Sunday, 29 April 2012

RespawningCouch Audio Review: The Raid Redemption

Jack and Nick are split over the Indonesian blockbuster The Raid. One side states that it's the BEST ACTION FILM OF THE LAST DECADE, while the other is slightly on the fence.

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Friday, 27 April 2012

RespawningCouch Audio Review: The Avengers (Spoiler Free)

Jack and Nick review one of the biggest releases of this year............By the way............It's pretty awesome!!!!!

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Saturday, 21 April 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Episode 18: 21 Jump Street, The Avengers Assemble Buildup, More Mass Effect and The Witcher 2

This week: Jack and James review the recent '21 Jump Street', discuss the buildup to Avengers Assemble. Then James give his thoughts on a favourite franchise (more Mass Effect 3), and Jack discusses Dead Space 2 and The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition. Not structure, just random discussion as usual.

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Personal Favourites: The Chaser (2008)

The Chaser (2008) 
Home of another personal favourite Oldboy (2003) and 2010’s impressive I Saw The Devil, South Korea is increasingly becoming prevalent, not only in global cinema, but especially within the thriller genre. Thrillers constitute the majority of my ‘Personal Favourites’ list, I guess it’s because they allow for an amalgamation of elements from the likes of horror, action and drama cinema. And those exported from the Far East have successfully manage to achieve this feat in some memorable masterpieces. With their uncompromising and violent nature, there’s a certain defiant essence that enables them to portray the sheer, brutal ferocity of the human mind, an opportunity that Hollywood seems too afraid to explore, which brings us to Hong-jin Na’s directorial debut The Chaser. This is not only an unbelievable start to a promising career, but an incredibly intense and visceral piece of thriller cinema.
The story follows Eom Joong-ho (Kim Yoon-seok), an ex-detective now a pimp, as he tries to investigate the disappearance of a number of his girls. Single mother Mi-Jin (Seo Teong-hee) is the latest to vanish, now unconscious in a grimy bathroom by psychopathic serial killer Je Yeong-min (Ha Jung-woo). As Joong-ho’s search draws closer to her location, he coincidently collides into the killer. With the murderer arrested by the police, it’s a race against time for Joong-ho to find Mi-Jin before Yeong-min is let free from custody over a lack of evidence. Hong-jin Na and his writers succeed in creating a narrative that is fast-paced, smart and above all, thrilling. Taking the traditional ‘cat and mouse’ tale, the screenplay contorts the various plot elements to form a film with an essence of originality in a genre lacking refreshing concepts. There’s an overall harshness to The Chaser that is not restricted to its violent and grim nature. The film’s characters are predominately devoid of pleasant personalities, each being flawed. While slithers of charm and humanity come through the female cast members, immorality is a common trait of everyone. Eom Joong-ho strays into anti-hero territory with his impatience and general corrupt behaviour. However the audience’s frustration towards his character’s constant obstacles really shows the effectiveness of the writing in forming close ties to our imperfect protagonist.

The Chaser’s performances, while not “ground-breaking” (I hate that term), are strong and memorable. Ha Jung-woo is scarily believable as his serial killer character. His calm demeanour and “normal” outdoor behaviour, conceal a sadist searching for perfection in his murder, and one who revels in the pleasure of the kill. Meanwhile Kim Yoon-seok portrays his character convincingly and with phenomenal presence. He’s not a martial arts expert or a marathon sprinter, he’s a “average” dude that is shown through his exhausted, battered and bruised performance. The supporting cast do well with Kim Yoo Jung, playing Mi-Jin’s daughter, who is creepily mature at the age of 9.

The cinematography does exceptionally well in capturing the dark, brooding and grim streets and interiors of the Mapo-gu district of Seoul. Na Hong-jin and his cinematographer Lee Seong-jae manage to perfectly construct a film that constantly has an intense undercurrent, and successfully frame the abrupt, but intelligent changes in pace. From fist fights to on-foot chases, the camerawork engages the rough and enduring nature of the characters and the narrative. It’s a visceral and brutal experience.  

While The Chaser isn’t as “polished” as Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, it still strongly deserves a spot on this list. With its grizzly and undeniably dark atmosphere, the film is a constantly gripping and engaging thriller that’s one of the best directorial debuts of recent date. 

Check out my other 'Personal Favourites' in the Features section. 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Personal Favourites: Ikiru (1952)

 Ikiru (1952)
With my huge interest in Japanese Cinema, it’s slightly embarrassing not to have properly mentioned the legendary Akira Kurosawa. The likes of Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, heck the majority of Kurosawa’s filmography would have no problem joining my favourite list, however Ikiru is, in my eyes, his masterpiece. Stepping away from his iconic samurai pictures, here he focuses on portraying a charming drama in Japan’s period of recovery after the war and the end of the Allied Occupation. The plot follows City Office bureaucrat Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Quiet, committed to the job, and looked down on by family and fellow co-workers, Kanji searches for significance and fulfilment in his life. Friendship, cultural exploration and booze fail to bring any joy. He then finally comes to the realisation that he can make a real difference through his job.
Ikiru’s, which translates to ‘To Live’, story is an emotional journey that definitely brings a tear to my eye every time I watch it. As the translated title implies, we follow and experience the trials and tribulations of Kanji’s search for meaning. This is first and foremost a touching drama that remains engaging and poignant throughout its runtime. Hints of comedy, friendship and goodwill balance with the tragic nature of the narrative forming a truly remarkable film. The character of Kanji is slowly unraveled through his actions in the present, but predominately in his backstory. The death of his wife, the disconnection with his son after the war, and his general subsidence into old age, all are explored through flashbacks that are meticulously interwoven and developed. Meanwhile, themes and social commentaries of Japan’s society and bureaucracy are present throughout, but never become too obvious or forced. And while many have criticised the third act, I personally don’t see a problem with the manner it concludes. It’s a cleverly constructed and an emotionally moving ending, that doesn’t get schmaltzy.  
There’s a real depth and heart to Ikiru that is conveyed through the late Takashi Shimura’s perfect performance. His manner in which he balances subtly with an almost exaggerated exterior and posture, further solidifies his renowned status in global cinema. We see his transformation from the weathered faced and lonely individual, through to his heart-rendering recital of ‘Gondola no Uta’, and then to his irrevocable smile of satisfaction. In turn the audience’s affection towards Kanji alters from an ignorance of his shy and sulking introduction, to a warmth and emotional attachment as he tries to better himself and the lives of others. Meanwhile the supporting cast are superbly developed, each teaching Kanji their interpretations of ‘life’. From his peppy, young female co-worker, Toyo (Miki Odagiri) who finds joy in the smallest of things, to a small-time writer who feels that men should live life to the fullest, they’re all memorable and well-executed. 
Set in the backdrop of a rapidly modernising and westernising Post-war Japan, the story provides a great and detailed commentary on this fascinating period of Japanese history. The growing nature of culture, the economic and the changing aesthetics create a film with visual depth and inquisitiveness, which Kurosawa’s gorgeous cinematography manages to capture. While Rashomon, personally, went too far in its artistic endeavour, a minor criticism of a fantastic film, Ikiru blends the somber, subtle moments with energy and charisma. And its simply fantastic. The traditional black and white manages to capture the contrast between the vibrant and visceral atmosphere of Tokyo’s nightlife, and the snug spaces of Japan’s interior environments, reminiscent illustrations in Yasunari Kawabata’s literature. The pacing of the film is another visible element. There’s a slow, unhurried speed in regards to Shimura’s performance. Meanwhile, the rest of Japan moves quickly and busily. School children skip, automobiles careen and the middle class dance the night away, whilst Kanji plods along, lost and dazed by these practically “alien” surroundings. It’s this idea of visual “contrast” that becomes hugely apparent throughout Ikiru and it’s bloody brilliant. 
Overall, while many will argue and dispute Kurosawa’s “best”, Ikiru will remain my favourite of his influential and legendary career. Takashi Shimura’s touching and magical performance truly makes this feature a magnificent, humanist piece of Japanese cinema, and a pivotal addition to the ‘Drama’ genre. And it’s one that will never be forgotten. 
Now I’m going to go and watch it again. 

Check out my other 'Personal Favourites' in the Features section. 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

RespawningCouch: Episode 17: Verdict on Mass Effect 3, Total Recall Trailer and Next-Gen Consoles

This week: Jack and Nick talk about Mass Effect 3, again, and talk about the ending (Spoiler Alert). They then talk about the Total Recall Trailer, Max Payne 3 and the next-gen console rumours.

Personal Favourites: The Thing (1982)

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Thursday, 5 April 2012

Personal Favourites: The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982) 

Many whom have listened to my podcast, RespawningCouch, will already know that I have a massive crush on John Carpenter’s sci-fi/ horror classic The Thing. And would undoubtably add it to my ‘Top 10 Favourite Films’ list. Funnily I owe my interest in gaming the credit for my discovery of the film. While I had heard about it from various sources after watching Ridley Scott’s Alien at the age of 12, it wouldn’t be until the announcement of EA’s sci-fi/ horror game Dead Space that would spur my interest. Like my love for John Woo’s over-the-top action films (The Killer, A Better Tomorrow and Hardboiled) emerged from Midway’s Stranglehold, Dead Space’s necromorph infested corridors obviously took inspiration from the gory assimilations of Carpenter’s film.
So what do I love about The Thing. First and foremost, its story. A relatively simple affair, the plot follows a group of American researchers as they battle against an alien entity which has the ability to assimilate its victims. Based on John W. Campbell Jr.‘s novella Who Goes There?, Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster stick close to the source material. Trust and paranoia are the two major themes of the film’s narrative, and the writing and direction truly portray these. The whole concept of the actual ‘Thing’ is one that allows for a departure from the stalking psychopath, which was very much the horror genre during the late 70s and early 80s. Instead the plot creates a constant uncertainty over who is the ‘thing’, and cleverly the audience is continuously left in the dark, creating even more tension. The characters themselves are a good mixture of personalities that are sufficiently developed through the course of the runtime. On first glance, they aren’t the most original bunch of blokes, but somehow the performances and Carpenter’s direction equate to memorable individuals. From Kurt Russell’s bearded, sombrero wearing MacReady to the stern and dispassionate Clark, played by Richard Masur, The Thing’s cast is solid and really conveys the growing anxiety and delusion. 
Key to any horror film is atmosphere. Cinematography and sound-design are pinnacle to any director wanting to successfully create a genuinely scary and unsettling feature. Sure a well-portrayed character with a psychotic personality, who whispers gleefully into the camera, is threatening and unnerving. But it’s even more effective if he’s shrouded in shadows, and with background audio consisting of droning tones, or high-pitched and prolonged crescendos. The film’s location plays a major part in the creation of this foreboding atmosphere. Set on the snowy research camp in the Antarctic, it’s the perfect setting for an intimate and intense horror/thriller to take place. Secluded from the outside world, Carpenter keeps the scale small but focused. Consequently, The Thing lends itself to those intricate and utterly intense moments. From the long, travelling shots through the claustrophobic corridors and spaces of the base, to the intimate closeup nature of each confrontation, The Thing’s camerawork, while isn’t the most artistically constructed cinematography ever, frames the locations, characters and tension perfectly.
Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic Halloween showcased his ability to construct a brooding and threatening atmosphere in a genuine horror film. Meanwhile a year later Ridley Scott’s  Alien had become influential in the solidifying the ‘Sci-fi horror’ genre, with its sheer intensity and intelligent technical and narrative composition. The constricted atmosphere, the sudden changes in mood and unexpected bloody carnage are similar notes to that eventually seen in The Thing. However compared with Alien, scares are few to the point that I shy away from calling it a ‘horror’ film. Yet when those moments are used, they’re timed perfectly. Unlike the clichéd affairs of modern horror, Carpenter doesn’t flood the film with jump-scares and forgettable, stupid characters. Instead he goes more for the ‘thriller’ vibe, focusing the attention on the character’s relationships. He then uses the gory “revelations” to startle and shock the audience. The obvious “Blood Test” scene in particular, offers a dramatic change of events that transpires into a spectacular mess of devastation and mutilation. Speaking of which, Rob Bottin’s special effects are grotesque, yet stunning works of ‘art’. And to be honest, they’ll surpass any CGI ‘creature’ a modern artist could conjure up, as seen in the prequel. From the makeup to animatronics, there’s a brutal and ugly attribute to each creature, with the special effects on the ‘head spider’ really showing the commitment and complexity to Bottin’s work. The late and great Stan Winston offered his expertise for one of the monster designs, and it’s truly amazing. 
The overall sound composition of The Thing is fantastic. Bennings’ scream still leaves me with goosebumps every single time I watch that scene, while every squelch and snap during the ‘Thing’s’ exposure really contributes to the brutal and visceral nature of the film. In terms of the soundtrack, the great Ennio Morricone and the musical talents of John Carpenter deliver a perfect musical score that blends dreary, continuous, synthesised beats with the long strokes and shrills of stringed instruments. The iconic opening title track remains engraved in my head.
Overall The Thing, in my eyes, is a masterpiece of the sci-fi thriller/ horror genre. From its atmosphere and performances, to its gory and intense nature, John Carpenter blends everything together to form a film that is constantly engrossing and a joy to watch. 
Check out my review of 2011's prequel, The Thing 
And check out my other 'Personal Favourites' in the Features section. 

Monday, 2 April 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Episode 16: Mass Effect 3, 50/50, Snowtown and ScreenTest Festival

This week: Jack and Nick debate over Mass Effect 3, talk about Snowtown, Rampart, 50/50 and other films in an extended 'What You've Been Playing and Seeing'. Then discuss Total Recall, Twins II, and Jack shares his highlights from ScreenTest Festival.

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Our Hunger Games Review:

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