Little Big Soldier

Jackie Chan, to most of us, needs no introduction. He has been a fixture in martial arts films for so long, he can arguably called one of Hong Kong & China's living legends. It is unfortunate, however, that like many of his brethren from HK, his excursions into the American market has been hit and miss, some would claim more the latter than the former. In recent years, it seems that Chan has been satisfied to accept a "paint by numbers" project for Hollywood to cash a paycheck which he funnels into a project in China or Hong Kong.
Take for example two projects which should be coming out for 2010. There is the Wil Smith produced, China relocated remake of The Karate Kid in which he plays the "Mr. Miyagi" to a young boy played by Smith's son (i.e. "paint by numbers"). Then there is Little Big Soldier a film which, from the following synopsis and trailer, has far more thematic potential:
It was the darkest of times in China, when ruthless warlords waged battles to satiate their endless aggression.  Millions of lives perished, and those who survived had only two choices - kill or be killed.
The battalions of warring states Liang and Wei collided in a bloodbath that lasted from dawn until dusk.  Only two men were left standing - a FOOT SOLDIER from Liang (Jackie Chan) and the rival GENERAL from Wei (Wang Leehom). The Soldier survived because he is an expert in playing dead, with a device strapped on his body which protruded like an arrowhead for added realism.
The Soldier captured the wounded General, hoping to use the enemy as his ticket to freedom - by handing the General to the Liang warlord, the Soldier could be honorably discharged and return home to his peaceful life.  The young General, though taken captive, was condescending towards the Soldier.  The two men were often at loggerheads during the long and winding journey.

It is a shame that the Hollywood seems satisfied with relegating Chan or other experienced martial arts actors like Jet Li to two-dimensional action roles because it is obvious that Chan (and Li for that matter) are as interested in flexing their thespian skills as displaying their already well known martial skills. Recently, Chan took on a role in which he absolutely did no fighting whatsoever (The Shinjuku Incident) and Li will be doing the same in Ocean Heaven. And while the trailer above sells some of the action scenes in Little Big Soldier, something tells me that the majority of its runtime will be spent developing the Midnight Run-esque relationship between the Foot Soldier and the General, and that can only be a good thing....


14 Blades

Daniel Lee's latest film is based on accounts of the "Jinyiwei (brocade-clad army), the Ming emperors' own version of the CIA. The organization was set up in the late 14th century by Ming dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang (Emperor Hongwu), first as his own personal guards numbering in the hundreds, and later gaining many more other responsibilities (including intelligence, of course), reaching their apex in the 16th century with a total force around the low six figures." [Twitch Film]. Donnie Yen will be playing one of the Jinyiwei, who were masters of the 14 Blades—eight for torture, five for killing, and the last blade reserved for suicide when a mission failed. The story centers on the Imperial Court being taken over by evil eunuch JIA. The best of the Jinyiwei, QUINGLONG (Yen) and XUANWU, are assigned to steal a list identifying those still loyal to the Emperor. However unbeknownst to Quinglong, the Jinyiwei have fallen under the control of Jia, and during the mission Quinglong is betrayed by Xuanwu and barely escapes with his life. Now as the most wanted man in the land Quinglong must seek out and rally the loyalists to rise against Jia and restore the Emperor to power. In his way are the deadliest assassins in the land, his former brethren, the Jinyiwei.

The above preview gives a glimpse at the stunning cinematography, set pieces, production design (the 14 Blades and the case they come alone is noteworthy!) and action that promises to be more along the lines of classic Hong Kong martial arts films like Dragon Inn (which also dealt with this sect of assassins), rather than the more recent, lush imagery and philosophical wuxia of say, Hero. That's not a complaint. In fact, it is great to see a revival of both styles utilizing contemporary cinematic techniques and technology. With a veteran like Yen taking on a role of a type of "James Bond" complete with "gadgets", we can at least expect the film to deliver on entertainment. Let's hope the fascinating, historically based concept will hold up as well.

Masters Returning to Wuxia II

As stated earlier, there seems to be an influx of Chinese auteurs returning to the fold recently. This time, it's the most auteur-esque of them all, WONG Kar-wai who has not delved into this genre since his debut film Ashes of Time. The prospect of this unique visionary returning to wuxia alone is reason enough to get excited, but what will it be about? Entitled The Great Master, the film will be Wong's take on the story of Ip Man, the legendary Wing Chun practitioner who was Bruce Lee's master. Recently, Donny Yen took on the role of the master in the film Ip Man so it will be fascinating to see what Wong's spin on it will be. Oh, then there is the preliminary (and far from final) cast list: Tony Leung, Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Zhang Zhen and Zhao Benshan. Not enough? How about rumors that the goddess Brigette Lin is considering coming out of retirement to appear in this film!
However, we should all be familiar with Wong's well earned reputation for making films at a glacial pace. The film is to start filming this month, but it will be anyone's guess as to when we will see the final product....


Stills from True Legend

Sina.com has posted some gorgeous stills, some in high resolution, from YUEN Woo-pings's upcomingTrue Legend. You can view more by clicking here. This is truly becoming a must watch film for 2010.


Masters Return to Wuxia

There are some exciting projects coming together or already in production in Asia, so I thought it might be time to explore some of these for the month of December. I'll start with two films that are sure to generate quite a bit of anticipation among film fans, particularly of martial arts films.


Beyond having the incomparable Michelle YEOH and Vincent ZHAO (The Blade) in the cast, what is most remarkable and exciting about this film is that it is being directed by the legendary YUEN Woo-ping, his first in 12 years. Many people will be familiar with Yuen as the action choreographer for some of Hollywood's recent blockbusters, but there are those of us who remember Yuen as the director of some of the martial arts genre's representative films, including Drunken Master starring a young Jackie CHAN. True Legend will be focused on Beggar Su, a popular folk hero who has appeared in many martial arts films, including the aforementioned Drunken Master, portrayed by Simon YUEN. This time, however, director Yuen will cover Su's story from his days as a wealthy man who loses his fortune and reputation through machinations against him; penniless, he devotes himself to martial arts and rises up as a hero for the people, earning the monikor: "King of Beggars." From the teaser trailer below, the production design and more importantly, the action hearken back to the golden age of wuxia films which Yuen helped usher.

RAIN OF SWORDS (in the Pugilistic World) [working title]

With the success of the Red Cliff duology, it seems that John WOO has finally realized that things are certainly better back home after repeated and arguably mixed results in Hollywood (FACE/OFF being his best in my humble opinion). And while several projects to which he was attached to direct have fallen through, it seems project has begun production. The story centers on "an assassin (Yeoh) [who is] responsible for the death of a prominent court official. [She] goes into hiding and meets the slain official's son (Korean actor Jung Woo-sung) and falls in love without knowing his true identity. Assassins eventually catch up with Yeoh and Jung as they discover each other's identity and a tense, three-way standoff ensues." Sounds like classic John WOO themes transported to dynastic China. The Red Cliff saga displayed Woo's ability to employ some of the excellent character dynamics and storytelling he is known for, yet matured and adapted for the material. Add the impeccable costume designs of WADA Emi (Hero), and we could be looking at the renaissance of the Hong Kong action maestro. I, for one, will be more than happy to see John WOO retire the twin .45s and explore the wuxia genre. Below are the first stills from the production courtesy of Sina.com.


Chushingura (The 47 Ronin)

If it seems this month seems to be the month for railing against remakes, it isn't without justification. There are just so many in the pipeline at the Hollywood studios that it bears noting. Without beating the proverbial horse on our ire for this ludicrous practice that has seized the majors, this post will be a simple illustration, allowing you the reader to judge for yourself. For those of you who are not familiar with the legend of the 47 Ronin, one of Japan's most culturally beloved and recognized tales, you can read more about it here.

Now, read the comments of writer Chris Morgan (Cellular, The Fast and the Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Wanted) who is charged with the American take on the story with Keanu Reeves attached.
It's this great, 'Gladiator'-esque, '300'-like big action movie with samurai and ninja...'The 47 Ronin' is a true story that took place around 1700-1701...It's a time in Japanese culture when it was all about [the] bushido [code] and honor, and putting internal things over external things -- swords that were made to be functional instead of ornamental, that kind of stuff.
Please pay careful attention to the words he has applied to the story and compare that to what you read at the link provided. As we keep saying, what are these remakes really about? Do yourself a favor and go rent one of the classic film versions of the story from Japanese masters such as Mizoguchi Kenji (an almost entirely bloodless exploration of the samurai's existential angst) or Inagaki Hiroshi (a 1962 version focused more on questioning cultural values).


Fumiko no Kokuhaku

Thanks to Twitch Film for putting the spotlight on this wonderful short film by young filmmaker Ishida Hiroyasu (aka Tete). The independent anime movement has been quietly growing ever since Shinkai Makoto paved the way with films such as Voices of a Distant Star and 5 Centimetres Per Second. Fumiko no Kokuhaku (Fumiko's Confession) is beautifully realized with expert comic staging and direction. The painterly backgrounds are playfully "imperfect" and bright in their palette, reinforcing the humor in the piece. Enjoy!

If Ishida is the sign of things to come, I can only welcome this upcoming talent and look forward to a full length feature sometime in the future. Ishida's official site can be found HERE where there are links to sketches and pre-production work for this film and other, what seem to be student works.


Clash of the Titans (remake)

Yahoo Movies released the first teaser for the remake of Clash of the Titans starring Sam Worthington who may be turning into the flavor of the month--time will tell. We have said our peace here about remakes, but this teaser only serves the point. What are they marketing in this minute and a half? Is it a classic fable of heroism? Is it the struggle of man against divine forces? Or is it monsters, swords, and gods...oh my!

The only dialogue in the piece doesn't feel mythic. In fact, it's almost downright contemporary, despite being delivered by Pete Postelthwaite. When you slap on rock music to a stream of jumping, grimacing, running imagery, and with the Monday Night Football inspired "Titans"-"Will"-"Clash" tagline, the intention of the filmmakers, so far it seems, is to pull in the crowd whose "literature" involves comic books and whose "epics" are found on videogame consoles.

But this is just the teaser. There is certainly more to be offered, right???


The Mechanic (remake)

This is the poster that was released during the American Film Market, currently taking place in Santa Monica, for the upcoming remake of the classic Charles Bronson thriller. We here are not the biggest fans of remakes as they are a distinct sign in the lack of faith Hollywood has in original material, even though there are so many interesting concepts out there.

The Mechanic was a heady, cat-and-mouse thriller about a contract killer that played out more like a procedural than a typical action film, especially one from the 70s. I can almost guarantee you that the elements that made the original very intelligent and taut with tension will most certainly be replaced by gritty action and a lot of posturing by our players.

That said, however, the main impetus for this post is the marketing of the film. The poster above is fairly typical of key art that comes out of AFM as most films have yet to start principal photography and are deep into pre-production. The goal at AFM is to attract distributors. At this stage, the producers probably have not had time to shoot proper cast photos, so a bearded jawline that seems like lead Jason Stratham is enough. What is laughable is the briefcase being made the central focus of the poster, one with the star's name on it as if it's labeled just in case he loses it. But the piece-de-resistance is the tag line:
There are thousands of ways to kill a man...
Just check his briefcase
Aside from being sterile rather than compelling the English grammar should make one chuckle. It's obvious the copy writer means for us to check the "hitman's" briefcase (you know the one with Stratham's name on it), but grammatically, the "his" in the second line modifies the previous, noun, and in this case that would be the man you can kill thousands of ways. So, what this poster is telling us is if we wanted to kill a man, all we need to do is to check his briefcase to find out how.

Hollywood...you're certainly good for a laugh, if anything.


Tales of an Anciet Empire

The 80s was a wonderful period for of those of you who grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons, as sword & sorcery fantasy films were frequently being made and released. Most have been, of course, relegated to "cult film" status these days, but it is truly a shame that the genre as a whole all but disappeared for the past 20 years. That is...until Peter Jackson proved that interest in fantasy films has lain dormant, ready to be awakened.

Now, "fantasy epics" are being greenlit by many studios. Among these, a small little film is being made in the spirit that existed back in fantasy films' heyday. The title, Tales of an Ancient Empire, should be familiar to any of you who know of one of the classic films of 80s fantasy, The Sword and the Sorcerer, a brisk, high adventure film that was unapologetic about its masculinity & chauvinism; the fantastic three-bladed sword wielded by the hero, Talon (played by Lee Horsley), featured in the title was an immediate allure for the genre's fans. The film ended promising further adventures of Talon in an upcoming film called Tales of an Ancient Empire. Then the fantasy bubble burst.

Flash forward to today as The Sword and the Sorcerer's original director, Albert Pyun, is busy in post-production on the long promised sequel. Naturally, the previous film's hero, Talon, is now too old to continue the adventures, so a new, young band of warriors lead by Kevin Sorbo of TVs "Hercules" series, will take the reigns as Talon's children. Albert Pyun has recently been releasing clips of the unfinished film on his Vimeo site, letting fans in to the process, revealing rough cuts of scenes. It is a brilliant bit of marketing, giving fans snippets to wet their appetites in addition to serving as a promotional tool to attract new fans unfamiliar with the original film. Beyond this, however, the clips reveal the important role editing plays in filmmaking. By viewing the scenes Pyun has made available, one can get a sense of how performances can be shaped, mood manipulated, and potential script inconsistencies or problems fixed or circumvented. They also reveal how music, sound, and other crafts related to the process complete the experience.

The first scene released is a simple conversation scene between the two leads, Sorbo, and Melissa Ordway. As the very first glimpse at footage from the film, the scene confidently quells personal worries that the film would lose something in the "mists of time" as sensibilities have certainly changed in the last 20 years. This feels like a sword and sorcery film and more importantly, it still feels like The Sword and the Sorcerer. I think it is safe to say that had Pyun not directed this sequel, I think the sensation would be quite different.

You can view 3 other clips (and I assume more are to follow) at Pyun's Vimeo site by clicking here. I look forward to seeing the difference between these rough cuts and their final iteration in the released film. With a rumored sequel to another 80s cult favorite, Hawk the Slayer, going in to production, fantasy adventures might just be making a comeback. Fingers crossed...



Morgan Freeman. Matt Damon. "In a Clint Eastwood film." I don't think any more need be said. Watch the trailer now over at Apple, preferably in HD.


The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

A few months ago, I wrote a post about a new period adventure that Luc Besson would be helming. Now, the first official image for the film as been released.

It may be small, but it is at least a glimpse of the visual adaptation of the French comic. The cast has also been revealed by Europa Corp. Louise Bourgoin (The Girl from Monaco) takes on the titular role of Adele Blanc-Sec. A relative newcomer with only a few films under her belt, she is mostly known for her alluring looks and obvious sex appeal. It will be interesting to see how she takes on a "flapper-esque" liberated woman at the turn of the century. Rounding out the cast are Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace / The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Gilles Lellouche (Mesrine: L'instinct de mort), and Jean Paul Rouve (La môme). With any luck production stills of the cast in their roles will be released in the near future. Needless to say, my excitement for this project continues to grow.


Russian Fantasy

If you want more proof of the dedication and production savvy Russia has been displaying lately, check out this clip from the upcoming, Disney produced fantasy film, Kniga Masterov. Definitely epic in scope with a solid sense of production design and effects visualization.


Edge of Darkness

This one debuted yesterday. It's good seeing Mel Gibson doing the "tough guy" thing again. His performance in Payback--and the film itself for that matter--are highly underrated. Naturally, comparisons are already being made to the surprise hit Taken but they are inaccurate. As stated before, Taken is more of a "search & destroy" film while Edge of Darkness is more the classic revenge film. Remember, one of the daughters in these films is still alive! Some uninformed commenters on various sites have also accused this film of ripping the concept of Taken. Again, this is inaccurate as Edge of Darkness is actually a film adaptation of a BBC television series from 1985.
The director of that series is also at the helm of the film version: Martin Campbell. Given his outstanding work in Casino Royale, the onscreen fireworks tantalized in the trailer below should be quite thrilling. Sizzling with subtly menacing lines, kudos must also be given to the script as well with Ray Winstone looking to have most of the meatier dialogue. Looking forward to this one very much.


Soviet Cinema **UPDATED**

Apologies for the lack of posts this month. As maintaining this blog is done more out of love than necessity, it naturally takes a back seat to the real work that ultimately comes in large, heavy doses. This will probably continue through October and in to November, but to make up for it, I decided to put together all the posts I was going to do on the emerging cinema of Russia.
Like their other forms of art, Russian films come from a completely different standpoint grounded solidly on their rich, textured history and expressed with a scope of vision as large as the country during the height of its imperialism. The new generation of filmmakers are creating exciting epics as well as taught modern dramas and thrillers. Perhaps thanks to the success of Timur-Bekmambetovs' Daywatch and Nightwatch, the world is taking notice and the Russian film industry is gaining confidence.

Fyodor Bondarchuk's adaptation of the Strugatsky Brothers' "Inhabited Island" certainly flaunts its big budget. The sci-fi epic revels in glorious production design calling upon dystopian cityscapes, authoritarian aesthetics, ecclesiastical symbolism, and a good dose of spectacular action set pieces. The story centers on astronaut Maxim Kammerer who crashes on the planet Saraksh whose inhabitants are ruled by the Unknown Fathers. Find the trailers for both parts below.

Haunting period film with touches of the phantasmagoric. Lucid films about those who are addicted and the world in which they live can take many forms. However, the filmmakers of this film have taken those themes and infused it with disturbing sexuality that give this turn-of-the-century narrative a charismatically dark allure.

Special effects team behind the Nightwatch films lend their skills to this film about a "Special Forces agent who is trained by a time shifting angel and guided by forces of the future and is pitted against the ruthless leader of a criminal syndicate." (Screen Daily) There's a good mix of contemporary action melded with, once again, some distinctive sci-fi production design and visualization.

America is not alone in its love for video games, especially those in which combat scenarios are involved. The concerns for youth brought up on such "entertainment" are also borderless. This film is just one of a few films to have come out that deals with how contemporary youth may no longer be able to distinguish virtual and real violence. From the trailer, the filmmakers seem to have taken two parts Fight Club, one part Tron, and a dash of Hackers to sell this cautionary thriller.

The Nightwatch trilogy's Timur Bekmambetov has been developing what he calls his response to Transformers and Batman, but judging from the latest teaser, that response is less about those films' spectacle and more about their theme of average people coming into contact with or becoming extraordinary. The focus of the film is a black Volga, a Russian automobile steeped with cultural history, with some unusual capabilities. What will the protagonist do with such an amazing vehicle...

UPDATED!! (new trailer shows the "blockbuster" intentions of this quite impressive looking adventure.)

Criminal underworld story in which a young woman's happy life is shattered when her husband is murdered. She decides to avenge her husband by finding all those responsible. Her vendetta hits a snag when she discovers her father ordered her husband's hit...hence the title. Confidently shot and looks to have capable players in all the roles as well as being rather sleek and sexy. Michael Mann would be proud, I think.

The Russian remake of Johnny To's Breaking News has spared no expense. Top actors and a very capable director (Swedish in fact) confidently relocates the story of an embarrassing defeat of a police battalion by five bank robbers in a ballistic showdown which is broadcast live by a TV news unit destroying the credibility of the police force. In order to beat the media at its own game, a shrewd inspector decides to turn the stakeout of one detective, who discovers the hideout of the robbers, into a breaking news show.

Odd characters and stranger situations clash in this stylish gangster film with a slightly playful edge, ala Guy Ritchie. The story? A couple are beset by all manner of nare-do-wells while on a road trip. Regardless of the basic set up, the trailer certainly displays high production value and a solid sense of entertainment.

Third installment of the ANTIKILLER series of thrillers based on Danil Koretskii's novel, which has sold five million copies in the countries of the former Soviet Union and has acquired cult status among readers of Russian pulp fiction. The stories follow the adventures of the protagonist Agent Fox (Gosha Kutsenko), a former police officer who takes on fighting crime on his own. Director Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii shows his propensity for Hollywood-styled genre cinema; the body counts are high, the explosions big, the stunts jaw dropping...all expertly photographed and coordinated.

The transliteration of the title means "Ya" or "Me" in Russian. Directed by Igor Voloshin, this visually lush film about a man who meets his apparent death and recalls his life as he journeys between life and death, realizing the scope of the generations in which he has lived. The story is intentionally broad, allowing for the character to "travel" through his life while giving the director the latitude to play with a storytelling style reminiscent of other reality bending films such as Across the Universe or The Science of Sleep.

ULENKA: Deadly Lessons
Russia's has their creepy little girls as well. The story follows a university lecturer who moves to a small, provincial town for the sake of his wife's health, and begins teaching at a school for girls. That's when his nightmare begins as the girls in his class harbor a dark secret, and play an even darker game...with human lives. There is plenty of tension in the trailer and the lead actress for the the title character Ulenka, seems just right. Looks to be more than capable of putting the audience at the edge of their seats.

These are but a sampling of the growing list of attractive Russian films. What should be noted is the variety of films, particular in the multiple genres, and the production value the industry is putting in to each. It's no wonder that Hollywood is beginning to court many of these filmmakers for their projects; though I do hope those directors who do delve into major Hollywood fair will continue to create films in their own home.



As stated in the previous post, a problem or hurdle for biographical films is the possibility that the story might dilute the mystique of the individual in question. Another hurdle, however, is crafting a story that is compelling enough for people to watch; the assumption in the case of Amelia Earhart is that people already know "the end."
This is the challenge for the filmmakers of Amelia, a film that hopes to reveal the life of the legendary aviatrix prior to her even more legendary disappearance. Hillary Swank strikes a remarkable likeness to Earhart's natural, non-fashion plate looks as well as what must have been her unfettered passion for aviation. From the trailer, it seems director Mira Nair will be approaching the narrative from the standpoint of how Earhart's pioneering spirit & ambition affects the men in her life, played by Richard Gere and Ewan McGregor, and captivates the entire nation. This could possibly be the proper way to tackle the subject matter as it creates a thematic opportunity to explore how certain individuals and the populace itself are impacted by her ultimate disappearance. It would be even better if the story were told from the perspective of those around her, perhaps Gere's character, but it is already obvious that Swank as Earhart will be the center of the film.
Kudos must be given to Mira Nair's storytelling. There are some gorgeously shot scenes in this film with Nair utilizing color only the way someone with an aesthetic background from Indian cinema could. She imparts very dreamy, almost free flight elegance to the flight scenes which is important when trying to visually relate to the audience how Amelia Earhart felt about flying.

James Cameron proved that knowing how a true life story ends, doesn't necessarily mean a film about (or even set around) real events should or will follow audience presumptions. Amelia Earhart's achievements (they were many and remarkable) and mysterious disappearance is set in history; what remains to be told is what the life she lived and void she left meant for those who knew her. Let us hope that Nair, Swank, Gere, and company will circumvent presumptions and exceed expectations. The film is set for release on October 23rd.


Double Chanel

Coco avant Chanel

The danger of autobiographical films is the chance that they may actually take away from the mystique or rub the gleam off of the legend. However, in the case of Coco Chanel, the "Chanel" brand is so powerful and influential in modern fashion history that it might be easy to forget that Chanel is the name of a remarkable woman. Coco avant Chanel attempts to trace the life of Gabrielle Chanel from her childhood when she learned sewing in a convent school, to a youth singing at cafes where she received the nickname of "Coco", and through her meteoric rise as fashion innovator. Audrey Tautou takes on the role of Gabrielle from young adulthood and it easy to appreciate the reasons for her casting. Tautou bears a similar sleek physique to the actual Gabrielle Chanel that makes her look just as graceful and smart in Coco Chanel designs and an intensity behind her eyes that sells the uncompromising passion of the genuine individual. Behind the camera is Anne Fontaine, no stranger to female-centric narratives and before this turns you away with the assumption of "chick-flick," one should bear in mind that Fontaine has chosen to follow Gabrielle Chanel's life as it influenced her creative process. In particular, how the clothing of the various men with whom she had relations throughout her life inspired her trademark, modernist women's fashions. This should in theory keep the film devolving into overt romanticism, though admittedly, it is a very fine line for Fontaine to walk. It will be interesting to see if she successfully manages to steer the film solidly on the course of Coco the artist rather than Coco the courtier.

Coco avant Chanel will be released by Sony Pictures Classics September 29th in New York and Los Angeles as Coco Before Chanel. Official website is here.

Coco & Igor

Based on the novel by Chris Greenhalgh who also adapted his book for the screen. The film obviously departs from Coco avant Chanel as it has less to do with Coco Chanel herself, but her relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky, though their attraction toward one another remains an analogy for the theme of "passion" in a staid era.

Source: Cinemovie.fr

Directed by Jan Kounan and starring Mads Mikelsen (Casino Royale) as Igor Stravinksy while Anna Mouglalis portrays Coco. As mentioned previously, Fontaine has the difficult challenge of delicately balancing Coco's romances and professional career. Kounan, on the other hand, is bringing to life a book which specifically focuses on a relationship between a man and a woman who happen to also be two significant figures in their respective fields. I am being intentionally non-descriptive as this setup could truly be about anyone, and has been seen before. What remains to be seen is if the story can distinguish itself by revealing how the love affair affected the artists. Did his time with Coco further Stravinsky's music? Did her time with Stravinsky contribute to Coco's designs? Though both were trailblazers of the early 20th century, did their romance typify the decadence of the era, or herald the end of it? Are there more conflicts for Coco beyond the period's feminine propriety and the obligatory showdown with Stravinksky's wife? Kounan certainly has just as difficult a challenge as Fontaine, perhaps moreso. Fontaine has only to keep the film on a singular course, but Kounan has many thematic paths in front him and navigating those paths toward a relevant film without losing one's way is far more difficult. The players all seem capable of the task, but many elements must fit together perfectly in order for this film to differentiate itself from any other film about a transient love affair.

The film closed the Cannes Film Festival this past May, but has yet to be scheduled for general release, though Kounan shot both a French-language and English-language version of the film.


The Wolfman

The trailer for Universal's modern remake of one of their classic movie monsters premiered yesterday. Overall, the production design and tone of the film are accurate for the material. It is the stellar cast, however, that really sells me on this film—quality players all around. And I think that is really important for material such as this. You need performers who will deliver the gravitas of the situation convincingly. Since these stories served as allegory for the age in which they were first written, it will key to not let key themes get lost in the "monster" spectacle these types of films tend to do. So far, it seems the filmmakers of this current iteration are not shying away from the dramatic elements of the story's original incarnation.
The film is due to be release February 10, 2010.


Anime Feature Round-up


When timid eleventh-grader and math genius Kenji Koiso is asked by older student and secret crush Natsuki to come with her to her family’s Nagano home for a summer job, he agrees without hesitation. Natsuki’s family, the Jinnouchi clan, dates back to the Muromachi era, and they’ve all come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of the spunky matriarch of the family, Sakae. That’s when Kenji discovers his “summer job” is to pretend to be Natsuki’s fiancé and dance with her at the birthday celebration. As Kenji attempts to keep up with Natsuki’s act around her family, he receives a strange math problem on his cell phone which, being a math genius, he can’t resist solving. As it turns out, the solution to the mysterious equation causes a bizarre parallel world to collide with Earth, and it’s up to Kenji and his new fake family to put reality back in order.

Despite what one might believe, director HOSODA Mamoru's follow-up to the critically acclaimed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (highly recommeded) is a bit of a rarity these days. Most anime is produced specifically for younger audiences though the image of anime abroad is "mature entertainment" rather than "kiddy fair." However, that really is a problem of perspective—a comparison of "cartoons" versus "anime." In reality, while there are anime that are certainly not meant for children, broadcast at late night time slots, the anime industry's bread & butter still come from the lighter fair broadcast during weekday and weekend primetime as well as summer film releases. Auteurs like HOSODA, MIYAZAKI or KON Satoshi, who make anime for "film lovers" are few. Though this summer like every other has seen a good number of animated films, most are feature-length episodes of popular animated TV series, even the surprisingly successful Evangelion 2.0. The budget and production schedule required for a true feature-length effort is viewed as risky. That is why it is very special indeed when a film like Summer Wars gets released. Many of the staff from The Girl Who Leapt Through Time return including scriptwriter OKUDERA Satoko and character designer SADAMOTO Yoshiyuki (Evangelion, FLCL).
The film retains the stylized realism in character design that is a trademark to SADAMOTO, which incorporates well with the lush, painted backgrounds. The use of CG to represent the "parallel world" seems appropriate and remarkably does not clash with the artistic style of the film. In a time when many western production companies have turned their back on cel animation, it is probably no surprise that it is Japan that is still keeping 2D animated features alive. 3D certainly has it's place (see following), but one can only truly appreciate "animation" as the art form that it is when one can see hand illustrated characters brought to life against hand painted backgrounds.

OBLIVION ISLAND—Haruka and the Magica Mirror—

Your favourite teddy bear. That model kit that took so long to complete. The picture book you used to read over and over again. The shining stone you found that day in the park. Where do all your childhood's treasures go when you grow up? In this story, we meet fantastic creatures that gather all these little objects that fall into oblivion as they are forgotten by their owners when they step into adulthood. These creatures sneak into our world from a different dimension, and unseen by humans, they take all the ditched and forgotten "treasures" into their world. Here, they use their booty to build their own city, a fairy tale-like place called... Oblivion Island!
The story follows Haruka, as she stumbles upon this world in search of a mirror very dear to her. There, she befriends and is aided by a fox named Teo and the two embark on an incredible adventure as she also discovers the things we lose as we mature.

source: Nippon Cinema

I believe there are two very important things one should take away from the above trailer. First, the incredible well-realized fantasy world in which Haruka falls into is something that's been missing from animated features, both from Japan and abroad, cel animated or 3DCG. Even Pixar still tends to ground their films in a solid reality, though the perspective from which they are told may be whimsical (a toy, insects, cars, a robot, etc). A setting like Oblivion Island, I believe, has yet to be seen and one has to wonder why that is. At any rate, it is wonderful to finally see what amounts to be a fairy tale realized in film narrative once more. The second point is the technical prowess on display. In my humble opinion, Production I.G. is one of the finest animation houses working today and they have turned their incredible artistry and experience in 2D animation and translated it quite brilliantly into 3D. You have to admit, despite what we've seen from the likes of Dreamworks, Pixar, Sony, etc., this film has a distinct look and feel that only an animation company like Production I.G. could deliver. I would even say that this is the natural evolution of Japanese animation's approach of cel animation to the digital medium. It is not just a re-interpretation of 2D methodology into digital, but a rethinking of how digital technology can bring to life their 2D ideas. In other words, it's still about the art and artistry. According to the company's sale sheet:
Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror will inherit the unique expressive style that has made Japanese animation hugely popular around the globe, and at the same time it will pursue a completely different texture from Western style 3DCG animation.
The film took 4 years with a staff of 200 to complete, and I think the efforts in "dedicating time and resources to the establishment of a fully equipped [3DCG] production environment" certainly shows.



Surveillance is an appropriate title for a film that is essentially about "point-of-view." As the word "surveillance" suggests, there is a scene to be observed, from which details and information can be extracted. Two Federal agents, played by Bill Pullman and Julia Ormand (pictured above) are charged with reconstructing the events surrounding a grisly crime. The narrative borrows from the storytelling device employed by Kurosawa Akira in Rashomon whereby the perspectives of characters regarding a single event begin to reveal subtle truths about the situation.

Naturally, the reaction might be to think you've seen this before, but one has to bear in mind that the director of Surveillance is Jennifer Lynch. As such, one has to expect something different and in fact, viewing the trailer reveals an ability to steer interesting and compelling characters on a collision course that superficially seems almost genetic. One other point to bear in mind is where Rashomon was primarily concerned about revealing truth from the perspectives of its protagonists, Surveillance seems to be about the lies itself, particularly what purpose obfuscating the truth serves and the impact this ultimately has for those who perpetuate them.

Stack some gruesome imagery as only a Lynch can depict on to this thematic foundation, and the final product looks to be a competent and taught thriller. View the Standard Def and High Def trailers here at Apple.


Le Premiere Cercle

Actor Jean Reno has a special place in a lot of cineastes' hearts. He has managed to make a career playing characters with a hard edge, but who ultimately proves to be "good" at heart. He has a screen presence that is hard to ignore with a gruff voice that sells the dark cloud with the silver lining aura. It is therefore surprising that he has yet to tackle a purely villainous role. Perhaps it's a personal choice, but with is abilities and that piercing countenance, he has surely been offered such characters. It is therefore quite fortuitous to have learned of this film in which he plays the godfather of a ruthless crime syndicate in control of the underworld in Southern France.
The Malakian clan, a family of Armenian gangsters, is lead by the brilliant and violent godfather Milo Malakian who rules his world with an iron fist. His son and heir, Anton, dreams of breaking free in order to live out his love for Elodie, a clan outsider, and make his own choices.
But the gang's inner circle is engraved in blood. To escape, not only does Anton have to counter his own destiny, but also the man who has sworn to bring his father down: Inspector Saunier. A struggle to the death ensues around the audacious and spectacular heist that the Malakian clan is preparing as its final job.
From this synopsis, the film seems to tread over well known themes in gangster films, especially those from Hong Kong. Regardless, the film may finally give Reno the opportunity to express some true, wicked menace, though the fatherly angle might rub away some of the charcoal of his heart to reveal that familiar "silver lining." Even in such a case, let's hope the silver is a little more tarnished this time.

Source: Allocine France


Peter Jackson talks about the state of the film industry!

A few words of wisdom and insight from a man who can make big budget fantasy epics and small sci-fi films because he loves the process...from writing, filming, editing...all from the safe confines of New Zealand, thousands of miles away from Hollywood.

It's interesting because the film industry is in a really weird position at the moment. If I think about it too much, I get depressed because I don't think it's in a very good state, and we're all responsible for that; I'm not pointing fingers because it's easy to say "Oh, look at what the studios are doing." But it's the filmmakers as much as anybody; it's the authors of the of the movies, the writers and the directors. We're all got to be doing our part. And I think there's so much nervousness about dropping attendance, or so people say, and plummeting DVD sales that suddenly everyone is working from a defensive position. The creativity that's going into films is almost like playing a defensive game, instead of playing an attacking game.

And I think if anything, DISTRICT 9 has an attack element to it. We're basically saying, "We don't give a stuff about the risk; we don't care about how many people buy the DVDs." We just want to make a cool movie, which is great, and we were able to have that spirit. But I think that's in danger of getting lost, certainly in the larger-budget films. Everyone wants to create these little safe harbors, which are franchises. And you create your franchise, which is going to lead to three or four movies, and it'll all go to the bottom line and that goes to Wall Street. It's all this corporate stuff, and the film industry and the world of finance and Wall Street have all kind of blended in a way that's not good for creativity at the moment. Now, let's hope it's a cycle, because everything in the film industry seems to be a cyclic thing and hopefully we're just going through a bad patch. I think it's up to everybody, the filmmakers and the studios, to get a little bit more courage and fight against it, because I think we've all given into it a bit.

Source: Ain't It Cool News


OSS 117 - Rio De Repond Plus...

Secret agent Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath returns in OSS 117 - Lost in Rio, the follow-up to 2006's OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. One might think you have seen this kind of spy spoof before, notably in the Austin Powers series, but this is where OSS 117 distinguishes itself. It is not a spoof or parody of the genre, but an irreverent homage to the era itself. The production design and execution is intentionally aiming for a look that make these films appear as long lost classics rather than new films, while French comedian Jean Dujardin portrays a "man" of the era with a self-confident manner that sheds a glaring light on every negative stereotype of machismo common in the 1960s. Dujardin's La Bath is actually quite a capable spy, but his oblivious demeanor to changing social attitudes with respect to race, gender, etc. is the source of the humor; the film may be exaggerating (but not by much), but is never tongue-in-cheek. Overall, it is a clever, breezy look back on a bygone era in a manner similar to how one may look at your high school yearbook—there are fond memories, but mixed with the mocking laughter at how ridiculous your former self appears to you now.

Also, make sure to check out the swinging official homepage for some groovy tunes and goodies.


Be Kind Rewind

Michel Gondry's film opens with a documentary about jazz musician Fats Waller relating his roots in the small town of Passaic, New Jersey and specifically a particular brownstone on one corner of the neighborhood. As you watch this documentary complete with file footage, it becomes more apparent that members of the film's cast seem to appear in the documentary, including the proprietor of Be Kind Rewind, an elderly gentleman who bares a remarkable resemblance to Danny Glover. Without making much ado over this "poorly concealed" fact, the documentary footage ends as the film proper begins.

This documentary we are introduced to actually serves as the backbone both for the characters' story and the overall narrative. It returns every once in a while acting as "Greek Chorus" offering parallels that serve as commentary on the situation of the characters. As we learn of Mr. Fletcher's (Danny Glover) dilemma of trying to keep his small, VHS rental video store afloat, one of the film's important metaphors comes to light. Be Kind Rewind is a small business run by one man that offers personal service and a distinctive film selection in an ever increasing landscape of chain DVD rental stores that cater to the lowest common denominator. Craft and some may say "taste" are slowly succumbing to the strengthening chokehold of marketing and convention. One of the issues of contemporary film, at least in the sense of the general landscape, challenging the industry today is the increasing loss of originality and individuality of films released, particularly by the major studios. Tent pole projects practically steamroll over smaller films who can not compete with the marketing war chest it takes these days to attract a substantial market share. At the same time, so-called "producers" rely more and more on gimmicks, gags, and effects as a means to dazzle audiences rather than actually tell them a story; in turn, the viewing public's expectations decrease as the ease with which they are entertained increases. This is plainly stated when Mr. Fletcher is told by a fellow Fats Waller devotee to adapt to the times, to cater to the masses as a means to save his shop.
It is therefore good fortune that the film smoothly and quickly moves to the central dilemma on which the film is marketed. Left in charge by Mr. Fletcher who goes away on a trip to both celebrate the anniversary of Fats Waller's death and go on a fact finding mission to assess the competition, Mike (Mos Def) is faced the daunting task of recreating the store's catalog of VHS films which have been erased by Jerry (Jack Black) in a fantastical conceit that is easy to swallow thanks to the human underpinnings of why Mike must keep up all appearances while Mr. Fletcher is away. Mos Def proves capable in delivering a subdued and simple performance in his portrayal of Mike, particularly when it comes to his respect for Mr. Fletcher as both a manager and a surrogate father figure. Special mention must also go to Jack Black for turning in a much more ensemble performance one might not expect when considering his other works as lead. Here, he allows other actors to have the scene, generously allowing the entire cast an opportunity to "be" while he accents their performances. Jack Black fans may be disappointed that the comedy of Be Kind Rewind is much more understated than say, School of Rock.
This is particularly important when the pair begin the task of recreating Ghost Busters to fulfill a customer's request. The humor should be grounded in their attempts to remake the film's famous scenes with the limited resources and time they possess. Audiences laugh with their inventiveness rather than at individual antics. There is something quite satisfying in Mike and Jerry's solutions based on their memory of the film. With all manner of jury rigged contraptions, a shoulder-mounted VHS camera, and one take, they utilize perhaps a not-so-exaggerated guerilla filmmaking style to accomplish their goal.

In essence, Be Kind Rewind is writer/director Gondry's love letter to independent filmmaking as well as the filmmaking spirit. The plot device of trying to cover up the loss of the catalog is only a vehicle for the next metaphor of the film, that of creativity. Gondry sets up situations for the main characters to problem solve. As they take on their next recreation, there is great delight in witnessing what they do to cheaply and quickly film a hit buddy film set in Hong Kong. His subtle message is that passion is the first, most important ingredient in the filmmaking process drives even his own directorial style for the film. There is a naturalness to the style of the film that belies it's budget. There are not a lot of overly composed shots. In fact, some of the setups are somewhat "dirty" while framing is not heavily enforced on the actors. It seems Gondry was more interested in capturing the passion of Mike, Jerry, and the others they begin to inspire as their remakes become more popular than the originals, prompting neighborhood residents to join in the magic and joy of making films. This is best exemplified in a terrific one take shot of the community helping Mike and Jerry recreate several well-known films. Moving from one famous scene to the next, some of the simplest, practical, yet creative in-camera techniques used in films past are on parade; Gondry allows all the backstage trickery to be seen, for the cast and "crew" to frame-in, and the imperfections to show as this segment is not about the final product, but about how the final product came to be. It is perhaps his personal standing ovation to old-fashioned, homespun ingenuity that is slowly dying in a world where films are being written around effects shots.

Naturally, just as Mike and Jerry and their capable crew are reaching the pinnacles of success, with customers lining up outside the store, the party comes to an abrupt end in perhaps the weakest segment of the film. Now that the store is filled with "sweded" films (the term used to describe remaking films), this ultimately attracts the attention of the Hollywood studios and their lawyers, personified by Sigourney Weaver, who bring all manner of legalese, forms, and threats of grossly overestimated penalties to Mr. Fletcher just as he was seeing hope for his little shop. Ultimately, the issue of copyright and intellectual property would have had to be addressed in a film of this nature, however, Sigourney and company breeze in and out of the film so fast that it seems almost fruitless to have brought it up in the first place. Granted it was probably not Gondry's intention to debate this issue via allegory, but one can't help but wish for something a bit meatier than what was presented. Regardless, the air seems to have been let out of the bid to save Be Kind Rewind. However, the community rallies, intent on filming something original...for the shop, and for themselves. At this point the film nicely bookends with the beginning as the Fats Waller documentary returns. This time, however, the making of the documentary is revealed. The contributions by everyone in the neighborhood to the scenes previously interjected into the film show people of all walks of life providing their little touches of creativity, including how they achieved the hand-cranked camera effect for the file footage. There is energy in the air, and the neighborhood is alive. Bringing the community together is perhaps the film's most salient point. Though the impetus for making the film was for a charity screening to benefit Be Kind Rewind, Gondry clearly shows that the process of filmmaking has affected everyone in Passaic, or at least those within the area around the shop. When the "curtain" rises on the screening of the finished product and everyone's hard work, the satisfaction on people's faces represents that it is not about what can be gained from films, but from what stories or storytelling does for people. The format choice of VHS seems to be quite intentional and effective if parallels are to be drawn with the home movie. Home movies are personal storytelling and the passing on of history at its most basic and accessible to the general public. The documentary the community creates may not be factual with regards to history, but it is the history they believe in. It is the story they wish to tell.

The ending may be a bit of a conundrum after initial viewing. However, upon consideration, there is something appropriate about it and credit must be given to Gondry for avoiding a manufactured emotional moment no matter how "right" it might have been. As is, the film closes leaving the viewer with sensations of nostalgia, of wanting to visit old haunts, and wondering if things you remember are still there. Is Be Kind Rewind Video Store still there? Bittersweet perhaps, but a fitting cap to a film about the increasing loss of simplicity, with the hope that it is and can be kept alive...somewhere.


Micmacs à tire-larigot

Say the words Jean-Pierre Jeunet and one word should come to mind: "fantasist." To say Jeunet builds worlds is an understatement, but what's more amazing about this director is his where he builds his worlds...right here on Earth. Yet, all of his films have a production design and atmosphere to them that can not be easily categorized by a particular time period or place unless he is specific about it, Amelie comes to mind. Even then, the next component that makes Jeunet's films so interesting and unique are the cast of characters that populate his stories. They are what breath life into his worlds. I think it is safe to say that he is one of a handful of filmmakers who can boldly and skillfully skirt the line of Surrealism and maintain a clear, cohesive narrative no matter how "odd" the situation or characters.

In his follow up to A Very Long Engagement, Jeunet returns to France, but a certainly a France different from the one one might visit. This time, the reported satire revolves around Bazil, a man with a bullet lodged in his head which causes some "unusual" effects. With his father, a bomb disposal expert, having been killed on the job in Morroco, Bazil now feels that he must topple two of the world's largest arms manufacturers to repay the lifetime of misery weapons have caused him and gathers a motley team of eccentrics to help accomplish his mission.

Source: Allocine France

There are actually eight teasers, each focusing on each character of this ensemble cast. You can watch them all at CineMovies.fr. The film definitely displays Jeunet's signature wry, observant humor found in Delicatessen and Amelie as well as the lush cinematography of Tetsuo Nagata. Though already in post-production, the film is unfortunately not set for release until 2010 which makes for a very long wait indeed for a chance to view the latest from this contemporary master.



Is Moon an example of art house science fiction, or a throwback to sci-fi of years past? There are several points to both sides, but there is no arguing the quality of this haunting, understated film.

Moon is primarily a character study, that of astronaut and caretaker Sam Bell. Sam is the sole occupant of a mining station on Earth's moon, at which is produced a valuable energy source that has all but eliminated Earth's dependancy of fossil fuels. Sam is the one human required to maintain order and step up to fix any glitches or bugs in the mostly automated mining process. Sam's sole companion is GERTY, a computer artificial intelligence that runs the station as well as providing for Sam's basic needs. Due to continuing complications with the com system, Sam's communication with Earth has been primarily through recorded messages, and Gerty has been Sam's only "live" contact for some time.

As one might expect, there is a heightened sense of isolationism and early hints at Sam succumbing to some form of "space madness," his interactions with Gerty only fueling the mystery. But the mystery itself is exposed in short order, being merely the opening to a much deeper, unexpected conflict who's resolution develops into something staggeringly complex. This is where heart of the film takes hold as Sam struggles with his situation, as does Gerty. There are many elements evocative to sci-fi contemporaries 2001 and Solaris (the former being a rightfully lauded classic, the later (Soderbergh remake) highly under-appreciated).

It is hard to imagine the pressure placed on an actor to carry an entire film, yet the portrayal of Sam Bell by Sam Rockwell appears effortless. This could be due in part to sheer talent or an uncanny level of comfort with being in front of a camera, and is probably a bit of both. There are several Rockwell-isms that fans of his work will enjoy, altho the traversal of character that is employed over the duration of the film is pretty damn impressive. Kevin Spacey provides the cool, calm voice of Gerty with an unashamed channeling of Douglas Rain's HAL 9000. This in and of itself in execution is more like the comfort of a favored t-shirt rather than the clichéd gimmick it could have been, so Spacey does get some points for that.

Sam's moon base isolation is set in a non-defined future that helps the film gloss over some of the finer details, but sharp-eyed and attentive viewers are given enough snippets to do the math for an accurate date. The nebulous timeline was likely by design as to not lock in any specific technology that would distract us from the core story or inherently date the film. In fact true sci-fi aficionados would do best to leave their tech checks at the door, as Moon betrays most of what we know about existing communication, robotics, and artificial intelligence early on. Yet what is relayed in terms of futurism is done so as clean and minimalist. While this may seem like a potential bone of contention by the hardcore, how it is presented in the film succeeds in conveying Moon's surprisingly timeless charm. It's what gives Moon a fascinating feeling of a film out of time, by as much as twenty or thirty years. A long lost or forgotten sci-fi classic, if you will. Should this (hopefully) have been director Duncan Jones' intention, congratulations are in order.

Entertaining and thought-provoking, Moon is a rare offering amidst this summer's mindless blockbusters. Among those that are masquerading as science fiction, Moon shows how it's done.


Near Dark

On the left is the new DVD and Blu-ray cover for the cult classic vampire film, Near Dark, directed by Katheryn Bigelow. On the right is the original theatrical release poster. If you're thinking to yourself that these look like two completely different films, you wouldn't be erroneous in that train of thought.

However, when you see that the new key art for the home release looks suspiciously like this poster for the unexpectedly successful teen vampire film Twilight, then the reason for this disparity becomes more clear. Hoping to ride the wave of Twilight's popularity, Lion's Gate is releasing Near Dark with a marketing image that aims to attract Twilight's audience. Fans of the film, myself included, know that Near Dark is one of the great vampire films of all time. A wholly unique take on the often used (abused) film monster, introducing a family of hillbilly, RV dwelling vampires who ruthlessly hunt the open plains of the American Midwest. And though there is a love story, it's the central theme of embracing one's feral nature or succumbing to one's darkness that juxtaposes against the choice of "love" and "light." There is no romanticism, no couple fawning over each other; in fact these vampires don't even have pale skin nor do they ever bear fangs and yellow eyes! It is a gritty, dark and violent romp through vampirism starring James Cameron regulars such as Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Janet Goldstein. The film was made at a low budget, but it has stood the test of time only to be prostituted by Lion's Gate in order to attract a demographic who will be in for quite a shock once they see that Twilight is no Near Dark.


G.I. Joe

This will be one of the rare occasions when a post will be focused not on the film and its story, but on the the production of a film; in this case production design specifically. It is quite obvious what the intention of the filmmakers (i.e. producers/studio) when one views the trailer for this latest live-action adaptation of a popular property from the 80s. Any attempt at arguing for a much more substantial narrative is essentially a waste of time and energy. The film is designed to maximize opening day ticket sales by exploiting nostalgic memories of a much loved cartoon in people (men particularly) who are now in their 30s and 40s. The lure of blockbuster box-office returns based off a borrowed property is too tempting and as commented on earlier the viewing audience is far too easily "entertained" to demand originality and/or depth in a film of this nature.

What proves to be truly disappointing is the absolute lackluster production design that was approved by the director and all involved. Hollywood is prone to trends and ever since Tim Burton's Batman, black, leather-clad superheroes seem to be the only way Hollywood is able to visualize comic book characters. This was only reinforced more with the success of the Bryan Singer's X-men films in which a much more colorful palette in the comics was muted down to color accented black suits in the film versions. Despite early fan protests, the film adaptations of the costumes were so successful onscreen that they actually influenced the comic book versions post release of the films.
So, it stands to logic that the live-action version of the 80s "G.I. Joe" cartoon would also follow the same route. Take a look at the international poster for the film above. There is a substantial difference here that needs to be pointed out. Superheroes wear costumes as a method of disguise, an alter-ego with which they carry out their activities while living out another life as normal citizens. The members of G.I. Joe are military personnel. They do not wear costumes. Their outfits are a function of their occupation and the specializations within that occupation; they are also a reflection of the branch of the military to which they belong be it Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. The concept of the original cartoon was an elite unit made of up soldiers from these branches, contributing to a much more effective fighting force that pooled their collective skills.

Compared to this package design for the DVD of the cartoon series, the failings of the film production design are quite obvious. Though G.I. Joe is a unified team, each member retains their individual identities and trademarks based on the military branch to which they belong as well as the specific skill set they bring to the team. One can not get any sense of this when looking at the film poster; in fact, it's even hard to tell who are the villains and who are the heroes. Obviously, the outfits of the cartoon characters would have to be adapted to film, but it seems so elementary that drawing on real military garment and uniforms from around the world and through various eras would produce much better results than completely black outfits that have no variation whatsoever among the individual characters.
I am sure the production team will have all manner of explanations as to why they took the design route seen in the film. Whatever those justifications may be, this short video produced by a figure manufacturer proves that A) It is possible to reproduce the look of the cartoon in live action; B) even without revealing any faces, anyone familiar with the cartoon can identify the characters just by their trademark costumes and C) the production design of the film was not even close in capturing the spirit of the original source. It's a telling sign when the deep pockets of Hollywood can be outdone by figure manufacturer with its heart in the right place. But I guess that's the point, isn't it?


Angels & Demons

It is interesting to note the differences in audience turnout for a film from it's domestic and international releases. The Da Vinci Code sequel, which reunites the core creative team while adding a host of new faces, has done remarkably different business abroad than in the States. To date, the film has earned a moderate domestic box office total of $124M, but has done outstanding business internationally with an impressive $316M total.

I will be the first to admit that I appreciated The Da Vinci Code for what it is, an entertaining if not wholly engaging thesis that postulates a simple question: "What if Jesus had a family?" All controversy aside, the film does a good job of advancing this question to the finale. By it's nature however, the film is long on exposition for the simple fact that it has to assume one knows nothing about Christian mythology. Considering all the places this could have gone wrong, I think the film danced around issues while maintaining focused on the goal rather skillfully. This is probably the reason Angels & Demons has probably fared so well overseas. Introduced to the lore & traditions of Christianity as a "setting" for fiction, those without a background in Christianity have embraced the sequel as the further adventures of Tom Hanks' Robert Langdon, even though "Angels & Demons" the novel is a prequel to "The Da Vinci Code." It's no wonder, however, that the place these films have fared the worst is in countries like the U.S. where the number of Christian faithful makes up a large percentage of the population.

Whether one wants to believe in Dan Brown's conclusions, the entertainment value he at least infuses into the stories, and especially in their film adaptations by Ron Howard should at least warrant a "curiosity viewing." It is therefore rather odd, in my opinion, that the "faithful" are so resistant to watching films that only speculate history, postulates an alternative truth, and spins a good yarn in between when they themselves put so much stock on "the greatest story ever told."


It comes to this...

This comment was posted in an article in which Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, Green Mile) expresses his frustration at the resistance he is experiencing getting his script for an adaptation of "Fahrenheit 451" approved by studios that think it is "too smart" for people.
Wow, im pretty sure that movie was made already. Its called Equillibrium and stars Christian Bale and Taye Diggs. Fascist future, burning all creative/emotive material, one man (Bale) sees a beautiful woman and starts questioning his job, a resistance underground that tries to preserve anything artistic (books, music, paintings)...good thing we have a director saying how smart it is when its been done. Its like making a movie called Transmorphers about everyday robots that turn into cars and calling it too smart for Hollywood. Pathetic.
If you ever wonder how a film like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen can make $60 million in its opening day, here is your answer—a viewing public who's film memory only spans the last 10 years and whose reading habits consist of the internet and comics. When Hollywood raises an audience like this, it's no wonder that toy, comic, videogame adaptations and remakes are the only things they are producing.


I Come With The Rain

Thrillers make up a large percentage of my personal film collection. Something has always fascinated me about the tense grip a film can have on you for the length of its running time. The best of the genre always manages to completely immerse me in its characters and their dilemmas. I Come With The Rain has a fascinating and dark premise.
Ex-Los Angeles cop turned private eye Kline travels to Hong Kong in search of Shitao, the missing son of a Chinese billionaire. Enlisting Meng Zi a friend and former colleague now working for the Hong Kong police, Kline follows a faint trail left by the ethereal Shitao. The path leads to local gangster Su Dongpo and his beautiful, drug-addicted girlfriend Lili. But Kline is distracted from his search, haunted by memories of the serial killer Hasford whose 'body of work' was the reason Kline quit the police force.
Add the fact that this is written and directed by Anh Hung Tran, known more for his sensitive, human dramas such as Vertical Ray of the Sun and The Scent of the Green Papaya and you have something that should have your attention immediately. Tran's sensibilities will surely put a different "spin" on the thriller as it is obvious that there is a theme of "healing" central to the search for Shitao who reportedly has a miraculous ability to cure people of their ills.

The casting of the three main leads is also worthy of note. Starring Lee Byung Hun (Bittersweet Life) as Su Dongpo, Takuya Kimura (2046) as Shitao, and Josh Harnett as Kline, the producers obviously are going for a broad international appeal with a strong focus on its pan-Asian release. All three actors are more than capable of the material and under a director such as Tran, this certainly could be a solid entry in the genre. The film has already been released in Japan, though I sadly predict a limited arthouse run in the States; Josh Hartnett alone is not enough of a sell with three Asian talents (no matter how popular they are in Asia) filling out the credits. Below is the Japanese trailer.


Air Doll

Ever since I watched After Life, I have been a fan of director KORE-EDA Hirokazu. His subtle blending of documentary-like storytelling with a simple, yet affectuous narrative left me wanting more. By the time he had made Nobody Knows, it seemed the film world, too, had noticed his remarkable sense and ability of examining humanity in the most unexpected ways. It is a shame, though readily obvious as to why, that he is more highly regarded abroad than in his native Japan. His latest film, Air Doll once again defies easy categorization.
The idea of an inanimate doll coming to life and experiencing human emotions isn't particularly new; one can easily think of films which have used this device. Where Kore-eda differs is that he has chosen an inflatable sex doll to be the protagonist. This alone increases the emotional story potential because of what the lead character is "built" for; her interaction with humans—men in particular—has a context that will most certainly play a role in how she develops emotionally. Cast for this pivotal character is Korean actress Bae Doo-na and you can already see the level of rapturous wonder she is infusing into the character with just her mannerisms and expressions. This looks to be a very charming and unique take on the classic themes of love, humanity, and self-identity. The film will be released in Japan in the Fall.

source: Nippon Cinema


Map of the Sounds of Tokyo / KIKUCHI Rinko

To be honest, I am not familiar with the works of Spanish director Isabel Coixet. This film caught my attention because it cast KIKUCHI Rinko in the role of a mysterious woman who works at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market by day and moonlights as a contract killer at night. I have been a fan of Kikuchi long before Babel when she appeared in a few independent films in her native Japan; at the time she was going by a different name as well. Her award winning performance propelled her onto the international stage though back at home she continues, most likely by preference, to take on roles in smaller films and has yet to be cast in a lead role by any of the major studios. Her upcoming filmography is also squarely centered on international productions with a role in Mikael Håfström's Shanghai, a Japanese remake of the film Sideways, and Anh Hung Tran's adaptation of Murakami Haruki's best selling novel, "Norwegian Wood." Of course, she will also appear in Rian Johnson's The Brothers Bloom which I will touch on in a moment.

Returning to Map of the Sounds of Tokyo, reception at Cannes was particularly frigid. This really means nothing to me (see previous post) other than to make me more curious to see this work. I think expectations about a "hitman film" were again dashed prompting the ire of the critics. Initial impressions seem to paint the film as far more abstract, possibly inaccessible, and obtuse on the part of Coixet. Whether this is true or not will be left to my viewing of it only, suffice it to say that the synopsis itself does not paint the film as straightforward:
Ryu is a solitary girl whose fragile appearance is in stark contrast with the double life she leads, working nights at a Tokyo fish market and sporadically taking on jobs as a hit-woman.

Mr Nagara is a powerful impresario mourning the loss of his daughter Midori, who has committed suicide. He blames David, a Spaniard who runs a wine business in Tokyo.

Mr Nagara's employee, Ishida, was silently in love with Midori and hires Ryu to murder David.

A sound engineer, obsessed with the sounds of the Japanese city and fascinated with Ryu, witnesses this love story which searches the shadows of the human soul, reaching deep into places where only silence has the power of eloquence.
In fact, the set up seems distinctively ensemble, most likely gravitating toward a film that attempts to express the various textures of the city in which it is set, as the title seems to suggest. And if one visits the official site, you will hear a song that certainly does not cater to those whose tastes lean toward popular music; its mix of various musical genres including the torch-song stylings of singer Stefanie Ringes and its languid rhythm set the mood for a film that will certainly not take conventional routes. I would normally post a trailer with this article, but there is a portion of it that is strongly R-rated which will probably find the ire of Google Inc., but you'll find it on the previously linked official site.

One could not compare Kikuchi's role in Map of the Sounds of Tokyo to that of the character of Bang Bang in The Brothers Bloom. Though she plays the "muscle" for the sibling con-men, it is almost entirely a silent role. Yet, Kikuchi still manages to hold her own in scenes with Adrian Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz. In fact, word is she is an absolute scene stealer in certain parts. Johnson certainly could have cast anyone he wanted, so it is very interesting that he chose Kikuchi. The non-speaking nature of the role was certainly serendipitous to the fact that her English is probably not of native speaking quality, but he most certainly believed in her ability to act. Considering Johnson's ability for unique and original stories, there is no doubt that he saw a quality to Kikuchi that would bring life to the character he wrote. It's an old-fashioned "caper" film, one that should not be missed:

There are certainly a great number of highly skilled actresses in Japan, some of whom have very good English skills, and others who have "star" looks. What I think sets Kikuchi apart from her contemporaries and why she is popular abroad is due to her risk taking. She has no "image" to protect at home and her filmography is rich with varied roles that build her skills. Meanwhile, a good percentage of Japanese actresses are models, idols, or singers-turned actress (some juggling all three!) cast not because of their skill, but for their ability to appeal to a target audience. They are cast in consistently very similar roles from television dramas to films in order to maintain their ability to move cosmetics, CDs, how-to books, etc. They could never have taken on a role such as the one in Babel without risk to their dutifully fabricated image. As for the small percentage of "genuine actresses," I am at a loss as to why more are not entering the international scene other than they either have no interest or suffer a type of performance anxiety of having to work and act with foreign staff and actors. It's a shame really, but as the saying goes, "fortune favors the bold."