Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Studio Ghibli's Arrietty Review

Studio Ghibli's latest animated wonder is The Borrower Arrietty retitled Arrietty for it's western release, with a screenplay from Hayao Miyazaki based on the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The movie marks the directorial debut of animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

Arrietty is a Borrower, a race of tiny people who live amongst the humans and "borrow" from them what they need to live and be comfortable. All the time being careful not to take something from the "Human Beans" they might miss and absolutely never be seen by them. Arrietty lives with her family under the floorboards of a house. This house gets a new inhabitant when Sho, a sick twelve year old boy comes to stay. On his arrival he spots Arrietty in the garden and this glimpse piques his curiosity and sets in motion a chain of events that could spell disaster for The Borrowers.

The film is instantly recognisable as a Ghibli movie in both aesthetic and thematic style, the unmistakeable character designs and the remarkable detail in the backgrounds give away the movie's heritage immediately, added to this the familiar themes of nature and environmental concerns, a strong female teenage protagonist, illness and a split family. It doesn't seem to matter how many times Ghibli and Miyazaki cover familiar territory, it always feels fresh and exciting and Arrietty is no different in that regard. However, what the film lacks is a little of the Ghibli magic, for a film with this subject matter it's maybe a little too grounded in reality, it's a minor point really as it works very well in this pseudo realistic manner.

Arrietty is another great central character in a long line of them from the studio, intelligent, resourceful, courageous and full of spirit. Much is made during the film of how fragile the borrowers place in the world is and how it doesn't take very much to endanger them, with Arrietty's parents this is understandable. Her mother is a terrible worrier and her father, while stoic is very much set in his ways, refusing to accept that a different path can be taken. Arrietty on the other hand gives you hope for the future, as she adapts to different situations in a way her parents cannot or will not. This spirit comes from the odd relationship that blossoms between the centimetres high Arrietty and Sho, the small and weak boy with a heart complaint. A strong bond is created between them that gives them both the strength they need to face their individual problems.

The film is brought to wonderful life through the incredible animation and the amazingly sumptuous detail in the backgrounds. Whether it be the beautiful garden or the tangible spaces between the floorboards the borrowers have made their home, it all feels wonderfully real as they move around from their tiny world into the human space.

Space is a huge word here, the scenes of Arrietty and her father traversing the human world are some of the best scenes in the film, with a tremendous sense of scale and scope. This is helped by some wonderful sound design that really places you in the middle of the action, a scene where they enter Sho's room to try to borrow a tissue is a fantastic example of this, as they walk into the room, you can almost feel the noise from a ticking clock. There are numerous examples of this throughout and it adds immeasurably to the movie. It's to Yonebayashi's credit that on his debut effort he achieves such excellence, and leaves me full of confidence that Ghibli has a director who can carry the torch when Miyazaki stops working.

Arrietty is a charming and delightful movie that I would highly recommend to anyone, and if not top tier Ghibli, then that's only because it would have to be perfect to reach that level, it's pretty close though!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Trailer For Statham And De Niro Together In Killer Elite

I was pretty hard on the Jason Statham remake of The Mechanic but that was only because it was rubbish! So when I saw his name attached to a film called Killer elite, I thought he was trying to ruin another seventies action movie, Peckinpah's The Killer elite. Fortunately this is not a remake of that film and from the trailer looks like it maybe really fun. It's actually an adaptation of Ranulph Fiennes novel The Feathermen.

HD available here

Add in Robert DeNiro (Okay,so his record isn't exactly stellar lately but he was fun in Machete), Clive Owen (complete with one of the best/worst staches I've seen for sometime) and Yvonne Strahovski (Sarah from Chuck) as eye candy and I'm there! Released in the US on September 23rd.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Black Ransom

Black ransom is brought to you by the writer and director team of Wong Jing and Keung Kwok Man, the duo responsible for 2007's Bullet and brain. If that doesn't exactly fill you with confidence then I don't think anyone would blame you!

Mann (Simon Yam) is a former top cop, relegated down the ranks after struggling to deal with the death of his wife, all he has left is a teenage daughter, oh and some jedi like powers he calls "The feeling". Mann is called upon to investigate a series of ransom kidnappings of prominent triad members, when the kidnappers lead by ex cop Sam (Michael Miu) take out the cocky A team of cops assigned to the case. Mann uses the feeling to puzzle out the case and try to take down Sam's team of vigilante kidnappers. This being a Wong Jing script, it's all full of holes and seriously convoluted by the finale.

Black ransom isn't a terrible film, it has a few decent action sequences, particularly a sniper scene. The actors are mostly pretty good with a supporting cast including Fala Chen, Andy On, Liu Yang and Xing Yu. On the other hand it's not a good film either, it feels lazy, unconvincing, over earnest and pretty laughable in places. In fairness the laughable parts help to keep the film reasonably entertaining, otherwise it's so straight faced that the unintentional humour is very welcome. Although it does stop you taking the drama element of the movie seriously.

Most of this humour comes from Mann's feeling powers, as good an actor as Simon Yam undoubtedly is I'm not sure he knew quite how to play this part of the role. He's fine in the dramatic and action parts of the movie, but when it comes to the feeling moments, he alternates between looking in deep concentration, confused and heavily constipated or pregnant (maybe both). I'm not sure what else he could have done with it but the result is pretty funny.

A passably entertaining action thriller then but certainly nothing to get excited about, I'd say file under time killer. It's an improvement on Bullet and brain, so at least Keung Kwok Man is heading in the right direction but if you have seen that movie you will know that isn't saying much!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Peter Yates' 1973 film The Friends of Eddie Coyle was based on George V. Higgins novel of the same name. Set in Boston, the film was a huge influence on Ben Affleck's recent Boston set, blue collar crime movie The Town.

Eddie "Fingers" Coyle (Robert Mitchum)  is a low level career criminal in Boston, he's been around for (too many) years and knows all the right people. In his last job, bootlegging liquor he was busted and is now facing a two to five year jail term. Worried about his family, Eddie is desperate to avoid doing time again. He decides to turn snitch to a treasury agent (Richard Jordan). In the world of hoods and cops, how does he know who he can trust anymore? Who is informing on who? and is what he can offer enough?

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a remarkably low key affair, and a relatively unknown gem perhaps due to the difficulty in being able to see it. Unavailable for years until the recent Criterion dvd release, it's unbelievable that a film as good as this is so little known.

Yates' movie is a lean, hard boiled noir tinged thriller, by no means an action film but it does boast a couple of tense and exciting bank heists. The real strength of the film is in the writing and the performances of the fantastic cast. The writing of the web of characters and how they interact shows a faith in the audience's intelligence sorely lacking in modern movies, if only more films would treat us with this same level of respect. It's also fantastic to see a crime film at this end of the spectrum for a change. Usually we see gangsters or criminals who are already wealthy, with the fast cars and huge houses doing jobs for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars rather than the small jobs of people, like most of us, who are trying to make enough money to make ends meet.

Robert Mitchum has rarely been better than he is here as Coyle, the world weariness and rumpled appearance he brings to the role is perfect. He has a couple of excellent scenes with his wife that generate some sympathy for a character that is largely unsympathetic. Ultimately though, Coyle is a sad sack of a man, backed into a corner through his desperation to avoid jail, he makes a series of mistakes that as a younger man he would likely not have made. Forced into breaking the rules of the lifestyle that has consumed him, he is left with nowhere to go. Mitchum portrays this supremely well, he has some great lines but does most of his acting through facial expressions rather than words, in keeping with the low key nature of the movie.

Richard Jordan as the slippery treasury agent is excellent, using any and all means to catch the men he's after regardless of the consequences for anyone else. He's fully aware of the situations of all the "tools" at his disposal and uses, manipulates, ignores and discards as he sees fit. Peter Boyle is as good as he's ever been in a low key performance as Coyle's seemingly "best friend". Great support comes from Steven Keats as an arms dealer pivotal to the story and Alex rocco as leader of the bank robbers.

Yates' makes excellent use of the Boston locations and the film looks great thanks to the gritty cinematography of Victor Kemper. It's not hard to see why the film didn't do well with the tough, harsh and downbeat tone, along with the waning star power of Mitchum at the time. This maybe why the film has been so hard to see and why the film is still so unknown and that makes it's ripe for rediscovery.

It's Mitchum's movie through and through, get to know it and you'll surely love it, from a classic decade of film, it's one of the best!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dexter Season Six Coming Soon! A Message From Dexter

Available in HD here

After initially avoiding Dexter, despite hearing positives about it from just about everywhere, I finally started watching the show on dvd while the fourth season was airing. I absolutely fell in love with the show from the very first episode and had caught up to date by the time of the shocking conclusion to the Trinity killer arc. To have to go cold turkey for nine months and wait to see season five, after having two or three episodes most days was tough. When it did return season five was well worth the wait, providing some of the most tense television I have ever seen. Julia Stiles was fantastic as was Johnny Lee Miller, and as for Michael C. Hall, is there a better actor on television? Not for me.

It's a great teaser with fantastic use of Hall's face and voice, the only issue is I hate the CGI bloody eyes.

The long wait for season six is disappearing quickly and it won't be long before that credit sequence and lilting theme music are back to comfort me for another twelve weeks. I don't want to know details of what is to come, the one thing I do know is that Edward James Olmos is joining the cast and I'm very cool with that.

An earlier trailer is available but if you haven't seen any of the show, don't watch it!

HD here

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Coen Brothers' True Grit

One of, if not the most crowd pleasing and accessible movie of the Coen brothers career, True Grit still shows plenty of their trademark wit and weirdness to satisfy their long term fans. Unjustly overlooked at the 2011 Oscar ceremony despite receiving ten nominations, the film is a triumph on every level. While touted as a remake of the 1969 film of the same name for which John Wayne won an Oscar, the film is actually a more faithful representation of the source novel by Charles Portis.

After the murder of her father by Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) attempts to find a U.S Marshall with enough of the titular true grit to track down and bring the killer to justice. Rueben "Rooster" Cogburn seems to fit the bill, thanks to his predilection for shooting his prisoners. Unfortunately he also has a similar predilection for laziness and swigging whiskey but Mattie puts her faith in Cogburn. A trio is formed when La Boeuf (Matt Damon) joins them, he's a Texas ranger who has been tracking Chaney for months. They cross over the river into Indian territory to find the wanted man.

True Grit has two huge performances at it's heart. Jeff Bridges is absolutely outstanding as Rooster Cogburn, I suppose it isn't really a surprise how good he is but I didn't expect him to be as funny as he is. Much has been made of the mumbling delivery of his lines but once you get a handle on it, it's easy enough to understand. As great as Bridges is, movie newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is even better, standing toe to toe with a showboating Jeff Bridges is no mean achievement. She carries the role of the incredibly smart girl to perfection, running rings around the other characters in the film mentally, while still having the vulnerability of a young girl in the old west. The fight between the two characters as to who is the more stubborn is at the core of the movie and is present in almost every scene they share. Matt Damon is also excellent as the Texas ranger whose opinion of his own intelligence is a little overrated. Unassuming at first, his strength comes to the fore as the movie progresses. Excellent support is provided by Barry Pepper and Josh Brolin amongst others.

The joy of the movie comes from the incredible use of language, always one of the Coen brothers strengths. The movie this most reminds me of from their ouevre is Miller's Crossing, which happens to be one of my favourites of all the Coen's films. True Grit shares a similar use of wordplay with that film as well as the unmistakable music of frequent Coen collaborator Carter Burwell. The attention to period detail is fantastic with the set and costume design looking perfect. An exceptionally rich atmosphere is created here that is only intensified by the beautifully classic photography of another frequent Coen's collaborator, D.O.P Roger Deakins. The film's widescreen vistas are works of art in themselves and need to be seen on as large a screen as possible.

The Coen brothers have done it again with True Grit, delivering a wonderfully entertaining, perfectly crafted movie that retains the idiosyncratic flavour that's unique to them, while leaving behind the cynicism they usually bring to the table. A must see movie and one that will truly stand the test of time.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Johnnie Got His Gun : Johnnie To Documentary

Johnnie got his gun is the latest film from France's Yves Montmayeur, a filmmaker who has made a number of Asian film based documentaries. This latest film concentrates on Johnnie To, fairly familiar territory for him as he previously made a short film on Milkyway image,which is included on the French dvd release of Breaking news.Update: reviewed here

Is this proof of a subbed good quality Mission?
Johnnie got his gun is a mix of interview snippets with To, these are taken from various sources and are cobbled together with clips from including Breaking news, P.T.U and The Mission amongst others. It seems Montmayeur did do an interview but it's so chopped up and mixed in it feels insignificant. Prominent members of casts and crew also feature in interview form but again from many different times and sources. Interestingly Wai Ka Fai hardly warrants a mention and is not interviewed at all. The major flaw with the film is this cobbled together aspect, it's fine for the cast and crew parts but the clips of Johnnie To feel particularly disjointed and undermine anything Montmayeur was trying to say. For anyone familiar with To's work, Johnnie got his gun provides little in terms of insight into either the films or the man and for anyone who doesn't like To, then nothing here will sway that opinion.
Another flaw with the film is despite a short running time of only 59 minutes, it feels quite padded with a few too many artily shot on video establishing shots of Hong Kong, set to moody music.

For fans of To and his films however, the film has plenty to offer. Perhaps the most interesting elements to come from To himself are focused on how his filmmaking style evolved and how that style affects the narratives the Milkyway team come up with. Also interesting is the collaboration with the Hong Kong police to make sure the cop characters are following the correct procedures in the films. The cast and crew interviews feature some nice moments including Anthony Wong (in English) confirming that To can be somewhat of a tyrant if the actors don't give him what he requires!

A few clips of behind the scenes footage from various films are featured including a kind of guided tour of the Milkyway building with Simon Yam (again in English) culminating with the roof top set used for the final shoot out in Exiled, this was great to see and provided a real insight into the movie making process. We also get to see a few moments of Life without principle being shot with Lau Ching Wan and a trip to Cannes to promote Election.

I didn't find Johnnie got his gun particularly successful as a documentary, it's too superficial for that. It needed a more in depth specific interview rather than snippets from all over. What it does do well though is provide fans with some cool moments that given the lack of special features usually included on Milkyway dvds, they would otherwise never get to see. You can take that as a measure of if you need to see it or not!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Johnnie To's Sparrow UK Limited Edition Dvd Box Set

Another of Johnnie To's personal projects, Sparrow was surprisingly picked up by Terracotta distribution for a limited cinema release in the UK. I say surprisingly as it's not a particularly marketable film to western audiences. Other than having the Johnnie To brand, it isn't an easy sell to what is perceived by the dvd companies as the usual buyers of Asian movies such as the Asian extreme crowd or kung fu fans.

I'm not sure how I missed this dvd release but in early May while the movie was still showing in cinemas Terracotta released a limited three disc edition of Sparrow. As well as the movie, a second dvd with the extras from the Hong Kong release and more importantly, as far as I'm aware the worldwide dvd premiere of Yves Montmayeur's documentary Johnnie got his gun. As an added bonus a cd of the wonderful soundtrack by Xavier Jamaux and Fred Avril is included as a third disc.

The film is scheduled to be released again in September as a normal release, I'm not sure if this means as a stand alone disc or with the documentary but will certainly be missing the cd. I already have the HK blu ray and I've previously posted about the soundtrack, so buying this was all about the documentary. Once I've had a chance to watch it I will post a review.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Recent Buys

Time for another round up of recent purchases, an odd month for me this one as I've hardly picked up any of my beloved Hong Kong movies, but not a bad selection overall.

Once upon a time in the west blu ray, Sergio Leone's masterpiece in high def at last.

Girls, Guns and G-strings, The Andy Sidaris collection. Twelve of Sidaris' movies on three dvds. What's not to love?

The Howling, Joe Dante's excellent werewolf film.

The Quick and the dead blu ray, Sam Raimi's underrated western, haven't seen this since it's original release.

The Return of the living dead blu ray, a welcome high def upgrade for Dan O'Bannon's hugely fun 80's zombie classic.

Some recommendations and reminders now from fellow bloggers, first up Wes' blog Plutonium shores reminded me of James Glickenhaus' The Exterminator. If you haven't checked out this blog then do so as Wes is a man of impeccable taste. At the moment he is working his way through the list of video nasties, familiar territory for sure but handled in a freshly entertaining manner. Wes also has an extensive archive of great stuff to read too if nasties aren't your thing.

Comeuppancereviews recently reviewed these two films by cult favourite Brian Trenchard-Smith, they sound like fun and I picked them up cheaply. Brett and Ty really know their stuff when it comes to the action genre. The cover for Day of the panther is pretty bad but I don't think I've ever seen worse artwork for a dvd than the Strike of the panther cover!

Fight! Dragon is a 1974 Japanese martial arts childrens TV show recommended by Achillesgirl that looks incredible and is available for not much money from the same people that brought you the Andy Sidaris collection mentioned higher up this post. It looks insane and insanely funny from the trailer.

Finally my only Hong Kong film this month, and it's a title I already have on blu ray. Johnnie To's Sparrow, in a special limited edition three disc edition which I will do a separate post about as it's so cool!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Seediq Bale From John Woo And Wei Te-Sheng Posters And Trailer

Seediq Bale directed by Wei Te-Sheng and produced by John Woo and Terence Chang has just had it's first full trailer released. The director's dream project apparently taking 13 years of work, the movie was able to go ahead due to the success of Wei's Cape No.7, the highest grossing Taiwanese film in history.

Also available in HD here.

The movie will be released in two parts in September and tells the story of The Wushe incident, which I'll be honest I didn't know anything about. The trailer looks suitably epic and it will be interesting to see how the film will be received. Teaser and character posters are below.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

John Woo's Bullet In The Head

Warning: This post will contain some strong language and spoilers, it will also be overlong and rambling, so I've included a somewhat shorter version below.

John Woo's epic Bullet in the head is fucking awesome and makes me cry. A lot. It's like Beaches but for men, with guns instead of Bette Midler!

Bullet in the head is John Woo's most personal and ambitious film of his entire career. Woo himself says the early part of the film is semi-autobiographical, and was filmed in Shek Kip Mei where Woo lived. The troubles and violence of the area greatly influenced Woo's filmmaking and none more so than in this movie.

The original idea for Bullet in the head was conceived as a prequel to A Better tomorrow. After that film had been such a success a sequel was needed but they had killed off Chow Yun Fat's Mark Gor character. The idea was put on the back burner as Tsui Hark pushed Woo into making A Better tomorrow II with Chow Yun Fat as Mark's brother Ken. He then made The Killer, which made his name on the international stage but the idea for Bullet never went away. Unfortunately Woo and Hark fell out during this period, resulting in Hark rushing out a prequel to the Better tomorrow films himself, using the still under contract Chow Yun Fat.

The original script for Bullet shared a number of similarities with A Better tomorrow III. Undeterred by this Woo carried on with a substantially altered script in which he poured his feelings and anger about the terrible events in Tiananmen Square. These feelings led directly to the incredibly intense masterpiece Woo delivered.

Incredible this scene was allowed to be in the film

Monday, June 13, 2011

John Woo Love: The Killer Lobby Card Set And Signed Programme

As promised as part of my John Woo posts here is the lobby card set that Made in Hong Kong did to celebrate their release of The Killer. It only contains four cards but they come in a nice folder, I wouldn't have thought there would be too many of these around.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

John Woo Love : Bullet In The Head Lobby Cards Or Una Bala En La Cabeza

I've been in a John Woo kind of mood these last few days as I've been working on my Bullet in the head post, for which I have sat through the new blu ray release and the old vcd version as well. Here are the Spanish lobby cards for the film, known in (cool) Spanish as Una Bala en la cabeza.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Johnnie To's Don't Go Breaking My Heart Review

After a long break Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai return to the romantic comedy genre with Don't go breaking my heart, a movie specifically tailored to the mainland Chinese market. As you would expect, the filmmaking is of a very high standard but the movie suffers comparison to earlier Milkyway rom-coms, it lacks Needing you's fantastic chemistry and Hong Kongness and Love on a diet's more straight forward humour, to name two.

The very basic plot sees Zixin (Gao Yuan Yuan), after suffering a horrible break up, being courted by two wealthy and handsome men, Cheung Shen Ran (Louis Koo) a weak willed playboy and Fang QiHong (Daniel Wu) a drunk, disillusioned architect. While they may not sound eligible from that description, the film is a female wish fulfilment fantasy, so Cheung Shen Ran is the magnetic bad boy many women cannot help but fall for and QiHong becomes the almost nauseatingly perfect man. The question is after having her heart broken previously who will she choose?

Firstly Don't go breaking my heart looks fantastic, To and Cheng Siu Keung yet again make Hong Kong look incredible, this time instead of using the kind of shots and locations of his crime films, here we see an altogether sleeker and shinier Hong Kong that looks every bit the amazingly expensive urban playground these characters would frequent. Another huge plus for the film is how visual the storytelling is, with plot points presented using filmmaking tricks and techniques rather than dialogue. This sets the Milkyway rom-coms apart from other examples of the genre where exposition often bogs the movie down so far it cannot recover.

Unfortunately the film does have a couple of significant problems. Firstly it's far too long at just short of two hours, there just isn't enough in the screenplay to warrant that kind of running time, again maybe this is something for the mainland market? as it's unusual for a To film. Secondly, the film's materialistic veneer is far too thick, at times the movie has a Sex and the city vibe to it which at least to my eyes is VERY unwelcome.

Gao Yuan Yuan makes an appealingly cute lead, bringing life to a pretty bland character, Daniel Wu is fine but spends much of his onscreen time being upstaged by a comical frog and is saddled with a character who is just too perfect to be remotely real. Louis Koo is perfect for his role as the wealthy and charismatic playboy (Not too much of a stretch for him I guess) who is too honest for his own good. It is testament to the quality of the writing and Koo's performance that a character who should be unlikeable actually isn't and manages to keep you guessing right up to the end of the film as to which way Zixin will go. Lam Suet adds support playing another of his buffoon roles and as usual is very welcome, what would a Milkyway film be without him?

I'm left with mixed feelings on Don't go breaking my heart, on the one hand the film's targeting of the mainland has many negative effects on the film, in addition it just doesn't have enough humour. On the other hand, the filmmaking is sumptuous, the gimmicks are cute and cleverly intergrated into the narrative and the leads are all very watchable. Ultimately Don't go breaking my heart is a really enjoyable movie but had it been 90 minutes and had fewer concessions to the mainland it could have been great rather than just good.
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