Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012)

Shell shock

Jim Carrey made minor headlines the other day for announcing that in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, he would feel uncomfortable promoting his work in the forthcoming Kick-Ass 2 and hence has withdrawn his support for the endeavour. Criticisms of hypocrisy weren't far behind - after all, if Carrey is so vocally anti-gun / anti-violence, why did he sign up for the film in the first place? I'd be inclined to at least partially sympathise with Carrey (mostly because I think Mark Millar's aggressively immature work favours cheap, empty shock value above all else). But more than anything it reopened that seemingly endless debate about the connections between screen violence and real violence. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pather Panchali (Satyajit Ray, 1955)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Oh, we're half way there! Diving into the world of Pather Panchali and, because they're so interconnected, two unexpected bonus films: the continuing adventures of a boy called Apu in Aparajito and World of Apu.

To say my knowledge of Indian cinema is limited is a serious understatement - my knowledge basically amounting to stereotypes perpetuated by Western media. There's no doubt that a sharp cultural divide exists, and that the Bollywood industry is built on basic, endlessly repeated formula - but there are without question great films out there that I have simply never been inclined to seek out. That, up until now, included the work of Satayajit Ray - pretty much the uncontested auteur laureate of Indian (or specifically Bengal) filmmaking. The man earned the undying respect of everyone from Kurosawa to Scorsese - honestly, I'm a little ashamed I didn't get around to his films earlier.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Before Midnight (2013, Richard Linklater)

Still walking

It's extremely easy to get disillusioned with the sequel as a concept, with the scales so frequently misaligned between 'worthy expansion' and 'cynical franchising'. Then something like Before Midnight comes along to inspire us all - the third wildly successful encounter with a familiar couple (if we're being pedantic, Bizarro World Jesse and Celine also featured in the excellent but hardly canon philosophical anthology Waking Life). It's both a comforting continuation and adventurous expansion of 2004's Before Sunset and 1994's Before Sunrise - the central concerns has shifted dramatically in our absence, but it all still feels like the latest chapter in a consistent whole. Like Before Sunset, Before Midnight was not strictly speaking needed - the beautifully ambiguous conclusion of the last film was pitch-perfect - but it's sometimes the unexpected sequels that provide the most satisfying dividends.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013)

Hero worship

I'm sure it's a grand old life being Zack Snyder, aka Hollywood's Worst Auteur (HWA). He might be among my all-time least favourite directors, but in a very limited sense I kind of respect him. The HWA has achieved an enviable position - happily deflecting the vocal criticism of his work as he's consistently granted the hottest properties and healthy creative control (after all, few of Hollywood's other worst auteurs are granted the freedom to make films like Sucker Punch). And, in fairness to the HWA, he's more than a mere hack - his films are his own, his style absolutely distinctive, and his body of work is constantly exploring similar themes & ideas, ensuring his filmography is the work of a singular auteur rather than your average 'filmmaker for hire' even when the results tend to be absolutely awful. Like pretty much all his films thus far (Dawn of the Dead excepted, his sole mostly successful effort), Man of Steel is not quite your average blockbuster - instead it's this weird mix of uniqueness, familiarity and pretension. It doesn't work, not by a long shot.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Attack the Gas Station! (Kim Sang-jin, 1999)

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films (and links to other completed posts) can be found here. Nine: a night of humour, violence and social commentary as we Attack the Gas Station!

I first heard about Attack the Gas Station! several years ago while browsing through an edition of one of those '1001 Movies Before You Die' books. The short essay about the film, as well as its excitingly exclamatory title, piqued my interest immediately. Regrettably, the film has long since been unavailable on European DVD (if, indeed, if was even released in the first place, an uncertainty my very brief research has failed to illuminate). The film - and I'm merely theorising here - was perhaps unlucky enough to burst onto the scene just before Oldboy, A Tale of Two Sisters and the whole Asian Extreme craze which, for a period, ensured any vaguely provocative Korean film enjoyed a healthy release. This particular film enjoys a relatively healthy fanbase in States, but maybe arrived at just the wrong time to disseminate beyond the enthusiast importers of Europe.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Story of Yonosuke (Shuichi Okita, 2012)

A Tall Long Tale

Photo: Third Window Films
It's perilously close to a rule that every contemporary Japanese film is too long. Undoubtedly, some prove more capable than others at justifying their two hour plus running time - I think few fans of the splendidly indulgence Love Exposure would opt to have even a couple of its 240-odd minutes trimmed (indeed, curiosity persists about the fabled original cut that reportedly ran into Satantango territory). Nevertheless, some happy exceptions aside, a majority of even superior Japanese motion pictures indulge in ten, fifteen, thirty minutes of content than is not - strictly speaking - necessary.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Last Stand (Kim Ji-woon, 2012)

When Arnie meets auteur

The Korean invasion of Hollywood is well underway, and the results are proving fascinating to watch. Park Chan-wook delivered Stoker - not the director's finest picture (mostly down to a rather haphazard script), but a damn fine piece of work that happily proved his unique directorial stylings had made the continental hop mostly intact. Bong Jo-hoon's intriguingly dystopian Snowpiercer is on the way, and Song Kang-ho - perhaps the central acting figure of the 'Korean Wave' - is along for the English language ride.