Top 10 of the past 12 Months

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13, 2011 by richiesodapop

I’ve been unbelievably slack this year on the writing, no excuses though, that’s just the way things have worked out. There have definitely been some good releases in the past calendar year but I can’t really say there’ve been that many great ones. Definitely the top half of this list could be considered great, the rest are just good, in fact there were many good films that didn’t quite make the list so I will give them an honorable mention afterwards. Also, it doesn’t help that some of the best films to come out this year were anniversary re-releases such as Taxi Driver, Akira and Peeping Tom, these are disqualified from entry.

Cinema trend wise, people are still going bananas over comic book adaptations, franchises and 3D, crap rom-coms and generic “grindhouse” style movies but it has been good to see a rise in the quality of most multiplex fodder, several of these big-ish releases actually made my list, so you know I don’t just champion indie releases, though while we’re on the subject, now is the time to do your bit to support UK based indie distributors, many of which will face very tough times in all important Q4 as stock destroyed in the Sony DADC fire has to be re-made. As small labels they will be low down in the pecking order for remanufacture as the big sellers are catered to first. Ironically this is unneccessary as all major distributors will be covered for loss of earnings in such circumstances whilst small indies can’t afford high insurance premiums that cover acts of wanton, human destruction. So do your bit, buy the DVD if you can find it, pre-order the future release on Amazon so shops will see a demand and order more, or pay for download here. Anyway, I’m rambling, here’s my list.

1. Senna – I’m not in to Formula 1, don’t need to be, what an amazing guy, though they deffo sugar coated him a little and ignored his sexual relationship with a 15 year old, but such charisma and more screen presence than any professional actor in cinemas right now. The man that did Far North really outdid himself here.

2. Confessions – Unnerving and deeply disturbing, in a good way, not strictly a horror  but scarier than most proper horrors.

3. Black Swan – Yeah it’s a bit wanky but it has atmosphere in spades.

4. Catfish – Though clearly contrived in some parts it remains an excellent piece of film making which genuinely stirs the emotions.

5. The Social Network – I wanted to hate this film, the trailer looked shite, stupid curly top, Michael Cera looking mofo acting all cocky but when I reluctantly went to see it I was amazed, such an intriguing story and you’re not necessarily meant to like the characters anyway.

6. Sparrow – Don’t sleep on this charming, stylish caper. Like a  French nouvelle vague-esque, cinematic love letter to Hong Kong and the triple disc DVD is just beautiful, so buy it. (Shameless plug as I worked on this release but I’m not going to release something that I think blows).

7. Winter’s Bone – Them Missourri folk sure do like to stick to their own. Ice is one hell of a drug.

8. Limitless – Just a good old fashioned slice of action and entertainment.

9. Source Code – Like a video game as when you die you get another life and try again using the mistakes of your last play. Not as good as Moon.

10. Norwegian Wood – Stunning to look at though slightly differing from the novel, particularly regarding the significance of the song Norwegian Wood and if you haven’t read the book you may struggle to understand some of it but all in all, a thing of beauty.

 

The Winner:

Other gooduns that didn’t quite make the list for various reasons are; Somewhere, I Saw the Devil, 13 Assassins, Animal Kingdom, True Grit and Buried. I’m sure I have missed many films this year that may have made the list had I gotten round to seeing them at time of writing, I really want to see Cold Weather, Blue Valentine, Submarine, Meek’s Cutoff and Poetry, if you seen any of those, please tell me what you thought.

 

Keep an eye out later this year for Red Light Revolution. It i s a seriously funny comedy about the sex shop industry, set in Beijing. I really think this film deserves a wide audience though sadly, most cinema chains are reluctant to touch a Chinese comedy that is about the sex trade but doesn’t feature any sex. But it has been a festival circuit favourite and had me laughing all the way through it so please, keep an eye out for it.

A Brand New Life

Posted in cinema, review with tags , , , on November 29, 2010 by richiesodapop

(2009, Ounie Lecomte, France/South Korea)

Semi-autobigraphical account of an ethnic South Korean film maker inspired by her childhood  memories of being abandoned by her parents. So yeah the premise is almost identical to Treeless Mountain but a) that’s no bad thing, b) it’s a personal account of a true story so comparisons are invalid.

Although not much action takes place, the 90 or so minutes fly by as we watch the young protagonist stubbornly struggle against her feelings of abandonment and loneliness as she learns to love her new friends in the orphanage never giving up hope that her father will return and take her home until the final act of acceptance.

A Brand New Life is a tear jerker of the highest order, well not for me because I’m a tough guy most other people will struggle to stay dry eyed at some of the scenes,particularly where we learn that Jin Hee thinks that she is in the orphanage because her family are upset with her.

Probably not everybody’s cup of tea but definitely worth a watch better than some of the over the top, predictable,  Americanised crap that’s been coming out of Korea lately.

I like to think that with this movie, Ounie Lecomte is accepting her fate and telling her parents that she understands that the decision to give her up was so that she could have a better life.

In the Mood for Doyle

Posted in cinema, Classic Asian Cinema, review with tags , , , on November 29, 2010 by richiesodapop

(2006, Yves Montmayeur, France/Hong Kong/Australia)

Eccentric, maverick genius or disheveled, drunken tramp? Doyle flits between these roles with the same effortless ease as he does to chat in English, French or Cantonese in this candid look at his character and showreel to date. Coming across as a somewhat distant yet likable manboy that just became famous for doing what comes naturally to him. His cinematography, particularly for Wong Kar Wai has been imitated ad nauseum by countless film makers, advertisers and music video directors, all desperate to have some of his “style” come across in their products but nobody can do Chris Doyle like Chris Doyle, what you see on the screen is what he sees in his alcohol soaked yet organically innovative mind.

I say organic because when you see Doyle try to explain his reasoning for making certain shots it becomes clear that there are never any preconceptions or pretense, he simply works with what is put in front of him and brings out the best in it, always finding an angle that others would not think to look for. Doyle had no formal training, just an exceptional vision for what would look good in a frame.

Little is said about his past, we know he is Australian that has lived in Hong Kong for nearly thirty  years and that his apartment is the same one used in Chung King Express, other than that, this doc does little to unravel the enigma that is Chris Doyle and this is the movies’ biggest flaw, that it is mostly the work rather than the man, granted the work is what we’re all interested in but a little more insight in to the man would have been very welcome.

It’s very interesting to see what his director’s and and cast have to say about him and great to see the locations that he shot such iconic imagery from. It is claimed that Doyle is Asian man at heart and even suggested that he was Chinese in a past life, one thing’s for sure, Doyle seems very much most at ease with himself when in Asia as is demonstrated toward the end of the movie where he works in the US somewhat awkwardly along M. Night Shyamalan, it is fun to see the American crew stand patiently and chuckling politely to mask their apparent nervousness as Doyle  takes control of the camera looking like a drunk uncle hijacking the presents at a kids birthday party  while the next shot shows him being mobbed by a gang of Chinese hairdressers in NY’s Chinatown all eager to get a picture taken with this icon of Hong Kong cinema.

If you don’t know the name get familiar. Doyle worked on Hero, Lady in the Water, Dumpling, Chung King Express, 2046 but most significantly In the Mood for Love, a movie so visually stunning that to not see it would be like denying your eyes the right to love.

The Killer Inside Me

Posted in cinema, review with tags , , , , , on September 18, 2010 by richiesodapop

(Michael Winterbottom, USA 2010)

If you need to cast a part for a cowardly killer named Ford, holler at your boy Casey Affleck as he’s taken to this description with aplomb on two separate occasions now, and as creepy, psycho- Law man, Lou Ford, Affleck really owns this movie, showing that there’s a lot more to him than just being Ben’s baby brother.

Michael Winterbottom has come a long way too, from episodes of British crime drama Cracker to the neo-noir of boom time Texas with stop offs in Madchester and haunted Genoa, it really is difficult to pin him down to one individual style, making his movies all the more alluring.

I haven’t read the pulp novel that this movie is based on but the atmosphere and mood of the movie create an authentic feeling of the time, that will have you drinking whiskey and choking on a cigar without batting an eyelid. The basic plot is that a small town Sheriff, pillar of the local community, spends his free time, violently bullying people and banging a Mexican prostitute, oh, and the occasional brutal murder. There is an underlying theme of capitalism, the emergence of the New West and the relationship that power, trust, corruption and abuse can share but it’s really just a good excuse to see Jessica Alba acting like a whore in slutty underwear and rocking the au naturel brunette look.

Beware that this is not for the faint hearted, if you’re the kind of person that takes care to jump over puddles, you may not enjoy some of the gratuitous violence but if you’re a slimy, abusive pervert, then it may be right up your street.

Top 10 of the past 12 months

Posted in cinema on September 3, 2010 by richiesodapop

Baaaam, it’s been a while, I have seen so many films this past year but haven’t written anything in 8 months, that is serious slackness and I mean to address this problem from now.

Several reasons for this lack of output, #1, Day job, sucks ass and sucks my enthusiasm. #2, more festival viewings, screeners and screenings but less actual cinema visits. The original purpose was to write about films I’ve seen in UK cinemas but with the film work I’ve gotten involved with I have have been seeing a much more varied selection of films but my blogging hasn’t reflected this, I have a whole host to backlog in the coming weeks. #3 pretty mundane year for movies compared to recent years, I sincerely hope this changes.

Anyhoo, back to the polling.

1) Kick Ass. A reminder that popcorn films can be the most entertaining films when story and character aren’t neglected for gimmicky effects.

2) Bad Lietenant: Port of Call, New Orleans. Surprised to see Nicholas Cage featuring in my top 2 but when he’s good, he’s the best. Trouble is, he’s rarely good.

3) Inception. Christopher Nolan does it again, not his best film but certainly his biggest.

4) Private Eye. Not released here, but one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in a long time. Highlight of London Korean Film Festival. I fear that this may be the tail end of quality Korean Cinema now that it is so reliant on Hollywood money.

5) Treeless Mountain. Slept on and incredibly sweet.

6) Whatever Works. Woody Allen relies heavily on Larry David and the end seems tacked on but an excellent laugh nonetheless.

7) Heartbreaker. A stupid chick flick rom com but done so well. Tough not to love.

8) Dogtooth. Fucked up in a good way, a million miles better than Anti Christ.

9) The Killer Inside Me. Brilliant performances but slightly textbook in feel.

10) The Illusionist. A cartoon hasn’t depressed me this much since Bambi’s mum died. Beautifully animated.

So some decent titles but can’t help but feel underwhelmed by much of what I saw, with many acclaimed directors not quite living up to their talents. MicMacs was amusing but too twee and preachy for me to really care about it. Four Lions had some funny parts and a good ending but all in all it wasn’t all that, considering what Chris Morris is capable of. Thirst had some good elements but suffered from Korean movie syndrome and all in all just seemed like an unrealised mash-up of three different films. A Serious Man was good but quite pedestrian in feel, I get that that was the point, to reflect the protagonists life but that doesn’t excuse the plodding pace. Shutter Island was enjoyable but so predictable that I left feeling disappointed and Hierro was practically Shutter Island in Spanish, but with boobs.

I still haven’t gotten round to seeing Ponyo yet but I’m confident that it would have made my top 10.

If you’re wondering where Avatar, Scott Pilgrim and the A-Team feature in this chart, go fuck yourself.

The Road

Posted in cinema, review with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2010 by richiesodapop

(John Hillcoat, USA/Australia 2009)

The director of “The Proposition” teams up with Nick Cave again in an adaptation of a Cormak McCarthy novel that does exactly what it says on the tin, ie the man and the boy wander along the road trying to find something, what that something is, they don’t know, see it’s a post apocalyptic world with maraudering gangs of cannibals, rapists, murderers etc and the man and the boy simply press on towards the coast just to maintain a glimmer of hope. This isn’t some Mad Maxesque sci-fi romp, it’s a more considered and probably realistic account of how society may function in that kind of situation. Note that the cause for this mass destruction is never revealed, maybe it isn’t even known by the survivors. The ever present ash and nuclear winter suggest it was the result of nuclear holocaust but thankfully it’s not one of those kill President Raygun movies it is just a tale of a father and son doing what they have to do to survive, wandering the plains with a shopping cart, a bit like lonewolf and cub (aka Shogun Assassin) minus the swordplay.

Those that have read the book would find that it’s a very faithful adaptation even down to the coca cola product placement, still can’t beat the feeling, even after the end of the world, some report that it lacks the impact of the novel as it contains little action and its haunting power lies in the sense of despair that McCarthy’s pen created, my personal view is that it did what movie adaptations are supposed to do, focused on the events and cut out the boring bits.

Aside from all that, The Road wins the second place prize in the prestigious Richie Sodapop crappest waterfall effects in a film, narrowly pipped at the post by low brow, 80s, martial arts tour de force “No Retreat, No Surrender 2″ which really has to be seen to be believed.

I also feel the need to mention that Guy Pearce is in it but only for about a minute, Pearce is an excellent actor that really should be more famous than he is, get a new agent Guy, you’re awesome. Although I fear that whatever future roles Guy Pearce takes  will forever be overshadowed by his performance as Mike in Neighbours particularly the bit when he was teaching Des some Japanese phrases so as to impress business man Mr Udigawa, but hapless Des got it wrong and told Mr Udigawa that Japanese women were dirty when he meant to say beautiful and Udigawa went nuts and canceled the deal, Waaah waaah.

Chung King Express

Posted in cinema, Classic Asian Cinema, review with tags , , , , on January 14, 2010 by richiesodapop

(1994, Wong Kar Wai, Hong Kong)

Chung Hing sam lam

Two different stories about the complexities of love in 90s Hong Kong but dealing with themes that are universal and timeless.

As somebody accused of often having my head in the clouds, California Dreamin’ by the mamas and the papas is a song that particularly resonates with me with its promise of a land that can make everything seem ok.  Similar to the character of Faye from this movie, I would often play it whilst working to take my mind off the frustrations of a menial day job. At this point in time I had not seen or even heard of Chunk King Express but a Chinese co-worker suggested I see it due to the similarities of our characters. I tracked it down and reignited a passion for Hong Kong cinema that I thought had died in my teenage years after I grew out of those Shaw Brothers martial arts films. It introduced me to a very stylish school of film making, populated by elusive but intriguing characters and a backdrop that begs you to visit this part of the world and be consumed by its exotic charm.

There are two different stories of Chung King Express, not intertwining, just one after the after although both involve police officers whose paths briefly cross, they centre around failed relationships and the very different women that they fall for.

First up we have the hopeless romantic, officer 223, a man that runs every day until he sweats out as much liquid as his body can spare just to minimise his chances of crying. He is trying to deal with the fact that he was dumped by his girlfriend. Despite the fact that he is a clear thinking, level headed, officer of the law, when it comes to matters of the heart, 223 subjects himself to bizarre rituals such as this as well as his daily consumption of a tin of pineapples that expire on the date that he was dumped, believing that this will lead to him either reconciling with his former partner or that their love will expire like the pineapples. The pineapple theme seems to be recurring metaphor in Wong Kar Wai’s work as in hiss 1995 film Fallen Angels, the same actor plays He Ziwu, a mute that lost his voice after eating a tin of out of date pineapples.

In his quest for romance, 223 drunkenly makes moves on a mysterious woman in a blonde wig (Bridgette Lin). After some not too smooth lines he ends up in her hotel room where the only action the sheets see are here wasted frame passing out in a drunken stupor while he lies awake beside her watching movies.

The next day on his routine jog, a surprise message from the mystery woman wishing him a happy birthday appears to be his first step on the road to moving on. If only he knew this thoughtful blonde was a violent, vengeful, drug trafficker.

Story number two sees Tony Leung as 663. He is also trying to handle life after a relationship breakdown and although he appears to deal with it better than 223, he is still far from happy.

This depression is noted by Faye, an aloof fantasist played by pop star Faye Wong, she works at a snack bar and plays California Dreamin’ over and over add nauseum. Faye quietly falls for 663 from afar and concocts ludicrous ways to be a part of his life by breaking in to his apartment and adding her own little touches to his home that she thinks will make him happy.

With time, 663 develops feelings for Faye but his hopes are dashed when she decides last minute to stand him up so she can finally give her dreams a shot and boards a plane for California.

Her departure however, does not necessarily spell the end for these two as she returns a year later to find that he has bought the snack bar, as the movie ends, it is left to our own imaginations as to what the future may have in store for them.

Chung King Express is quite a touching film but not overly sentimental, it juxtaposes different emotional states such as the madness of love and loss with the human condition to just get on with things and persevere. On top of this it is a very stylish film but not at the expense of its ability to affect the audience. It has been described as a love letter to Hong Kong but manages to have a distinctly European feel at times, these all add up to becoming a charming movie that you’ll want to return to again and again as you develop a genuine interest and affection for the lead characters.

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