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Satoshi Kon (1963-2010) August 25, 2010

Posted by ashiah in Film.
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You know you’re having a crappy day when one of your favorite directors die on your birthday. Not to make this all about me or anything, but I was so upset to hear that anime director Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Paprika) had passed on August 23. He was only 47.

Perfect Blue

For those unfamiliar with his work, Kon was a mastermind at creating gorgeous, mind-bending animated films that always explored the area of reality, subconsciousness and the blurry lines between the two. Probably the biggest critique against his films are that they’re confusing; the viewer is never 100 percent sure if what’s happening on screen is actually happening. But that sense of mystery, that feeling of being thrown around and being tossed around like a puzzle, is exactly what makes his films so fresh and exciting.

Millennium Actress

Any time I’ve been in a discussion over modern day anime and its faltering place in entertainment (because admit it, most anime sucks), I always make sure to drop Satoshi Kon’s name. He was one of the most important names in anime and was one of the few critically acclaimed directors making anime-for-people-who-don’t-like-anime (alongside the most obvious name dropper — Hayao Miyazaki).

Paranoia Agent

And that’s why it’s incredibly unfortunate to have lost Satoshi Kon. I used to be a serious anime nerd throughout middle school and up into high school, but I grew out of it as I got older. Satoshi Kon was truly the last anime director I truly respected, and after Paprika (check out my review of Paprika here) it truly makes me ponder the future of anime and makes me sad that we’ll never get to see what new directions he would go in. R.I.P.

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Spotlight on…Joseph Gordon Levitt August 6, 2009

Posted by ashiah in Film.
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No music post! In fact, I’m just gonna stop mentioning it. Anyway, I saw 500 Days of Summer this weekend and freakin’ loved it. I won’t bore you with a review. In fact, here’s my review: Go see it.

Anyway, what I really want to write about is underrated actor Joseph Gordon Levitt who’s one of the few young actors today who’s consistently good at picking interesting roles. Levitt is absolutely charming in “500 Days…” as Tom, a greeting card writer who believes in love, destiny, long walks on the beach and other ooey gooey love stuff. So of course he falls in love with a girl who believes in the complete opposite, and shockingly their relationship does not turn out well.

Levitt, who’s best known for starring in the sitcom Third Rock from the Sun (and so is no stranger to impeccable comic timing), is delightful in light-hearted scenes but can easily switch it up for moodier moments. In fact, based on his past recent films it can be easy to forget he did mostly comedic roles when he was younger up until Mysterious Skin. In fact, “Mysterious Skin” was the first film where Levitt stepped up and became a bona fide actOR. Unfortunately it seems like the rest of the world is just now taking notice. Let’s look back at some of Levitt’s amazing roles — proof that he’s cementing himself as one of today’s best actors:


Mysterious Skin (2004)
This is Levitt’s first serious role after “3rd Rock from the Sun” (unless you count Manic, which I don’t since I still haven’t seen it yet). The film, about a gay teen hustler dealing with the affects of child abuse, was a jarring change from light-hearted teen comedies (10 Things I Hate About You) and sitcoms (Roseanne) he was known for. After seeing the film, I officially knew he was someone I needed to keep my eye on. Levitt has this way about acting that comes across as “dry.” His characters seem aloof, detached and bored even. But they always having something deeper inside them that’s causing them to close themselves up.


Brick (2005)
Even though “Mysterious Skin” caught my attention, Brick is what caught others, and by “others” I mean indie film nerds. But hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. In “Brick,” Levitt plays Brandon, a high schooler who has to uncover the mystery of his girlfriend’s death. The whole film was a modern spin on classic noir films, and Levitt’s portrayl of Brandon as a determined wannabe detective has just the right amount of dry charm and emotional flaws. He’s able to do an amazing balancing act between the two.


Havoc (2005)
Oh, boy. Now this was a piece of crap. But hey, every actors gets their tomato splat every now and then. The film, which is best known for Anne Hathaway‘s nude scenes, is about a bunch of naive white middle class high schoolers who try to be “black,” aka fly gangsta pimps. They then get a rude awakening when some real Latino gangs start injecting some real-world into their make believe one. I actually like to pretend this movie was never made. I’m sure Levitt does, too.


The Lookout (2007)
This overlooked gem is about a young guy suffering from memory loss. He’s persuaded to be the lookout at a bank robbery by a group of charming peers who use him and take advantage of his mental condition. Besides the somewhat major plot hole (how is someone with short term memory loss allowed to drive a car?) the film is an incredibly moving character study that showed Levitt stretching further from “dry” characters and showing a bit more vulnerability.


Stop-Loss (2008)
I actually wrote a review about this here. Levitt plays just a supporting character, but he does a good job at playing a young, reckless soldier serving in the Iraq war and dealing with post-partum depression. Not a stand out film, but an interesting film to watch on a boring Sunday afternoon if you’re in the mood to debate politics afterward.

After “Stop-Loss,” Levitt started taking more mainstream roles. I haven’t seen a lot of them (I don’t think most of them have been released yet), but maybe this means there’s about to be an explosion of Levitt-mania. Can you imagine that? Vanity Fair kicking Shia Lebeouf aside and declaring Levitt the new Tom Hanks? It definitely appears that way. But Levitt’s success and mainstream recognition has been long coming. Let’s just hope the attention comes from “500 Days” and not G.I. Joe.

Film review: Blood The Last Vampire (2009) July 13, 2009

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bloodcoverI know, I know. I’m terrible. I went into hibernation for nearly 5 months without bothering to update my poor, poor blog. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), it took seeing such a craptacular film to bring me out of my writing hibernation. Oh, boy. I didn’t think they still made movies so mind-numbingly awful.

Blood: The Last Vampire is the live-action adaptation of the popular anime series about a half human/half vampire, Saya, who hunts other vampires while being undercover as a schoolgirl. I’ve never seen the anime series, but I always knew it was a series that had a large fan base behind it. To be honest, most live-action adaptations tend to be hit-or-miss, so I wasn’t exactly expecting a masterpiece or anything. But from the first scene I knew it was going downhill — from the overdramatic closeups of Saya’s face, to the over-the-top violence that wasn’t cool or stylized but just silly and cheap.

Speaking of the violence, this film has possibly the worst CGI I have ever seen anywhere. Everyone splurts big, shiny globs of gray-ish bubbles. And 15 minutes into the movie and the audience was already cracking up, especially at Saya (played by Jeon Ji-hyun)’s deadpan delivery: “I don’t investigate. I kill. *dramatic closeup*”

Oh! Or how about the part where Saya is battling a karate professor/vampire who spirals into some kind of short demon/gremlin thing, who then cannonballs off the roof of a building and sprouts wings. The whole theater was rolling at that one. In fact, if the film was intentionally aiming to be this terrible, it could possibly be the best film of the year.

bloodscene

When my hair dangles in my hair like this it means I’m MAD.

Another major factor weighing against the film was the overwhelming amount of Western influence muddling with the plot; I’m mostly referring to the character Alice. Alice, played by some horrible actress I don’t feel like looking up, is the daughter of some general on some military base where Saya is sent (as as you can see, I’m too lazy to bother looking this stuff up). Basically, the whole story arch around her is completely useless. Her sole purpose in the film is to stand around, cry, sweat and not die (even though I’m sure everyone in the theater wanted her to).

Her role in the film magnifies the problem with East Asian films in North America, which are studios who think Asian characters can’t lead a movie. The film should have been entirely from Saya’s point of view, but instead she has to spit her screen time with a pointless and unnecessary white character. In fact, if all of Alice’s scenes were cut, the later half of the movie might have been somewhat salvageable. Maybe.

But even with its unintentional hilarities, possibly the biggest disappointment was the final boss battle. Despite all the horrible acting, the disjointed plot, the Western interference, the unintentionally hilarious fight sequences, at least we can expect an awesome boss battle, right? Unfortunately, the film couldn’t even do that.

But hey, it could make an excellent party film! Take a shot every time someone gets sliced in half. Or, take a shot every time the camera zooms in on Jeon Ji-hyun’s greasy bangs. The choice is yours! Otherwise, skip it.

Fun with Netflix August 25, 2008

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I’ve been spending more time browsing my recommendations list on Netflix. For those unfamiliar with Netflix (HAHAHA!), the recommendation page is a list of movie recommendations based on your past ratings. Well, I have rated a lot of movies (a little over 650 to be exact), but Netflix’s recommendations still can’t be trusted. Led Zeppelin Live? R. Kelly? Whaa? Below are a quick list of some strange finds that have found its way into my recommendations list.

Not cool, Netflix. Not cool. (more…)

Don’t judge a film by its time: Can a present film be considered “classic”? August 4, 2008

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Everybody loves a clown,
so why can’t you?

Hey, remember when everyone loved Titantic? So what happened?

The Dark Knight is currently the #1 film on IMDb‘s top 250 list, finally nabbing the spot The Godfather sat ever since the site began. Some find the rating unfair — ruined by fanboys overly consumed with having their favorite film “win.” The other side genuinely believes The Dark Knight is one of the best films of all time, but the whole situation is highly debatable.

For one, it’s impossible to approach the issue through a vacuum. There’s too much outside interference and societal context to see anything clearly. The Dark Knight isn’t just another summer film; it’s a phenomenon that nabs box office records and scores high marks with critics. And then, to add a dash of sentimentality to the list, for some people the recent death of Heath Ledger creates a closer, more personal attachment to the film. (more…)

The live-action anime guide July 28, 2008

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Last week’s announcement of a live-action film adaptation of the popular anime series Cowboy Beboy was met with mixed enthusiasm. It’s one of the few animes that could make a successful transition, if done correctly. But with the superhero genre already over-saturated (another Hulk movie?), studios are turning to anime for new ideas. There’s a current influx of anime-to-live-action films all lined up to be the next Transformers or Speed Racer. Below is a handy guide that lists all the news, rumors, and gossip of upcoming anime adaptations. (more…)

The price to stay current July 15, 2008

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In 2000, there was only one shelf of DVDs to rent at Blockbuster. The following month I walked in and discovered that that amount had tripled to 10 times that size. Then the next month I realized the DVDs had taken over the store. Needless to say, the transition from VHS to DVD was an easy one, especially with those nifty VCR/DVD combos. And who wouldn’t want special features and chapters for some of their old favorite movies? But this time around, the public is more stubborn to switch their usual DVD ways to Blu-ray. For one, there’s no astronomical difference between the two. Yeah, one is flashier and has clearer picture quality, but most people don’t have the money to update their entire library just to have a slightly clearer picture. Blu-ray’s answer (and somewhat late response) is to cut prices. According to CrunchGear, certain Blu-ray titles will now cost as much as $11 in comparison to the usual $30. All I can say is it’s about time, but will everyone else jump, too?


People waiting in line for their
unemployment checks. Oops, I
mean the iPhone 3G.

I’m suddenly reminded of the current hoopla of the iPhone 3G. The majority of those buying the iPhone 3G already have iPhones, the slightly slower, less cooler version released last year. But these people have no problem throwing down cash for what is probably one of the most expensive gadget updates ever. So when it comes to evolving technology and paying the price to stay current, what stays and what goes? What’s priority and what isn’t? But if it all boils down to the consumer, then maybe the market has no need for Blu-ray. People want to surf the Internet on their phone, not worry about high-end picture quality. Blu-ray’s time will come, but for now…next.

There can only be one: Wall-E vs. Johnny Five June 30, 2008

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When the poster for Disney/Pixar’s Wall-E first premiered, everyone assumed it was a rip-off of another adorable robot, Johnny Five from the ’80s flick Short Circuit. “How dare Disney plagiarize an adored robot like Johnny Five,” people whined. Well, there was only one way to settle this. I constructed a table that compared the two robots to see if the nay-sayers’ criticisms were correct. But nope, they were wrong. Johnny Five was never adored.

Subjects

Wall-E


Johnny Five
Function Trash collector Professional smart ass
Back story Human race leaves him behind; is lonely for years until he accidentally discovers the one thing that will save mankind. After getting struck by lightening, he gains intelligence and outsmarts scientists when they try to capture him. Gets beaten up a lot.
Memorable quote Doesn’t talk. “Frankie, you broke the unwritten law. You ratted on your friends. When you do that Frankie, your enemies don’t respect you. You got no friends no more. You got nobody, Frankie.”
Quirky characteristic Uh, being cute? I don’t know, I haven’t seen the movie yet. Possibly gay.
Timeless appeal? Too soon to tell. Only to those too young to remember that Short Circuit was lame.
Conclusion? Inconclusive. I probably should have bothered to watch the damn movie first. He has a VCR for a head! Think about that.

DVD Review: Persepolis (2007) June 27, 2008

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Based on a graphic novel, Persepolis is a uniquely animated, critically acclaimed film that deals with the everyday turmoils of a teenage girl trying to have a normal life admist political distress in Iran. The story is a sweet mix of both humor drama, but is executed in a creatively visual way. In one of the special features on the DVD, co-director Marjane Satrapi explains the reason why the movie is animated instead of live action, saying that a live action movie makes the movie about race, unintentionally alienating others. She says animation, on the other hand, has a wider appeal and can be identified with by all races and backgrounds. This is essentially the driving point of the movie. Even with a war-torn Iran as a backdrop, main character Marjane is still just a teenager who wants to get drunk and listen to Iron Maiden. Special features include two making of featurettes, as well as commentary on selected scenes, and a Q&A filmed during the Cannes Film Festival. The English dub isn’t too painful either, but I still recommend watching it in French with subtitles. Hilarious and affecting –highly recommended.

Film reviews: Memories of Matsuko (2006) / Strawberry Shortcakes (2006) June 17, 2008

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Director Tetsuya Nakashima is quickly becoming one of my favorites. His unique style of bright colors and cartoonish landscapes bring a fresh look to his films that are always noticeably his. But probably the most interesting thing about him is how his style translates. His films are always like candy for the eye, but they’re not cheesy, not overly-saturated, and not cheap. The colors and playful directorial techniques fit the film and don’t come across as gimmicky. That’s why Kamikaze Girls worked. And that’s why Memories of Matsuko is one of the most moving, enjoyable films I’ve seen in awhile.

Memories of Matsuko starts off like a classic old Hollywood film with a booming musical score and a soaring shot of a young girl singing a song. Clearly this is Nakashima’s parody of musicals but with darker undertones. The film actually starts in the present where Matsuko’s nephew Shou finds out his aunt, although he had no idea she existed, was murdered. As he cleans out Mastusko’s apartment, the drab, depressing circumstances of her death makes him question what kind of life she lived. The rest of the film is then told in flashbacks. As a child, Matsuko was constantly seeking attention from her father who loved her sick sister more. At 23 she became a successful junior high school teacher, but was fired after she tried to cover for a thieving student. After that, her life spirals. Her family disowns her, she is forced to work at a massage parlor, she serves time in prison, and is used and abused by every person she lets into her life.


Not as happy as she looks.

As depressing Matsuko’s story is, Memories of Matsuko isn’t a drab test-of-your-limit mood killer a la Lars von Trier. Most of Matsuko’s flashbacks are told in flashy musical montages that are enjoyable, yet heart wrenching at the same time. The reason the formula works is because it’s a classic tragic dramedy and Matsuko is our tragic heroine. Sure she had flaws and made many mistakes, but no matter what she chose in her life, she was always doomed from the beginning, which makes Matsuko so empathetic.

It’s rare to have a film that makes you laugh and cry within the same scene, but Memories of Matsuko is an interesting romp through the updated hypercolor lenses of a tragic figure.

_________________________________

Slice of life dramas about lonely people in the city are nothing new, and the first half of Strawberry Shortcakes almost seem laughably cliched. The film follows four characters independently, and they are all uniquely different from each other. Where I found the film cliched was in each character’s motivation. Each character (all female) moans about how badly they want a man, as if having a man will complete them and solve all their problems.


They just got the news “Arrested
Development” was canceled.

The first character, a girl who’s a receptionist at a call girl business, prays to a rock she finds on the street for a male companion. Another character, an actual call girl, sells her body as she waits around for an old college friend to fall in love with her. The third character is a stereotypical prissy girl who folds her boyfriend’s clothes after they have sex; she thinks finding God is through finding the right boyfriend. The last character, an artist, grows depressed after her ex-boyfriend sends her a postcard saying he got married…and she often cries while masturbating.

Although I had my share of grievances with the film and characters’ relentless struggle to look for men to fulfill their lives, as the film continues, the characters evolve and go through inner changes that shape their wants. Although all four characters want men, none of them actually get one. They all learn to deal with their loneliness not through a man in white armor, but through themselves and each other. It’s a simple movie with a simple message, and although it’s 30 minutes too long, everyone can probably empathize at being in a stage in their life where they feel lonely and pathetic.