Friday, December 30, 2011

My Top Ten Pick of 2011's Films

My favourite movies of 2011, ranked in some sort of order of preference. There are no hard and fast rules for inclusion release wise but most of these saw some sort of release in the UK in 2011.

With most of the big Summer movies disappointing this year, the best of them for me being Captain America. I loved the first half of Joe Johnston's film but the second half fell away so badly, the final action scene reminded me of the Star Wars prequels. After reading great reviews of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was disappointed with that too, from having zero expectations to some, I thought it was okay but nothing special at all.

Of course I haven't seen everything by any stretch of the imagination, I would have expected Tree of Life to be in contention to be on this list had I seen it. The same goes for the disappointing showing for Hong Kong movies this year. Again the two I would have expected to be on or near the list, Johnnie To's Life Without Principle and Ann Hui's A Simple Life, I haven't been able to see as yet. It was also no surprise Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmasters didn't see a release! Let the Bullets Fly almost made it but that's a Chinese film anyway.

On with the list.

10. Hanna    My review here

2011 had plenty of disappointing action movies, Joe Wright's Hanna is the one Hollywood action blockbuster from this year with heart, brains and style. To get these together in a movie is unusual enough in itself but from a director better known for serious drama, all the more surprising. Great performances and a Cool Chemical Brothers soundtrack too.

09. Wu Xia

Peter Ho Sun Chan's Wu Xia starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Jimmy Wang Yu is the only Hong Kong movie on this list. I have yet to review the film as I only saw it recently but it deserves it's place in this list as it's superbly made, involving, very entertaining and very well acted, yes even Donnie! It has flaws, the main one being it's almost like two separate movies spliced together but if the effect is a little jarring, they do come together by the end. Full review to follow, maybe.

08. True Grit    My review here

While not top tier Coen Brothers True Grit deserves it's place on this list thanks to a superb set of performances, amazing production design and glimpses of the Coen's wit mixed into the adaptation of the book. A special mention also for Roger Deakins photography, this is one gorgeous movie.

07. Au Revoir Taipei    My review here

While not the most action packed or thought provoking movie on this list, Arvin Chen's Au Revoir Taipei is certainly one of the most fun movies I've seen this year, it twists noir and gangster conventions until almost unrecognisable. Charming and amusing, with a likeable turn from Jack Yao and an adorable one from Amber Kuo and with simply beautiful cinematography. I loved it.

06. Kill List    My review here

Kill List is Ben Wheatley's second film as a director but you'd never know it, this film shows a rapidly maturing talent and confidence that holds great promise for the future. Not only that but it's a damn good film too, an unsettling and visceral assault of a movie both in it's visuals but even more in it's brutal sound design. Excellent stuff.

05. Cold Fish    My review here

Sion Sono's Cold Fish defies categorisation, a true crime/horror opus shot right through with a serious vein of black comedy. Sono once again proves himself to be a unique talent, deftly juggling all the components into something whole. The ending is probably the most audience bludgeoning endings I've seen for a long, long time.

04. Attack The Block    My review here

Attack The Block was my single most enjoyable movie of the year. A very funny, suspenseful and completely kick ass action movie. The kind of low budget movie that puts Hollywood to shame with it's $200 million turds, ATB has a style and economy that enhances it's quality, from creature design through to it's setting and action. I don't think this could have been any better with ten times the budget and that is genius (I guess first time director Joe Cornish may argue that point!).

03. The Yellow Sea    My review here

Na Hong Jin's The Yellow Sea seems to be problematic to audiences due to it's length, clocking in at around two and a half hours. Yes, it is overlong, but I loved every minute of it and didn't want it to end. After a fairly quiet start comes an incredible series of increasingly brutal set pieces, after The Chaser and this I'll be front of the queue for anything Na Hong Jin makes.

02. 13 Assassins    My review here

I've written enough about Takashi Miike's Samurai remake already, it was one of my most anticipated films of the year and it didn't disappoint. For me, this is a classic of it's genre already and one of the best action endings to a movie you could ever see.

01. Drive    My review here

Number one on this list for many reasons, Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive had excellent performances everywhere, style to burn and is my pick as the best soundtrack of the year. Above all of this though is the feel, everything about this film felt right, I couldn't think of anything that would have made Drive a better movie. Despite it's surface simplicity it haunted me for weeks afterwards and I'm still thinking about it three months on. Cool jacket too.

That's it for 2011, hope you enjoyed the list and I'd love to know what is on yours either via your own blog, the comments section or Facebook. Happy New Year and hope 2012 brings everything you could wish for.

More Images From Nameless Gangster

Nameless Gangster now has a website and new character posters and stills. I'm so excited for this film, I can't wait.

To see more, including the teaser trailer here is my first post on the film.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Seven-Ups

Philip D'Antoni's only directorial credit is The Seven-Ups. He's better known as the producer of Bullitt and The French Connection, and this film shares an equally gritty and grimy take on the American crime film. Starring the great Roy Schieder, Tony Lo Bianco and a number of genre favourites including Richard Lynch and Joe Spinell and based on a novel by Richard Posner.

The title comes from the team of cops led by Schieder, a squad who specialise in taking down criminals who will spend a minimum of seven years behind bars. To do this the team use unusual and shady tactics, most of which are frowned upon by their colleagues. Much of the intelligence used by Schieder comes from a snitch, his childhood friend, who has ties to the local criminal fraternity. During the course of an investigation Schieder discovers high ranking criminals are being kidnapped by men posing as cops. The Seven-Ups are suspected of being behind the kidnappings and Schieder and his men go after the real culprits, setting off a violent chain of events that blur the line between cop and criminal.

Initial impressions of The Seven-Ups were not good, the film opens on what at first appears to be a tense set up on a bust in an antiques store before turning into something out of a Keystone Cops farce. Things pick up quickly though and soon we're into the kind of milieu American crime cinema is justifiably famous for. The film's aesthetic is in tone with the film's content, full of muted colours and griminess, making excellent use of New York locations, completely unfamiliar to me. The cast is excellent, with Schieder as ever a standout and Tony Lo Bianco keeping up with him. Richard Lynch and Joe Spinell are also notable but it's the incredible skill of Bill Hickman that takes the plaudits. He plays one of the kidnappers  alongside Lynch, a stunt driver really, he was behind the famous car chase in The French Connection. Hickman playing an actual character gives a seriously dangerous feel to the stunning car chase featured in the film, to have close ups on the actor gives this particular chase a vitality lacking in so many other examples of what became such a cliched movie component, most of which became a chore to sit through.

A really solid cop film, which despite a shaky start builds in intensity throughout it's running time, becoming increasingly gripping, nasty and uncompromising without being particularly graphic in it's violence. All this and one of the best and most realistic looking car chases I've ever seen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fatal Termination

An excellent example of the kind of balls out action film making that did so much to bring excited attention to the Hong Kong cinema scene in the early nineties amidst Woomania. Unfortunately Andrew Kam's Fatal Termination is quite hard to see, at least legitimately, and deserves a much wider audience. It may not have the style or sophistication of John Woo's celebrated work but what it lacks in those areas, it more than makes up for in the insanity of it's action sequences.

The film has an overly exposition heavy plot, involving two sets of warring terrorists trying to get hold of an arsenal of weapons due to pass through Hong Kong, is further complicated by two sets of investigating cops, a corrupt customs official and a vicious gangster. The first half hour or so is quite slow as the plot and characters are set up, and perhaps could have been trimmed back a little, however once the action gets going, the stuntmen really suffer for our enjoyment. Fatal Termination is a brutal and mean spirited movie and altogether better for it. A catalogue of life endangering stunts are performed for the viewers pleasure, the most infamous one being the little girl dangling from the window of a fast moving car, while Moon Lee on the bonnet, tries to fight two guys through the windscreen to save the girl. No matter how many times you see it, you never can quite believe what you're seeing. The kind of sequence that could (and should) never be made now, and that really shouldn't ever have been filmed, truly gobsmacking!

After the slow start the intensity really picks up, until by the finale it's pretty gripping, due mainly to the anything goes nature of the film. It's said of many films but here you really do believe any and all of the characters are fair game to die horribly at any second. Fatal Termination isn't really an actor's film, but Robin Shou as the corrupt customs official is good, Simon Yam is solid as usual without really making that much of an impression and Moon Lee is as good as I've seen her. It's Philip Ko though who steals the show as the ridiculously evil gangster, he seems to be having a real blast.

Fatal Termination is not the gory spectacle that Kam's own The Big Heat is, but does deliver on the action and stunts front in a similar manner to that film's grand guignol approach to gore. Unfortunately difficult to see now, as the VCD and DVD are long OOP, it's well worth the effort of tracking it down, if only to see the kind of Hong Kong action spectacle that just doesn't get made anymore.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas From A Hero Never Dies And The Twins

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or whatever else it is you do at this time of year. I'd like you all to join me in celebrating with Charlene and Gillian at this festive time. More importantly I'd like to thank all my readers and blogging friends for all the support through the first year of A Hero Never Dies and hope you stick around for year two.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Johnnie To And Wai Ka Fai's Running On Karma

My reaction to seeing Running on Karma for the first time was a sense of bewildered excitement, the film that at first appeared to be another of To and Wai's commercial efforts, in fact turned out to be something wildly different. Rarely does a movie throw me so far off balance as this one did, I had no idea where the story was taking me or by what route, leaving me with a sense of giddy disorientation that hasn't been equalled since. Revisiting the film again recently via the Hong Kong blu ray release, obviously it doesn't have quite the same dizzying effect, but it's easier to appreciate the bravery in the choices the film makes, and at the same time making more sense of the film as a whole.

By choosing Andy Lau and Cecilia Cheung, two of the biggest box office stars in Hong Kong at the time, and after the success of To and Wai's Love on a diet where Lau donned a fat suit, using the gimmick of a latex muscle suit for Lau's character together with careful marketing made Running on Karma appear to be another light comedy. If what cinemagoers were expecting was a simple popcorn movie they would have been either thrillingly surprised or horribly disappointed depending on their predilection by what they saw. To and Wai manage to cram multiple genres into Running on Karma, featuring elements of comedy, police procedural, horror, action, wire assisted kung fu, romance and drama (and I've left some out!). While this approach is nothing new to Hong Kong cinema, what is quite different with this film is how everything combines into a strong narrative, even as the film shifts from genre to genre and flashback to flashback, the spine of the film holds firm. The end result is a powerfully affecting rumination on the laws and nature of Karma, told in a terrifically entertaining and completely unique manner, which may not suit all tastes, particularly viewers who aren't used to the shifting tones of Hong Kong cinema, but must surely be appreciated for it's verve and originality.

Best experienced going in to the film as cold as possible (hence the lack of any plot here!), To and Wai demonstrate an amazing ability to create a totally different atmosphere to any of their other movies and sustain it throughout the entire film, even as the constantly evolving storyline throws curveball after curveball at the viewer. This is in no small part thanks to the film's stunning photography by Milkyway regular D.O.P Cheng Siu Keung, again giving his shots of Hong Kong a unique feel, both in crowded and deserted street scenes. Another huge addition to the atmosphere is the wonderful, understated score by Cacine Wong. The film is not set in any reality we understand but it looks and more importantly feels close enough that the film's power of vision comes through with real strength, and all this without spoon feeding the audience as they leave the last act of the movie open to a number of interpretations.

As I've written before I consider Andy Lau to be less an actor and more of an old fashioned movie star, but all credit to him, in Running on Karma he really pulls out all the stops and gives a superb and emotional performance along with the charisma he always brings to the table. Carrying the film completely, without Lau's performance the film just wouldn't have worked. Equally adept at the comedy and in the more dramatic scenes, Lau deservedly won the best actor award at the 2004 Hong Kong film awards. Cecilia Cheung has been wasted in far too many of her film roles, when she gets a great part, she always delivers and here she does so again, despite playing second fiddle to Lau, she does a great job balancing out all the elements of her character, making the viewer really care for her.

Running on Karma is challenging, satisfying and emotionally powerful cinema, you may not like it but I urge you to see it, regardless of your taste in movies. Milkyway image movies are frequently criticised for all being variations on the same film, this film is completely different and is testament to Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai's skill of being able to effortlessly shift gears both in terms of this film and their careers as a whole. The film's uniqueness and ability to surprise is seen all too rarely, not just in Hong Kong film but cinema from any territory.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The HUGE Trailers Keep Coming This Time The Hobbit

Tis the season for the trailers for next years huge movies and after The Dark Knight Rises we have The Hobbit.

Or watch in HD here

Fairly predictable, showing as much as possible to remind general audiences of it's ties to The Lord of the Rings series. Looks pretty and I'm sure it will satisfy fans until the next meatier trailer appears next year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises New Trailer

I was going to write about this trailer but don't waste your time on my ramblings just watch the damn thing.

Better still do yourself a favour and watch in HD here.

I think the most impressive thing here is the sheer scale of the thing, of course this is easier to pull off in a slickly edited trailer than in a two hour plus movie and this will be the test come Summer 2012. Am I excited by it though? Fuck Yes.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cool Crap : In The Mood For Love Limited Edition Soundtrack

The limited edition CD soundtrack for Wong Kar Wai's wonderful In The Mood For Love. An LP sized package featuring a cd of the score and songs, a poster for the film and a number of LP sized postcards featuring imagery inspired by and from the film that are simply stunning.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Nameless Gangster Teaser, Stills And Poster

Update : More posters and stills available on this second post on the movie.

A teaser trailer (unsubbed) for Yun Jong Bin's Nameless Gangster has been released, set in the early 90's the film stars Choi Min Sik and Ha Jung Woo. Telling the story of a corrupt customs official who gets in deep with the mob, as the Korean government declare war on crime.

Nameless Gangster looks to have the superb attention to detail and production design you expect from South Korean movies, and with two such hugely talented actors involved I'm really excited to see this.

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