Fans of Asian films in America will be spoiled for choice in July because on the east coast of America there is the 8th annual Japan CUTS film festival which will be held at the Japan Society in New York City. Meanwhile, down south the 13th Asian Film Festival of Dallas will run from July 10th to July 17th with a selection of titles from Japan and Korea, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Running Time: 90 mins.
Release Date: May 02nd, 2014 (UK Release)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier (Screenplay),
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, David W. Thompson, Sidne Anderson,
Blue Ruin has the sort of indie film genesis of legend. Two old friends, director Jeremy Saulnier and star Macon Blair, had long worked together but success had eluded them. This was their last shot at making a mark as filmmakers but they ran out of money when filming and so the director and his wife put their life-savings into the project and turned to Kickstarter. It turned out to be a good idea because Blue Ruin went on to gain good press at Cannes where it won the Fipresci Prize and a wide release (at least here in the UK). Blue Ruin is a pulpy slice of revenge narrative with an indie sensibility that twists a familiar story into something disturbing and shocking.
Running Time: 106 mins.
Release Date: February o8th, 2014
Director: J.C. Chandor
Writer: J.C. Chandor (Screenplay),
Starring: Robert Redford (Our Man)
All is Lost is the second feature from J.C. Chandor whose Oscar nominated debut, Margin Call (2011) was a star-studded, dialogue heavy Wall Street drama about the recent financial crisis. The two could not be more different…
“I’m sorry. I know this means little at this point, but I am. I tried. I think you would all agree that I tried. I am sorry. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn’t. All is lost here, except soul, and body. I fought till the end. I will miss you. I’m sorry.”
The film starts in the Indian Ocean where Our Man (Redford) is alone on a yacht 1,700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits. He awakes one morning to find water rushing into his cabin. Upon investigation he discovers that a cargo container has struck his boat and gouged a hole in the hull. Damage has also been done to his communication systems, which means that Our Man cannot contact anyone. He is alone and so he sets about repairing the damage under a clear sky and blazing sun but there is a storm on the horizon and he is racing to fix the damage to his ship and communications systems but new problems keep emerging…
UK Release Date: December 26th, 2013 (UK)
Running Time: 119 mins.
Director: Carl Erik Rinsch
Writer: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kou Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Jin Akanishi, Min Tanaka, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa,
47 Ronin is the Hollywood adaptation of a real incident from Japan’s samurai past during the Tokugawa era where 47 masterless samurai seek revenge over the death of their Lord through the assassination of another even though it means certain death. It is a celebrated tale that has been turned into multiple films because it typifies the bravery and loyalty of the samurai at a time when they were losing their place in the country. Instead of sticking firmly to the facts the writers of this version favour have endeavoured to make a fantasy epic close to The Lord of the Rings (perhaps to make it more palatable to a mainstream audience?) but in doing so they make a vapid and dull action film.
Ancient feudal Japan. A group of magical islands full of witches and demons. Peace is kept by samurai. The story of 47 Ronin is the story of all Japan.
The first character we meet is a boy named Kai, the illegitimate son of a British sailor and a Japanese peasant woman who was abandoned in a forest raised by Tengu. He is fleeing the forest in which they live so he can experience a life amongst humans. During his escape he runs into Lord Asano (Tanaka) and his entourage. Asano takes pity on the boy and takes him in. Asano’s samurai are displeased, not least his loyal general Oishi (Sanada), but his daughter Mika takes a liking to Kai.
Fast forward to the future and Kai (Reeves) is an outcast in Asano’s kingdom. He is held in contempt by the haughty samurai, usually referred to as half-breed and treated like a dog, but the love of Mika (Sibasaki) is enough joy for him to remain in the service of her father. This loyalty is called upon when the evil Lord Kira (Asano) and a witch named Mizuki (Kikuchi) use magic to destroy Asano and steal his lands. Oishi, banished with the rest of Asano’s samurai plot their revenge and it is Kai with his mysterious past who will play a pivotal role.
UK Release Date: August 02nd, 2013 (UK)
Running Time: 112 mins.
Director: James Wan
Writer: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lilie Taylor, Ron Livingston, Joey King, Stanley Casewell, Hayley McFarland, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Sterling Jerins,
Apparently, just like Amityville Horror, this is based on a true story about a real life Perron family who endured the haunting until the Warrens, a real life paranormal investigators intervened which I guess makes it even more scary because this stuff actually happened. Really? Whatever the case, The Conjuring is a pretty interesting choice of title. Conjuring is a word that may make one think of summoning demons or of magicians fooling audiences into believing in magic with sleights of hand. A curse and ghosts are conjured up but the performance aspect of the word is pretty apt here since Wan tells the story with grotesque glee proving that he is one of the best modern horror directors working.
Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren are paranormal investigators based in New England. In the basement of their house in Monroe Connecticut they keep cursed objects like samurai armour and a haunted doll named Annabelle locked up. Over the course of their career they have investigated many different cases and gained much arcade knowledge but after a traumatic exorcism that leaves Lorraine debilitated they shelve their careers in favour of academic tours and raising their daughter.
UK Release Date: September 13th, 2013 (UK)
Running Time: 105 mins.
Director: James Wan
Writer: Leigh Wannell, James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell, Andrew Astor, Angus Sampson, Jocelin Donahue, Danielle Bisutti, Lindsay Seim, Steve Coulter
1986, psychic mediums Carl (Coulter) and Elise Reiner (Seim) are helping Lorrain Lambert’s (Donahue) son Josh suppress his astral projection abilities to keep him safe from the evil spirit of a woman in white who stalks him…
UK Release Date: August 28th, 2013 (UK)
Running Time: 94 mins.
Director: Adam Wingard
Writer: Simon Barrett
Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Ti West, Barbara Crampton, Rob Moran, Simon Barret, Lane Hughes, L.C. Holt, Margaret Laney, Larry Fessenden, Kate Lyn Sheil
“It should be interesting. You’ll see.”
The film opens on a student (Lyn Sheil) and her older professor (Fessenden) having sex. The professor rolls off the girl and heads to the shower while the girl, evidently unsatisfied, heads over to the stereo and plays the song “Looking for the Magic.” She peers into the garden seeming to sense that someone is observing her…
The song is on repeat for a while but the professor doesn’t twig that something is wrong. He heads out to the kitchen where he sees the girl’s blood is used to write “You’re Next” on a glass door and then sees her mutilated body before he is killed by a man wearing a Lamb Mask (Holt).
Release Date: June 21st 2012 (UK)
Running Time: 116 mins.
Director: Marc Foster
Writer: Max Brooks (Original Novel), J Michael Straczynski (Original Screenplay), Matthew Michael Carnahan (First Rewrite), Drew Goddard (Second Rewrite)
Starring: Brad Pitt, James Badge Dale, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Matthew Fox, David Morse, David Andrews, Elyes Gabel, Fana Mokoena, Peter Capaldi, Elyes Gabel, Ruth Negga
World War Z has been on my radar for a long time. In 2010 I read the novel and liked it, in 2011 I posted a video of location shooting in Glasgow and in 2012 I posted about the film’s trailer. It is 2013 and it has finally hit UK cinema screens and I watched it and quite enjoyed it.
Gerry Lane (Pitt) is a former U.N. investigator who quit his job working in dangerous places like Liberia and Sri Lanka to be with his wife Karin (Enos) and their two daughters in Philadelphia.
When the family get caught up in a zombie attack they make their way north to New York where they witness the spreading chaos, death and destruction. The east coast of America looks like a war-zone and they only escape thanks to Gerry’s old boss, Thierry Umutoni (Mokoena), the under-secretary of the U.N. who gets them on board the Argus, a U.S. Navy ship which leads a task-force picking up people who can make a difference in a war against zombies.
Gerry Lane and his family are only guaranteed a place on the ship if he joins a team searching for the source of the outbreak and so he races across the world to locations such as South Korea, Israel and Wales to find answers.
I went into this film with an open mind. It was clearly not going to be like the book and it has been well-reported about how the film went through a prolonged development process due to numerous rewrites of the script which was not even finished when filming started. You can tell from the rather perfunctory plot with dumb logic, the massively different changes in tone and the simplistic ending which feels tacked on. That written, whatever criticisms of the script are lost in the fun of this tight little action thriller.
The film’s plot is simple. It starts with happy Hollywood family scenes’ showing Brad Pitt being the ideal house-husband (he can cook, be loving and look sexy!)
And then normality gets rocked off its axis as a zombie apocalypse takes a bite out of life. Said apocalypse is light on gore but still full of action and thrills as the handsome and reliable Pitt travels the world in order to save the day. He does so with some random observations (done in slow-motion and flashback for the audience) and huge leaps of faith that only work in Hollywood films.
The structure of the story is totally different from the book which was an ensemble piece showing the apocalypse from different viewpoints in different nations with some satire thrown in. I still miss that multi-narrative aspect but having a central protagonist to follow works in the film’s favour since it creates a solid arc for the audience to follow throughout a story where action scenes dominate and horror shambles far behind.
The film feels like a cross between 28 Days Later with its fast-zombies and music and Resident Evil 6 with its action sequences where Gerry and a bunch of marines travel from one level to the next expending lots of ammo with some stealth bits where they have to avoid the zombies in tight and dark corridors. It has a few jump-scares but it does not build an atmosphere of dread. Night of the Living Dead, this is not but it does present the spectacle of a zombie apocalypse very well as the most effective zombie action sequences happen during the daytime with huge crowds of zed-heads.
What these sequences get right is the sense of panic and chaos felt in the headlong rush to get away from a stampede of zombies and the disorientation of being engulfed by people. There are many overhead shots and long shots which show lots of people running and it is pretty staggering to watch. Then there will be panicked close-ups as characters swim amidst the moving bodies caught on hand-held camera and it gets pretty exhausting. Movement is life, Gerry says at points, and the chaos movement can create can be pretty stomach churning.
The Jerusalem section has an impressively staged set-piece where Pitt has to flee an onslaught of zombies with a cadre of Israeli soldiers and it is at this moment where it is tensest because you get a sense of what it would be like to be there. You cannot tell who is who or if they are infected. It was bloody disorientating to see it and one could get a sense of how impossible it would be to maintain control.
The 3D helped to deliver these feelings with zombies and object hurtling at the screen but it was the more quiet moments I liked such as the cell/crematorium in Camp Humphreys where ash floats around.
Like the plot, the characters are uncomplicated and maybe a touch bland. Pitt fits in with the proceedings well, looking confident and providing a decent protagonist one would want to follow. It was down to supporting characters like James Badge-Dale’s wry soldier and David Morse’s mad-prophet CIA agent to provide some interesting flavours.
Overall I’d say this is a fun action movie and a decent zombie film. It is not the scariest or most original zombie film by any stretch but an enjoyable way to pass the time.
Apparently it did so well it’s getting a sequel. Sign me up for a viewing.
Release Date: 01st March 2013 (US)
Running Time: N/A
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Writer: Wentworth Miller, Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, Phyillis Sommerville
A few weeks ago I posted a trailer for The Last Stand, an upcoming American film being helmed by Kim Jee-Woon (A Bittersweet Life, The Quiet Family). He is one of a number of successful Korean directors working on Hollywood projects. Now, thanks to the eagle eyes of Curiosity Kitty, I have seen a trailer for Park Chan-Wook’s English language debut, Stoker.
When India Stoker’s (Wasikowska) father dies, her mother Evelyn (Kidman) brings in a mysterious uncle named Charlie (Goode) who seems charming but has a dark side which draws India to him.
Park Chan-Wook has made two incredible films in Oldboy and J.S.A. and one excellent one in Thirst. While The Last Stand looks like good old-fashioned action fun, this looks like it is a psychological horror/family drama. Nothing supernatural. It stars such fine actresses like Nicole Kidman (The Hours) and Mia Wasikowska (The Kids are All Right, Jane Eyre) and the British actor Matthew Goode (The Lookout). The trailer looks visually stunning but I am unsure as to whether that is enough to persuade me to see the film. I’ll have to wait for reviews. It is written by Wentworth Miller who is famous for Resident Evil: Afterlife… Famous to me for that film at least. Apparently he was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. I honestly thought that it was something to do with Bram Stoker and vampires but there you go.
Release Date: 18th January 2013 (US)
Running Time: N/A
Director: Kim Jee-Woon
Writer: George Nolfi, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, Andrew Knauer
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest whitaker, Peter Stormare, Harry Dean Stanton, Rodrigo Santoro, Genesis Rodriguez, Luis Guzman, Johnny Knoxville,
While I only review American films on this blog if they have impressed me enough there are a number of Japanese and Korean directors working in Hollywood right now and so I post trailers for their projects. Right now Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On franchise, Reincarnation) is putting the finishing touches on 7500 (following the demise of the production company behind it, when that will get a release I have no idea) while Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy, J.S.A.) is handling Stoker. Kim Jee-Woon looks set to deliver the biggest blockbuster of the bunch in the form The Last Stand starring action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) was once in the LAPD but after a police operation goes badly wrong he leaves to become the sheriff of a quiet town named Sommerton Junction which is on the border with Mexico. Just when he thought he was free Owens is soon forced back into the thick of the action when an infamous drug baron escapes the FBI and makes a dash for the border. Owens will join forces with FBI agents Bannister (Whitaker) and Richards (Rodriguez) as they aim to stop the bad guy.
So this is a classic action film the likes of which propelled Scwarzenegger to fame. I actually enjoyed some of his films like True Lies but the real draw for me is Kim Jee-Woon. I have reviewed two of his films so far – The Quiet Family, A Bittersweet Life – and need to review the others I have seen (although the prospect of re-watching The Good, the Bad, the Weird leaves me feeling tired…). The trailer looks pretty awesome – he is bringing his post-modern take on films to Hollywood. My only reservation is that Kim Jee-Woon is not writing. That job is being handled by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (The Day After Tomorrow), Andrew Knauer and George Nolfi (co-writer of The Bourne Ultimatum and the writer and director of The Adjustment Bureau). Not bad but not brilliant. What does look good is the cast which includes top veteran actors like Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog, The Last King of Scotland), Luis Guzman (Magnolia, Snake Eyes), Harry Dean Stanton (Alien, Repo Man) and Peter Stormare (Fargo).