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."


Who are the true bastards?

Something has been happening to the profession, and I use that word reluctantly, of "film criticism." Thanks to the immediacy created by the internet, and the resulting cancerous spread of media outlets into it, people are able to put words out there that are searchable and linkable. In other words, it's the biggest rumor mill of all time. And while rumors are part of the meat of the internet, surprisingly it is also real information—or at least those who are supposed to be responsible for creating it—that has become just another ingredient in that meat grinder.
Film criticism now is in the hands of anyone. Really. You go see a movie, come back home, log into Rotten Tomatoes or your own blog and you express your opinion about it there. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that. What has become disturbing is how the gatekeepers of information, i.e. newspapers, television shows, magazines, media conglomerates, etc. are now counting these opinions as currency. Literally. Rotten Tomatoes and the meter it features has now become an industry barometer, sometimes featured in the articles of people who are supposedly professional critics! What's more is how some of these bloggers and such, are now being taken seriously as journalists. If you run a film site and have enough traffic, you can actually go to a prestigious festival like Cannes on a "Press" credential.
Which brings me to this article from Empire Magazine. In it, the author describes the mood at Cannes and how the people gathered there to watch films have metamorphisized into some venomous serpent ready to strike at anything that comes by. Quentin Tarantino's latest seemed to be the focus of a lot of ire, some of which I have personally read on many blogs and "film news sites." And like the author of said article, what you will not find lacking in these online "critiques" are richly textured words expressing exasperation over Quentin not meeting their expectations. "Less talk, more rock..." as one "reviewer" cutely concluded her rant. Almost all of the reviews I have read rarely talk about the film as made; rarely mention what it's trying to do rather than what they want it to do; and rarely engage in analysis of why certain shots, sets, dialogue were used instead of dismissing the work and its creators because they did not match up to their standards. In other words, film critique has devolved into the same level of content as your average conversation at a bar, at the office break room, etc. And those who are supposed to write about films, in an attempt to be the "soundbite" people are quoting at those conversations, are no longer engaging in intelligent, objective criticism of the work and have instead joined the ranks of anyone out there with a keyboard and a blog. It's a shame really. Considering the pure acidity of critiques that come out of places like Cannes, one must wonder if today's writers actually "love" cinema. Or do they just love their opinions about it? Even Roger Ebert had to take pause to assess the mood at Cannes with regards to his review of Inglorious Basterds.
This particular commentary may seem hypocritical considering it's posted on a platform this article accuses as being a conspirator to the problem. However, Sleepless Films exists because of our recognition that writing, in general, is an art that is being lost. This site is our response to those who think expressing oneself in written word is the same as expressing oneself when speaking; it is a response to those who can not and fail to take films as they are made and not how we wish them to be made. If such opinions are expressed, it is clearly said as being so. Most of all, however, Sleepless Films is a reaction to the industry who seems bent on packaging and marketing art as if it were soap or cereal. We do not subscribe to that philosophy and will take great efforts in combating such nonsense. "Why?" you may ask? Because we DO love films.

The Beatles: Rock Band

If you haven't seen it already, by all means hit the link below and check out the amazing intro cinematic for the latest Rock Band videogame expansion: The Beatles. No surprise it's awesome, having been produced by none other than Jamie Hewlett.

The Beatles Rock Band Cinematic

No news if the game itself will incorporate any of the intro's snappy 2D art style (likely not, and the actual gameplay trailer is sadly bland by comparison), but it sure is great to see such a fantastic art effort put together to promote the game.


Clash of the Titans (REBOOT)

There might be a small inkling of excitement for this project despite the fact the first official still looks like every action movie being produced these days, including the film Sam Worthington is in that is currently in theaters. However, when you read the synopsis, you realize that something is very wrong:
In the film, the ultimate struggle for power pits men against kings and kings against gods. But the war between the gods themselves could destroy the world. Born of a god but raised as a man, Perseus (Worthington) is helpless to save his family from Hades (Fiennes), vengeful god of the underworld. With nothing left to lose, Perseus volunteers to lead a dangerous mission to defeat Hades before he can seize power from Zeus (Neeson) and unleash hell on earth. Leading a daring band of warriors, Perseus sets off on a perilous journey deep into forbidden worlds. Battling unholy demons and fearsome beasts, he will only survive if he can accept his power as a god, defy his fate and create his own destiny.
Excuse me? That doesn't sound remotely like the story this film is supposed to be based on. It sounds like a Hollywood war film instead of a Greek Myth. And look at the hinted production design...that's more Roman than Greek or at least the "Greek" stylized by Zack Snyder in 300. If this is the way the studios are going to handle their remakes/reboots, then there is definitely something wrong in Hollywood.