Saturday, October 30, 2004

Title: My Summer Of Love

Cast: Natalie Press, Emily Blunt, Paddy Considine

Director: Pawel Pawlikowsky

Mona lives in a pub, comes across as a bit thick, gets fucked by older men in the back of a car. Tamsin has been suspended from boarding school, lives in the manor house, talks in the most pretentious terms about Nietzsche and Piaf. These are the sorts of impressions we get from these two girls as they meet on the Yorkshire moors. Both at a loose end they form a strange and seductive relationship, one of those slow burning and headily dangerous relationships. Which to a degree defines the idea “my summer of love”. But things aren’t as simple as that – with Mona’s brother Phil complicating matters – driving Mona into the arms of Tamsin and then not being very happy about the results. Phil is just out of prison and has disposed of all the alcohol in pursuit of his born again values – throwing his doors open to the Christian community, and erecting a colossal cross above the valley to drive out evil!

My Summer Of Love is the second feature by the director Pawel Pawlikowsky, his previous Last Resort having been covered here recently. The last time Paddy Considine was mentioned here was in relation to the Shane Meadow’s film Dead Man’s Shoes, which was a repeat collaboration between the two – as is this, with Considine having a similarly key role in Last Resort. My Summer Of Love is probably not that much longer than Last Resort, but it feels like more of a feature film than Last Resort did. Giving more of a chance to wallow in the characters and the sense of space and environment that Pawlikowsky creates with My Summer Of Love. For me, there is a certain comparison to Lynn Ramsey’s adaptation of Morvern Callar, particularly with how the part of Mona seems to be something of a parallel to Morvern. Natalie Press (Mona) and Emily Blunt (Tamsin) make their film debuts with this work, and both really seem to bring their characters live – making the extreme and real differences between the two evident from their first meeting.

My Summer Of Love has a certain light-heartedness and at times a certain ironic humour – particularly at the points where Mona proves that she is actually pretty aware – with a definite undercurrent of darkness and threat entwined around the film’s core.

Title: The System Of The World

Author: Neal Stephenson

Publisher: William Heinemann

The System Of The World is the third and final volume of the Baroque Cycle, which appears in hardback just as the first volume of the Baroque Cycle – Quicksilver – has made it’s way to paperback. As a trilogy this sequence of books acts as a prequel to his previous novel Cryptonomicon. Where Cryptonomicon followed the paths of the Shaftoe and Waterhouse families through World War II and the present day, the Baroque novels extend those families backwards through time to the point where the original “cryptonomicon” was written by a prominent scientist.

Quicksilver starts in the year 1713, with Daniel Waterhouse in America being visited by Enoch Root the Alchemist, to be summoned back to Europe by Royalty to mediate to some degree in a dispute between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz over who created Calculus. With this Quicksilver flashes back in time, following the life of Daniel Waterhouse and the rise of Natural Philosophy. Intermingled with that we are introduced to Jack Shaftoe as he rises from mudlark to mercenary to kind of the Vagabonds, and in the process rescues a slave girl called Eliza. The adventures of these two become the greater focus of the second book in the series The Confusion. All of which leads to The System Of The World and Daniel Waterhouse’s return to Britain.

With the result that The System Of The World is perhaps the most compact and well paced of the three novels. The three main characters all now find themselves in London (for the most part), and the stage is set. Jack despite turning his back on Eliza is still in love with her, and finds himself forced to undermine his own country in the process. Eliza has clawed her way up from humble slave girl to Duchess, having gone through the courts of France, The Netherlands, and becoming a key adviser to the Hanoverians. While Waterhouse seeks to create his first logic mill, deal with the calculus debate, and finds himself caught up in the consistent financial issues that have been at the heart of the Baroque Cycle.

With The System Of The World we still have the world stage to some degree which has informed so much of events to this point. Particularly here, William of Orange has been replaced as monarch of Britain by Queen Anne, and the war for the Spanish throne has come to an end. But Anne is old and there is some confusion as to who will succeed her – will it be the Catholic Jacobite Tories or the Protestant Hanoverian Whigs? This question is one of the big features The System Of The World – with the connections Daniel Waterhouse has made over the years tending to be Whigs, even if he hadn’t actually met with the Hanoverian’s who are the sponsors of Leibniz. At the same time his old friend Isaac Newton is now the Master of the Mint, and is at war with Jack Shaftoe – a struggle which becomes entangled with that for the power of government and from there monarchy.

Both Quicksilver and The Confusion have their strengths. There are some great chunks of text which are the sort of brilliance one would expect from Neal Stephenson. In the process of the Baroque Cycle his characters travel the world, and so many historical events are covered in the period of 1655 to 1715, which the three books cover, either peripherally or from the direct experiences of the characters. The rise of natural philosophy, a point from which so much of our modern science originates. The rise and fall of monarchies across Europe. The trade routes around the world, slaves sold from one tribe by another, to work the gold mines of South America, to fund Spanish wars.

However each of the books is about 800-900 pages each, and in the process Stephenson at times can overwhelm the reader with detail and tangents and the like. Pages of letters sent back and forth between players, which are encrypted within the most mundane details. With The Confusion in particular there also becomes a certain repetition as we fall the trials and tribulations of Shaftoe, a point Stephenson acknowledges himself as Shaftoe explains his life to someone in The System.

The result, to some degree, is that the first two novels can be considered as the set up. Fleshing out the lives of the characters and the history of the world in this period. Such that The System Of The World is a much more focussed novel, more compact in a narrative sense as it pursues the conclusion of all that has gone before. Daniel Waterhouse is the main character and really comes in to his own with this novel, being forced to shake of the passivity and cowardice which have described his past. Waterhouse is a witness, through his life he has been there at great events – the births and deaths of kings, the great plague and the great fire, the rebuilding of London, the creation of calculus, the rise and fall of government. But through all that, for me, he has felt too secondary to events, while he comes more to the fore. Inside his mind we still have this vision of a coward, particularly now – an old coward. But we are also given the sight of how other people see him, the ideas they have carried away from meeting him and the events he has lived through. And in some ways that is where he really starts to shine.

Of course The System Of The World is littered with characters that have popped up throughout the Baroque Cycle, as how could they not, what with the web that Stephenson weaves? Additionally there are another stream of new characters. All of whom together, for the most part push along the action in this novel at a greater rate than that encountered in the previous novels. Tangents are present – the first encounter with Princess Caroline initially feels like a divergence, and the debate between Newton and Leibniz certainly stalls momentum. Regardless The System Of The World is a solid piece of work, which builds on the groundwork of it’s predecessors.

As a whole The Baroque Cycle is a sprawling epic undertaking, which approximates 3000 pages in the end. Covering 60 odd years in the process, but coming to a point with The System Of The World, where the time covers the period of a year and reaches the culmination of these events. Leaving the future open, such that it can tie into Cryptonomicon, with which there are numerous connections scattered throughout the cycle. No doubt reading all four books in close proximity would uncover all the connections, which I no doubt missed having not read Cryptonomicon since it’s release some 5-6 years ago.

With Quicksilver and The Confusion I have expressed doubts, but by the time I reach The System Of The World I find either that I have become absorbed in the Baroque Cycle or that events have reached a point where it all just falls into place, or perhaps both. Regardless I enjoyed The System Of The World a lot, and I felt satisfied.

Title: 40 Signs Of Rain

Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

Publisher: Harper Collins

Kim Stanley Robinson has always had a certain environmental aspect to his work, which has made a particularly distinctive voice when it comes to science fiction. From his near future Florida trilogy he moved to his epic Martian novels – which covered the colonisation of Mars, from the first landing of 100 people through the terraforming process. With Antarctica he came closer to home, closer to now, but retained much of the feeling which makes his Martian trilogy such a remarkable piece of work.

Following his previous novel The Years Of Rice And Salt, which was an alternate history of the world, he returns to Antarctica. Or more accurately with 40 Signs Of Rain he returns to the same background. The characters from Antarctica have moved on, leaving us with the people who have taken their jobs, or are in some other ways connected to those previous characters. Antarctica to some degree followed the consultant of an American congressman, the congressman who remains the only character (as far as I can recall) who appears in both novels. His new advisor is Charlie, who works from home, looking after his two sons, and pushing the congressman to greater conscious of environmental issues. At the same time his wife Anna works for the National Science Foundation, which funds scientific work across America. Where she works beside Frank Vanderwal, who is on loan from San Diego, where he has connections to a company, which also has connections to another character from Antarctica.

40 Signs Of Rain follows the lives of these three characters, and in the process how they encounter the inhabitants of a small island of Tibetan dissidents who are threatened by rising sea levels. The book is scattered with commentary about increasingly hazardous weather conditions, and the environmental collapse around us. Which to some degree make up the 40 signs of rain from the title.

Unfortunately 40 Signs Of Rain is not Antarctica. Rather than being set in Antarctica or Mars for that matter, which provided so much depth and exoticness to the work, 40 Signs is set in Washington. Which removes the historical aspects, discoveries and naming, the levels of experience that come from these other environments. Set beside that, none of the characters come to life to the same degree as those in Kim Stanley Robinson’s earlier work. Frank is a very ambiguous person, resulting in the feeling of not really knowing how to take him for much of the novel. Charlie seems to spend more time watching his youngest son throwing toy dinosaurs than doing much else. By contrast Anna is getting increasingly involved with the islanders and their plight.

The actuality is we are witnessing the frustrated lives of our central characters. So that what we are really seeing is them chafing against the system, becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the way things are supposed to be done. In their own ways they are coming to conclusions, and gradually starting to lash out against the structures which are penning them in. As such it is the second half of 40 Signs Of Rain where things really start to come together, where we start to get a better feel for the characters, where they start to become people we can get interested in, and where events gain a momentum.

This makes 40 Signs Of Rain a little frustrating. Especially building on Antarctica which was a particularly strong piece of work. While 40 Signs has a certain, definite closure as it reaches it’s end, it does leave so much open. As such we can hope that Kim Stanley Robinson will return to this territory, and having created the launch point of 40 Signs hit the ground running with a follow up.

Title: Old Boy

Cast: Min-silk Choi, Ji-tae Yoo, Hye-jung Gang, Dae-han Chi, Dal-su Oh

Director: Chanwook Park

Chanwook Park was included in the Asia Extreme season of 2003 with his film Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, which was a stylish and convoluted revenge thriller. From there he returns with Old Boy, which in the scheme of things would probably have been included in the Asia Extreme season of 2005 – especially as the 2004 season draws to a close. However Old Boy did rather well on the festival circuit, particularly with this summer’s Cannes festival, where it won an award from a panel headed by Quentin Tarantino.

As a result Old Boy has been getting something of a remarkable level of publicity. Which is novel, but deserved, Old Boy is undoubtedly something special. Chanwook Park surpassing himself with just how well done and fucked up Old Boy is.

Dae-su is an average business man, wife, daughter, and drink problem. One night is snatched from the street and locked in a room. With this we follow Dae-su as he tries to understand where he is, why is he there, for how long is he going to be held. But he is never told, instead he is kept in this one room, with a bed, tv and toilet, and food is supplied by his captors. Through the TV he soon finds that his wife has been murdered, and that with his disappearance he is the main suspect.

Dae-su watches Korea and the world change over the course of 15 years. Keeps journals trying to account for who he might have offended so much, and tries to remain sane. With all those years passed, he is suddenly and inexplicably released from captivity. He tries to piece events together anyway, but as his tormentor keeps interfering with him, he quickly is presented with a deadline – he has 5 days to work out why he was put away and by who, or that person will kill everyone he has ever loved.

Old Boy is an intense film from beginning to end. Containing a number of scenes which are likely to make the squeamish flinch. Along the way Dae-su befriends Mido, a sushi chef, and they form a curious bond. While at the same time there are encounters with the various villains, who are such larger than life characters. Though in saying that, by the end of the film it doesn’t really feel that Dae-su could be described as a hero – having undergone such an overwhelming transformation.

The way the film deals with the mix of TV footage and CCTV to cover elements of the captivity provides a distinctive feel. As does the way the film is handled on so many levels. Particularly the fight scenes with Dae-su versus a gang of thugs, which are some of the most impressive and strikingly choreographed and executed sequences I’ve ever seen.

In so many ways Old Boy covers some appalling events and scenarios. On the other hand the execution and composition of the film are particularly brilliant.

Title: Chaos

Cast: Masato Hagiwara, Miki Nakatani, Ken Mitsuishi, Jun Kunimura

Director: Hideo Nakata

Japanese director Hideo Nakata has come to the attention of the world through his films The Ring and Dark Water. Chaos is a film that he did 5 years ago, and is showing now as the last film in the 2004 Asia Extreme season – inclusion no doubt being partly influenced by the news of an American remake in the works.

Chaos is a curious film, which is more of a thriller compared to the horrors we are used to from Nakata. A woman approaches a handyman and negotiates her own kidnap as a test for her husband. However the handyman takes the arrangements more seriously than the woman had expected and seems to actually post an unanticipated threat. The handyman pursues the kidnapping hard, but ends up with a dead body on his hands. This obviously complicates matters, though the handyman starts to suspect that they are more complicated than they even appear.

As a process Chaos flicks about in a non-linear fashion without warning. Which at times makes things difficult to follow. Though gradually the big picture starts to come together. However having coming together the bottom kind of falls out of the whole. There were facets of Chaos that I liked, describing a definite potential to the plot, and certain level of capability in filmmaking. But ultimately like The Ring before it Chaos does not live up to the potential and is somewhat unsatisfying.

Title: The House Of The Dead

Cast: Jonathan Cherry, Tyron Leitso, Ona Grauer, Enuka Okuma, Clint Howard

Director: Uwe Boll

The House Of The Dead is based on a computer game, a fact that should be entirely evident to most people seeing this film. Even if it weren’t for the fact that it is interspersed with clips lifted directly from the game and then there is the prominent placement of the company name. Having not seen the game, one can’t really comment on the adherence to original material – though particularly as the film hits it’s highest level of carnage one can easily see this as a game.

The base plot of The House Of The Dead revolves around a group arriving on the “isle of the dead”, expecting to find the biggest rave of the year. Instead they find a handful of survivors fighting off a zombie assault. Cue legend about ancient human experiments and the last stand from a ramshackle house.

On the whole The House Of The Dead is an incredibly stupid film… and it knows it. As a result The House is filled with running, leaping and swimming zombies for the first half of the film, culminating in extremely stylised carnage – ranging from slow motion bullet time shots to high speed jump cuts and blasting techno music. All interspersed with gratuitous nudity, watch for the sea sickness scene which forces one of the girls to remove her top – the fact that half the cast look as though their only previous experience is in porn doesn’t help. However, perhaps it is surprising with all that, that there are a number of nice little gags – each of which being a reference to another film – the most obvious is the boat’s captain being called Kirk, but watch for the others which are decent visual gags.

The House Of The Dead is utterly brilliantly stupid and worth a laugh if nothing else.

Title: Alien versus Predator

Cast: Sanaa Latahn, Raoul Bova, Lance Henrikson, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon

Director: Paul WS Anderson

Oh boy. Where did it all go wrong?

The comic company Dark Horse has made part of it’s reputation over the years from cinematic adaptations. Two of the more prominent titles in those early years were Alien and Predator. Having licensed these two in a successful manner, it only made sense in comic terms to come up with a cross-over. So all those years ago we had the original Alien versus Predator as a four issue series, which was soon reprised with a second four part series. In addition there were then spin off novels, which were based on these comic adaptations.

Which is to say that the idea of Alien/Predator is not a new one. Even in cinematic terms it has been one of the most rumoured and anticipated films in at least the last decade. So following on from 6 films, numerous comics, novels, and toys we have this film in 2004. Suggesting that there has been plenty of groundwork done over the years for this film to launch itself from.

Paul WS Anderson has made something of a name for himself in recent years with films like Resident Evil. While Resident Evil might not have any real sense of suspense or horror that were present in the computer games – he at least provided a big gloriously stupid action film – zombie movies for a post-matrix generation if you like. However with AVP there is a considerably greater tradition of cinematic design and tension – both areas where AVP falls down.

In some ways it is a surprise that AVP didn’t go for a 12 rating, like the last Terminator film (which has also been licensed by Dark Horse) – given the degree to which it pulls punches, flinching away from it’s own potential. Much of the films start revolves around building the story and the characters – however this is a little tedious, and has a negative impact on pacing. Once the story gets going it is punctuated by haphazard bursts of violence. There are vague attempts at creating tension, which fall flat on their face at every attempt.

Design wise the alien takes too long to get into character, before which it is too much about the actual violence rather than the alien nature. Parallel to which the predators look on the whole too clunky, and again are more likely to lash out than threaten. Classic scenes like chest busters are referred to a couple of times but never delivered – sure, competing with such an iconic moment is hard, but you certainly don’t do it by building it up only to pull away.

Throughout AVP there are maybe 3 scenes which live up to the potential of the material. With only one real parallel to the previous AVP material in the human characters.

The big problem with AVP is that it is pretty much guaranteed an audience, most fans of the past material will want to see it regardless of how often they are told it is a stinker. Because it is a stinker – dreadful dialogue, excruciating clichés, poor realisation – with the result that there were times I was squirming and others where I was close to tears of frustration.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Title: Inside I’m Dancing

Cast: Steven Robertson, James McAvoy, Romola Garai

Director: Damien O’Donnell

Inside I’m Dancing is a new comedy drama from Ireland. In some ways it is a romantic comedy, but given that the two central characters of Michael and Rory are handicapped and wheelchair bound, then that has to be a factor. Rory is a mouthy and rebellious man, who as a result finds himself put into a new home for people with special needs. Michael is a long term resident, and due to his handicap he finds it difficult to communicate with people. Much to Michael’s surprise he realises that Rory can actually understand what he is saying without difficulty.

So these two very different characters become friends, such that Michael becomes caught up and propelled by Rory’s desire for freedom – his need to live in the community and experience real life. This struggle for freedom is the core of the film, but along the way they meet Siobhan out clubbing, and manage to persuade her to become their home help. Of course Michael has never encountered someone like Siobhan and quickly finds himself with confusing emotions.

Inside I’m Dancing has apparently received some criticism for not having cast disabled actors in the two lead roles. However, admittedly not knowing much about the issues, it seems that Inside I’m Dancing goes some way to bringing to life the situations these characters find themselves in, particularly with the ability of the two actors who have been cast. Inside I’m Dancing is a comedy and quite a good one on those terms, but it also covers the spectrum – managing to achieve a certain balance by avoiding too much predictability or cliché, though those are there.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

John Peel

Friday, October 15, 2004

books of magick:life during wartime - one of the best new titles to becoming from vertigo comics at the moment, particularly because of the interior art by dean ormston Posted by Hello


Title: Paradise

Author: A.L. Kennedy

Publisher: Jonathon Cape

Night Geometry And The Garscadden Trains was published in 1990, the first collection of short stories by the author A.L. Kennedy. She followed that with her first, and elusive, novel Looking For The Possible Dance, which saw her selected as one of Granta’s Young Novelists in 1993. Since then she has published another couple of short story collections – Now That You Are Back, Original Bliss, and most recently Indelible Acts. As well as another couple of novels – So I Am Glad and Everything You Need.

With 2003 and the return of Granta’s Young Novelist selection, a selection made every ten years – Kennedy became the first novelist to have been chosen twice. With the Granta magazine that printed short stories/extracts from the winners, Kennedy supplied an extract from her fourth novel by Paradise. A novel which has just been published in September of 2004 in hardback by Jonathan Cape, a division of Random House, who are also responsible for Vintage, through whom her back catalogue is available.

Having only just picked up Looking For The Possible Dance at the same time as the promotional appearances for Paradise, I can only really comment on how Paradise compares to So I Am Glad and Everything You Need. Her short stories tending towards brevity, the sort of literary snap-shot that doesn’t necessarily really say anything. Like those other novels, Paradise is a curious mix of skewed humour and melancholy, especially given that the characters at it’s core are alcoholics. Which probably technically makes Hannah Luckraft Kennedy’s bleakest character in some ways, though perhaps the occasionally suicidal male lead in Everything You Need would give her a run for her money.

Hannah Luckraft is an alcoholic, and in those terms her idea of “paradise” is fluid, literally. Her visions of liquid almost take on a pornographic life of their own, as she wallows in the sloshing motions of bottles, in the physical changes she monitors in her lover’s body as he achieves paradise. Hannah is also an unreliable narrator, which is part of the point of the novel, but also at times makes the story difficult. Events being interspersed by blackouts and failed recollections as they are.

With that the narrative like paradise is fluid, following at it’s core the relationship between Hannah and Robert. Both of whom are alcoholics, prone to disappearances and health problems as their addictions gain momentum. Robert is the first to try and quit, disappearing without explanation to a facility in Canada. On his return though it isn’t really long before Hannah tips him back into his fluid delights. However it is then her turn to fall, waking up in hospital, before herself being transported to Canada to dry out. Which pretty much establishes a pattern of stuttering sobriety, followed by a form of blacked out and personal carnage. Of course, while this cycle goes through it’s motions, it becomes clear that this can not go on – even if they could get a way with alienating and offending everyone they know, their forms are fragile fluid bodies.

Which may not sound particularly amusing, but Kennedy has such a turn of phrase, that speaking through Hannah we are offered a drunks logic, where everything makes sense within that limited context. There is also a certain tongue in check outlook that comes through in Hannah’s voice, she is quite flip, at least when she is coherent enough to provide a running commentary on life, the universe and the contents of a bottle. While Everything You Need was set out Scotland, Kennedy returns to her native Dundee for Paradise. Though you wouldn’t necessarily know that, as she explained while reading from Paradise, at no time does she name the city for fear of association. Ultimately however, location isn’t necessarily of importance, given the lifestyle of Hannah and Robert this could be a city anywhere. More spatial impact comes from the travels in Canada and the time spent in the Clear Spring facility – partly because of the change of scenery and also because of the forced sobriety and the strangely distressing world view that provides.

Paradise is a strange novel, which to be honest is kind of to be expected from A.L. Kennedy, who at times seems to be a wilfully deviant writer. Everything You Need revolved around a writer, who kind of gained inspiration from failed suicide attempts, while trying to get to know his estranged daughter. While So I Am Glad saw Cyrano de Bergerac wake up 300 years after his death in a flat in Glasgow to start a relationship with a woman who did voiceovers for local radio. So the convoluted life and times of two alcoholics punctuated by a series of blackouts isn’t necessarily anything remarkable. It does leave on problem though, Paradise can feel a little directionless at times, looping to some degree. In particular the conclusion sees Hannah really hit rock bottom, which is related through a sequence particularly difficult for the reader to follow. Leaving a certain ambiguity in conclusion. Still A.L. Kennedy remains one of the most accomplished and at times seemingly under-rated of Scottish novelists.

 Posted by Hello

Title: Bubba Ho-Tep

Cast: Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Heidi Marnhout, Bob Ivy

Director: Don Coscarelli

Bubba Ho-Tep is, as far as I can gather, a good couple of years old now. One of those films I’ve been hearing about for a while now, muttered about in cult terms. But this is it only hitting UK cinemas now.

Bruce Campbell is Sebastian Haff, who claims to really be Elvis, having swapped places with the real Haff, an Elvis impersonator, in the past. However time has passed, and since following off stage and breaking his hip, the King has been in an old folks home in Texas. Where his best friends are a man who claims to be the Lone Ranger, and Ossie Davis as JFK – who was died black and put in an old folks home after the assassination attempt.

Add to this doddering mix of has-beens some kind of bubba ho-tep – bubba being a reference to a southern gentleman (or redneck, or trailer trash, or...), and ho-tep being the surname for an Egyptian line of Pharaohs – the result being a shuffling, soul sucking mummified corpse in cowboy boots and hat. Working out that something is going on, the nightly body count isn’t entirely natural, then Elvis and JFK resolve that while they may not be long for this world, they are going to go out with their dignity and soul intact, or at least not shat down the visitor’s toilet.

Bubba Ho-Tep is a wonderfully bizarre film, defined by a perverse humour and eye for detail. The idea of imminent death, of encompassing old-age and the helplessness that comes with that being more distressing than that of a shumbling animated corpse. An idea that is as emphasised by the narration by Bruce Campbell as well as providing a great deal of the running jokes.

Title: Deus Vitae [Volume 1 and 2]

Author: Takuya Fujima

Publisher: Tokyo Pop

Deus Vitae is the story of a predominantly post-human race of androids. Stemming from the creation of a super computer, imbued with all human knowledge and the first android Leave, which was created in reaction to the sudden attempt by mankind to wipe the computer out. Ironically, of course, the androids won the struggle, and Leave created 4 “mothers” to create a race of Selenoids to populate the world.

This is the background detail which barely comes through in the course of the first book, and doesn’t entirely gel with the prologue provided for some reason at the end of book 1. The action of book 1 sees the attack by Ash, a member of the revolutionary organisation Re-O against the local Selenoid director. As far as the Selenoid’s are concerned Re-O are an inferior/slave brand of android, but upon capturing Ash, it seems that he might actually be human, along with many of the Re-O members. Which freaks the Selenoids out some, given that they thought that the human race had been entirely wiped out. Over the course of the first book Ash forms a bond with Lemui, a Selenoid who seems to think Ash might be her brother, or something. Fighting against this regions “mother”, Ash breaks free, ending the first book. Leading to the second, where the pair join up with a branch of the Re-O as they go head to head with the mother’s army.

The influx of manga into the UK has only really stepped up a degree in the last few years, so that there are many more titles to chose from than in the past. As a medium, the Japanese form of comics has a certain appeal, and have definitely found a few titles worth reading. But trying to decide where else to go with it isn’t always easy. So with Deus Vitae the initial appeal comes from the art, which is quite strong, perhaps with more of a western orientation or at least heavier style than much of the manga material. These kind of books tend to come in 200 page volumes, which are pretty quick reads, given that the narrative style is entirely different. Which is how I end up with two volumes, and read them in no time at all.

With the artwork, the book is also rated as for over sixteen, which led to the classic error of assuming that meant that the book was a more mature read. Having flicked through the books I had noted the nudity mixed in with the cybernetic themes. Which in itself doesn’t particularly bother me, however on reading Deus Vitae one is struck by the frequency with which the android characters are large breasted women with a tendency to lose their clothes. Quite why the a race of machine based forms feel the need to maintain humanoid form after wiping out the human race is something which isn’t explained, and to be honest there is actually no attempt made to explain. Instead Deus Vitae is a plot light action sequence ostensibly about the struggle between man and machine, and more realistically about two armies fighting with swords (even if they are at times electronic swords...).

In the same way as with films or novels, there is an issue of translation, one which is perhaps more relevant in manga. Given the fact that the translated words have to fit into a certain amount of space so as to not obliterate all the nipples, um, I mean art. So it is perhaps difficult to say who is to blame for the narrative in this adaptation of Deus Vitae – is it true to the source material, or has it been dumbed down for a western audience? I don’t know, but I do know that the dialogue in this is awful and there is very little that could be said to appeal to a mature audience between these pages. The cultural differences no doubt factor in with narrative structure, the sudden jumps and shifts in apparent logic are something I’ve come across in other manga – but at least in FLCL or Remote, when something didn’t entirely make sense, the overall piece was at least worth sticking with.

So, Deus Vitae as I said comes with an advisory age rating of sixteen, which in retrospect seems to be the exact age it is aimed at. Robot chicks with big tits – woot!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Spiral - Sakura Mizuki Posted by Hello

News: Taxi

-remake of the luc besson penned french film about a police officer that siezes a speedster taxi driver for a car chase, only in the american version it appears to be more of an outright comedy, and queen latifah has the role of taxi driver!

Title: Spiral

Author: Sakura Mizuki

Publisher: Dark Horse

Koji Suzuki is the Japanese novelist responsible for the novel The Ring, which has generated thee Japanese films and an American remake. The sequel he wrote to The Ring was called Spiral, which was also made into a film, though it hasn’t received the same level of promotion. While the novel of The Ring has recently been published in the UK as a hardback Spiral hasn’t as yet, however the manga adaptations of both novels are available in English translations. This volume is the manga adaptation by Sakura Mizuki of the novel of Spiral.

At about 200 pages the manga is no doubt a much quicker read than the novel, but has some of that cinematic quality thanks to it’s graphic format. The Ring established the idea of a viral video cassette, one which led to the death of the viewer within 7 days. Spiral takes more of a scientific approach than the journalistic investigation at the core of The Ring. The death of a scientist leaves a curious autopsy, one which is conducted by a friend of the dead man – a number clue is found with the body, which the mortician quickly cracks to represent two words – “the ring”. This sets him and his colleague to investigating the ring phenomena, and how those who have died as a result all seem to exhibit evidence of a virus similar to small pox. However as they investigate further they find a new virus – a mutated spiral from the basic ring, and it seems that with that the pathway has expanded past that provided by the video recording.

Having read an extract from Suzuki’s novel The Ring I have little doubt that there is more to be found from a novelised version of the Spiral. Seeing The Ring and Ring 0 films however one can see a certain overlap and how in turn that has been extended. The explanation of Sadako, the dead girl at the core of everything, and her psychic powers was particularly covered in Ring 0 and contributes here – the idea being that her power has infected the footage with a virus. To extend that further and provide some idea of what the ramifications of that might be comes with a certain disturbed logic in Spiral.

Title: Into The Mirror

Cast: Ji-tae Yu, Myeong-min Kim, Ju-bong Gi, Myeong-su Kim

Director: Kim Seong-ho

Into The Mirror is the second last of the 2004 Asia Extreme season put on by Tartan Films and UGC Cinemas. Another Korean horror film, which like Phone before it manages to provide a number of options for what might be going on. Woo Yeong-min was a rising star in the Seoul police force, until he mistakenly shot his partner during a hostage situation. The result was that he quit the police force, and was made head of security for the mall run by his uncle. The mall has been closed for some time due to a fire, but is about to open any day now with much associated pomp.

Unfortunately the opening is marred by the death of a woman who was working late. Which is the opening sequence, so that the viewers see what appears to be the woman murdered by her own reflection, but appears to be suicide to management. However the police disagree, the woman’s throat was slit in such a way that she couldn’t have done it herself – so the police descend on the building – holding back the mall’s opening, and complicating Woo’s life, as these are his old colleagues. Of course this is not the only death, and over a number of days the bodies mount up – Woo spotting hand prints on mirrors at each crime scene, and increasingly catching glimpses of a suspicious woman.

As the film goes on it becomes clear that only one actual employee of the company died in the fire, the rest were workmen – with each of the new victims having worked directly with the dead woman. Woo drinks heavily; waking from blackouts with no recollection of what has gone on in the meantime, and there is the discovery that the dead woman has a sister with a history of mental problems. So the question becomes is there something supernatural reaching through the mirrored walls of the refurbished mall, is there a much more mundane explanation?

In a series of Asian horror films we’ve had the haunted video tape/television, the threat of phone calls from a cursed mobile, and the cursed house. With Into The Mirror we are clearly in the same kind of territory, but with the idea of the mirror there seems to be a lot more scope for half glimpsed figures and teasing glances of killers – which are played to a strong effect in this film.

Title: Man On Fire

Cast: Denzel Washington, Radha Mitchell, Dakota Fanning, Christopher Walken, Mickey Rourke

Director: Tony Scott

It may well just be because of the fact that Man On Fire is set in Mexico that I think this, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find that Tony Scott had been influenced by recent South American successes like the Brazilian City Of God, or indeed the Mexican Amores Peros. For me there are certain stylistic and kinetic echoes from those two films which are reflected in the approach to Man On Fire. Which strangely seems to have been a source of criticism for some people, while was very much a component of the hype those films generated.

Like so many films, Man On Fire is based on a novel, which was written by A.J. Quinnell and has been adapted into a screenplay by Brian Helgeland. Denzel Washington takes on the lead role as an ex-covert agent – with years of experience into counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism style activities. However those years are behind him, and as Creasy he has started to drink heavily. However that does not preclude him taking on the role of bodyguard in Mexico. Mexico City has seen a rise in kidnapping, such that most families past a certain level have taken out insurance against the abduction of family members. The family in question find that their renewal date is coming up, and having lost their previous bodyguard to higher wages, they will find it difficult to renew. Which makes an alcoholic ex-agent cheap and just the job.

Of course the plan is Creasy turns up and satisfies Lisa (Radha Mitchell: High Art/Pitch Black) the American wife of the Mexican business man, who considers the locals to be corrupt. And protects their daughter Pita (Dakota Fanning), long enough to renew the policy. However Pita wears away at Creasy’s melancholy until, reluctantly, the pair have formed a bond. Which is of course is unfortunate for the kidnappers when Pita is actually kidnapped. Creasy manages to kill 4 attackers before being incapacitated. Waking up in hospital he is told Pita is dead – the hand over of the ransom went wrong – and that he is suspected of being part of the kidnapping, since two of the men he killed were actually police officers.

From there Creasy is a Man On Fire, determined to get revenge, no matter what. Egged on by a local reporter who is only to happy to see Creasy go up against the corrupt police brotherhood and the criminal underground. With Tony Scott launching into the more pronounced graphics and cuts as Creasy goes off, layering in text and flashing colours. Much of which is underscored and brought to life by the soundtrack constructed by Harry Gregson-Williams, who makes his presence felt throughout the film.

Asia Extreme 2004:Chaos
 Posted by Hello

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Asia Extreme 2004:Into The Mirror Posted by Hello

Asia Extreme 2004:Save The Green Planet Posted by Hello

Asia Extreme 2004:The Isle Posted by Hello

Asia Extreme 2004:Phone Posted by Hello

Asia Extreme 2004:Gozu Posted by Hello

Shirker - Chad Taylor - Canongate Posted by Hello

Title: Shirker

Author: Chad Taylor

Publisher: Canongate

Chad Taylor writes odd fiction, somehow not quite definable. His works tending to be led by curiously decrepit men – those with addictions, those who despite everything aren’t making the most of their life. The New Zealand author has 4 novels published in the UK, along with a collection of short stories. My first contact with his work was through the novel published here most recently – Electric – featuring a drug addicted data recovery expert who meets some drugged up mathematicians and is caught up in the strange illusions that stem from both of those. Second contact was with the film Heaven, an adaptation of one is earlier novels, following the connection between a gambling architect and a psychic transsexual. Shirker comes somewhere between Heaven and Electric, and by this time, one is starting to recognise Taylor’s stylistics.

Elleslie Penrose is a reluctant futures broker, with his best friend being the bar man, and his love life coming from one of the waitresses. Stumbling across a murder scene near his office, where he sleeps as well as works, he finds the dead man’s wallet. Despite an initial attempt to hand the wallet to the police, events conspire against Penrose. So that he ends up holding onto the wallet and getting sucked deeper into his own investigation into the crime. A murder that seems to be related to a series of diaries that were started in 1875. Something which is especially complicated by the fact that the man who wrote the diaries seems to be still alive.

Taylor is a really good writer, there are many sentences describing what is going on in Shirker that I wish I could have written as well. However there remains something as disappointing about his work as there is appealing. Which makes Shirker a slow burner initially. Although it certainly builds up a momentum as it goes, which is where one of the real narrative issues comes up – the turning point of the novel is the Mardi Gras celebrations which have been promised from the start. Where events switch to a higher gear, and it is easy to feel as though you are missing something in the process. Some effort is made to resolve any confusion with the epilogue styled section, though Taylor does tease the reader a little, leaving key mysteries unexplained.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Title: River Of Gods
Author: Ian McDonald
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

McDonald transports himself from Mars (Ares Express, Desolation Road) and Africa (Chaga, Kirinya) as featured in his previous works to India. The year is 2047 and the state of India has dissolved into 5 sub nations, several of which are on the brink of war thanks to the failure of the monsoon season to arrive for 3 years, and the damning of the river Ganges. Against this backdrop we are presented with a range of characters, each of whom plays a role in events as they reach the brink of full on conflict. Within which lies a greater struggle, that between humanity and the other - the suggestion that artificial intelligence or aeias have reached an unprecedented level of independence, versus the ancient alien artefact floating in Earth orbit.

With River Of Gods, McDonald provides a bigger cast of characters than the Chaga series. The gangster Shiv, who reminds of the African gangs of Chaga, and finds himself with a sudden crash thanks to the bottom falling out of the organs market. Mr. Nadha Krishna Cop, who enforces legislation against artificial intelligences, and is hot on the trail of a rumoured third generation; while his neglected wife flirts with the gardener and tries to fit in with high society ladies. Shaheen Badhoor Khan is the chief-advisor to the Prime Minister, who is on the brink of greatness, assuming his secret perversions don't come out. Certainly N.K. Jivanjee, an expanding cult leader for the opposition is likely to be a problem in an increasingly volatile region.

Vishram Ray an Indian stand up comic in Glasgow, called home to take over his father's power company as he retires. One of the other complications of this age is the addition of a fourth sex, Tal is a nute, neither male nor female, an extreme level of body modification, including dials to allow for mood/sex control. Thomas Lull and Lisa Durnau are old colleagues in the field of artificial life systems, but Lull disappeared and Durnau has been taken into space to investigate the anomalous space rock. Then there is Aj, who manages to find Lull despite his attempts to remain hidden, and seems to be connected to a higher state of consciousness.

Obviously with this amount of characters, and the sheer level of background that comes with each of them and the convulsions of plot and political/technical advances there is a lot to take in. Alternating through the cast of characters, the book is split into 5 chunks, each going through the latest events. Initially this does create a certain difficulty, it can be difficult to keep up, and at times it seems like a long time since you last encountered an individual. Of course, for this to work, the story starts to cohere, characters start to meet each other, and events take on a definite momentum. By which point the Ian McDonald mindset has kicked in, doing the exotic and unique brand of SF that he does - even where there are territories that may have been covered by other writers, the way McDonald tackles them is in his own way.

My one caution with approaching River Of Gods has little to do with the writing itself, rather with the book itself as an object. The copy that I got had a dozen or so pages that were stuck together along a perforated edge, along with which the binding feels uneven and warped. Additionally the actual editing of the novel is poor, so that the end result is riddled with errors - while there is a great amount of references that come from Indian culture which could distract an editor, there are a lot of blatant mistakes which really should have been picked up before publication. Which is a great pity, because I am a big fan of Ian McDonald and River Of Gods is probably his most ambitious work to date.

Title:Dead Man’s Shoes

Cast: Paddy Considine, Gary Stretch, Toby Kebbell, Emily Aston, Craig Considine

Director: Shane Meadows

God will forgive them.
Let them in to heaven.
...I can’t live with that!

These are the opening words of Dead Man’s Shoes, the screenplay for which is written by Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine. The pair have worked together before, and reprise their roles as director and actor here. Dead Man’s Shoes is a low scaled British thriller, which sees Considine play the dark and menacing Richard – an ex-soldier, returned to the small town he grew up in, the town where he left his brother behind. Anthony is a simple kid, who the local drug dealers have taken advantage of.

The film takes place over a period of 5 days, flashing back to the past. The five days are in colour, and follow the escalation from warnings fired in both directions to the vengeance wreaked against the dealers, as they are steadily picked off. The flash backs are grainy, black and white footage, covering what happened to Anthony, who was responsible and how things got out of hand a degree at a time.

Dead Man’s Shoes is terse and tense, with a surprising level of subtlety. The performances are stuttered and realistic, the reactions of distress and increasing panic amongst the dealers ringing with a certain truth. In addition the attention to detail between the present and the past, and the effective mix of changing hairstyles and the like that make the characters look older, is striking. This role seems to be something of a departure for Considine, the difference the beard and haircut make to his demeanour being an important part of what makes him work so well. As a figure of menace he stands up to all attempts to tell him to back down, and lurking in a boiler suit and gas mask allows him to become an even more challenging figure for his enemies.

There are a variety of threads to Dead Man’s Shoes which allow comparisons to a variety of other material – mention of which might constitute spoilers. Regardless of any comparison, Dead Man’s Shoes stands on its own, mixing a certain reflective level with a real intensity.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Title: Time Out Of Joint
Author: Philip K. Dick
Publisher: Gollancz

Time Out Of Joint is Philip K Dick at his paranoid best. Ragle Gumm is a fairly regular guy, though he makes his living in an unusual manner. The daily "spot-the-little-green-man" competition in the national paper has taken over his life, Gumm being the only person in 1950's America to have as high a success rate.

However Gumm is spotting an increasing number of oddities, not least the amount of attention he receives from the newspaper and how his neighbours always seem to be just popping in for no reason. Thing aren't adding up, and Gumm is gathering clues that don't fit in with how things should be at all. Increasingly Gumm becomes paranoid, convinced that he is the target of some conspiracy. Of course, as the saying goes, just because you are paranoid, doesn't mean that They aren't out to get you.

Time Out Of Joint is published as part of Gollancz's SF Masterworks series, with which it includes an essay on the life of Dick and how works like Time Out Of Joint fit into his career. The essays conclusion is that Time Out Of Joint is a flawed work, which builds a weirdness only to deliver a more mundane punch line. The irony of which is that, for me, this is the kind of thinking that the essayist complained about plaguing Philip K. Dick's career. An old fashioned thinking, which particularly in the wake of the likes of Chuck Palahniuk and M. Night Shyamalan, should be regarded as redundant. Reading Philip K. Dick it is always interesting to spot the tendrils of his influence, to realise the grounds that he broke. For me there are clear echoes from the likes of Time Out Of Joint in the work of both Palahniuk and Shyamalan. Though the most obvious influence is perhaps the clear parallels one can see between The Truman Show and Time Out Of Joint.

Regardless, Time Out Of Joint is brilliantly mad, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Title: The Man In The High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Publisher: Penguin

After the end of the second world war, America was split down the middle. The German's taking the West Coast, the Japanese the East. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a controversial novel by a writer in the Japanese territory, which has been banned in all the German territories, but which the Japanese are more ambivalent about. The author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy has holed up in a heavily defended house according to his bio, which has gained him the nickname of "the man in the high castle". The reason that The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is so inflammatory is because it takes the events of the war and speculates what might have happened if certain events had gone slightly differently, and as a result Germany and Japan had lost the war.

This ironic premise is behind one of Philip K. Dick's most readily available novels. The approach is considerably subtle - the man in the high castle being almost secondary to what actually happens, and the reactions of the people reading his book. Rather it concentrates on a range of characters in the Japanese half of America - from the Jew living incognito, through the American trying to mimic his occupier's manner, to the Japanese ambassador living as an occupier. Through which we get a sense of a world under Nazi rule - genocide in Africa, obsession with the space race, and the increasing discomfort felt by their Japanese allies.

Dick binds his characters in one way, by having them all read the controversial novel. Additionally as The Man In The High Castle evolves, each character plays their part as events take over, upheaval stemming from the death of the latest German leader and the upset that causes. Philip K. Dick is particularly ironic and of form with The Man In The High Castle. Stylistically this is most evident through the switching character voices - the way in which the narrative switches between western and eastern tonalities depending on which character is being focused on - particularly effective with the antiquities dealer who is trying so hard to fit into a Japanese America that his entire phrasing of thoughts has been transformed. An idea which is backed up by the pervasive effect of the I-Ching in providing guidance to so many of the characters.

With The Man In The High Castle, Dick proves his brilliance, and it is a highly recommended novel.

Title: Breakfast Of Champions
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Publisher: Vintage

Breakfast Of Champions is the third novel I’ve read by Kurt Vonnegut, and despite coming highly recommended, I have to say it is the one I enjoyed the least. I suspect it is the very things that others enjoyed so much about it, that are exactly the things which put me off it. Breakfast Of Champions is quite a gimmicky novel, filled with tangents and random illustrations. Beside which the plot comes across on the light side.

At the core of the actual story are the two characters Dwayne Hoover and Kilgore Trout. Hoover is a businessman, who has his hand in everything in town it seems. However Hoover is at his lowest ebb, barely holding himself back from the edge of a breakdown. Trout is a recurring Vonnegut character, who appeared in Slaughterhouse 5, among others. A down at heel science fiction writer, who is pretty much published as filler in porn mags. Much to his surprise, he is invited to an arts festival in Hoover’s town. Putting them on a crash course, which is telegraphed from the beginning. A meeting which tips Hoover over the edge after reading some of Trout’s work.

Which is part of the problem, the plot is pretty much summed up early on, and then milked out over a couple of hundred pages. Along the way Vonnegut provides plenty of commentary – observations about life, the world, and the relationship between a writer and his characters. In the process mixes his usual balance of humour tinged by a dark and critical outlook. It is perhaps ironic that Slaughterhouse 5 and Cat’s cradle seem to be slighter volumes than Breakfast Of Champions, but for me they both have the feel of more depth. Despite being less captivating Breakfast Of Champions remains a memorable read.

Title: The Da Vinci Code
Author: Dan Brown
Publisher: Corgi Adult

One suspects that there are currently enough copies of Dan Brown’s books in print to repave a major city. Regardless, it is clear that Brown’s success comes from the undeniable appeal of his combination of historical and mystic conspiracy with the contemporary thriller. Brown’s style may tend towards the hyperbolic melodrama, but with that The Da Vinci Code is a fairly easy read, and I’ve certainly read people that have pushed the style further.

The second novel featuring his character Robert Langdon, The Da Vinci Code sees Langdon dropped in the deep end after the murder of the 4 top members of a secret organisation in Paris. The men have been killed by an off-shoot of the catholic church as an attempt to prevent the revelation of information which would undermine Christianity. Information which has been held by the secret organisation which was once led by Leonardo da Vinci. Langdon finds himself implicated in the murders, with the possibility that the works of da Vinci hold the key to what is actually going on.

Undoubtedly The Da Vinci code is comparable to Italian writer Umberto Eco’s classic Foucault’s Pendulum. Both following the history of the Knights Templar, and how they fit into the history of Europe and Christianity. The theories have some divergence, the core of Brown’s idea tending towards the ideas surrounding the Holy Grail. One thing I found particularly curious was the manner in which Brown’s The Da Vinci Code comes across as being humourless, while Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum retains a certain wit, even in translation. Although in saying that, there is almost something unintentionally comical about The Da Vinci Code, particularly in the way it tends towards farce. Part of which is the sense that it is almost as though Brown makes up the turn of events as he goes – given the convolutions and determined attempts to provide and abundance of cliff hanger moments. Still, while Foucault’s Pendulum is a significantly more impressive novel, The Da Vinci Code is entertaining to some degree, and on that basis I’ll be surprised if we don’t see a cinematic adaptation of Brown’s work in the near future.

Title: Hero [Ying Xiong ]
Cast: Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Ziyi Zhang, Daoming Chen, Donnie Yen
Director: Yimou Zhang

It seems a little strange that it has taken so long for something that works off of the success of 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But then, it makes even little sense to think that Hero is a couple of years old, and that even with it’s pedigree it took the intervention of Quentin Tarantino before it was given a chance at proper distribution. Surely I’m not the only person to think that is madness?

Hero comes from the same producer as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, stars Zhang Ziyi who was one of that films leads, and includes a soundtrack by Tan Dun, who also worked on Crouching Tiger. The fact that the cast then adds Jet Li, and Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung, along with the direction by Yimou Zhang and cinematography of Christopher Doyle, should for me have been a guarantee for distribution. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have been enough, though now that it has had a release in the US and UK it is proving it’s worth.

The one downside of Hero is the expectation that it should be as sprawling and epic as Crouching Tiger. Which it isn’t, instead it is a much more focussed film, concentrating on cranking up the visual/design work in a format more reminiscent of a film like Run, Lola, Run. Set at a time before there was a China, there are a number of states, which a violent warlord seeks to unite under his rule. This warlord has not slept for three years, from when assassins from the neighbouring state made an attempt on his life. The film starts with the arrival of Jet Li, as a nameless warrior, who claims to have killed the three assassins for his leader. So impressed by this the warlord allows Jet Li unprecedented access, in order to tell him the story of how he killed these assassins.

The nameless warrior and the leader sit together, while the story of how he got close to each of the three assassins, and found some way to kill them unfolds. During the telling the warlord comes to a realisation, the nameless warrior is lying to him. So at the end of the story he challenges the warrior, re-telling the story in the way that he suspects things really happened. Confronted as a liar, the warrior admits his first version of events was not entirely right, but neither is the warlords, so he sets about explaining the truth, so the story is told for a third time. Each version of the story is different, not only from the slight details of events, but also on every level – the clothing, the scenery, and who fights who. The results are breathtaking, the intense use of colour really enriching the top class choreography and combining that with a use of environment which enhances both the colour and the conflict.

The performances by some of China’s top actors imbue Hero with a human and emotive driving force. Hero is a beautiful film, rich with compositional detail, in both a visual and sound sense – such that it will be well worth watching repeatedly.

Title: Save The Green Planet [Jigureul Jikyeora!]
Cast: Ha-kyun Shin, Yun-shik Baek, Jeong-min Hwang, Jae-yong Lee, Ju-hyeon Lee, Ju-bong Gi
Director: Jun-hwan Jeong

The latest in the Asian Extreme season showing across the UK, Save The Green Planet also suggests that perhaps the season isn’t doing very well. Condemned to filler afternoon slots, and denied even one evening showing – which I guess is targeting a student market, with the assumption that there is more money to be made from more lucrative films in evening slots. Which is disappointing.

Save The Green Planet is an odd Korean film, which as happens with these things, is a couple of years old, but just coming out here – at a time which coincides with the British thriller Trauma, with which there are some parallels to be had. Both revolve around a character who is convinced that they are aware of the truth of their reality, while all around seem to believe in a contradictory state of affairs. Both films play around with this, mixing in the ideas of a rugged, dogged cop questioning events, along with the erratic addition of CCTV style footage.

Lee Byeong-gu is convinced that Earth has been infiltrated by aliens from Andromeda, and as the only person who realises this it is duty to save the rest of us. As the film goes on it becomes clear that he has been doing this for a while, Kang Man-shik being the thirteenth person he has abducted – convinced this time he has a high ranking alien, who will be able to provide the information about the imminent invasion. Kang Man-shik however is a prominent business man, the head of one of Korea’s top chemical companies, and is married to the chief of police’s daughter. Which of course makes Kang’s abduction a priority, resulting in two different police officers going against department policy in their attempts to retrieve Kang. The first is the rugged detective, disgraced and banished to the police station’s kitchens for some past indiscretion. The other is a young graduate, described as being brilliant and with a bright future ahead. As they track the trail of disappearances they are closing in on Lee Byeong-gu, and perhaps unsurprisingly coming to the conclusion that they are dealing with someone who is mentally ill.

Save The Green Planet has a certain level of humour, but turns out to be more bizarre than funny. The more we learn, the more we see the darkness, the reasons for why events have become this way – on the one hand, providing an undercurrent of criticism of Korean society, while on the other bringing up the overwhelming monstrosity of the human race. At the centre of which we have the dynamic of Lee and Kang, as Lee tortures Kang to force him to reveal the alien plans, and Kang spits and shouts and does his best to escape. Kang in fact is a brilliant “villain”, to a degree we have a certain sympathy for him because he is the hostage, and the treatment he is getting is appalling. But there is something in the sheer level of attitude he radiates, which suggests that perhaps for all Lee’s misguided reasons, Kang is getting exactly what he deserves.

Of all the films in this season, a handful of which have been slated for American remakes (The Grudge hitting our screens soon) – I think I would actually like to see what on Earth they would do with Save The Green Planet. Of course, the chances are that they would make a mess of it, but it might almost be amusing to see what would happen. Though actually I think on reflection, Charlie Kaufman might just be the perfect candidate for working with this madness.

Title: Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow

Cast: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Bai Ling

Director: Kerry Conran

The most striking thing about Sky Captain is the techniques which have been used in creating it. All of the actors have performed in front of green screens, with all the scenery and detail being added by computer in post-production. Which in some ways is brilliant and allows for a truly striking visual set, however it is also at the core of the films problems. For years there have been a variety of films which have used these kind of techniques to some degree – from Tom and Jerry to Jar Jar Binks. With that it seems sad that after all these years that those behind Sky Captain have so miss cast leads who seem incapable of reacting to their invisible backgrounds in an appropriate manner. But then giving Jude Law’s role in production, it perhaps seems self-indulgent that he went on to be such a poor star for the film. However, that does seem to some up Law’s distinctly average career to date.

Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow takes its starting point from Metropolis and Saturday morning serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers – that sort of proto science fiction adventure. The results are at times stunning, the heavily designed attack robots, and colouration/filtration of the film. However even with that there are times where it just doesn’t sit right. Little incongruities that pop up from start to finish that start to rub the viewer up the wrong way. Add to that the grating screen chemistry between the leads, and the way they deliver their lamentable dialogue and one gets the urge to stand up and walk out early on. Even Michael Gambon seems to radiate impressions of “what am I doing here”, which are contrasted by Angelina Jolies “you should see what I’m getting paid for this shit” performance. Yet somehow we stay, foolishly hoping that it will somehow all be redeemed in the end. Unfortunately the film ultimately only delivers one decent performance, and that is by the mystery woman played by Bai Ling, much of which no doubt comes from the fact I can’t actually recall her having a single line of dialogue.

I had high hopes for Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow. In so many ways it should work, and it should work really well. So it was with some surprise I found myself with a growing sense of loathing for the piece.

Title: Saw

Cast: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer

Director: James Wan

With it’s moralistic approach to death there is an inevitability that the film Saw will be compared to Seven. Both having staged deaths, which are intended to comment on the lifestyle choices of their victims.

One of the strengths in Saw working is the opening sequence. Two strangers find themselves in a room. A decrepit bathroom, with each of the two men chained at opposite ends. Providing a certain level of disorientation for the audience and the characters. Slowly the pair piece together clues to realise they are caught in a sadistic game, which jogs one of their memories. Five months previously this doctor had been brought in by the police, a suspect in what they were calling the “jigsaw murders”. With this it becomes clear to him that the two of them are to be the latest victim of the killer – a killer who has never actually killed anyone, rather setting up convoluted traps, which force the victims to kill themselves.

The film then progresses along two threads – the two men stuck in the room, along with the slow recall of the previous jigsaw killings and how each of the men came to be in the room. To make matters worse, it becomes clear that the bait in this trap is that the killer has the doctor’s family, and unless he kills the other man, his family will die.

The visual feel of the film as a whole, and the manner in which the deaths are staged is done with Seven as a clear reference point. So that it’s influence would be pretty hard to deny. Flickering images, CCTV style interludes, a charged industrial edged soundtrack. But with that, as one would expect, Saw takes this influence and inevitably cranks it up. As a film Saw has been receiving mixed reviews, for me though Saw is actually quite effective. From the launching point of the dingy bathroom – the already present corpse, the rusted pipes, the splintered tiles, the shit filled toilet bowl – we have a definite picture. The material which is woven into that serves to heighten the tension rather than detract, as some would have it. The demonstration of how nasty this killer can be, how close the police have gotten to the killer and failed, and ultimately the timely reminders of the danger which faces the doctor’s family if he does not play along.

Title: Switchblade Romance [Haute Tension ]
Cast: Cécile De France, Maïwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon
Director: Alexandre Aja

A psychotic killer arrives at a remote French farm, killing the entire family in a brutal manner, except for the daughter. The daughter he shackles and loads into the back of his van with the intent of a more sustained and ongoing abuse. But the killer doesn’t know that the daughter’s friend is also in the house. The other girl having managed to hide from the killer sets out on an emotional roller coaster as she attempts to rescue the killer’s prisoner.

Switchblade Romance is a film of two halves, kind of. Extremely stylish, director Alexandre Aja combines striking visuals with a calculated and resonant soundtrack. From the beginning we have the night falling, and the way that plays with the light, mixed up with the kind of lush white noise you might get from someone like Autechre. The action/plot is straight forward – you have two girls, Alex (Maiwenn) as captive and Marie (Cecile De France: Euro Pudding, Around The World In 80 Days) as her friend – then there is Phillippe Nahon (Seul contre tous, Le Pacte des loups, Irréversible) as the deranged killer.

The results thereby are stripped down, focusing on the cinematic quality rather than narrative depth. Providing a great deal of intensity and tension as the killer starts to realise that Marie is out there and as Marie tries to remain undiscovered while not losing Alex. A highly effective, brutal slasher movie.

That is until the end. Actually there are kind of two endings. The first one, being the one that makes some sense within the context, and where the film really should have ended. Then the stupid one, which doesn’t make sense, and could almost be said to ruin the entire film.

Title: Layer Cake

Cast: Daniel Craig, Kenneth Cranham, Michael Gambon, Jamie Foreman

Director: Matthew Vaughn

So you did the crime, you did your time, and you saw the light. Robbing security trucks is old news, drugs is where the money is to be made. So you get a graduate industrial chemist, a hard man to do the hard work, and the business contacts. And you work at it. Years pass, you launder the money, you have a million coming to fruition. You are going to take the money and walk away. But life isn’t like that. As a wise man once said, shit happens.

This is Layer Cake, a screenplay by JJ Connelly, based on his debut novel, his nameless protagonist/narrator finds out the hard way just how quickly shit happens. Caught in the middle of amateurs stealing drugs from international traffickers and killers and the top dogs trying to maintain an income that the narrator has provided them with over the years. Cue violence, too many cooks, and as escalating situation. The result is a mostly stylistic crime drama, which at points cranks up the visual gimmicks, without really maintaining the momentum that creates.

Layer Cake is promoted on the back of films like Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. The director of Layer Cake having stepped into the role after being the producer on those previous numbers, their director Guy Ritchie having stepped away from this film at the last minute in order to pursue his own venture. While Lock Stock and Snatch held little appeal for me, there is something about the style and feel of Layer Cake which did get me into see it. With that it is probably fair to say that it is an idea to see Layer Cake before it generates too much hype, already being sold to the same crowd as those previous films, while also playing up a sex angle which isn’t as present as the promoters would have you believe. On the whole Layer Cake is smartly done, with much of its appeal coming from its style and the strong performance by leading man Daniel Craig.

Title: Monsoon Wedding
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Lillete Dubey, Shefali Shetty, Vijay Raaz, Tilotama Shome, Vasundhara Das, Parvin Dabas, Kulbhushan Kharbanda
Director: Mira Nair

Despite it’s Bollywood influences Monsoon Wedding takes a more contemporary and realist approach to modern Indian life. Revolving, as the title suggests, around a wedding during the monsoon season. At the core is the bride, who is partaking in an arranged marriage, with a man who has been born and raised in America, which will become her new home after the wedding. Despite the fact it is an arranged marriage, she is happy to engage, having become tired of her stagnant relationship with a married TV executive. As the family prepare for the wedding there are a number of parties, such that the film covers the period of time from the groom’s arrival and the engagement party to the wedding itself. Through each stage more and more family members arrive, from parts of India, as well as America and Australia, underlining the expansive nature of family. But with most families there is a darkside, the gathering of family bringing old wounds and secrets to the fore with regrettable results. To contrast the stresses and strains of the family there is a secondary love story, that between the household maid and the wedding planner who falls for her, realising that for all the weddings he has put together, he has never found love himself.

There is some singing and dancing with the parties, which comes from the same influence from the more familiar face of Bollywood, but clearly both share cultural influences. Again there is a feel of the epic with the ceremonies, and the wedding plans, flowers and colour erupting everywhere in a vivid manner. At the same time there is also the blasts of daily Indian life, particularly during this monsoon season, with the little montage/chapter headings which represent the passage of each of the days between engagement and wedding. With the result that from beginning to end Monsoon Wedding is an emotional and lively film.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Site Meter