Wednesday, 22 March 2017

AC Film Club #1 - Ghost In The Shell



































On the latest episode of the MBDS Showcase we kicked off our brand new sub-show "The Asian Cinema Film Club" in which myself and my co-host Stephen Palmer (Eastern Kicks / Gweilo Ramblings) set out to provide an introduction to Asian cinema by on each episode highlighting a title worth seeking out. 

On this first episode we kick things off with "Ghost In The Shell" as with the live action remake fast approaching what better time to go back an revisit the 1995 original anime, widely considered to be one of the best anime of all time after "Akira".

Directed by Mamoru Oshii The film's follows the hunt by Section 9 for a mysterious hacker known as the Puppet Master. With the assistance of her team, Cyborg team leader Motoko Kusanagi finds herself drawn into a complex sequence of political intrigue and a cover-up as to the identity and goals of the Puppet Master.

Further Watching



Redline

Seoul Station / Train to Busan



Friday, 17 March 2017

Redline



Title: Redline
Director: Takeshi Koike
Released: 2009
Starring (English Dub): Patrick Seitz, Michelle Ruff, Liam O’Brien, Lauren Landa, Laura Post, Afred Thor, George C. Cole, Jamieson Price, David Lodge, Michael McConnohie, John White, David Roach, Sam Regal, Joey Morris

Plot: The Redline is one of the most popular races in the galaxy attracting some of the most dangerous and competitive racers who will do anything to win. At the same time with the race set to take place on Roboworld, a planet ruled by militant cyborgs whose President doesn’t take kindly to the race happening on the planet especially when it threatens to uncover secrets hidden beneath the planet surface.

Review: Originally planned to be released as one of four films released by Madhouse in 2009 alongside Summer Wars, Mai Mai Miracle and Yona Yona Penguin though delays saw it finally being released in 2010. This is of course not taking into account that the film already took seven years to complete the 100,000 hand-made drawings which make up the film.

The directorial debut for director Takeshi Koike who cut his teeth working as an animator on classic anime titles such as “Wicked City” and “Ninja Scroll” before getting his first chance to direct as part of “The Animatrix” were he directed the short “World Record” which also showcased a unique anime style which you can see served alongside his work as a Key Animator on the likes of “Dead Leaves” and “Afro Samurai” as test run for this film.

Using a hand drawn style compared to the preferred CGI assisted animation that most new anime titles favour this is a stunning film to look at as this constantly looks like a comic book page brought to life with each scene crammed with intricate details which serve to complement the colourful characters that this film is certainly in no shortage of. Heading up the racers is pompadour favouring JP (Seitz) who despite being blown up in his last race in the Yellowline his popularity sees him being voted into the Redline were his rival of sorts, the wonderfully named Sonoshee “Cherry Boy Hunter” McLaren (Ruff).

Racing against this duo we get a classic roster of oddballs and mutants such as cyborg and reigning champion Machinehead (McConnohie) whose body is also his own vehicle, bounty hunters Lynchman (White) and Johnny Boy (Roach), dirty cop Gori Rider (Cole) whose only entered to seek revenge on fellow racers and sibblings Miki (Regal) and Todoroki (Morris). This colourful cast of characters really is a great throwback to the sci-fi sports movies like “Arena” while Koike clearly is drawing inspiration from western comics like “Heavy Metal” and the British mainstay “2000 AD” which also gave the world “Judge Dread”. Another big inspiration especially with the scene construction appears to be the French artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud while at the same time Koike can equally be seen to be finding inspiration in the work of “Akira” creator Katsuhiro Otomo, “Dead Leaves” director Hiroyuki Imaishi whose frenzed animation style heavily influences the race sequences and Leiji Matsumoto with whom it would seem he shares a love of switches and dials as seen with the frequent shots that Koike includes of the vehicle interiors.

Playing out like a weird combination of “Wacky Races” meets “Aeon Flux” the film wastes little time in establishing its world as we open to the final stretch of the Yellowline race and even though it might not have the prestige of the Redline the competition is just a fierce with the competitors being shown unleashing rockets and various weapons on each other as they constantly push their quickly crumbling vehicles towards the finish line. Just within this opening sequence

The race sequences are unquestionably the selling point of the film as Koike favours a fast paced animation style which ignores the rules of physics let alone any kind of plausibility and even when the racing action threatens to slowdown you have the Roboworld military who turn out on mass to stop the race happening and this is not even without mentioning the bioweapon which gets unleashed in the middle of the race as here it is all about the spectacle and that’s something which he delivers by the truckload as this really is a unique experience that words really don’t do justice as this is a film which has to be experienced to fully appreciate it.

Thankfully the film doesn’t just rely on having a bunch of exciting action sequences and while the character development is minimal to say the least with most of the racers getting a brief background you still feel that you understand their motivations and characters. JP as the lead obviously gets a lot more attention as we see the relationship between him and his pit crew, though his relationship with Sonoshee feels alittle underdeveloped especially in terms of their past which is limited to a brief flashback of him sabotaging one of her early races.

While the film might be lacking depth in some areas such as characterisation there is no denying just how fun and frenzied it is which really helps to distract from such issues especially when its such an exillerating and exciting experience from start to finish, this is an anime which puts the pedal to the metal from the start and doesn't let up until the end credits so strap in and just enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Dragon



Title: Dragon
Director: Peter Chan
Released: 2011
Starring: Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Wei Tang, Jimmy Wang Yu, Kara Hui, Wu Jiang

Plot: Liu Jinxi (Yen) is a papermaker living a quiet life in Liu village until one day when he kills two bandits attempting to rob the general store. Despite being regarded as a hero by the village he raises the suspicion of detective Xu Bai-Jiu (Kaneshiro) who begins to suspect that Liu is not who he says he is.
 
Review: While his name might leap out to most but Director Peter Chan certainly as a producer has been responsible for some of the best titles of 90’s and 00’s Hong Kong cinema including “The Eye”, “Three Extremes” and “The Warlords” he even produced the underrated John Woo movie “Heroes Shed No Tears”. Here though he equally proves himself once more to be no slouch in the directing chair either with this visually stunning martial arts movie which not only plays like Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” set in 1917 but also provides yet another showcase for the jaw dropping martial arts skills of Donnie Yen who also handles the action choreography here.

While the film does have a pretty big twist, if you’ve seen “A History of Violence” you will know what to expect here, but just to cover ourselves lets just say *spoilers ahead*

As with its Cronenberg counterpart when we meet Yen’s character of Liu he is just a family man living a simple quiet life in the village with nothing to give us any indication that he is anything than just another villager working at the paper mill. Of course this is another story much like “First Blood” were it would be a much shorter film if it wasn’t was for the persistence of one sheriff in this case detective Xu who is seemingly half Rottweiler as once he gets it into his head that Liu might not be who he seems, he hounds him mercilessly. Even when the local magistrate tells him to let it go he continues his investigation which only becomes all the more ludicrous as it goes on with him believing that Liu is secretly a martial arts master and hence attempts to test him by knocking him off a bridge and hitting him with a knife believing that he would be able to defend himself using his Chi ability.

Of course when we do get the big reveal things quickly spiral out of control with Xu no doubt wishing that he hadn’t poked this beehive with Liu being revealed to be the former second-in command for the psychotic warrior clan the 72 Demons. Detective Xu’s belief that no criminal can change their ways brought about by an incident in his past really adds to this twist as from the audiences perspective we just want Liu to live his life hassle free but Xu at the same time maintains that nagging issues of if he could really have changed. Still Chan decides that the best way to show this in the film is by having Liu’s former clan show up looking for him which is also lead by his father played here by the legendary Jimmy Wang Yu who here is on top evil form.

Despite being a Donnie Yen movie, here the action is for the first half actually pretty restrained with his showdown with the two bandits being the sole action scene we get. This is hardly a disappointment though as like all the action sequences here it is stunningly shot and only added to by the replays we see Xu playing out in his head as he tries to figure out who Liu really is. When the 72 demons show up though the action seriously ramps up though despite seemingly being setup to have Liu and Xu taking on the 72 demons instead Donnie Yen restrains the action so that its kept to small groups and intricate choreography which really pays off while complemented further by some inventive camera work which only adds to these sequences.

The final showdown between Donnie Yen and Jimmy Wang Yu really is a piece of fanboy wish fulfilment to see these two masters finally squaring off. The fact that Yen is fighting him one armed really only adds to the sequence by giving us a homage of sorts to Yu’s role as “The One Armed Swordsman”. How he comes to loose said arm is perhaps one of the more random and baffling aspects of the film but by the time we get to this final showdown your hardly caring about such minor issues. Jimmy Wang Yu here though is on top evil form and the tension is really cranked up in the build up to this showdown which only make the pay off only the more sweet.

A fantastic martial arts movie combined with enjoyable thriller elements make this a film well worth checking out, while Peter Chan’s eye for detail and use of slow motion really only heightens the film above being just another run of the mill kung fu movie while making you wonder why Donnie Yen still hasn’t been snapped up by the Hollywood system the same way as his predecessors but then do we think he would get the freedom to make films like this there like he does within the Hong Kong studio system.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Elwood's Essentials #17 - The Terminator



Title: The Terminator
Director: James Cameron
Released: 1984
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Earl Boen, Bess Motta, Rick Rossovich, Dick Miller, Franco Columbu, Bill Paxton

Plot: A cyborg assassin known as a Terminator (Schwarzenegger) travels back in time to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Hamilton) the future mother of the human resistance in 2029 before he is born. At the same time Kyle Reese (Biehn) a solider from the future has also travelled back in time to protect her.


Review: Who’d have thought that the director of “Piranha 2: The Spawning” would go on to be the director of some of the most iconic and visually inventive cinema of all time. A graduate of the Roger Corman film school were he started as a miniature model maker before briefly being given the Piranha 2 gig taking over from original director Miller Drake before he too was fired topping off what had proven to be a nightmare debut for Cameron who topped off the experience by getting food poisoning.

It was while battling this illness that Cameron had a nightmare about an invincible robot assassin sent to kill him from the future which formed the basis for this film while also drawing inspiration from “The Outer Limits” episodes “Soldier” and “Demon With A Glass Hand”. Cameron also traded recordings with his friend Bill Wisher who helped him turn his draft into a finished script. This original script featured two Terminators and also introduced the idea of the liquid metal Terminator which had to be scrapped when he realised that the technology at the time wouldn’t realise his ideas leaving it for the sequel were he would introduce the now iconic T-1000.

With this film Cameron gives us two distinctive worlds as he opens in the post-apocalyptic Los Angeles of 2029 were humans have been driven to brink of extinction by the robot uprising brought about by the AI defence network Skynet. Its an iconic world vision of the future that Cameron gives us as towering machines rumble over fields of human skulls. Even though this vision of the future is limited it’s still unquestionably effective and perfectly establishes this alternative future. From here we are taken back to 1984 Los Angeles which though Cameron’s lens is shown in a grimy and neon lit style which makes for the perfect battleground for this game of cat and mouse to unfold on.

Returning to this film as an older film watcher it was now that I could finally appreciate this film beyond its set pieces, which certainly helped keep its sequel in heavy rotation during my film watching youth. This original film is a much difference beast than its action orientated sequels as here Cameron’s focus is purely on building atmosphere and tension to create a film which is as equal parts a cat and mouse thriller as it is a slasher only this time the killer is a seemingly unstoppable killing machine.

The casting is another key aspect of why this film works despite the fact that Schwarzenegger was to be cast as Kyle Reese only to talk himself into the Terminator role following a lunch meeting with Cameron, though the Terminator role could easily have gone to both Lance Henriksen or OJ Simpson who were both in the running for the role with the latter being dismissed as they felt no one would buy him as a killer. No doubt neither of them wouldn’t have made the role as iconic as it was in Schwarzenegger’s hands which itself is largely down to the amount of work he put into developing the character to truly sell the idea of him being an unstoppable killing machine and its hard to say if it was this role or Conan which was the bigger star making role for him.

Schwarzenegger as the Terminator is such a dominating presence throughout though Cameron does for the most part keep his personality cold and calculating its never to the point here that he stands out by giving machine like responses as he is shown talking with Dick Miller’s pawn shop clerk whose lack of response for why he’s buying such a shopping list of guns is more questionable than the responses that Schwarzenegger is giving. Even his iconic “I’ll be back” is a perfectly acceptable response to what he is being told by the police station clerk, only here its added to by the fact that its followed up by the Terminator driving a car through the front of the police station.

Unquestionably its a gritty sci-fi thriller that Cameron crafts here with both the Terminator and Kyle being introduced as they land nude in the present day before having to find the resources with the Terminator coldly killing a group of Punks while Kyle is shown having to break into a clothing store while evading the police in a wonderfully tense sequence and Cameron really doesn’t establish the motivation of Kyle’s character until his first confrontation with the Terminator during the now iconic tech-noir club sequence, until this point he is just shown running around the city with a modified shotgun while the Terminator works his way (or should that be kills his way) through the Sarah Connors in the phone book which is such a great touch that the machines only have a name and a location rather than an actual idea of what she looks like.

The relationship between Sarah and Kyle is an interesting one as for the most part she is unsure if Kyle is who he says he is and not just some delusional nutcase as everyone keeps telling her. The reasons for them getting together however are slightly convoluted and even now the idea of the Sarah’s future son giving Kyle her picture and essentially match making his own parents just never sat right with me even though its kind of an essential aspect to the story. This aside having a human soldier as the sole defence against the Terminator really adds a tense aspect to the plot, especially when we see the Terminator easily despatching everyone he comes into contact with. Its equally a ballsy move on Cameron’s part to *spoiler alert* kill off Kyle and leave Sarah to have the final showdown. Obviously for Sarah it perfectly sets up her character evolution from being the damsel in distress as we get to see in the next film even though having a Terminator take on the protector role does remove some of the edge that the human vulnerability of Kyle brings to the film.

The action scenes throughout are still fantastic to watch even after multiple viewings be it the police station massacre of Kyle and Sarah being chased by the Terminator, Cameron really knows how to hold the audiences attention and really craft genuinely exciting action scenes. Of course the appearance of the exo-skeleton Terminator at the finale does loose some of its effectiveness due to being such an iconic image for the franchise while its movements Stan Winston has quite nailed in this film. That being said it still makes for a fantastic finale and a wonderful creation.

While this film might be overshadowed by its sequel, the subtle charm of this film and slow build tension makes it none the less of an essential watch while also the film which marked Cameron out as talent to watch as he would unquestionably prove with the films which followed in its wake.

Friday, 3 March 2017

School Daze



Title: School Daze
Director: Spike Lee
Released: 1988
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell, Kyme, Joe Seneca, Art Evans, Ellen Holly, Ossie Davis, Samuel L. Jackson

Plot: Morehouse College a leading and historically black college serves as the battleground for several cliques as their individual causes leads them frequently in to conflict with each other.

Review: Drawing from his own college days here Spike Lee follows up the success of his debut “She’s Gotta Have It” by again working with an all black cast, something which was certainly more of a key aspect to the film back when it was released while giving us a film which juggles multiple interconnecting storylines to craft a picture of campus life.

Opening to Vaughn (Fishburne) leading one of his anti-apartheid demonstrations as he continually makes himself a pain to the school administrators with his demands that they along with his fellow students divest from South Africa. At the same time he also has an ongoing rivalry with Julian (Esposito) who heads up the Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity.

The Gamma Phi Gamma are certainly a random bunch with Julian insisting on being referred to as Dean Big Brother Almighty while enforcing a dog theme on his pledges referred to as “Wannabees” as they are lead around on dog leads while on any given moment being asked to drop to all fours or engage in one of their stomp chant sessions. Amongst the Wannabees is Vaughn’s cousin Darrell aka “Half-Pint” here played by Spike Lee who continues to show off his acting skills after memorably playing Mars in “She’s Gotta Have It” and its again the oddball that we see him playing here as the most downtrodden of the wannabees.

As to be expected anytime we have someone pledging for a frat humiliation is not to be far behind and its once again the case for Half-Pint and the other pledges as they find themselves being put through ever more random tasks to earn their place in the fraternity and it strange that with this group of characters he chooses to have them played so comically over the top when everyone else is played so straight. Still they make for a fun distraction to break away from the constant fighting and drama of the other groups, even if towards the end it seems more cruel for the pledge than you have to think it would be worth going through.

While it might have been enough for Lee to focus on the clashes between these two groups, we also have the clash between the Gamma Ray’s who match the dog theme of the frat with their own cat meows which they work into their chants especially when antagonising the non-Greek co-eds mainly over their skin colour and hair which Lee here memorably works into a homage to his love of MGM Musicals by having the two groups randomly burst into the big musical number “Straight and Nappy” whose music and lyrics were composed by Lee’s father Bill Lee. True perhaps this number is not as polished as those he is trying to homage, but its sudden appearance in the film really is one of the high points here.

Lee’s general refusal to stick within the usual framework for this kind of movie really brings something new to the film as he’s clearly shooting with his own rules, hence if he wants to have a random musical moment he’ll have one, while the big football game is not shot from the stands but rather based around the reactions of the crowd as they become more frenzied the worst the team loses.

An intresting mainstream debut for Lee who certainly doesn't hold back on his experimental side as he crafts a unique tale of college life if one infused with his own personal politics this is still an enjoyable and inventive watch. 
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