Thursday, 28 June 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Episode 21: E3 Quick Roundup, Taken 2, Dredd and Django Unchained

This week: Jack and Nick quickly discuss the news from the E3 gaming convention. Then discuss the Taken "franchise" with the latest trailer forTaken 2, and Judge Dredd's new reboot. Finally they assess Tarantino's Django Unchained. 

Podcast Powered By Podbean

Monday, 18 June 2012

Korean Thrillers: The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere (Jeong-beom Lee, 2010) 
Essentially Taken but Korean, The Man From Nowhere takes the “rescuing a kidnaped girl”   narrative and then shrouds it in the sheer brutality and uncompromising essence of Korean thriller cinema. The plot follows an ex-special agent Tae-Shik (Won Bin) living a solitary and lonely life who, rather “clichély”, finds a sense of humanity through his friendship with a little girl called So-mi (Kim Sae-Ron). After her drug trafficking mother cheats her bosses, Tae-shik finds himself on a frantic and violent search for both mother and child. Delving into drug trafficking, organ trafficking and child abuse, it’s safe to say thatThe Man From Nowhere is a rather gritty and serious affair that rarely finds an moment of tranquility and solace. However like Pierre Morel’s ludicrous but entertaining Taken, Jeong-beolm Lee retains a fast-paced throughout the runtime, yet manages to still instil emotional substance to the ongoing chaos and energy. Sure the ludicrous and unrealistic quibbles continue into The Man From Nowhere, but nowhere near the same arrogance and ignorance of Morel’s film. While Liam Neeson’s performances tops Won Bin’s quite easily in the dialogue department, the stunt choreography and sheer vitality to Bin’s character culminates in some fantastic set-pieces undoubtably helped by the film’s well-directed cinematography. If you liked Taken or action cinema in general and aren’t put off by subtitles, then The Man From Nowhere is highly recommended. 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Korean Thrillers: Sympathy for Mr Vengeance

As I’ve previously acknowledged, South Korea has become a hub for the best thrillers of the last decade, and continuously puts Hollywood to shame with its sheer determination and no-nonsense approach. I’ve already talked about the likes of Oldboy, The Chaser and I Saw The Devil. So over the next week (or so) I’m going to bring a couple more to your attention: 
Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, 2002) 
The first of the “Vengeance Trilogy” (Oldboy and Lady Vengeance), Sympathy for Mr Vengeance perfectly demonstrates not only director Park Chan-wook’s infamous talent, but the narrative structures and thematic approaches within the genre. Deaf-mute Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) is determined to do anything to save his dying sister’s life. Shady dealings and losing his job, he’s desperate to find the money for her kidney transplant. Subsequently, he and his terrorist girlfriend Yeong-mi attempt to kidnap the daughter of his previous boss Park Dong-jin (Kang-ho Song). What ensues is a compelling and fierce tale of revenge, flawed personalities and sheer emotional power. 

What’s clear and clever with Park Chan-wook’s story-telling is the constant battle over the audience’s sympathy towards his characters. Here we understand Ryu’s desire to save his ill sister and the barriers he’ll break in order to succeed. Yet we also understand Dong-jin’s path of violence and determination to find his daughter, and his rather barbaric reaction towards the events in the final third of the film. It’s truly a marvel of writing and directing that persistently creates a film that remains utterly compelling and intense. Meanwhile, Park also perfectly mixes the uncompromising nature of Sympathy’s themes and reality with moments of charm and humour that manage to develop the characters and give further weight to the ensuing drama. With great performances, great cinematography and great writing, if you’ve watched Oldboy or haven’t, then Sympathy for My Vengeance is a perfect addition or place to start in the genre of the “Korean thriller” .

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Moonrise Kingdom Review

Moonrise Kingdom 
Before this review gets torn to shreds, I’d like to make it clear that I’ve never had the same affinity towards Wes Anderson as so many have. This is not to say I don’t enjoy his films. To the contrary, I’ve really enjoyed the likes of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr Fox. However watching an Anderson film is a very different experience than your typical piece of cinema. There’s a uniqueness to his style of film-making, mixing charming tales with surrealism and quirkiness, all under a veneer of vibrant colours and fitting soundtracks. Moonrise Kingdom has been celebrated by critics and fans. And while it sticks to the typical Anderson methodology of cinema, it leaves a rather unfulfilled and mixed taste that lacks the flowing dynamics of charm and attachment that his previous works excel at. 
Set in 1965, the plot follows young lovers Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) escaping from their . A search party is launched by Local Sheriff Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Scout Master Randy Ward (Ed Norton). What ensues is an adventure and snowballing tale that reveals the determination of the couple to escape their dysfunctional and troubled lives, in which they find solace in each other’s company. The narrative is straight-forward, commenting on usual themes of Anderson’s dramas. It’s a cute “coming-of-age” and strangely mature drama helmed by a young lead cast that progresses nicely through the first act. However where the eccentricity, obscurity and bouts of surrealism worked in his previous films, here it lacks that infused charm consequently coming across more awkward than endearing. Maybe this is linked to the fact that the “young actors” portraying mature lovers angle gets rather too brash. And while many will say “adorable”, it instead becomes too ambitious and uncomfortable. Another problem is that the film’s humour never transcends from the uncanny events and the few sparks of creative and comedic writing. Sure there are chuckles, but nothing especially amusing. 
The ensemble cast for the most part is pitch perfect, in particular Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. Each performance has a distinct personality that works well with the high points of the inconsistent script. Yet with such a strong collection of talent, the likes of Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and the cameo appearances from Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel’s never really resonant past the simple joy of their presence. Meanwhile, Kara Hayward’s debut is undeniably overshadowed by Jared Gilman’s confident and quirky performance, that while is essential to his character, fails to meld and build the enchanting chemistry with Hayward’s quietness. The rest of the child actors do surprising well, creating a dramatic energy that blends well with the fantastic look of the film. 
Stylistically, Moonrise Kingdom retains the visual motifs of Anderson’s usual colourful and lively palette. With sepia tones, vibrant yellows and reds, it never seises to amaze me the simplistic impact of just turning up the brightness and the colour saturation. It’s a beautiful film that definitely strikes a cord from the greys and gritty look of the majority of modern cinema. Anderson’s typical camerawork is here, with long pans and superbly framed shots that have an absorbing quality with intricate details and stylistic choices. Meanwhile the soundtrack channels folk and French tunes from the 60s and 70s, and works well with the romantic and poetic nature of the film, even without the usual Kinks’ track. 
Overall this is a very Wes Anderson film. The cast, the art direction and cinematography are the usual fantastic standard we’ve seen from his celebrated filmography and it works well in Moonrise Kingdom. However the narrative feels rather weak and coupled with the spotty script, never creates the persistent charm and humour we’ve come to expect. In the end, Moonrise never grabbed me. It became a persistently flat, and tedious affair. Disappointing. 

Monday, 4 June 2012

Prometheus Review

Prometheus (2012) 
Alien has long been the pinnacle of “sci-fi” and “horror” cinema. With amazing production design, interesting characters and an intense atmosphere, Ridley Scott created a film that reinvigorated a genre that was dwindling in ludicrous serial killers and rotting zombies. James Cameron’s Aliens treaded into the action genre as a thoroughly entertaining, if not slightly too over-the-top addition to the franchise. Meanwhile David Fincher’s Alien3 and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection were panned by the critics and also the fans. Prometheus stands as the prequel to the Alien franchise. Being heavily pushed via an impressive viral and marketing campaign, the question of whether it was going to live up to the hype was always in the back of fans’ minds. And while it succeeds as a piece of visually stunning “sci-fi” cinema, some major flaws hold it back from being a well-rounded experience.
The story itself isn’t vastly complex. Set in 2089, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have discovered a series of similar paintings depicting humanity’s creators in a number of ancient civilisations. An expedition is launched, funded by the Weyland Corporation, to the moon LV-223 in order to investigate the so-called “Engineers”. Not long after landing in 2093, they find themselves in the presence of something far less friendly. Prometheus, on the surface, is a simple “exploration gone bad” narrative that we’ve seen numerous times. However it tries to adds a level of sophistication and intellectual intricacy through its philosophical undercurrent and Dr. Shaw’s ties to “faith” and “God”, that all feels convoluted and almost too forced. Meanwhile Prometheus’ prequel status definitely undermines Scott’s ability to truly explore and invest in these new characters and narrative points. Instead it feels as though there was a checklist of objectives that need to be fulfilled in order for it to fit within the franchise, which similarly hindered the recent remake of The Thing.
Yet the overall pacing of the film is fast and intense. Scenes flow well and manage to create a persistent atmosphere of tension and exhilaration. It’s quite ironic then that the overall length is slightly short. Prometheus needs another 20-30 minutes to further develop its characters and for the audience to truly immerse themselves into the film and grow an attachment to these personalities. Speaking of which, Michael Fassbender’s performance as the crew’s android is simply superb and definitely the standout. There’s a subtle ambiguity towards his motives and actions that is shrouded by his almost creepy voice and interactions. Meanwhile Noomi Rapace’s delivery is questionable as her accent never really settles, but as a whole she does pretty well. The same can be said about Charlize Theron and Idris Elba, but the whole cast is unarguably hurt by a lack of dialogue, and the poor quality of what’s there. Their interactions are short and quick, never indulging in conversations that add emotional depth and intrigue. Thus their demises, however graphic, and violent never really hit home. 

One thing that is immediately evident is that Prometheus is simply gorgeous to look at. The special effects artists and set designers deserve a hell of a lot of credit in their construction of the surroundings and the environments. From the holographic interfaces to the interiors of the Prometheus and the alien temple structure, the high production values are undeniably present throughout the runtime. While nitpickers will question the technological advancement of the Prometheus over the Nostromo (Alien) or LV-426 (Aliens), there’s a cinematic sophistication to each scene’s visual composition. Similarly, the film’s score is a rich blend of tones from Jerry Goldsmith’s original score for Alien and  synthesised and industrial notes. It’s definitely a film that looks and sounds fantastic. 
In conclusion, Ridley Scott’s latest is a highly entertaining piece of “sci-fi” cinema that’s visually stunning to watch. However the narrative inconsistencies and the lack of character development truly hurt the film. It seems that for everything Prometheus does right, there’s a problem that mars the experience. I personally would question whether Prometheus should have been separated from the Alien franchise, thus allowing the freedom to explore and even transcend the boundaries of the “sci-fi” genre. But we'll never know. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

RespawningCouch Podcast: Audio Review: Prometheus

This week: Jack and James review the highly anticipated "Sci-fi" film Prometheus

Podcast Powered By Podbean

(Written review will be up shortly)

RespawningCouch Podcast: Episode 20: Skyfall, Anchorman 2 and Max Payne 3

This knackering week: Jack and Nick discuss the new James Bond Trailer and the Anchorman 2 Teaser. Then go onto discuss Max Payne 3 and Korean Thrillers.

Podcast Powered By Podbean