Thursday, September 17, 2009

Living Young

A string of diappointments, after the excellent Toy Story 1 and 2. American animated films, in general, are overly talky, eschewing the importance and beauty of silence. When animated films in other languages - My Neighbour Totoro, for instance - are dubbed for Stateside, extra dialogue is added into scenes originally silent. Wall-E came close to finally silencing the noise, at least in its first half. The terribly overrated Ratatouille was unbearable in its sonic assault.

But Up is a different breed altogether.

This time, Pixar has displayed incredible restraint, letting crucial scenes play out in silence, allowing gestures to do the talking. A critical plot point happens with the protagonist silently flipping through the pages of a scrapbook. A revelatory page, and a familiar gesture, and we understand the implications of it all.

But the most interesting thing about Up, is its striking irony. This is a kids' movie about what it means to be a kid, yet the lead character is a 78-year-old man. Many have taken the story to be about growing old. In part, it is, but more pertinent is that it's about staying young. It's about not losing the child in us, the child who dares to dream the impossible, like flying a house using thousands of helium-filled balloons. The child who sits on the kerb enjoying an ice-cream with his friend and playing childish games like "red and blue cars." Life is one big adventure, because that's the only way we will survive it.

With its wildly imaginative collection of a flying house, talking dogs, technicolour birds and such, it's as if Pixar has made a movie about itself.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kelvin And The Host

This piece of news came earlier this week. The Host 2, the sequel to Bong Joon-ho's family drama/actioner, is now a Korea-Singapore co-production. And somewhere in there is the name Kelvin Tong; he's the joint producer.

Now, name a film that Tong has directed that is of unquestionable quality. Difficult, isn't it? Perhaps he will do better as producer this time. Who knows?

Now, if you noticed, I called The Host a "family drama." Because that's really what it is. Compared to the entire runtime of the movie, the appearance of the monster is brief. But judging from this quote:

Producer and Chungeorahm Film's chief executive, Mr Choi Yong-Bae, said he is confident that Host 2 will become "the best Asian creature movie ever."

... someone obviously thinks it's a monster movie in all conventional sense. And that's pretty troubling.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Man From Hong Kong

The greatest character actor in the world. Hands down. You can find him in almost any Hong Kong movie.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Faces And Places

If we currently have the Malaysian tag team of Woo Ming Jin and Edmund Yeo competing in Venice, then it's a triple threat at the Toronto International Film Festival - Tsai Ming-liang, Chris Chong and Ho Yuhang.

Tsai is there with his Louvre-commissioned Visages, Chong with his Cannes Directors' Fortnight film Karaoke, and Ho with Locarno Netpac winner At The End Of Daybreak.

Tsai's film is perhaps the most interesting, a combination of art installation and film, a new hybrid that Chong also advocates. You can read about it here.
“I think of the film as a moving painting imprinted on celluloid,” said the director, who spent three years studying the paintings at the Louvre. “It is Tsai trying to find a new expression for the art in his head.”

Still: At The End Of Daybreak

Monday, September 7, 2009

Film Merchants Of Venice

Right this minute, even as we speak, two Malaysian filmmakers are competing at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. One is an old hand and the other is a young and upcoming fella.

Woo Ming Jin's latest film, with its obviously-Hong Sang-soo-inspired title of Woman On Fire Looks For Water, is competing in the Orizzonti (Horizons) section. It will be a "surprise film" and a work-in-progress screening. The news hasn't been widely publicised because Woman got itself a place at the very last minute.

An earlier entry was Edmund Yeo's Japanese short film, Kingyo (Goldfish). Shot with the help of his university, Waseda in Tokyo, the 25-minute film, based on a Yasunari Kawabata short story, is simply one of the best short films by a Malaysian filmmaker that I've seen.

Best of luck to both of them!

Photo: Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta literally "opening" the festival with the film Baaria.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Desire This

Truly, a reason to rejoice. I've had my MGM Special Edition for some years now. While that edition is fairly good but with little extras, this two-disc Criterion edition should be a great transfer, and it's chockful of extra features - including a commentary track by Colombo himself!

Out October 20.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Little Orphan Immigrant

Haven't had such a disturbing experience in the cinema in a long time. Orphan's premise isn't new - family adopts child who is not quite there - but it does have a rather original take on the idea. It's always frightening to see such fatalistic downward spiral, helplessly witnessing someone heading towards inevitable doom or self-destruction. It's part of what makes this film so scary, and the pacing is remarkable.

Clearly another horror/thriller film symptomatic of the post-911 fear and paranoia, the increasing isolation of America from the rest of the world. If films of the slasher/torture sub-genre like Hostel and Transsiberian see Americans leaving the comfort of home to venture forth into foreign lands and come face to face with danger, Orphan takes it all back home. Infiltration by little-understood foreign elements, in this case, a mysterious orphan from Russia. Probably the irony here is that the movie is helmed by a Spanish director.

Unfortunately people chose to see this movie as a straightforward negative portrayal of abandoned children, thus drawing a lot of flak from orphanages and the adoption community.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Steps Of Defeat

No way out. Surrounded by enemies. Relinquishing all hopes, they walk out and down the steps to defeat, ready to face whatever was out there. For one, it is madness. For the other, it is a flurry of arrows.

Watching Kurosawa's Ran again yesterday, I noticed the similarity, the finality of each sequence. After that, the colour schemes used by Zhang Yimou start to show the source of their inspiration as well. But the burning castle is hard to top.

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