Friday, June 29, 2007

OLDBOY 3 Disc Ultimate Edition from Tartan

I never want to be accused of having timely or thorough information on my blog, so I decided while waiting for supplies of I'm a Cyborg, But It's Okay DVD to resurface, I would take a look at the 3 disc Ultimate Collectors Edition of Oldboy that Tartan put out last year. For the record, I own the Korean 2 disc set of Oldboy that is long out of print and am very happy with it. It has a host of special features but none of them have subtitles. I rented the 3 disc set from my local video store, and spent two nights with it, although I could have easily spent the entire seven night rental period with it. In other words, as if there was any doubt, there is quite a bit of content on the three DVDs and most of it is pretty interesting, but a little redundant. I can only assume that the Tartan Ultimate Edition uses the same material included in the Korean Ultimate Edition that also came out.

First a little note on packaging, from an annoying collectors standpoint. The tins that some special edition DVDs come housed in are really nice looking, but not functional. I have a couple and with the spine out, it is just an unmarked case. Sure when you pull it out it looks nice, but does not fit the bill for good packaging. I would say the same for the oversized tin that Oldboy come in, but at least they have included the name on the spine of the tin. Obviously, I did not get any of the goodies inside with my rental (Oldboy graphic novel, the film cells and any of the original packaging for the DVDs), but photos I have seen look very nice. (But yes, nothing compared to the Korean edition.)

Disc one contains the film with three audio commentaries: 1) with director Park Chan-wook, 2) with director Park Chan-wook and cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hun, and 3) with director Park Chan-wook and cast members Choi Min-sik (Oh Dae-su), Yoo Ji-tae (Lee Woo-jin) and Kang Hye-jeong (Mido). All the commentaries are in Korean and subtitled. I elected to listen to the first commentary with just Park, and although it was engaging enough that I enjoyed watching the film for what was about the forth time for me, Park's commentary stayed technical and formal. He talked at length about his choice of colors and the use of bleach bypass process used to get the heavy contrast and color saturation. He took note of his conscious choices to use what he called stylistic cliches, such as the montage as Oh Dae-su and Mido search for the correct dumplings. You can definitely see the further development of this desire to exploit filmic cliches in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance for what is, in every other sense, an unconventional film. I kept waiting for Park to ponder his motivations for the "revenge trilogy" or even just his intentions with Oldboy, but this dialogue never surfaced.

I listened to about 15 minutes of the commentary with cinematographer Jeong, but found it redundant to Park's solo commentary. I listened to a bit more of the cast commentary, and I'm sure there were interesting tidbits to be had considering Choi Min-sik's involvement in the film, but much of it seemed inane: "remember how many takes we did there," "I was really drunk there," "Min-sik was farting a lot," and so on.

In the audio department there was an English dub for the film itself. I turned the dub on while the commentary was running, so I had this absurd dub and subs for the commentary. Paying for an English dub for the film is just beyond me. It sounded and looked terrible. All essence of the film is lost.

Disc two included a boatload of material: 1) Making the film, 2) Production design, 3) The music score, 4) CGI documentary, 5) Flashback, 6) Cast and crew interviews, 7) Ten deleted scenes with Optional Commentary, and 7) Le Grand Prix at Cannes featurette. I feel that I barely scratched the surface of the material here, and this would have been where an extra night with this edition would have come from. I sampled a little everything, and found most of it interesting as a fan of the film, but nothing too groundbreaking.

Disc three was a video diary of the shooting of Oldboy. Out of all the supplementary material, I found this most interesting. It was over two hours of raw footage from someone documenting the production with very little editing. I can't say that anyone was paying attention to or at all self conscious of this video cam rolling in the background, so you truly feel like you are getting a behind the scenes look. There are also some guest appearances: Lee Byung-heon (Bittersweet Life, JSA) shows up during shooting and gives a little cudos to director Park Chan-wook, and Song Kang-ho (The Host, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance) shows up on set for no other reason than to hang around and needle Choi Min-sik and Park.

Overall, a pretty cool set. If I hadn't already had a copy and had unlimited resources, I would have bought this one. The fact that Tartan wanted to put out a set like this is encouraging. More often than not a set like this will come out in the country of origin, and while there may be subtitles for the film, there is no way there are going to be subs on the supplementary material. My biggest complaint about the DVDs was that you were forced to watch the promotional trailer for Tartan's Asia Extreme label at the beginning of each DVD. This got tiresome after switching DVDs back and forth, especially because it runs a few minutes long. I would be the first to say that Tartan has done a great job in distributing some great Asian films, both in the US and the UK, but put this bullshit on one of the DVDs, not all of them. Ironically watching the Asian Extreme trailer is one of the "special features" on disc three.

And this just in for those intersted in special edition DVDs, it looks like the Vengeance Trilogy seven disc set from Korea is due out on July 14 for a cool $90. Check it out on Sensasian HERE.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Melt Banana @ the 7th Street Entry

Melt Banana torn it up at the 7th Street Entry the other night. And the audience joined in as they thrashed around in some sort of joyful post-punk frenzy. Listening to their music in the vacuum of headphones or a stereo is an experience in itself, but it is nothing like seeing them unleash their musical fury live. These are no random acts of noise, but a controlled aural experiment that I'm glad I was a part of.

As personalities, the band members were surprisingly unassuming. Agata performed earnestly, manipulating his guitar and his effects pedals mostly in the shadows. Yasuko Onuki was the power of the stage, belting out her searing vocals like nobody's business.

I bought Cell-Scape when it came out as a curiosity, and ended up spending a lot of time with it on my iPod. Since then, they released a singles CD (50 some songs!) and recently Bambi's Dilemma. Bambi's Dilemma is instantly recognizable as Melt Banana but offers further progression on exploring styles within their own style: wicked rock pop, ambient beauty, and 30 second blistering speed jams.

The place was packed by the time Melt Banana went on resulting in lots of sweaty bodies being flung around. The Bogs from Brooklyn NYC and local boys the Birthday Suits opened. A good time was had by all!

Much better photos at City Pages gallery HERE.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

USPS does Star Wars

The first time I rode by an R2-D2 mailbox, I thought an artist had done some pretty slick public art. The second time I saw one in a different location I realized the artist was the United States Postal Service. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, not only were they coming out with a commemorative set of stamps, they were also dressing up some of their mailboxes.

The stamps, which came out at the end of May, are almost as cool as the mailboxes:Yoda, bottom center, has been voted as the favorite and we will see single sheets of Yoda this fall. Personally, I like the X-wing starfighter in the lower left. The sheet has descriptions on the back of each stamp, such as "Abandoning individuality for conformity, stormtroopers represent the most visible extension of Imperial might. Deployed in overwhelming numbers, they put down insurrections and maintain oppressive order on the far-flung worlds of the Empire. Varying planetary conditions often call for specially trained and equipped units, such as the snowtroopers who besiege the ice world of Hoth and the lightly armored scout troopers who patrol the forests of Endor."

You can also get a set of Star Wars Express Mail envelopes. I would love to get something in that Darth Vader envelope!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

SICKO sabotage

The other night I was sitting with friends, and one of them asked me, "Have you seen Sicko yet?" I was confused and said, "Well, it doesn't open until the end of this month." And she replied, "Well, it's online. You can download it and watch it. I watched it last night." The conversation moved on, but I was still confused. Would the Weinsteins really offer up a movie for free on the internet? At first, I thought this was really cool: offer free access and let everyone see this film that obviously attempts to address some serious issues on our screwed up health care system. And offer it online before it comes out in theaters? Come to find out it was sabotage. (Or was it.) Someone had leaked the film onto the internet, against the wishes of Micheal Moore and, more importantly, against the wishes of the cash cows otherwise know as the Weinstein Brothers. As a result, the Weinsteins have hired a firm to inundate internet with fake Sicko downloads that end up being advertising for the film. (Full story on Advertising Age HERE.)

I saw the trailer for Sicko before Killer of Sheep last weekend, and I have to admit, I was laughing out loud. The trailer starts out with Bush speaking to a crowd: "We got an issue in 'merica. Too many good docs are gettin' out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." Yup. That's our president. And then Moore standing in a boat in Guantanamo Bay pleading for entry so the three 9-11 workers he has with him can get the same health care the "the evil-doers get." (Gitmo apparently offers free healthcare to the people it tortures....) Despite the jovial nature of the trailer, I'm sure the documentary is full of facts that we already suspect exists and will make any person with a conscience sick.

While I see Micheal Moore as just as much an opportunist as a filmmaker, the work he does is nonetheless important. I like that he pushes peoples buttons and, be it good or bad, Micheal Moore is the Left's version of "fair and balanced." Thus far, Moore has spent much of his time promoting his film by outlining how the government is investigating him. Not really surprising, and I can't really say I sympathize with him because I'm sure he is up for the fight, both financially and physically. I have to wonder if this sabotage isn't just more creative PR. Sicko opens on June 29th. Or you can chase the elusive download online.

Northeast Music and Movies

Loring Park is not the only place you can find music and movies outside on a summer night. NE Minneapolis also has its version in the basin amphitheater located next to Edison High School in the Holland Neighborhood. On the tail of the NE Parade, last night was the second of three screenings scheduled for June. The Rank Strangers rocked out before the sun went down, and then the projectors were cranked up for Mike Nichols' Catch 22. This movie has one of the most amazing cast line-ups I have ever seen; for every actor I knew there was also one that I recognized.

If you have missed the first two screenings, never fear, there are more to come:

Next Tuesday, June 26 is Starship Troopers with the band BC Lucy opening up. Starship Troopers! Screenings are also planned for September. Check HERE for more info.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Picasso A Go Go

The Picasso and American Art exhibit opened this weekend at the Walker Art Certer. The Friday night 'Walker After Hours' opening party had people waiting in line to see the paintings. Hippsters hob-nobbed with philanthropists as people wove their way through this large exhibit. Although Picasso is the anchor of the show, the paintings by the people he influenced out-number the actual Picassos, and the show is probably stronger because of that. There are a number of great paintings by Willem de Kooning, Stuart Davis, Jan Maltuka and Jasper Johns, just to name a few that stood out out me.

The was plenty of other activities at the opening. The Party People photos continue to trademark the events as the images pop up everywhere in Walker marketing. Great local band Digitata was rocking out in Gallery 8. There were hands-on activities down in the art lab. The film The Mystery of Picasso was playing in the cinema. And summertime brings the outdoor Target tent. Oh, yeah, and plenty of food and drink.

I like the atmosphere of the Walker After Hours. One part party, and one party opening; one part culture, and one part fun; and the mix seems to work out just right. The Picasso event sold out two weeks ago and although it was crowded, people seemed equally spaced between gallery and common spaces both inside and outside. If you missed the event, check out the show. But stay on your toes: the next Walker After Hours is practically around the corner, and it will sell out fast!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Too many films, not enough time; No. 3

Sitting in a dark room for 2 hours is a hard sell when it is so nice out and there are so many cool things going on around town. But if you are suffering from heatstroke or living without air conditioning, there are some great options:

Day Watch
This is the typical summer movie, with subtitles. The second installment of this trilogy from Russia looks faster, slicker and maybe a little more brainless. Picking up where Night Watch left off, this is your basic saga of the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, with a capital 'g' and 'e'. The Night Watch Trilogy is the most financially ambitious film project to ever come out of Russia. But don't hold that against it. There is some good fun to be had. If you don't believe me check out the trailer HERE.

Killer of Sheep
Filmmaking, the way it used to be. Charles Burnett's 1977 16mm student film has been given a new lease on public life with a physical restoration and proper copyright clearance for the music used. Not only is Killer of Sheep a testament to the life of one black family in the Watts neighborhood of LA, but it is also a testament to filmmaking (with the emphasis on 'film'.) The awards handed out to this film are monumental: it was one of the first features to be selected by the Library of Congress for preservation because of its "social and artistic importance." Nice website HERE.

La Vie En Rose
Who doesn't like Edith Piaf? Her life was as interesting as her music. This bio-pic offers a dramatic look at the "Little Sparrow's" life, with great critical success. If you have the patience, check out the very flash-y website HERE.

Okay. This film is probably going to be mediocre at best. But I am interested in what Luc Besson is doing, despite the fact that he never seems to live up to even low expectations. The premise of this film seems a little cliche: low-life saves supermodel, supermodel saves low-life. That being said, the black and white shots of Paris look beautiful. Watch the very impressive trailer HERE.

As always, "good" is a matter of perspective, and, in my opinion, Corey Yuen has more great movies under his belt than crappy ones. And that is statement I am willing to stand by. From his films with Cynthia Rothrock (Yes, Madame and Righting Wrongs), to some of the best work Jet Li has done (Fong Sai Yuk, The New Legend of Shaolin, Bodyguard from Beijing, The Enforcer, etc), to recent ass-kickers (So Close, Transporter); these films have provided me with an immense amount of entertainment, and I could sit down and watch any of them again today. So I'm willing to cut Yuen a little slack for what seems to be a lame video game movie. I beg you, watch this trailer HERE. The opening is funny and the action looks awesome. These women are no Jet Li or Cynthia Rothrock (or Shu Qi or Karen Mok for that matter) but this looks like loads of me.

If none of those entice you there are still good films playing in the 'continuing' category:
Crazy Love - Crazy documentary.
- Crazy Japanese animation.
Paris Je T'aime - Crazy omnibus.
Waitress -
Crazy heart-warming popular success.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Patrick Tam, absent from the director's chair since 1989's My Heart is That Eternal Rose, is experiencing a well-respected comeback with the somber After This Our Exile. Exile swept the Hong Kong Film Awards stealing Johnny To's thunder for Best Picture and Best Screenplay. Tam was building quite a career in the 80s as a successful director of somewhat uninspiring but entertaining action films, including Final Victory (1987) written by Wong Kar-wai. Switching hats he took on editing, notably for Wong on Days of Being Wild and Ashes of Time and more recently on To's Election. It is with the strength of this resume that Tam assembled Exile into the surprise darling of the critics.

The Chinese title translates literally to a more apt title, Father and Son. The father is Shing played by pop star Aaron Kwok and the son is Lok-Yun, mostly referred to as Boy, played by young new-comer Goum Ian Iskandar. The tumultuous downward spiral of the father/son relationship begins when Lim, Lok-Yun's mother, leaves, taking with her the only glimmer of hope and stability in Shing and the young boy's life. Slowly it is revealed to us that the root problems lie in Shing's addiction to gambling, as he drifts from job to job, dodges loan sharks, and manipulates everything and everyone around him for cash. Lok-Yun's hopeless adoration of his father leaves him vulnerable to his volatile temperament and irresponsible decisions.

At some point I simply gave up on finding any redeemable qualities in the adult characters. The poor boy is mentally and physically abused by his father and conveniently forgotten about by his mother (played by lost little bird Charlie Young) and completely ignored by the prostitute (Kelly Lin) his father decides to "befriend." The languid pace of the film is similarly spare on the details, doling out glimpse of why life with Shing must have become unbearable for Lin. After This Our Exile is the story of Shing hitting rock bottom without the overt tags of health- sickness-recovery. It's not surprising that the directors preferred cut was 160 minutes, instead of the 120 minute theatrical version I watched. Those extra forty minutes are reportedly spread out over the entire film: an extra scene here and there that may have drawn out some sympathy for the characters.

While the story is likely to frustrate some, there are three components that make After This Our Exile extraordinary: Tam's precise editing, Mark Lee's impeccable camerawork, and Aaron Kwok's amazing ability to commit to the character. Tam's very conscious editing has a way of lulling you into the film, and suddenly tugging you back out, working seamlessly with Mark Lee's cinematography. Mark Lee (aka Mark Li Pin Bing, Lee Pin Bing, etc) is best known as Hou Hsiao-hsien's cinematographer, but has had his hand in some of the most beautiful films coming out of Asia: Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love, Tian Zhuangzhuang's remake of Springtime in a Small Town, and Tran Anh Hung's Vertical Ray of the Sun, just to name a few. However, it is Aaron Kwok's acting, easily the best of his career, that stands out. Kwok has always struck me as a pop star first and an actor second. He has made conscious decisions away from that choosing projects like Throwdown and Divergence that started to break the mold, but never went so far to impress. In Exile, the adorable pop star is completely gone, and Kwok is totally convincing as the pathetic compassionless bastard Shing.

While I would be hard pressed to call After This Our Exile a better film than Johnny To's Exiled, they are, in all fairness, different films. Tam's return to the director's chair and subsequent critical comeback is no accident. Having completed the script over ten years ago, this was a project that Tam seems to have personally fostered every step of the way. If it the Hong Kong film industry is guilty of handing out awards to someone they feel sympathetically indebted to, so be it. In the end, After This Our Exile is a much stronger film than most that receive false accolades.

Friday, June 8, 2007

INLAND EMPIRE DVD coming soon!

I guess this is somewhat old news, but I had made the incorrect assumption that it might be some time before we saw David Lynch's Inland Empire hit DVD due to the unique theatrical distribution Lynch set up with 518 Media. Although I found one online retailer giving a July 24th release date, other sites are listing August 14 as the release date of the 2 disc set put out by Rhino. In the press release from last year, Lynch stated "The DVD will be really cool as well. It will have so much great stuff on there. I am going to load it up and make it exactly the way I want it." Here are the special features listed from one site:

· "Lynch 2: Behind The Scenes of Inland Empire With David Lynch"
· "Talks With Laura Dern and David Lynch: More Things That Happened (Additional Character Experiences)"
· 3 theatrical trailers
· 73-page stills gallery
· David Lynch Cooks Quinoa

Wow. But don't expect chapters in those "special features." Lynch has long been adamant about not including chapter stops, when possible, on DVD releases of his films. So if you want to see that creepy shot as Laura Dern comes running out of the dark straight for the camera, well, you'll just have to fast forward old-school. (Here's a thought: anyone see that sped-up version of Night Watch? Imagine watching Inland Empire like that!)

Inland Empire has been by far one of the most interesting films of the year, and although I saw it three times in the theater
(should I be embarrassed?), I am excited to watch it again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Gwen Stefani @ Xcel Energy Center

First, let me say that I have not been to a stadium show in over 20 years. Ticket prices boarder on ridiculous, they are impersonal, shallow, market generated mega-money productions, and, well, I had this jaded notion that I was too cool for stadium shows. Things have changed. I can afford a ticket; I feel removed enough that I can objectify the marketing; and I am not cool now, and probably never was. I make no excuses for getting tickets to Gwen Stefani, other than good ol' impulse buying. Back in February it seemed like the perfect novelty to rush online at noon for overpriced tickets. As the actual date of the concert approached, I realized I had no idea what to expect.

My better half likes Gwen Stafani, and this is where most of my exposure to Gwen comes from. The same person who corrects my grammar finds some brilliance in lines like "I must apologize for acting stank" and "the shit is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s..." and I would agree that it's pretty funny. There is no denying the catchy infectiousness of her hits like "Hollaback Girl" and "Sweet Escape": if you hear them twice, you are in trouble. And at this point I have read a number of articles/statements that label Gwen Stefani as the pop queen that can: a woman who can have a family and a personal life without exploiting it for all it's worth.

My first lesson of the stadium show is that they start on time. We got there about 7:45 (fifteen minutes after the 'start' time!) and the show had already started. By the time we wondered around trying to figure out where to go in, passing the $35 t-shirts and $85 hoodies, Lady Sov had finished. When we found our seats, I asked the teenager next to me how many songs Lady Sovereign had played, and she said "Like four or five of something." "Was it good?" She nodded her head, but her mom chimed in, "It was too loud." Right on. The youngsters are damaging their hearing just like I did.

AKON (or is it Akon) came up next. He's a Konvict with a K who spent most of the show calculating the best time to take off his sweatshirt, then his t-shirt, then his wife-beater undershirt, rather than performing. I can also report that there was no sexy-time dance with underage girls, and there was no throwing of audience members. The fact that he didn't even bring up his recent controversial actions, like most badasses would, makes me believe that he may actually be in some trouble. There was absolutely nothing remarkable about his performance or the production. After seeing Akon, I was convinced the show was going to be lame.

Boy was I wrong. I should have known that all the stops would be pulled out for the main attraction, but I was kind of unprepared. Keeping in mind the first sentence of this post, this was the slickest production I had ever seen at a rock concert. Forget the giant Eddie at the Iron Maiden concert, this is the twenty first century! I'm a sucker for visuals, and at this show there was plenty to look at. Huge racks of moving lights, giant LCD screens filled with eye candy, dancers and costumes and props and Gwen at the heart of it all.

The many faces of the LCDs.

While she may not be the best singer in the world, she is a good performer and knows how to work the crowd. The disappointing abbreviated time for the two opening acts was obviously in preparation for the headliner. Gwen performed for almost two hours. Amongst all the dancing and singing and multiple outfit changes, I was impressed. She even did a jog out to the audience where she performed a song surrounded by the fans, leaving the safety of the lights and props behind. I was also impressed that she had a real band. I was under the impression that singers at concerts like these sang over pre-recorded tracks with maybe a DJ as the soul musician. Instead she had an eclectic band that included a trumpet and trombone, multiple percussionists, the standard keyboard and guitar, and a bass player that may have had a better voice than Stefani herself.

One thing that Gwen and I seem to have in common is a touch of the yellow fever. Asian motifs abound. Who knows, maybe she has a Japanese producer for the shows. One was kind of a Memoirs of a Geisha/Kill Bill/Lady Snowblood show up on the screen, and another with some appropriated images of Hokusai's "Wave." Not to mention that three of Gwen's four female dancers are from Japan. Ironically, some of my first exposure to Gwen was in Thailand. No Doubt happened to be in Bangkok at the sometime I was about seven years ago, and they were all over Thai MTV which is what every tourist cafe was tuned into. While a No Doubt concert was not in my frugal backpacking budget at the time, I'm glad I took the impulse to for to the Gwen Stefani extravaganza.