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Takashi Miike (#110 of 14)

Cannes Film Festival 2013: Shield of Straw and Blind Detective Reviews

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Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Shield of Straw</em> and <em>Blind Detective</em> Reviews
Cannes Film Festival 2013: <em>Shield of Straw</em> and <em>Blind Detective</em> Reviews

Both Takashi Miike’s muscular chase flick Shield of Straw and Johnnie To’s wildly compounded romantic policier Blind Detective make an asset out of their respective pillaging of genre signifiers. That these individual films succeed to varying degrees—in some instances in spite of themselves—matters little in the grand scheme of their creators’ narratives: Each have made more original films, more consistently compelling films, and flat-out better films. But there’s something oddly compelling about their unique existences as notable entries in what now could be considered prestigious filmographies.

San Diego Asian Film Festival 2011: Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Ninja Kids!!!, Aftershock, & A City of Sadness

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San Diego Asian Film Festival 2011: <em>Don’t Go Breaking My Heart</em>, <em>Ninja Kids!!!</em>, <em>Aftershock</em>, & <em>A City of Sadness</em>
San Diego Asian Film Festival 2011: <em>Don’t Go Breaking My Heart</em>, <em>Ninja Kids!!!</em>, <em>Aftershock</em>, & <em>A City of Sadness</em>

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. Not simply a house of mirrors reflecting the soullessness of our Internet age, each sprawling urban surface in Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai’s effortless romantic comedy Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is a potential window to heartfelt emotional connection. This great Hong Kong directing duo, known primarily for directing balletic actioneers, tweaks the standard conventions of the genre to make the love triangle between a downtrodden architect (Daniel Wu), a mid-level worker bee (Yuanyuan Gao), and a womanizing C.E.O. (Louis Koo) feel altogether fresh. The most notable subversion comes during the traditional meet-cute sequences where two characters see each other for the first time from their office windows, flirting via vaudeville-like performances and mosaics painted with colorful Post-it Notes. It’s a lovely visual motif that favors space and distance as opposed to the classic verbal diarrhea most American romantic comedies use as a crutch. Throughout Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, relationships are created with physical movement yet emotions are transferred through modern-day technology. In this sense, To and Wai establish a seamless relationship between camera, perspective, and space, allowing the charms of each character to flourish from afar, in poetic buffoonery. Considering the film’s glassy mise-en-scène, layers of physical space often misdirect point of view, primarily because of angle, complicating emotional entanglements in a wonderfully postmodern way. I can’t think of a cinematic concrete jungle that is this moonstruck.

Cannes Film Festival 2011: The Skin I Live In, Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai, & Skoonheid

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Cannes Film Festival 2011: The Skin I Live In, Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai, & Skoonheid
Cannes Film Festival 2011: The Skin I Live In, Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai, & Skoonheid

“Don’t look at the surfaces,” says Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) during one of the more sane moments in Pedro Almodóvar’s fantastically nutty The Skin I Live In. His words sum up Almodóvar’s core motif: the organic relationship between layers of emotion and trauma. The Spanish director melds his consistent themes of conflicted sexual identity, family struggle, and interconnected paths with an unsettling combination of warm compositions and sinister desires. The combination is unsettling and fascinating. The Skin I Live In revolves around Ledgard’s attempt to construct a new type of human skin using the beautiful Vera (Elena Anaya) as a human guinea pig. Held captive in Ledgard’s posh villa, Vera’s sleek body is covered in a body suit that only accentuates her angular curves. She bares a striking resemblance to Ledgard’s dead wife, burned to death in a car crash.

Still, that’s only the distrusting façade of The Skin I Live In, and to divulge any more would be to ruin the truly nasty plot turns and reveals. There’s of course a flashback structure, but Almodóvar uses temporal space in exciting ways, jumping through time with an attention to the darker reaches of fragile memory. The director’s invigorating compositions guide the eye toward darkness by way of primary colors (the image of dildos lined up in descending size is particularly telling), adding texture to almost every inch of the frame. Moral and ethical boundaries are only the platforms for Almodóvar’s nastiest intentions, and the repellant nature of the narrative is amplified by the strangely sunny lighting design. Almodóvar wants to display his worst nightmares in the brightest of natural light.

SXSW 2011: Super, 13 Assassins, Last Days Here, The Beaver, Scenes from the Suburbs, and Natural Selection

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SXSW 2011: <em>Super</em>, <em>13 Assassins</em>, <em>Last Days Here</em>, <em>The Beaver</em>, <em>Scenes from the Suburbs</em>, and <em>Natural Selection</em>
SXSW 2011: <em>Super</em>, <em>13 Assassins</em>, <em>Last Days Here</em>, <em>The Beaver</em>, <em>Scenes from the Suburbs</em>, and <em>Natural Selection</em>

Trying to fit in, like, four or five screenings a day at South by Southwest—a task at which I mostly failed until, maybe, my last two days in Austin, Texas—inevitably took away valuable time to write about everything I saw at the festival that I found of interest, for well and ill. So while I managed to squeeze in time to write about some of my favorites (The City Dark, American Animal, and Bellflower, especially), consider this last dispatch (from me, anyway) a run-down, with brief commentary, of a few others I saw that I either loved, liked, or didn’t like but at least found interesting enough to say something about. Oh, and yeah, Natural Selection, the big SXSW narrative feature award winner.

Vancouver International Film Festival 2010: 13 Assassins

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Vancouver International Film Festival 2010: <em>13 Assassins</em>
Vancouver International Film Festival 2010: <em>13 Assassins</em>

[This post is cross-published at Parallax View.]

The rumors are true: Miike Takashi’s 13 Assassins, a kind of outlaw The Seven Samurai by way of The Dirty Dozen set at the sunset of the Shogunate and the samurai era, is a startlingly tradition samurai action piece that shows that Miike can indeed color between the lines. Which makes me wonder if that was indeed his project. With the exception of one signature Miike image (a woman who has been cruelly disfigured by our royal villain, writhing naked on the screen like some science experiment gone displayed as a piece of evidence), this is a straightforward piece, a men on a mission film where the increasingly outmoded ideals of duty and honor and meaning through sacrifice are at the heart of the matter. As a matter of face, the Shogun’s advisor can’t challenge the depraved Lord Naritsugo (Inagaki Goro), a monster that makes Caligula look restrained, and who just happens to be the Shogun’s half brother, without bringing disgrace upon his master, so he calls upon the honorable retired samurai Shinzaemon (Kurosawa Kiyoshi regular Yakusho Koji) to assassinate Naritsugo before he is promoted to the cabinet. A surgical strike, one might call it, all in the name of preserving the country and the honor of the Shogunate.

Toronto International Film Festival 2010: Tamara Drewe, 13 Assassins, & Norwegian Wood

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Toronto International Film Festival 2010: <em>Tamara Drewe</em>, <em>13 Assassins</em>, & <em>Norwegian Wood</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2010: <em>Tamara Drewe</em>, <em>13 Assassins</em>, & <em>Norwegian Wood</em>

Tamara Drewe: Having previously investigated the gamemanship of seduction in screen versions of Choderlos de Laclos, Jim Thompson, and Colette, Stephen Frears turns his attention to Thomas Hardy with this insistently frothy adaptation of Posy Simmonds’s graphic-novel modernization of Far from the Madding Crowd. The setting is an airbrushed version of the British countryside, where wordsmiths gather at a writers’ resort lorded over by a smug, philandering hack novelist (Roger Allam) and his biscuit-baking doormat of a wife (Tamsin Greig). Enter the eponymous lass (Gemma Arterton), an ugly duckling-turned-hot-pants swan (complete with her own saucy webzine column and a surgeon-sculptured nose) newly back from a big-city sojourn, ready to take over her family cottage and inflame every man in sight. The appealing ensemble (including Bill Camp as a shy American intellectual and Dominic Cooper as a grungily rambunctious drummer) works hard, but Frears’s tone of one-note ribaldry flattens the characters’ foibles and Hardy’s themes with equal broadness. More than one report has heralded the film’s crowd-pleasing machinations as a welcome break from the fest’s gloomier fare, though, to these eyes, calculated cuteness is scarcely preferable to heartfelt tragedy.

Lichman and Rizov “Live” at Grassroots Tavern: Season 5, Episode 3, “The Hardest Artfagass in All of Artland or Something”

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Lichman and Rizov “Live” at Grassroots Tavern: Season 5, Episode 3, “The Hardest Artfagass in All of Artland or Something”
Lichman and Rizov “Live” at Grassroots Tavern: Season 5, Episode 3, “The Hardest Artfagass in All of Artland or Something”

Hello Finland!

Our third International podcast is here! We’ve knocked out the UK with Faisal Qureshi and Canada with Adam Nayman and Andrew Tracy. Now we add Finland to that list with our special guest Olli Sulopuisto!

And no, we cannot ever pronounce his name for fear of being assumed more intoxicated than we actually are. Thankfully, Olli was more than happy to abide by our ignorant tongues.

If you had any burning questions about the state of Finnish film culture, media, and how many Finnish film critics we can name then boy howdy do we have the episode for you. Olli educates us on that and we delve a bit into Symbol, which was at NYAFF 2010 and leads us into a discussion of our favorite boring films.

Comics Column #3 A Question of Accessibility: Studying Pathology and Archaeology (Warren Ellis, Superheroes)

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Comics Column #3: A Question of Accessibility: Studying Pathology and Archaeology (Warren Ellis, Superheroes)
Comics Column #3: A Question of Accessibility: Studying Pathology and Archaeology (Warren Ellis, Superheroes)

“This is what you get when you emotionally invest yourself in a company-owned product that has to keep on coming out regardless of who’s writing and drawing it. This is what you get when your lizard compulsion to jerk off over superheroes overrides your forebrain. This is what happens when saying ’I just want X-Men to be good again’ is mistaken for some kind of intelligent comment on the state of the medium. Fuck all of you.”—Warren Ellis

XII. “I want the whole picture!”

It’s almost funny now, to think: it wasn’t that long ago that movie aficionados had to explain to people the difference between full-screen and widescreen. When DVDs first started shipping to stores and people had to make a conscious choice, many did not know which option offered a more complete visual experience and the director’s original vision. To this day, full-screen versions of many films are offered separately because some people are more comfortable with an image that fills their television.

For a period in the late 90’s, comics had what they called a “widescreen” movement. If film uses the term “comic book movie” to refer to overblown superhero blockbusters that rely upon recognition more than they do consistent narrative or emotional depth, there’s some small level of irony to the idea that comics use the term “widescreen” to refer to books that are all bombastic, over-the-top action to the detriment of everything else; cool explosion visuals in place of the moralism of Golden Age DC Comics or the tortured family stories of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. If all comic books are going to be Chris Claremont’s “X-Men” books, then all films will be Michael Bay’s action movies.

This is probably not the basis for a very mature dialog.