Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Cult Iconic?

I really don't want to make this post about how much I disliked Upstream Color, but it's kind of inevitable. It and The Sound of My Voice are both in the same vague indie-mystery boat. Both are hazy, stylized, abstract, obscured narratives anchored by their ability to buck mainstream conventions and convey the sort of sensory, cerebral experience of the lure of the supernatural/sub-normal. The big difference, for me, is equivalent to the gap between Lynch (my favorite director of all time) and Shyamalan (a more... obvious storyteller). One leaves everything to the seductive imagination, the other spells things out in convoluted, mood-crushing spoilers. See, I like the feeling of watching a puzzler of a film, and thinking afterwards: what the hell happened? But who was that guy? Why did she say that? What happened next?! The art is in the frustration. The film that unfolds in my imagination is worth a million narratives explained to me by Carruth. That The Sound of My Voice is a wonderfully mysterious, beautifully shot little film, and it doesn't give us all the answers, makes me happy. Sal Batmanglij and actress/co-writer Brit Marling (a more luminous Jessa from Girls) know, so far, to leave their questions tantalizingly unanswered. I like what they're doing, and I would subscribe to their mailing list.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Friday, April 04, 2014

K, so, I haven't blogged in over a year. I still get a million spam comments a day and no real ones (as a side note, how do I turn comments off?). I just finished two out of three term papers I have due, and I'm thinking: let's not waste this lovely blog. It even has its own dot com address! So I made a new banner, because what is more motivating than a new banner? It's the cyber version of getting a haircut, or acrylic nails. Also, it's my cat's mouth. Let the posting commence.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Pure Love, F(X)

So, K-pop is old, common news now, and had been since long before Psy hopped on his imaginary horse. But, it was never my specialty--I could have named dozens of J-pop stars a couple years ago, though!--so I decided, a few months back, to Youtube my way through what Korean pop I could find. This girl group was far and away the best (they could take Girls Generation any day, but I understand if a mud wrestle tournament is the only way to be sure of this). I know I'm late to the party, and I|'m even late making this post, as they've been on my rotation for some time now. But, why not share it with the people out there who actually don't know them yet? Familiarize yourself with F(X).

"Hot Summer"

Just a "holy shit" kind of pop song. Like, seriously, that baseline means business. The bridge is magic, the chorus is gold. They even vocalize the sound of what I can only imagine is a hot summer being temporarily relieved by a swift, sexy cool breeze (0:12 and onwards). Even listening to this in Canada, in January, I feel pretty psyched about life. You will too.

"NU ABO"

Busier than "Hot Summer," "NU ABO" makes that busy-ness work, utilizing the vocal and persona-specific strengths of every girl in the group, paired with the anonymous cheering of a phantom audience. The group's eerie/sassy chanting of "na na na na na na, na na-na na na na" (and so on) is alternately cute and somehow intimidating. While I don't quite love it as much as "Hot Summer," this one is a perfect example of how beautifully multiple vocals can complement one another, and a reminder that we need more pop vocal groups here in the West.

"Chu"

I don't know what it means to do something "chu," but I feel like I should probably figure that out, and soon. It sounds so much funner than doing things the regular way.

"Electric Shock"

Not sure what to say about this one. There's just some kind of kinetic spell that weaves over me when I hear it; not unlike the rest of the entries on this list. I always thought Korean was one of the greatest languages in terms of ability to sound angry, and here they bend that anger and insistence into a sweet-yet-unwavering demand. To do what, I couldn't tell you. But I'll do it. I mean, sure.

Bonus! "Beautiful Stranger"
Amber <3

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Best Films of 2012

I wasn't planning on doing one of these, at all. My passion and patience for lists, and blurbs, has been tapped out for quite awhile now. In fact, I think I have some sort of personality tick wherein I cannot feel right about ranking one movie over another, unless the margin is obvious. Furthermore, I don't like making a "Best of" list when I haven't seen many of the films that have been consensus picks for most other outlets.

But, forget all of that. I feel like making this post, and I will never be able to see everything anyway, and I have seen enough films that I do care about, and I want to do it, and I'm finished my homework for tonight, and it's gonna happen, so read it. And enjoy!

Very Honorable Mentions:
15. Leviathan (dirs. Castaing-Taylor & Paravel)
14. Killer Joe (dir. William Friedkin)
13. Night Across the Street (dir. Raul Ruiz)
12. Apres Mai (dir. Olivier Assayas)
11. Together (dir. Rox Hsu)

10. The Queen of Versailles (dir. Lauren Greenfield)

Even without cable, I feel just as saturated with reality TV culture, wealth culture, and superficial..."culture" as the rest of the Western world probably does right about now. From the real housewives, to the Kardashians, to the Romneys, to the targets of #Occupy scorn, the collective public eye is preoccupied with the rich and frivolous. Whether you hate them, love them, aspire to be them, or all of the afore, their worlds are inescapable. So, why bother making a documentary about Jaqueline Seigel and her motley crew (billionaire husband and professional doughy, pink-hued lecher David Seigel, their 8 children, and various Filippino housekeepers/nannies), if not to simply capitalize on the trend? Perhaps to show that these jet-setting, kitsch-surrounded, self-made royals are human, too. As director Greenfield captures, with unbelievable luck, the sudden downfall of the family's empire as a result of the recession, we are almost, almost watching them revert to regular folks before our eyes. As their fortune crumbles, Jaqueline handles the change remarkably elegantly, displaying heart and resilience beneath her balloon-like breast implants, even as her husband shuts himself away and calls her an "old hag" after she undergoes what can only be described as laser torture with a side of botox injections, in prevention of his "cashing her in for two 20-year olds." When she takes a perhaps-final solo stroll around their failed Versailles palace and says "I think I could stay here forever," the result is as poignant as anything this year.

09. Bernie (dir. Richard Linklater)

Beginning a bit like a Guest mockumentary, Bernie quickly establishes itself as a strange mix of documentary, re-enactment, comedy, drama and love-letter (to the Texan town of Carthage, and its folk). Jack Black commits so fully to the role of titular character Bernie, based on the real man of the same name, that I stopped giggling at his mannerisms after the first 10 minutes; his performance surpasses stunt and takes on a heartbreaking earnestness. Bernie tells a fascinating, small-town tale: the kind of sordid, odd fare that comes up in your internet sidebar periodically, and makes it funny, moving, enlightening and thought-provoking. Bonus points for featuring Matthew McConaughey in one of his three stellar roles this year. Linklater seamlessly works him, Shirley MacLaine, and Black into the mix of actual Carthage residents, never once exploiting the residents or the man behind the headlines, yet not pussy-footing around the less-flattering aspects of not only the legal debacle, but the Texas bible-belt mentality.

08. The Loneliest Planet (dir. Julia Loktev)

Two young (perhaps privileged, perhaps not) world-beaters are backpacking across the Caucasus mountains in Georgia, crazy in love with each other, seemingly without question. That director Julia Loktev can so quietly, subtly, and abruptly disrupt them is both devastating and genuinely depressing. In a way, The Loneliest Planet deconstructs that most romantic of ideas: by featuring a lustful couple that is adventuring (okay, backpacking) with no children, no obligations and no shortage of passion or joy, and still managing to disassemble them like a weather-proof tent. While cautionary tales involving urbanites, philanderers, and mad housewives have been common for decades, The Loneliest Planet is scary because it highlights the fragility of relationships in a context free of mundane, daily pressures, or even societal ones. On a basic, survivalist level, the couple here fractures against their will, unable to discuss or repair their love--which seemed as perfect as any cinematic representation could, before "the incident." Though this film can be read countless ways, to me it feels aggressively pessimistic. People can be cultured, people can be intelligent, people can be vegan and in really great shape physically, but sex, self-preservation, and impulse can still undermine you. Communication is the only real thing separating us from primal urges, but if a couple cannot communicate, what then? Sorry, these ramblings might unintentionally be practice for my psychology term paper. Anyway, good movie.

07. Amour (dir. Michael Haneke)

While the recent Oscar attention almost makes me want to like this less (kidding, sort of), Haneke's Amour is still a beautiful and wrenching look at what no one wants to imagine: the end. In my audience at VIFF, there were silver-haired couples abound, one in front of me that clutched hands at the sweet moments, all probably enjoying being represented as much as they were hating thinking about their own deaths, or the deaths of their significant others. Amour does not treat death chastely, nor does it treat it necessarily realistically--if it did this, we may have a 6-hour long film with a lot of hospital scenes and yet more waiting room ones. It features, instead, a dramatic, visceral, violent reaction. Perhaps borne out of love, perhaps as a reaction against death, or maybe both. Death is a stupid, ugly thing, and Haneke (along with his actors) do a mesmerizing job of capturing this with fleeting glances, filled with hate, and unpremeditated actions, filled with either hate or compassion, or both, or neither.

06. Like Someone in Love (dir. Abbas Kiarostami)

Kiarostami's Tokyo sojourn is a film full of mysteries, devoid of most answers, and brimming with possibilities. On one hand an authentic and non-racist spin on Lost in Translation's dynamic, the film is also a welcome antidote to Japan's teenage (or twenty-something) gyaru/older Japanese man prostitution problem. In this film, the "John"'s intentions are as foggy (yet somehow, almost indisputably non-sexual) as the results of its ending. Mystery in film is hard to find, and true ambiguity even scarcer. For this reason alone, I'd find myself drawn to Like Someone in Love's beautiful moments of quiet reflection (reflection on moments we haven't, and will never see), and its sense of urbane loneliness. Many movies have tackled the theme of disconnect in one of the world's largest cities, but in Kiarostami's film, the grasping at straws seems especially ill-fated and impossible. These are characters that could have, and almost did, have a decent relationship, but didn't quite surpass the odds. This list was really not supposed to be so sadly themed. I apologize.

05. Starlet (dir. Sean Baker)

Sean Baker's Starlet mirrors the sunny, lazy San Fernando Valley lifestyle it depicts with dreamy shots and a slow-and-steady, somewhat aimless pace. Dree Hemingway (Ernest's granddaughter) plays porn starlet Jane, whose occupation is little more than an aside in the film. As she forms an unlikely friendship with a cantankerous, lonely old lady named Sadie, the movie's sense of meaningless drifting takes on a poignant, haunting quality, echoing the desire for meaningful human connection in both characters. Thematically, Starlet calls to mind other excellent films like Ghost World, Young Adult, and Magic Mike--but it's also its own entity, a quietly moving, funny, heartbreaking work and a great showcase for the promising lead actress. (from my Twitch post)

04. Cabin in the Woods (dir. Drew Goddard)

Unlike the perfectly competent and often bitingly clever Avengers, Cabin in the Woods (though actually directed by Drew Goddard) showcases brilliantly the kind of humor and uncannily timely cultural observation that has made Joss Whedon not only a name, but a name synonymous with wit and memorable dialogue. Ever since Dollhouse--which, in itself, did not always reach the heights of satirical, generation-tapping brilliance of which Whedon was known--ended, fans have been rabidly awaiting Joss's return to...well, anything. Of course, Dr. Horrible is near perfection, but, c'mon, we need more than that to be sated. This year, with Cabin, The Avengers, and Much Ado About Nothing (which seriously needs to be released in Vancouver, like, right now), all of us hardcore fans can feel justified. But Cabin went above and beyond, delivering horror, comedy, satire, cultural observation and an all-out obliteration of the horror genre--with an invitation to (filmmaker) newcomers to step things the fuck up. Endlessly entertaining, Cabin is also simultaneously smarter and sillier than anything from 2012, with the balls to feature a unicorn, a merman, and some actually scary things, along with a seriously serious battle-cry to the industry.

03. Magic Mike (dir. Steven Soderbergh)

Probably the biggest surprise of 2012 for me, I literally saw Magic Mike with two other gals, almost solely because of the hotness of Channing Tatum (and some of the other cast members, too). Yes, I knew Soderbergh was a great director, but the real reason was...not related to that. As much as I enjoyed the heady atmosphere of male objectification and raging lady hormones, what I enjoyed most was the poignant, low-key story of titular Mike. Channing Tatum is natural and effortless to a fault (i.e., no one seems to think he deserves any nominations for anything, because it seems too true-to-life of a character for him), and the storyline is more soberingly relatable than most of us might want to admit. Mike doesn't want to to be a commodity, he wants to be an entrepreneur--but in this economy, the American dream isn't kind. And Marie from Breaking Bad is there to make that uncomfortably clear to you. Magic Mike has its flaws (a reluctance, nay, refusal to acknowledge any gay issues relating to the strip club or its members/performers to name one), but it's as moving and extremely astute as it is a complete blast.

02. Resident Evil: Retribution (dir. Paul W.S. Anderson)

Alice's choreography is poetry in motion, a snaking chain whipping infected skulls and snapping back in pleasing aesthetic rhythm, reminding us that anything can become pure cinematic magic in the right hands. Milla's Alice, in the first corridor shot (surrounded by fake undead Tokyo-ites) managed in minutes to become far-removed from Buffy, Uma's Beatrice Kiddo, and Sigourney's Ripley via sheer all-business demolishing. Those female action heroes that came before her, and that she is forever indebted to, were still, ultimately, based in emotions. Alice has fleeting emotions--i.e. "don't die" or "don't let Umbrella win"--but mostly acts out of pure reflex. Her 'action' transcends because it involves no thought, no emotion, and no gender. Yet, with all that in mind, she is not machine-like: she is a woman... on the verge of a nervous breakdown, maybe, but not until her work is finished. (from a previous blog post)

01. Holy Motors (dir. Leos Carax)

Last night of VIFF 2012. I'd seen plenty of films, many of which I liked or even loved, some of which appeared on this very list. Yet, I felt a strange malaise. I hadn't yet seen a film that shook me up. I hadn't seen one that didn't require further thought and reflection before I deemed it a masterpiece. I hadn't been, as they say, "blown away."

At 9:00pm, I rushed out of my apartment, hoping to make the final screening of Holy Motors at 9:30, but unsure that I would. I ran down the street and crossed it, rain pouring down on me each step of the way. I reached the bus stop minutes later, just in time to see the bus arrive. I was the only one on it. The bus driver pulled up to the skytrain and let me off closer than is normally acceptable. "I'll let you off as close as I can," he said. "You can run between the raindrops."

I did, and I hopped on the train. The entire ride, I was checking my phone, half-expecting to head right back home, saying "I missed Holy Motors! :(" as I often do for several films during VIFF, especially the later evening ones. When I got off at City Centre, I half-jogged to the theatre and showed them my media pass. I still had time to get popcorn, and a drink (score!). But I was late enough that I needed to be ushered into the packed theatre. I was given a seat in the dead-middle, between a 20-something college-looking dude, and an older, possibly European, grey-haired dude. I awkwardly shimmied in, surely spilled popcorn, but I made it, so whatever, right?

Then I settled in for one of the best theatre experiences of my life, and most likely my last at the Granville 7. Trois, douze, merde.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The 2013 Master List

Continuing from last year's mostly successful attempt (I was successful at maintaining the list, less so at consuming the levels of culture I wanted to throughout the year), here is 2013's version. I did manage to see a reasonable number of 2012 releases last year, which is good, but my goal this time is to keep it varied with cinema old and new. The reading and video games sections (both ongoing time commitments as opposed to movies' typical two hours) are probably going to be just as hopeless as in '12, with demanding new classes at school and everything else, but perhaps not. Maybe I'll actually try to write about some of these things every so often, too!*
*not a commitment

FILMS WATCHED
Dreamcatcher (Kasdan, 2003)
Scared to Death (Cabanne, 1947)
Rio Bravo (Hawks, 1959)
The Queen of Versailles (Greenfield, 2012)
Silver Linings Playbook (Russell, 2012)
Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Reticker, 2008)
Me and the Mosque (Nawaz, 2005)
Rango (Verbinski, 2011)
Snowtown a.k.a. The Snowtown Murders (Kurzel, 2011)
The Serpent and the Rainbow (Craven, 1988)
After Porn Ends (Wagoner, 2010)
Oz the Great and Powerful (Raimi, 2013)
Side Effects (Soderbergh, 2013)
The Loved Ones (Byrne, 2009)
The American Scream (Stephensen, 2012)
The Pact (McCarthy, 2012)
Uninhabited (Bennett, 2010)
Weekend (Haigh, 2011)
Spring Breakers (Korine, 2012)
127 Hours (Boyle, 2010)
The Aimless Bullet (Yu, 1960)
Lincoln (Speilberg, 2012)
Hall Pass (Farrelly bros, 2011)
The Housemaid (Kim, 1960)
The Hangover Part III (Phillips, 2013)
Sopyonje (Im, 1993)
Chil-si and Man-su (Park, 1988)
Salt (Noyce, 2011)
Tiny Furniture (Dunham, 2010)
JSA: Joint Security Area (Park, 2000)
Before Midnight (Linklater, 2013)
Address Unknown (Kim, 2001)
Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, 2012)
Monsters University (Scanlon, 2013)
Much Ado About Nothing (Whedon, 2013)
Examined Life (Taylor, 2008)
Barbara (Petzold, 2012)
Your Sister's Sister (Shleton, 2011)
The Doomsday Book (Kim, Pil, 2012)
Upstream Color (Carruth, 2013)
The Caller (Parkhill, 2011)
Nightmare in Las Cruces (Minn, 2011)
The Omen (Donner, 1976)
Yellow Earth (Chen, 1984)
Farewell, My Concubine (Chen, 1993)
Beyond the Black Rainbow (Cosmatos, 2010)
Pacific Rim (Del Toro, 2013)
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (Nixey, 2010)
Red Sorghum (Zhang, 1987)
Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang, 1991)
The Story of Qiu Ju (Zhang, 1992)
Shower (Zhang, 1999)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Siegel, 1956)
The Conjuring (Wan, 2013)
Julia's Eyes (Morales, 2010)
The Burrowers (Petty, 2008)

BOOKS READ
Where the Girls Are, Susan J. Douglas
Irma Voth, Miriam Toews

SHORT STORIES READ

GAMES BEATEN
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
God of War: Ghost of Sparta

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ten Feet Tall: The Resident Evil Films

Resident Evil: I was roughly 15 when I saw the first Resident Evil film, and at that time I was more a fan of the games than I was a cinephile. Expecting grunge, battered ocre-tinted corridors and murky lighting, Paul W.S. Anderson's more sci-fi leaning take on the franchise didn't resonate with me at all. Even now (ten years later) as I saw more and more fellow film-smart people embracing the series, and having myself watched the other four films, I avoided revisiting the original. My reasons were stubborn and unfair, given that I had long since accepted, and giddily took part in the abandonment of the game aesthetic displayed in films 2 through 5. Finally, as much for the purposes of this blog post as anything else, I forced myself to give the original another go.

I still think I would probably mark it as my least favorite of the series, though I've found plenty more to like about it than my 15-year old self would approve of. As much as Anderson deviates from the games, he is content to indulge in classic zombie movie tropes (which, fair enough), albeit in a mostly-refreshing way. However, with Alice only being slowly revealed as a character worth investing in as the runtime nears to a close, I find it harder to fully commit--Alice, and what she represents in this crazy excessive display of hedonistic cinema is my favorite aspect of the franchise (more on that later). Formally, the movie flirts with innovation and it certainly lays the groundwork for the brilliance to come, but still leaves me the filmic and feminine equivalent of blue-balled.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse: The first half of the sequel, not helmed by Anderson but rather Alexander Witt, feels experimental and underdeveloped; shaky cam, awkward slo-mo (a technique that would later become a polished trademark of the series) happily offset by the welcome presence of Mad Men's Lane Pryce. The installment won me over with the use of Nemesis, a Frankenstein-ish tragic baddie who earned his own game I fondly remember playing with my elder brother, and the fearless headlong plunge into unconventionalism it took in its final thirty minutes. Alice finds herself, "rescued" from a helicopter wreck, trapped in an Umbrella lab only to demobilize her captors and escape with her friends. That her fate as a free woman would ultimately be worse than if she'd stayed was the kicker: a sort of ambiguously feminist wink to the viewer. No matter what kind of horrors the fucked-over world has in store for her, Alice is always determined to choose shooting her way through her day, and trying tirelessly to not be eaten, over being kept and exploited for vaguely patriarchal, ominous purposes.

Resident Evil: Extinction: So far, I think I'm the only person I know who thinks this is the second best (bowing only to the 5th film) of the series. Sure, its imagining of the post-apocalyptic landscape as a lifeless desert is not particularly creative, but that's beside the point. Extinction develops Alice, a heroine that even fans of the film like to shortchange as a cipher unworthy of further exploration. Here, she's elevated to mythological status: the one girl so special, so awesome, so unique, she could save the world--if only she would cooperate. That she doesn't, and instead enlists an army of her own unsolicited clones to take down and evil corporation is just too badass for articulation. Also, there's that part where she uses telekinesis to blow up a murder of zombie crows.

Resident Evil: Afterlife: The scope and desolation of Afterlife is devastating, and a sense of loneliness and desperation permeate the entire film, tinting every joke with an underlying bass note, and every boss fight with an exhausted anti-energy. Few franchises have the stones to obliterate the world and continuously portray an increasingly hopeless aftermath, film after film. Afterlife admires, passively, the strength of its characters while showing us that they, really, don't have a chance. But, like the Angel finale or maybe even like life in general, fighting is the point--winning isn't expected. For this intuitive compassion, his lack of success-expectation, and willingness to entertain survivalist fantasies, Anderson could maybe be called one of the most humanist filmmakers in Hollywood.

Resident Evil: Retribution: First off, RE: 5 is the finest example I've seen to date of cinematic 3d, single-handedly convincing me of its need to exist. It's also the only installment I've had the pleasure of seeing in theaters--though the final shot left me hoping the franchise never, ever, ends. This film pulls every successful aspect of the prior films out with a syringe and injects them back into a strange breed of movie that is wholly new, entirely exciting and already being woefully overlooked and undervalued by most critics. The inclusion of fan-favorite characters Leon S. Kennedy and Ada Wong (okay, so I totally nerded out over their mere presence) is as pointless as it is popcorn genius. Alice's choreography is poetry in motion, a snaking chain whipping infected skulls and snapping back in pleasing aesthetic rhythm, reminding us that anything can become pure cinematic magic in the right hands. Milla's Alice, in the first corridor shot (surrounded by fake undead Tokyo-ites) managed in minutes to become far-removed from Buffy, Uma's Beatrice Kiddo, an Sigourney's Ripley via sheer all-business demolishing. Those female action heroes that came before her, and she is forever indebted to, were still, ultimately, based in emotions. Alice has fleeting emotions--i.e. "don't die" or "don't let Umbrella win"--but mostly acts out of pure reflex. Her 'action' transcends because it involves no thought, no emotion, and no gender. Yet, with all that in mind, she is not machine-like: she is a woman... on the verge of a nervous breakdown, maybe, but not until her work is finished.