Friday, December 28, 2007

Best of 2007: Music

Because this is what we do at the end of the year...

To be accurate, this should be titled 'Favorites of 2007: Music' because I am hardly an authority on the amazing amount of music available. However both my bank account and local library attest to the fact that I try my best. Here are my favorites of 2007, in alphabetical order:

  • All Hour Cymbals (Yeasayer) As cheeky as the title and the name may be, the music is a different story. Yeasayer music is eclectic without being schizophrenic, and sophisticated without being convoluted. The only criticism that I could possibly come up with is how conventional some of the songs sound through totally unconventional means, and that is a feat within itself.
  • Andorra (Caribou) Andorra is a total throw back to wall-of-sound psychedelic pop of the 60s that is catchy, melodious and beautiful. Dan Snaith's previous projects, as Caribou and Manitoba, have not come close to the brilliance achieved here. Listening to this CD makes me want to dance around barefoot with flowers in my hair.
  • Bambi’s Dilemma (Melt Banana) Melt Banana has turned a corner on Bambi's Dilemma transforming their sonic mazes that spiral around and make your head spin into delicate head throbbing punk perfection. Just when they seem on the verge of slipping into an actual pop-like melody, they hit you with some mad frenetic madness. Sound like an oxymoron? Just download "Cracked Plaster Cast" and the 44 second "Lock the Head" and you will see just what I'm talking about.
  • Friend Opportunity (Deerhoof) More than any other CD in this list, I could pop in Friend Opportunity at anytime and be satisfied. The first track, "The Perfect Me," is a kinetic barn burner that is enough to get anyone moving right out of the gate. Friend Opportunity is punk pop at its best. The biggest disappointment was that Deerhoof, who will often make two passes to the Twin Cities in a tour, only chose to play a show at the stuffy McGuire Theater at the Walker.
  • In Advance of the Broken Arm (Marnie Stern) The title says it all: screw it! let's go! With her fretboard tapping and 80s metal guitar sound, Marnie Stern is definitely throwing caution to the wind. This is some very unassuming rock and roll that doesn't even have marketing in mind. The album is quirky, to say the least, and if it wasn't for her amazing guitar playing, I wonder how this music would come off. Without a doubt this is one of the most unique albums of the year, and I love it.
  • LP (Holy Fuck) LP has the unfair advantage that I only recently bought it and I am hopelessly addicted to it. It is such a great combination of electronic and no nonsense rocking out. I'm dying for these guys to come to town. Let's hope they open for Super Furry Animals in February at First Ave. Check out some of the videos on their MySpace page. From the dreamy "Milkshake" and "Lovely Allen" to the pulsing "Super Inuit" and "Safari," I love this album from start to finish.
  • Mirrored (Battles) Mirrored is hard to peg down as far as a genre. Sure it's 'math rock' and if I weren't so stoopid, there are probably some pretty amazing things happening rhythmically. With ex-Helmet drummer John Stanier and three other guys who play anything else that plugs in, this guys mash it up pretty good. It's multi-layered, it's experimental, it's electronic, and it's rock, all in a very well crafted package.
  • Natural (Mekons) God love the Mekons and every facet of their shape-shifting musical genres. In many ways, this might be the Mekons' most mainstream album yet. There is something bright and shiny about this dark themed album. Natural reminds me of the best of The Handsome Family...except better because it's the Mekons.
  • Rainbow (Boris & Michio Kurihara) Michio Kurihara does something to slow Boris down a little bit. Not that Boris was fast without him, but there is something a little more reflective about Rainbow. For those who are getting a warm and fuzzy feeling about this combo, the quartet had no trouble nearly blowing my eardrums out at the Triple Rock this fall. That being said, this album is full of nuance and variation.
  • Strawberry Jam (Animal Collective) This was a difficult one because I really got burnt out on Strawberry Jam, which I blame on myself and Radio K, who obviously adored "Peacebone" as much as I did. There is a mania here that this album conveys. Who knew that music so peculiar could be so engaging. Although some won't agree, Strawberry Jam upstages Panda Bear's Person Pitch.
  • The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams (Me’shell Ndegeocello) Me'shell's last few releases have left me cold, but I was blown away by this album. The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams combines the best of what Me'shell is known for: her jazz and funk and hypnotic spoken word. Definitely one of the most overlooked albums of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Dark Star (White Magic), Kala (M.I.A.), Person Pitch (Panda Bear), Proof of Youth (The Go Team), Teardrop Sweetheart (Misha), The Third Hand (RJD2), Triple Rock (Dosh), Widow City (Fiery Furnaces), With Lasers (Bonde de Role), Yesterday's Universe (Yesterday's New Quintet).

Shows - My favorite shows obviously coordinate with some of my favorite albums.I'd be remiss not to mention Radiohead's serious smackdown to the music industry. I bought In Rainbows for 5 quid when it was first made available, and although it is not one of my faves, I was more than glad to put up money for their effort. Granted, Radiohead could probably do anything they want and be successful, but this has to be a huge wake up call to the suits. The more the industry pisses and moans about illegal downloads or copyright infringement, the more artists and fans are going to take control.

Although I thought the City Pages Year in Music issue was lame with a capital L, I loved the Twin Cities Rock Atlas. Check it out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Anniversary to Blog

Woop-tee-doo. I've had a blog for a year. At 148 posts, there are no records for quantity being set and, I assure you dear reader, I will always strive for better quality. Over the last year I have learned how hard it can be to watch as many movies as possible, be engaged in the local scene of music, art and performance, maintain a personal life, work 40 hours a week and still have time to sit down and write my reflections, be they banal or profound. In a perfect world, someone would pay me for the watching and writing part, but I'm afraid banality doesn't get much respect these days. So until I get more profound and more original, I will settle for my happy-go-lucky job as a lumper. In the meantime, I've decided to sift out the chaff and focus on film postings only (with an occasional impulsive T-wolves posting here and there.) Although I like other stuff, film is my unapologetic passion.

Being flip is fun, but I really wouldn't be doing this if I didn't take it seriously. Soooo, here are a few goals pour moi in 2008:
  • Raise the quality while maintaining quantity. I have no intentions on posting every day unless I win the lottery and really can quit my job. Although I am happy with an average of 2.76 posts a week, I am unsatisfied with the average lameness of the posts. My intentions are to write more reviews and actual content, with the news items taking a back seat.
  • Connect with people interested in a Twin Cities film website. As much as I can appreciate how easy (and cheap) blogs are, the time is ripe for a new resource for Twin Cities film. The local film editor for the City Pages was fired, and the dailies work with a skeleton staff and impossible deadlines. Often the best way to keep track of what is going on is to simply visit the individual websites of the non-chain cinema houses. But that's not easy. (Case and point, I went to the Heights yesterday to see Juno, and just happened to notice that the 1927 silent film Chicago accompanied by organ will be playing Thursday. Is this going to get any press? I doubt it.) The Twin Cities has a pretty amazing film community out there, and some pretty cool things going on here. The working equation for me is getting more people to the cool films, and in return getting more cool films.
  • Attract more readers. For those that do read this blog, thank you. It's not meant to be a vacuum and I am glad to hear that people do occasionally read it. Hopefully writing more original content will attract more people, but I am not afraid to ask readers to do a little pimping for me: if you read something you like or think is interesting or stupid, pass it along to people you think might enjoy it.
Probably the best news, for me, is that after a year, I'm not even close to being burnt out. I only wish I had more time. And as much as I would like to mull all of this over a little bit more, I have a movie to watch. Cheers to your 2008.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays from SWEENEY TODD

Sweeney Todd may not be my favorite film of the year, but there is something about a little misanthropy around the holidays that makes me happy. The best thing about the pessimistic and bloody Sweeney Todd is that it opened Christmas weekend. Sweeney Todd may very well be the darkest film ever made with the average tone being a dark grey. Sure, it's a musical and the murder has a lighter tone than, say, the Saw series, but even at the hand of Burton, Sweeney Todd is bluntly grim. The theme at the heart of this film is undeniably dire: we all deserve to die.

"Now we all deserve to die
Tell you why, Mrs. Lovett, tell you why.
Because the lives of the wicked should be made brief
For the rest of us death will be a relief
We all deserve to die."

If you are feeling a little gloomy around the Holidays, Sweeney Todd may just cheery you up a little bit. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Worst team ever?

The Worst Team Ever. That was the title of a front page article in the Star Tribune today. Well, that just makes wins that much sweeter. The Timberwolves win against the Pacers 131 to 118 was one of the funnest games I've ever watched. Just look at the stats: both Jefferson (29 points, 13 rebounds) and Telfair (27 points, 11 assists) with double doubles, Walker with 23 points, Gomes 16, Smith and Green with 12, and Brewer with 10. The Pacers outscored the Wolves 40 to 20 in the first quarter, but the Wolves came back in the second quarter to outscore the Pacers 40 to 15.

Sure, the T-wolves are the worst team in the NBA with only 4 wins and 21 loses, but you just never know what is going to happen. Near wins don't count, but a win against Phoenix does count. I'll be the first person to admit that it gets pretty depressing watching them lose so many near wins. But in the end who cares. Although it is hard to think about guys making millions as underdogs, it is fun to cheer for the underdog. Perhaps there will be good news out of a poor season for the Timberwolves: nice picks in the draft or maybe someone will lose their job? You just never know.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gift Geekin' 2007

Forget DVD releases. Instead, I give you the ultimate Christmas list for the DVD dork in your life:

Samsung BD-UP5000
If you have deep pockets and big love, give the gift of no more guessing: Samsung's dual Blu-Ray/ HD player. Early reports are not bad on this machine. Despite market predictions, the Blu-Ray/HD battle will not be decided this holiday season. And honestly who knows when it will be decided. Logic points to Blu-Ray becoming the dominant format, which is far superior by the numbers. Of course we all know how logic works in "market" situations.... Best option for the time being might be Samsung's player. Of course for the price ($1000) you could get two players for the respective formats, but DVD dorks generally have too many DVD players already. My plan, short of having this player under the tree, is to bank on Blu-Ray as a means to get a PS3. Even if Blu-Ray goes sour, I'll still be able to play NBA Live and Stranglehold.

Blade Runner: Five Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition
Sure there are a lot of cool box sets out there but this has to be the the ultimate in DVD geekiness. I just saw the new cut (or is it the old cut?) of Blade Runner in the theater and I was really blown away. Granted my memory of the original cut is foggy and I'm sure I watched it on VHS, probably cropped and on a crappy TV, so it is no wonder why it seemed like a totally new experience. The five DVDs in this set might be a little excessive (four different cuts of the film and a load of extra stuff), but all the crud you get with this set is nothing but DVD collector's goodness: cool numbered edition briefcase, replica spinner car, origami unicorn figurine, photos, some sort of film clip, and a letter from Ridley Scott. And the actual content of the DVDs is worthy of ownership. Honestly, it is a pretty good deal at $55. I've paid a lot more for a lot less. I would love to have this.

Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition
Here it is. Season one and season two and the pilot, all together for the first time ever. I've already cried about how much I want this set. There was a time when I really didn't care about season two and was pretty happy just have season one and a weird bootleggish version of the pilot. But I've changed my mind and would actually like an excuse to what the entire thing over again. Supposedly each episode was re-mastered and now contains surround sound and has loads of new supplemental material. Sounds good to me.

TV Shows
I am convinced that the availability of television shows on DVD is more complete that the availability of films on DVD. There are so many TV show box sets and box sets of box sets that I can't keep track. If that special someone has a special TV show, the DVD set is a shoe-in.

Naruse Volume One (Masters of Cinema) and Mikio Naruse Collection (BFI)
Given the exchange rate, receiving a UK R2 DVD is like gold. And these Naruse films are more than worthy of the import price. These two collections contain six films that have been, for all intents and purposes, unavailable to the average mortal. Although Criterion released Woman Ascends the Stairs with some prospect that they might release more of Naruse's films, who wants to wait. All I have to say is that I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and life is much better after seeing these films. Japanese film fan or just plain ol' film fan, these films are invaluable. Naruse Volume One from The Masters of Cinema contains Repast (1951), Sound of the Mountain (1954) and Flowing (1956). The Mikio Naruse Collection from BFI contains Late Chrysanthemums (1954), Floating Clouds (1955) and Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960). Region free, PAL compatible DVD player required.

Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934
Because not every DVD collector is a philistine, here is an important archive of early American film. Released by the National Film Preservation Foundation, the set includes over twelve hours of material: four feature films and 44 documentaries, cartoons, newsreels, serial episodes and public service announcements "exploring social issues from the period 1900 to 1934." You can be assured that these films are presented in the best quality possible. The more I read about this set, the more interesting it seems. Just some of the topics tackled in the collection are abortion, unionization, interracial marriage, the rights of women, immigration, workplace safety, homelessness, public education and predatory lending practices. If you don't receive this from Santa, supposedly copies are being to sent to all "state libraries" although I'm not sure exactly when or exactly where.

The Experimental Image World of Shuji Terayama
Giving the gift of a Japanese DVD is just downright generous. Giving the gift of a Japanese box set is love. Giving the gift of a Japanese box set of obscure films is brilliant.

Post War Kurosawa Box - No Regrets for Our Youth, One Wonderful Sunday, Scandal, The Idiot, I Live in Fear
This set doesn't come out until January 15th, but it is the perfect gift for any fan of Japanese film. I would be more than happy to unwrap an IOU for this set containing some pretty rare and rarely-seen Kurosawa films.

Mega-movie collections: United Artists 90th Anniversary Prestige Collection and New Line Cinema 40th Anniversary Collection
If you just can't make up your mind, and you are truly dealing with the obsessive collector, either one of these collections would be fine. Seriously, check out the shots of the UA set. Wow. 90 films and 110 DVDs. God forbid I ever win the lottery. The New Line collection is a more modest 17 films on 17 DVDs, but also very nice. If you are wondering, I would prefer the UA set. Thanks. XO

Friday, December 14, 2007


Remember back in 1998 when a director named Andrew Lau made a movie called Storm Riders that was supposed to save Hong Kong film? In retrospect, I don't know if Storm Riders followed through on that promise, but it did usher in a new era of special effects and it also proved that Hong Kong films could do honest battle with Hollywood films at the domestic box office. Of course the success of Storm Riders was partially due to the popularity of the comic book it was based on by Ma Wing Shing. Asian Media Access brought Storm Riders to the big screen in the Twin Cities more than a few times, and I'm pretty sure I saw it every time. It stars pretty boys Ekin Cheng and Aaron Kwok in the two lead roles as Wind and Cloud, with Sonny Chiba, Kristy Yeung and Shu Qi in supporting roles. Although it seems a bit dated now, I am still fond of this movie.

Now Danny and Oxide Pang are signing on to bring the Storm Riders back in a sequel that is sure to rival the original. The Pang Brothers have hit these shores with their English language debut The Messengers, and have just wrapped up a remake of their own film Bangkok Dangerous due out next year and starring Nicolas Cage. Look also for the remake of their hit horror film The Eye next year. The Pangs have a boat-load of style in their back pocket, and while I haven't loved every film they have made, I feel Storm Riders is in good hands. As much as I long to see Aaron's pretty face and Ekin's flowing hair, neither has been confirmed in the sequel. The Pangs will start shooting Storm Riders II later this year and will hit screens hopefully around the time I am in Hong Kong for the 2009 Hong Kong International Film Festival.

Monday, December 10, 2007

ERGO PROXY, thoughts and musings

Ergo Proxy is one of the first anime series that I've finished in a long long while. The last one I finished was probably Last Exile or Paranoia Agent. Finishing a series is the first and ultimate sign of approval. I've had more than a few false starts where I get about 2-3 episodes into a series and just forget about it (Gilgamesh, Noir, Witch Hunter Robin, Texhnolyze, Haibane-Renmei, Rahxephon and so on and so forth.) This probably has more to do with my ADD than the actual quality of the shows, because now that I think about these shows they were all intriguing, to say the least. Thankfully, testing the water of an anime series has gotten a little more practical with the vast inventories of on-line movie rental services, and one of the sole reasons I subscribe to GreenCine. Ergo Proxy was one of the series that I slowly worked through over the past few months and although the ending was ultimately a let down, it was overall a pretty rewarding series.

Ergo Proxy is 23 episodes that ultimately feels short by the time you get to end. Ergo Proxy takes place sometime in the future in Romdo, a domed city that protects it's peaceful civilians from the ambiguous dangers of the lawless lands outside. Robots, called AutoReivs, facilitate the civilians as secretary, protectors, and companions. Re-l Mayer works as an inspector for the Civilian Intelligence Office. Although she seems totally competent at her job, Re-l is also treated very differently from everyone else due to the fact that she is the granddaughter of the leader of Romdo. Re-l is in charge of Vincent Law, a recent immigrant in Rondo who works on AutoReivs. Things have started to go a little haywire in the nirvana of Romdo: the Cognito virus is infecting AutoReivs giving them more human traits and self-awareness and a demon monster, called a Proxy, is on the lose in Romdo disrupting the citizens. Vincent Law seems tied to the mysteries of the Proxy and Re-l Mayer is tied to Vincent. As Vincent flees the city to the outer world, Re-l decides to follow him in attempt to uncover the secrets of the Proxy and Vincent and Romdo.

One of the things that drew me into the series was the narrative ambiguity. The above synopsis might help you through the first couple episodes, but after that you are on your own. Each episode simply opens new doors to new questions with few concrete answers. The set-up and main narrative thread of Ergo Proxy is common enough with familiar sci-fi components, but where the narrative arch is heading stays pretty foggy right up to the end. In many ways, this is Ergo Proxy's driving force: the enigma, wrapped in a riddle, shrouded in mystery. With the exception of one throw-away episode in the middle somewhere, every episode is rich and engaging, balancing the action with the dramatic yarn. The deliberate pacing was perfect, until the last two episodes which feel forced. This is probably where Ergo fails. The attempt to draw literal conclusions to the previous 22 episodes and to tie up loose ends all at once feels obligatory and, in the end, unnecessary.

I'm willing to give pretty high marks to many aspects of Ergo. Graphically, Ergo Proxy is nothing short of stunning. The dark blue-grey palette and realistic drawing is reminiscent of other anime but even darker. A lot of work obviously went into this production to make it visually captivating. I could never get tired of the images on the screen. The characters are far more interesting than your average anime. Re-l and Vincent are both caught in circumstances that seem to push their characters into adulthood. With Vincent, there is a graphic change in him from the first few episodes as a trivial self-conscious boy to his transformation as a more defined young man. Even man-child doctor Daedalus and authoritarian Rual turn out to be a more complex characters than expected. And how brilliant is Radiohead's Paranoid Android as an ending theme?

About 12 episodes into Ergo Proxy, I was convinced that I would give this a second viewing. Unfortunately that enthusiasm wained as I got into the last disc and the story got a little too heavy-handed for my taste. Although much could be gained from a second viewing, I'm going to have to put it on the back burner while I attempt to finish up the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and start 2nd GIG, and also watch Solid State Society...more on this later.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I'm just 1 in 3,000

Maybe not something to be proud of, but I am one of the 3,000 people in the US that Brian DePalma's misguided new film Redacted over it's opening weekend. To be fair, the film opened on a mere 15 screens, and attending the film went against all common sense given the subject matter and the scathing reviews. (Hmm. It's a holiday weekend. Should I go see Beowolf or Redacted? Bill O'Reilly said I shouldn't go to that Redacted movie...) Needless to say, it was an empty theater that I arrived to on a Saturday afternoon in Edina. I was feeling pretty self conscious about the fact that I was going to be alone watching a movie about soldiers raping a young girl when someone else finally came in and sat down during the previews.

As much as I would like to champion that the film was undeservedly panned and, as a result, under-attended, I simply can't do it. Redacted is an ill-conceived film that I can only assume DePalma made because he couldn't help himself. And while I can't defend the film on that basis alone, I can certainly sympathize with his intentions. Who hasn't had that moment of disbelief or anger when reading the paper or listening to the news that people aren't more upset about what is going on. DePalma has probably had many of those moments and this film was what he decided to do about it. Late in Redacted there is a dramatized video blogger venting her rage about the individuals characterized in the film, about the war in Iraq, and about the general complacency in the US regarding the war. This is the scene where DePalma's voice comes through loud and clear.

When the film was over, my fellow theater mate and I struck up a conversation. There is no enjoying a film like this, and we both agreed upon that. Much like me, he felt compelled to see the film simply because everyone was telling him not to. He was dumbfounded that this film was panned and Enchanted was given high ratings. No doubt. To keep it in perspective, as flawed as Redacted is, I found it a much less painful experience than this year's mega-hit Transformers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

DVD releases for November 27 + December 4

Highlights from last week and this week:

November 27

Drunken Angel Criterion (1948) directed by Akira Kurosawa
"In this powerful early noir from the great Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune bursts onto the screen as a volatile, tubercular criminal who strikes up an unlikely relationship with Takashi Shimura's jaded physician. Set in and around the muddy swamps and back alleys of postwar Tokyo, Drunken Angel is an evocative, moody snapshot of a treacherous time and place, featuring one of the director's most memorably violent climaxes."
Kurosawa's period samurai films were my knee-jerk favorites for a long time. But as I have matured to the ripe old age that I am, I have come to love his contemporary films much much more: Stray Dog, High and Low, The Bad Sleep Well, Scandal, The Idiot, Ikiru and this amazing film. As with Kurosawa's best films, Drunken Angel is a dark vision of humanity. Most, including Kurosawa himself, site this film as a turning point in his career where he starts to assert his own style. It was also the first film in the legendary partnership between Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Not to be missed.

Paprika (2006) directed by Satoshi Kon
"Techno-geek Kosaku Tokita invented the DC Mini to allow therapists to enter a patient's dreams and explore his unconscious, but an evil cabal uses the Mini to create a mass nightmare that causes multiple suicides. Psychotherapist Atsuko Chiba uses her alter-identity, "dream detective" Paprika, to intervene. Entering the nightmare, she witness a bizarre parade of appliances, toys, and kitsch objects: All of her intelligence and imagination are needed to escape this nightmare and its perpetrators. As he did in Millennium Actress and Paranoia Agent, Kon effortlessly carries the audience between reality and fantasy, confirming his reputation as one of the most talented and interesting directors working in animation today."
I would second that last line. Paranoia Agent was nothing short of brilliant in my book, and where Millennium Actress revels in a feature by-the-book narrative, Paprika swings past Paranoia Agent and fully embraces the more typical turn-the-world-upside-down anime narrative. The animation is fantastic and the story is giddy goofy.

Dragon Tiger Gate (2006) directed by Wilson Yip
"SPL collaborators Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip join forces once again for this high-energy adaptation of Wong Yuk-Ling's popular manga Dragon and Tiger Heroes. The Dragon Tiger Gate is a Hong Kong martial arts dojo co-founded by the descendents of Dragon and Tiger. Separated as children, Tiger fights for the cause of good and Dragon goes to work for fearsome drug smuggler Ma Kun. Tiger gets into a scrap with Ma Kun's gang and ends up in possession of the Lousha Plaque - a sacred icon of immense value to the powerful criminals. As Tiger attempts to lure Dragon away from the dark side, the pair is forced to work together for the first time in years in order to defeat formidable Lousha Gang leader Shibumi, whose penchant for one-on-one fights sets the stage for an explosive climax."
I resisted the temptation to buy this DVD when it came out in Hong Kong due to reports that it was worse than Yip's previous film SPL (and unlike most, I wasn't terribly impressed with SPL.) Plus I really have a problem with the hair that Donnie Yen, Nic Tse and Shawn Yue are all sporting. Nonetheless, action fans take note, the fights are sure to be some of the best you will see in film today. And I'm not talking about fast editing manuvers, I'm talking one-shot wonders. Donnie Yen is on a revival of sorts, not only as an actor but also as action director. This guy can still move like nobody's business.

Take 'em or leave 'em DVDs of interest: Waitress, Vitus, Skin Walkers and The Namesake

December 4

Exiled (2006) directed by Johnnie To
"It's 1998, and the Portuguese colony of Macau, a city along the Southern coast of China, is about to be handed over to Chinese authorities under a long-standing agreement. As the people of Macau ponder how their new leaders will deal with the criminal underground that's long been part of the city's support system, a pair of hit men from Hong Kong arrive in town to execute a gangster who has turned his back on the syndicate to make a new life for his wife and children. While the Chinese syndicate want to be sure he doesn't share anything he learned while in their employ, two strong-arm men also arrive in Macau, determined to see to the former gangster's safety. Starring Nick Cheung, Simon Yam and Francis Ng, Exiled received its world premiere at the 2006 Venice Film Festival."
It's too bad this film didn't get a theatrical release here (for selfish reasons, of course.) This is one of my favorite this year. I did not resist buying this one when it came out in HK early this year, and fans of To's The Mission should not miss this film. Although Exiled is not the sequal to The Mission that it was rumored to be, it is similar beyond casting. This is Johnnie To at his best.

Czech Dream (2004) directed by Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda
"Two students from the Czech Film Academy commission a leading advertising agency to organize a huge campaign for the opening of a new supermarket named Czech Dream. The supermarket however does not exist and is not meant to. The advertising campaign includes radio and television ads, posters, flyers with photos of fake Czech Dream products, a promotional song, an internet site, and ads in newspapers and magazines. Will people believe in it and show up for the grand opening?"
Hey, it is really good to see this film come out on DVD. This played at the MSPIFF in 2005 and although I missed it, everyone I know who went and saw it, loved it. It also got some good press locally. I am thankful that it didn't just disappear resulting in me forgetting about it.

Drama/Mex (2006) directed by Gerardo Naranjo
"Two interlaced stories unfold over the course of the same long, hot day in the once lush and now decadent resort town of Acapulco. The first involves the beautiful and cool Fernanda, who is forced to deal with the sudden emergence of her ex-lover, Chino. Her boyfriend, Gonzalo, must now compete with the intense sexual tension Fernanda and Chino share. The second story concerns Jamie, an office worker with hidden indiscretions, attempting suicide in a beachfront hotel-until a precocious and equally dishonest teenage girl disrupts his plan. They will all converge in a stark and harrowing portrayal of moral ambiguity."
I'll admit to missing this film twice. Once in a screening at the Walker and a week long run at the Parkway.

Mikogami Trilogy directed by Kazuo Ikehiro
The Trail of Blood (1972): Rival gangs are at war with one another, ravaging the countryside and slaughtering anyone who defies them. Unfortunately for them, they messed with the wrong guy. When Jokichi, a famed wandering yakuza soldier, tries to go straight, he quickly learns that you only leave the Underworld by getting sent to Hell! The Fearless Avenger (1972): Thirsting for revenge, Jokichi rashy attempts to assassinate the evil Chogoro, but ends up being captured by Yakuza. His life is spared by Boss Juzaburo, in order that the harmony of an important commemoration not be further disturbed. Though now even more of an outcast, Jokichi is asked by another Yakuza boss, Umezo, to guard Oyuki, the wayward daughter of Juzaburo. The tragic consequences of this assignment will lead him into a deadly trap and a final confrontation with Chogoro. Slaughter in the Snow (1973): Jokichi's success in getting revenge has resulted in a hefty price being put on his head, and it's only a matter of time before he runs into Kobunji, master of the throwing knife, who, while he really likes Jokichi, has his professional reputation to uphold."
Another very interesting release from Animeigo.

The Killer Snakes (1975) directed by Gwai Chi Hung
"Fear slithers straight up your spine in this notorious Shaw Brothers shocker from the director of The Boxer’s Omen! Mocked and abused by everyone around him, a meek young man lives near a haven for reptiles and, upon discovering a wounded snake one night, discovers that he has a unique psychic bond with his cold-blooded neighbors. Impoverished and sexually frustrated, he’s soon pushed to the breaking point by those around him and vows to unleash his fury in a perverse, delirious attack of scaly serpents like nothing you’ve ever seen!"
I have seen this film, and it is only slightly less silly than the Shaw's Oily Maniac. Gwai Chi Hung was a productive director for the Shaw Brothers with action hits The Teahouse, The Lady Professional, and Big Brother Cheng as well as camped up horror films Bewitched, Corpse Mania, Hex After Hex, and Ghost Eyes. You won't get scared watching The Killer Snakes, but you will have a boat-load of fun.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Gong Li returns to Hollywood

Gong Li has been confirmed for Mikael Hafstrom's new film Shanghai. Hafstrom was responsible for this summer's effective but pretty mediocre hit 1408 with John Cusack. It seems that Cusack will play the lead in Shanghai with Gong Li as the mysterious love interest. Shanghai will be a period piece that takes place in Japanese-occupied Shanghai shortly before the US's entry into World War II. As far as I can tell, Shanghai looks to be a sort of espionage/mystery/thriller. The script was written by Hossein Amini who also wrote The Four Feathers.

Gong Li most recent film was Zhang Yimou's visually stunning Curse of the Golden Flower (right), but she has made a handful of appearances in Hollywood films ranging from the worst, Memoirs of a Geisha, to the best, Miami Vice, with Hannibal Rising somewhere in between. Back in the day, when Gong Li was the leading lady for Zhang Yimou, and star of the Chinese art house film circuit, see was quoted in saying that Hollywood offers of playing dumbed down female roles did not interest her. That was well over ten years ago that I read that interview, and while things have no doubt changed for her, I wouldn't say she has sold out by any means. Although I am not sure about the pairing with John Cusack, I look forward to seeing Gong Li in this film.

Shanghai is slated to shoot in 2008 and to be released sometime in 2009.