Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Elwood's Essentials #8: Paprika

Title: Paprika
Director: Satoshi Kon
Released: 2006
Starring: Megumi Hayashibara, Toru Furuya, Toru Emori, Katsunosuke Hori, Akio Otsuka, Koichi Yamadera

Plot: In the near future, a device called the “DC Mini” has been created which allows the user to view people’s dreams. Heading up this treatment is Doctor Atsuko Chiba who also uses the machine to further her research outside of the  facility under her alter-ego Paprika. However when the machine is stolen all hell looks set to break loose as the line between dreams and reality becomes increasingly blurred.

Review: It is always a sense of sadness which accompanies each of Satoshi Kon’s films I watch, especially when they equally serve as a reminder of the seemingly unlimited creativity he processed which due to his untimely death from Cancer would ultimately total four films while his fifth “Dreaming Machine” still lingers in production limbo despite the efforts of the founder of Animation studio “Madhouse” Masao Maruyama which have suffered due to lack of funding for the project. As his final film before his death this film does however provide a suitable closing note to an unquestionably impressive, if yet at the same time still underrated film making resume which has in turn inspired the likes of Darren Aronofsky who drew inspiration for “Black Swan” from “Perfect Blue” while this film in particular would prove a key inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” which only becomes all the more clearer when you watch the film.

Originally intended to be the follow up to his debut “Perfect Blue” it would however be delayed when original distribution company Rex Entertainment went backrupt, leading Kon to make “Millennium Actress” instead. Thankfully the wait would prove to be worthwhile as her Kon is clearly working at the top of his ability as he combines dazzling visuals with complex plotting, while at the same time further exploring the synergy of dreams and reality a theme which run throughout most of his films as well as his series “Paranoia Agent” but here he puts it up front and centre.

Opening with a blustering dash through the various dreams of Detective Toshimi Konakawa (Otsuka) which play like a series of random movie clips and see him not only engaging in a spot of Tarzan action but also taking the lead in his own spy thriller before Kon suddenly snaps us back into reality or atleast one of the many forms it takes in this world, with Kon quickly following up this attention grabbing opening with the zany opening sequence which see’s Chiba switching between her alter-ego Paprika and her real form while Kon sprinkles even the supposed real world with fun surreal elements as colourful adverts suddenly come to life as she passes them.
Even in the real world it is still one packed with fascinating characters with certainly the most memorable having to be the monstrously obese and childlike genius Tokita who created the DC Mini and who when we first encounter him has wedged himself inside a lift. The dreamscape however is where Kon truly lets his creativity shine with his centrepiece being a maniacal parade, comprised of various colourful characters which rolls on like an unstoppable tide and only continues to be added to as the dreamscape grows ever more out of control. Elsewhere Chiba as Paprika is able to manipulate the dreamscape to her advantage, turning herself into a fairy and even at one point taking on the form of Monkey (a reference possibly lost on those not up to speed on their Asian mythology) complete with staff and magic cloud! Of course the further she delves into the dreamscape the more twisted it becomes especially the closer she gets to those responsible for abusing the power the DC Mini provides the user with.

While the visuals might be exceptionally pretty to look at they are truly heightened by the electro heavy soundtrack composed by long term collaborator Susumu Hirasawa who once again pulls off something quite special, while many such as the parade theme and opening theme are exceptionally catchy while having that rare quality of working even when taken away from the film.

Unquestionably this is a film which requires more than one watch especially when the plotting can at times come off perhaps slightly unnecessarily complex in places, especially towards the end when the two worlds become fully blurred leading to some certainly impressive sequences, especially when you look at the level of detail in scenes like the parade, whose sheer variety of characters may even have you hitting the pause button to take them all in.

While this film like so many of his films might not be as well known outside of anime fan circles, I can really only hope that this film one day get exposed to a wider audience so that it will be rightfully refrenced alongside the likes of “Akira” and “Ghost In The Shell” when it comes to naming truly great anime, especially when it once again proves that animated films can provide the same thrill and wonder as life action, while providing a fitting end note (for now) to the remarkable career of Satoshi Kon

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Master of the Flying Guillotine


Title: Master of the Flying Guillotine
Director: Jimmy Wang Yu
Released: 1976
Starring: Jimmy Wang Yu, Chin Kang, Lau Kar-Wing, Lung Wei Wang, Philip Kwok, Lung Fei, Doris Lung

Plot: Following on from the events of “One Armed Boxer” Liu Ti Lung (Wang Yu) finds himself being hunted by the blind imperial assassin Fung Sheng Wu Chi (Kang) and master of the deadly flying guillotine who is determined to avenge his disciples.

Review: Despite being a sequel to “One Armed Boxer” it’s really not required that you saw the first film as this film works perfectly well as its own standalone film, while at the same time fuelled by its own grindhouse charms which cover for many of its flaws to provide a deliriously fun experience.

Helmed by its leading man Jimmy Wang Yu who while perhaps not as well known or certainly as skilled as many of the better known actors within the martial arts genre, it hasn’t stopped him from amassing an impressive back catalogue which includes Australia’s only kung-fu movie “TheMan From Hong Kong” as he largely gives us a more fantastical style of martial arts which strangely somehow manages to work still, but then everything in this film is so far stretched his skills hardly comes into question.

Opening to Fung showcasing his skills with the flying guillotine as he decapitates a bunch of dummies (and a chicken) before blowing up his own house as he also shows off his love of explosives which interestingly are his backup weapons of choice. Despite being blind he is hardly hampered thanks to his sharpened sense of hearing which enables his to pin point his targets. On the flipside though it does mean that he has no idea what Liu actually looks like, not that it deters him from his mission of revenge in the slightest as he counters this flaw in his revenge plans by killing any one armed man he encounters, with the plan seemingly being that he would eventually find Liu through process of elimination (or decapitation in this case). Unsurprisingly this does lead to a series of imitators meeting a grisly end as a result of their ruse.

Liu meanwhile has all but retired, preferring to teach his students than compete in competition, as he turns down the frequent attempts to recruit him for a local martial arts tournament which makes up a sizeable chunk of the film as we watch a variety of martial artists each with their own unique style competing against each other with the highlights being an Indian Yogi played by a blacked up Wong Wing-Sang who has the ability to stretch his arms bringing to mind Dalsim from “Street Fighter” while frequent Wang Yu collaborator Lung Fei shows up as a Tonfa welding Japanese fighter, whose weapon of choice also hides a secret blade. Despite his constant presence in the film he largely seems more concerned with stealing away the feisty Doris Lung.

The titular weapon is an interesting one and one rarely seen in most kung-fu movies, perhaps because of its fantastical nature seeing how it is essentially a bladed Frisbee which turns into a bag over an opponent’s head before cleanly decapitating them with a flick of the chain its attached to. Strangely enough it was an actual weapon hailing from the time of the Yongzheng Emperor during the Qing Dynasty and while its effectiveness might be questionable here it makes for an interesting centrepiece especially when used with such fantastical skill from the blind master no less!

The fight scenes are all pretty fun, especially with such a wide range of style on offer especially with the fighting tournament which makes up the middle section basically providing an excuse to include them, much less providing a reason for half of the opponents Liu faces are in town in the first place. Why so many seem to readily willing to help Fung is unclear and if their reasons are rooted in money or the acclaim of beating the one armed boxer is furthermore never explained. Still with so many great set pieces such as a fight inside a burning hut with a heated floor and the final showdown between Liu and Fung inside a coffin shop as Liu utilises a number of tricks and traps including spring loaded axe launchers to defeat his formidable opponent.

While Wang Yu might not be the most skilled of martial artists as I mentioned earlier here his weaknesses are covered thanks to a combination of wire work and martial arts mcguffins as he makes comments to the importance of jumping and balance as he demonstrates walking around the edge of a large pot and even walking along the ceiling as the film once again throws any attempt at logic out of the window not that any of the films from their era were big on it either, but this film genuinely seems to revel in seeing how far it can push things.

Ultimately this film is a lot of fun and while it might not be the most technically perfect demonstration of martial arts it’s so fast passed and fun it gives you no time to concern yourself with such issues as it makes for an enjoyable dose of Kung-fu madness.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Title: Yatterman
Director: Takashi Miike
Released: 2009
Starring: Sho Sakurai, Saki Fukuda, Chiaki Takahasi, Kyoko Fukada, Kendo Kobayashi, Katsuhisa Namase, Junpei Takiguchi, Anri Okamoto, Sadao Abe, Koichi Yamadera

Plot: Gan Takada (Sakurai) and his girlfriend Ai (Fukuda) live a double life as the crime fighting heroes Yatterman protecting the city of Tokyoko from the schemes of the Doronbo gang who have been despatched by their boss Skullobey (Takiguchi) to find all four pieces of the legendry Skull Stone.

Review: The career path of director Takashi Miike continues to be a fascinating one to chart, especially since he seemingly made the choice to branch out from his roots established with the gore soaked shock and awe of the films which made up his outlaw years and which equally helped him found a strong fanbase amongst Western audiences. While it’s also true that this change of direction which has certainly seen his output get lighter with these later films might have polarised his fanbase he has equally at the same time produced some of the most interesting films of his career of which this is certainly another great example.

Based on the popular anime series of the same name which despite having 108 episodes never seemingly made it over to the rain soaked shores of the UK, so its safe to say I went into this one completely blind with not even the knowledge of Miike being in the director’s chair being any kind of guide after all here we have a director who gave the world both “Ichi The Killer” and “For Love’s Sake”.

Forgoing the traditional superhero movie plotting, Miike clearly believes his audience would be up to speed on the show before they watched the movie as he throws us straight into a big mecha battle between Yatterman (yes they are both called Yatterman) and the Doronbo Gang who have wheeled out their latest mecha invention in the form of a robot chef. It’s a fun opening which essentially sets the tone for what’s to follow as here Miike is clearly in one of his lighter and certainly more playful moods. That’s not of course to say that he still doesn’t manage to sneak in a few screwed up moments, I mean just wait to see what he does with the mecha Bride that the Doronbo gang build in the second half of the film.

The character designs are kept the same as the original show, which is honestly kind of refreshing in these times were since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy directors constantly seem to be aiming for an element of realism when it comes to directing comic book movies rather than embracing the fantastical elements the genre allows, which is certainly something that Miike has no issues doing as clearly seen with the character design for the members of the Doronbo gang as we have the PVC clad boss Doronjo (Fukada) the rat faced mecha genius and generally lecherous pervert Boyacky (Namase) and rounding out the team we have the pig snout wearing strongman Tonzra (Kobayashi). Despite being so outlandish in their appearance here they strangely work as Miike once again crafts a world for his film to exists within, while at the same time shooting it with such a sense of quirky fun so that like so many aspects of the film you don’t really question it.

One of the moments which truly highlights this is the various get rich schemes that the Doronbo launch to fund their the construction of their latest mecha, which usually share a theme, hence they open a wedding store called “Doro Merry” to fund the construction of the mecha bride “The Bridesmaidiot” or their Yo-Sushi style restaurant they create to fund their giant meca-squid. Interestingly this trio of bumbling crooks we get to know more about than either of our main heroes, in particular their aspirations they hope to gain from their criminal enterprises which you probably won’t be surprised to know are as random as they are, in particular Boyacky’s dream of having every schoolgirl in the world as the film cuts to him buried up to his neck in a mountain of Japanese schoolgirls. Again like so many of the more random aspects of the film it is hard to tell what is taken from the source material and what’s the result of Miike’s warped imagination.

The action scenes throughout are exciting and fast paced, while containing numerous amounts of slapstick and surreal moments, especially when they wheel out the giant mecha with Yatterman’s own mecha coming in the form of a giant robo dog called Yatterwoof which they also use to get around as seen in one of the numerous musical numbers. Aswell as all the giant robot fun we also get some more traditional fight scenes, which usually descend into Boyacky and Tonzra being on the wrong end of the gadgets used by Yatterman. Still these could hardly be considered brutal beatdowns especially when the cartoony vibe is maintained throughout.

While the film is for the most part a lot of fun, it does have a rather generous runtime which certainly could have benefited from being trimmed down to a more lean runtime, especially when there are so many scenes which felt overplayed or unneeded, while at the same time perhaps stopping the plot from becoming as confused as it does in places and while some Miike fans might feel that Miike has lost his edge with these kinds of films which he has been keener to make as of late rather than his earlier and certainly more warped and arguably interesting films, but here he once again proves that even without the lashing of gore and controversial imagery he is still a director capable of producing attention grabbing and most importantly entertaining films, while at the same providing an fun alternative to the overly serious tone that Hollywood would prefer to take for its comic book movies.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Safety Not Guaranteed

Title: Safety Not Guaranteed
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Released: 2012
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni, Jenica Bergere, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kristen Bell, Jeff Garlin, William Hall, Jr.

Plot: Sent out by “Seattle Magazine” Jeff (Johnson) along with interns Darius (Plaza) and Arnau (Soni) to try and discover more about a curious newspaper classified ad, looking for someone to travel back in time.

Review: Has Aubrey Plaza got a clause in her contract which only allows her characters to be involved with only the creepiest or most irritating characters in he films she appears in. Certainly it would appear to be the case as I was forced to watch her not only dry hump Christopher Mintz-Plasse but also shack up with the terminally vapid Scott Porter in “The To Do List” and now here we get possibly the most unbelievable romance between her character and the oddball behind the ad in question Kenneth (Duplass). Again the reasons behind this bizarre plot direction is almost as confusing as the exceptionally high rating that this film currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes.

Starting off as a mystery piece as the trio try to discover the truth behind the bizarre classified add, which soon leads to Darius becoming the inside girl as she meets up with Kenneth and begins his unorthodox training regime which consists largely of firearm training and running around in the woods, which seemingly is the sort of training that potential time travels needs. As his trust in her grows Kenneth also involves Darius in his raids of the local research facility to steal more equipment for his time machine, as seen in possibly one of the most questionable heists ever, especially when Kenneth seems to be carrying it out based on things he’s seen in the movies, while only made the more surreal when he is caught wheeling out equipment by a stunned group of employees attending a birthday party down the hall from the storage room he has just broken into.

While this is happening we also get the second plotline of Jeff trying to connect with his old girlfriend who lives in the same town as Kenneth, which it ultimately turns out is his sole reason for taking on the assignment originally, which ironically turns out to be a lot more interesting than the main plot line anyway. Needless to say Johnson’s bumbling and frequently crude approach to this personal project really provide most of the films  highpoints even more so when it all inevitably blows up in his face and inturn turning his focus to trying to get the terminally shy Arnau laid.

It is certainly something to question when the subplot of the film is more interesting than the main plot of the story, which is it has to be said largely down to how generally creepy the character of Kenneth is. This isn’t the sort of creepy until you warm up to him, but instead just plain creepy. It’s hard to say if this is down to Duplass’s performance which largely feels devoid of any kind of emotion making the sudden romance between him and Darius only all the more forced, while I can only challenge you not to roll your eyes at the clumsy seduction scene.

It’s kind of shame that this film fails to be more enjoyable, especially when the cast seem to really care about the film they are making with Johnson being the real standout here as he brings to the film the same energy he brings to his more recognisable role as Nick on “New Girl” and while here it essentially is him giving us more of the same, it is still an enjoyable performance and one which distracts from some of the more negative aspects of the film. Elsewhere Plaza comes off more hit and miss as we wheels out her trademark permanently moody style which as with “The To Do List” doesn’t exactly work when you’re trying to build a romantic connection between characters while at the same time making me wonder if despite her talent that she wouldn’t be better kept to playing supporting characters rather than taking on these leading roles?

The ending of the film while some might appreciate the fantastical direction it takes the film, for me ultimately felt kind of flat and almost as if director Trevorrow was challenging the audience for ever doubting Kenneth in the first place. However for this to have work we should have atleast been given some indication that he could actually pull off his time travel claims, rather than being lead unquestionably down the path of believing that he is just a delusional crazy loon.

Despite this being a heavily flawed film it would certainly seem that someone high up liked it seeing how Trevorrow is currently directing the forth “Jurassic Park” movie “Jurassic World” after attempts to remake another time travel classic “Flight of the Navigator” fell through though as of the time of writing it remains to be seen if he works better under the restraints of the mainstream system than he does when given the freedom that the indie scene provides.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Adventures in Podcasting #1

Recently I have had a real burst of podcasting activity and rather than just post a heap of announcements for these posts I've decided instead to pool them all together in one big old boxset of podcast goodness.

As regular readers of the blog will know I recently launched the "Mad, Bad and Downright Strange Showcase" with the aim of working though the whole 1001 film introduction to cult and obscure cinema which the list provides. 
For those of you also wanting to chart your own progress, you can also find the list now in a much more user friendly form at Letterboxd
Kicking things off for the premier episode was my good friend and fellow blogger Emily Intravia (The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense / The Feminine Critique) were she shared her thoughts on "Starship Troopers"

For Episode 2 I was joined by director Carl Bachmann who stopped off not only to talk about the kickstarter campaign to help fund the indie comedy horror "Party Slashers", but also to discuss his theories for the truly random killer tyre movie "Rubber"

Episode 3 saw Head Editor / Writer for "French Toast Sunday" Lindsay Street taking on a double bill as we looked not only at Rian Johnson's Neo-noir "Brick" but also Sam Mendes directorial debut and one of Lindsay's all time favourites "American Beauty"

The LAMBcast is really the podcast which started it all for me and since my first podcast with them discussing "Ghost World" I have as you can see below tried to podcast with them when I can.

LAMBCAST #230 - Ghost World

LAMBCAST #232 - Whatcha Been Watchin' Lately - TV Edition

LAMBCAST #234 - Sin City A Dame To Kill For

LAMBCAST #239 - Audition

LAMBCAST #242 - Halloween Franchise Lookback

This last one is a real biggie and while clocking in at over two hours of fanboy rabidness was a lot of fun to record, while looking at the high points and the serious lows the series has been through over the course of the ten films from John Carpenter's classic original film through the Rob Zombies attempts to reboot the franchise.

Bubbawheat at "Flights, Tights and Movie Nights" hosts a great podcast were he gives his guest a comic book movie they haven't seen and in return you get to give him a film to watch which he hasn't seen.

For my turn incase you can't guess from the groovy (and kind of creepy) poster he gave me "The Dark Knight" to watch (I know shame on me) while I gave him the underrated psychological thriller "Perfect Blue"

Filmwhys #38 - Perfect Blue and The Dark Knight

Filmwhys Extra #17 - Nolan's Batman Trilogy

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...