaggerated artificiality is wholly purposeful, you may well struggle to wonder what exactly writer/director Whit Stillman is trying to say or achieve. The only thing that's certain is that he says it in a unique and fascinating manner: it's what you'll make of those mannerisms that's a hard one to call.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: The Avengers

Things go Boom

So here it is. After several establishing films and hundreds of millions of dollars (both budget and box-office) The Avengers arrive (or Assemble, if we're to reflect that peculiar marketing subtitle) on screen, together for the first time. While not all of them enjoyed the luxury of individual feature-length introductions, anyone whose followed the recent torrent of Marvel films will recognise all these faces and characters. For the first time in big-budget cinema, we have a collective of comic books' most famous heroes - Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and various other cameos and bit-players - fighting evil together. But why, for a film with no shortage of personalities, does it feel so characterless?

(The rest of this review contains light to moderate spoilers, although I have mostly avoided specifics: if you're sensitive to that sort of thing, don't say I didn't warn you!)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Stray Thoughts: The Cabin in the Woods

Mutually-assured Deconstruction

Ahoy, maties! This article is directed at people who have seen Cabin in the Woods. If you haven't, this article is not for you as it is a place of spoilers and detailed analysis. However, I assure you that it's a highly enjoyable experience and is worthy of anybody's time. It's a film best viewed blind, so I will elaborate no more. Everyone else, continue on. Ahrrrrr!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: Inseparable

Spacey does China

Now this is an odd one. It's quite likely Inseparable will end up in a slightly wider range of theatres than your average Chinese film. It may well attract quite a bit of media coverage, and it is likely to get a relatively significant DVD release. This is for one very unusual reason: it stars Kevin Spacey. Not as a cameo (compared to Peter Stormare, who makes a much more fleeting appearance) but rather in quite a meaty, significant role. He's second in screen-time only to lead Daniel Wu, and maybe if you were to nitpick ties in terms of coverage and exposure with female lead Beibei Gong. To have such a notable American star front and centre in a Chinese film is pretty much unheard of, and will inevitably entice curious onlookers. But it doesn't deserve to, because the film isn't very good. Not very good at all.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: Arirang

Navel-gazing: with Ki-duk Kim

Image courtesy of Terracotta Distribution
 In 2008 prolific Korean director Ki-duk Kim - best known in the West for 3-Iron, The Isle and Spring Summer Autumn Winter... And Spring - was shooting his film Dream. In the movie, one of the characters attempts suicide. However, while filming, the 'noose' rig they had built went wrong and the actress lost consciousness. The quick actions of Kim saved the day, but the incident had a massive effect on the director, and he retreated in self-imposed exile to an isolated mountain cabin for three years. Trying to deal with the mental repurcussions of the incident, Kim struggled to regain the confidence to make another film, despite his deep-seeded love for the medium. A failed project with Willem Dafoe helped matters little. Eventually, Ki-duk decided on an unusual solution: to turn the camera on himself, and try to tease out why exactly he stopped making films in 2008.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: The Woodsman and the Rain


Going into The Woodsman and the Rain, I had absolutely no idea that it was from the same director as The Chef of South Polar. Crawling the Internet for pointless trivia afterwards, discovering that it was indeed another work from director Shuichi Okita was a pleasant surprise, and one that made an awful lot of sense in hindsight. Both are very amusing comedies with strong characterisation and a relaxed, engaging narrative flow. There's not as much food pornography on display here, but it's replaced by an affectionate look at amateur film-making in Japan. And zombie jokes.

Review: From Up On Poppy Hill

Tales From Earth / Sea

While I'd be the first to acknowledge a personal bias and fondness for the works of Studio Ghibli, I also fully acknowledge that they haven't had a perfect track record. While many of their works are amongst my all time favourite films, and a majority are at least very good, there are others I think are more disposable. Indeed, I'd argue that they haven't made a truly 'great' film since Spirited Away. I've laid out my feelings about the back catalogue relatively exhaustively here and here (and a review of Arrietty here). But there's only one Ghibli film I truly dislike, and that's Tales from Earthsea. It looks nice, but its vapid sub-Tolkien world of dragons and assorted nonsense was dull, with the narrative and characters duller still. It was a weak, poorly judged debut from Hayao Miyazaki's son Goro, and was almost completely devoid of the charm and energy that has defined the studio for decades. So it's with pessimism I approached Goro's second feature, From Up On Poppy Hill.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review: Himizu

Disaster Report

Image courtesy of Third Window Films
One remarkable and often uncommented upon strength of the Japanese film industry is their ability to get films made efficiently and quickly. Himizu, for example, is director Sion Sono's third film to receive a Western release in the last twelve months or so, and there's more on the way. Few Western directors would be capable of such feats (bar Woody Allen, and even he moves at a consistent rate of one a year, and at a frequent cost to quality). What sticks out particularly about Himizu, however, is how reactionary it is. It holds the unusual, potentially dubious honour of being Japan's first major post-earthquake movie. Berlinale this year played host to a number of films focusing on the tragedy, but Himizu received it's world premiere last September in Venice: a mere six months after the catastrophe.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Children Who Chase Voices from Deep Below

A Matter of Life & Death

Hoshi o Ou Kodomo
The 'next Miyazaki' is an inherently troublesome tag that inevitably gets dragged out by critics who have a limited understanding of the anime scene. It's a redundant comparison for a variety of reasons, not least because there literally is the next Miyazaki, and his name is Goro (responsible for the mediocre Tales of Earthsea and the upcoming From Up on Poppy Hill). As a number of interesting, inventive and deeply individual anime auteurs emerged in the last ten years - including Satoshi Kon (whose fruitful career was tragically cut short) and Mamoru Hosoda - it was, however, a descriptor that gained an unfortunate prominence in Western critical discussion.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review: Rango

Public Service Announcement: I would like to apologise for the disruption to Film Ha Ha over the last month or so. This was due to the author being extremely busy actually making a film rather than blogging about them. I barely had enough time to watch films, let alone write about them! However, things are winding down now so service should resume as normal :)

Rango is a funny one. In this simple film about a domesticated lizard who gets lost in the desert and ends up discovering an old Western town, there are hints of quiet subversion and a number of witty genre and cine-literate homages and pastiches. Yet it's also a victim of formula: a film unable to break free of the restrictions determined by its high budget peers.