Friday, 26 November 2010

Princess Mononoke

Princess Mononoke
Princess Mononoke is one of Hayao Miyazaki's most successful films both in Japan and elsewhere, and was his most internationally-acclaimed film until the release of Spirited Away. Unlike My Neighbour Totoro or Ponyo, this is animation for teenagers and adults, though its anti-deforestation theme is consistent with the ecological messages of Ponyo and Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind.

The film opens with an exhilarating action sequence in which a boar attacks a group of villagers. The boar, which actually resembles a large spider, has its eye pierced by a spear, and the film is filled with equally exotic monsters and similarly violent battles.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Kaidan

Kaidan
Hideo Nakata directed the J-Horror films Ringu, Ringu II (and its American version, The Ring II), and Dark Water. Ghost films were successful throughout Asia in the 1990s, with Whispering Corridors (from South Korea) and Nang Nak (from Thailand) being notable examples. Nakata's Kaidan is a return to the classical era of Japanese horror cinema, evoking 1950s ghost films such as The Ghost Of Yotsuya. Unfortunately, the slow pacing and the combination of two genres - Kaidan-Eiga (ghosts) and Ken-Geki (samurai) - result in a film that's more melodramatic than horrific, and certainly not scary. (However, I wasn't scared by Ringu either.)

For classic Japanese horror, see the films of Nobuo Nakagawa, especially Black Cat Mansion (creepy and atmospheric, except for the unconvincing ghost-cat) and Jigoku (surprisingly graphic and gruesome). Kenji Mizoguchi directed one of the first Japanese ghost films, Passion Of A Woman Teacher (now lost, like so many of Japan's silent films), and one of the very best, Ugetsu (one of Mizoguchi's masterpieces). The stylised portmanteau film Kwaidan is arguably the best introduction to Japanese horror.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Decision Points

Decision Points
George W Bush has been making various media appearances this week, to promote his memoir Decision Points. James Harding's occasionally sarcastic article in The Times was the most hard-hitting (or the least softball) interview, though the low-point came in Oprah Winfrey's show when she reassuringly held Bush's hand. (Bush previously gave extensive interviews to Robert Draper for Dead Certain in 2007.)

Decision Points is credited solely to Bush, though in the acknowledgements he explains ambiguously that he "worked with" Chris Michel. It's unlikely that someone famous for Bushisms like "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream" [sic.!] could write a coherent manuscript, therefore we can assume that, unlike Tony Blair's memoir A Journey, Decision Points was ghost-written. Nevertheless, it does have some characteristic Bush lines: after 9/11 he wanted to "find out who did this, and kick their ass".

Unsurprisingly, Bush does not admit to many regrets, and the few that he does acknowledge are presentational rather than ideological. The premature "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner was "a big mistake", but he still justifies waterboarding, Guantanamo Bay, and the invasion of Iraq. He attempts to refute his image as a warmonger, detailing his efforts to secure the required UN resolutions, though he later appears impatient with diplomacy: "It felt like it was taking forever". Reading this book produced a very similar feeling.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Manden Bag Stregen

Manden Bag Stregen
Manden Bag Stregen
Manden Bag Stregen, a biography of Kurt Westergaard written by John Lykkegaard, includes a new version of Westergaard's infamous caricature of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. Westergaard was interviewed by NRK television in Norway on 23rd October, and the programme includes footage of him drawing another new Mohammed cartoon, in which the bomb's fuse is replaced by a flower.

Westergaard's Mohammed cartoon was first published by Jyllands-Posten in 2005, and subsequently reprinted. Westergaard drew new versions of the cartoon for Bloody Cartoons in 2007 and Politiken in 2008. Geert Wilders included it in his inflammatory film Fitna in 2008. Following an attempted attack on Westergaard this year, the caricature was reprinted by Aftenposten.

video

8th World Film Festival of Bangkok

8th World Film Festival of Bangkok
Insects In The Backyard
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
The 8th World Film Festival of Bangkok opened on 5th November, and will close on 14th November. The Festival venue, Paragon Cineplex, is the same as last year, though additional screenings are also being held at Major Cineplex Ekkamai.

Tanwarin Sukkhapisit's film Insects In The Backyard, which was screened on 6th and 8th November, has subsequently been refused a certificate by Thai censors, and therefore will not receive a general theatrical release. It received its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival in Canada earlier this year.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, screening today and tomorrow, is an anthology of three feminist short films, each by a different director (Breakfast by Wang Jing, realistically mundane; Lunch by Anocha Suwichakornpong, amusingly trivial; Dinner by Kaz Cai, superbly stylised). The directors took part in a Q&A after today's screening.

video

Friday, 12 November 2010

Green's Dictionary Of Slang

Green's Dictionary Of Slang
Green's Dictionary Of Slang, by Jonathon Green, is the most comprehensive dictionary of slang ever published. It traces English slang from 1500 to the present day, and includes full etymologies and citations for over 100,000 headwords.

The Dictionary is published in three volumes (A-E, F-O, and P-Z), and is an expanded version of Green's single-volume The Cassell Dictionary Of Slang (subsequently revised as Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang; further revised as Chambers Slang Dictionary). Green has also written Getting Off At Gateshead and other thematic studies of slang.

Masters Of Cinema
Stanley Kubrick

Masters Of Cinema: Stanley Kubrick
Masters Of Cinema: Stanley Kubrick, by Bill Krohn, is the English version of Collection Grandes Cineastes: Le Livre Stanley Kubrick, published by the excellent Cahiers Du Cinema magazine. Krohn also wrote Masters Of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock and Hitchcock At Work.

Unfortunately, the book is inadequate as an introduction to Kubrick's films, and is too superficial for anyone with prior knowledge of the director's work. Kubrick's five years as a photojournalist are summarised in a single paragraph, while trivial details (a wine bottle in Lolita; numerology in The Shining) are given un-necessary prominence. Krohn's analysis - mostly Freudian - is limited, and, even ten years after Eyes Wide Shut's release, Krohn refuses to engage with it, concluding simply that "its mystery remains".

Most of the book's illustrations are overly familiar publicity stills; the cover and frontispiece images are awful. Considering that the book is barely 100 pages long, it has too many full-page photos, and its half-page profile of Peter Sellers is both incongruous and superfluous. The short bibliography omits some significant texts. Paul Duncan's book Stanley Kubrick, published by Taschen, is a far superior concise introduction to the director's career.

Masters Of Cinema
Alfred Hitchcock

Masters Of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock
Masters Of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock, by Bill Krohn, is the English version of Collection Grandes Cineastes: Le Livre Alfred Hitchcock, published by the excellent Cahiers Du Cinema magazine. Krohn also wrote the superb Hitchcock At Work and the disappointing Masters Of Cinema: Stanley Kubrick.

Krohn efficiently and concisely summarises Hitchcock's feature-film career (though not Alfred Hitchcock Presents) in a little over 100 pages. The text is accompanied by generally well-chosen images, with publicity stills kept to a minimum. My only caveat is that Krohn seems almost obsessed with comparing Hitchcock to Cecil B de Mille, who is mentioned, increasingly tenuously, throughout the book. There is a useful illustrated filmography, and a limited bibliography.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The Godard Week

The Godard Week
Pierrot Le Fou
Breathless
Alliance Francaise in Bangkok will host The Godard Week, a short season of films by Jean-Luc Godard, from 16th to 21st November. The festival, organised by Dudesweet, includes screenings of Pierrot Le Fou on 20th November and Breathless on 21st November. Tickets are free.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Greatest Films Of All Time

The Greatest Films Of All Time
After their 1,000 Films To See Before You Die list, The Guardian and The Observer have now produced The Greatest Films Of All Time, a list of 175 classic films organised into seven broad genres. The list (selected by film critics including Mark Kermode and David Thomson) was published in daily installments, from 16th to 22nd October. Each genre is represented by a ranked list of twenty-five films.

The Greatest Films Of All Time are as follows:

Romance

1. Brief Encounter
2. Casablanca
3. Before Sunrise / Before Sunset
4. Breathless
5. In The Mood For Love
6. The Apartment
7. Hannah & Her Sisters
8. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
9. Room With A View
10. Jules & Jim
11. All That Heaven Allows
12. Gone With The Wind
13. An Affair To Remember
14. The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg
15. Lost In Translation
15. Roman Holiday
15. WALL-E
18. My Night With Maude
19. Voyage In Italy
20. Dr Zhivago
21. Harold & Maude
22. When Harry Met Sally
23. Say Anything...
24. The Fabulous Baker Boys
25. A Matter Of Life & Death

Crime

1. Chinatown
2. Touch Of Evil
3. Vertigo
4. Badlands
5. Rashomon
6. Double Indemnity
7. Get Carter
8. Pulp Fiction
9. Cache
10. GoodFellas
11. The Conversation
12. Bonnie & Clyde
13. The Killing
14. The French Connection
15. The Big Sleep
16. La Ceremonie
17. Point Blank
18. Hard-Boiled
19. The Long Good Friday
20. A Prophet
20. Heat
20. Scarface
23. Miller's Crossing
24. The Postman Always Rings Twice
25. Daybreak

Comedy

1. Annie Hall
2. Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan
3. Some Like It Hot
4. Team America: World Police
5. Dr Strangelove
6. The Ladykillers
7. Duck Soup
7. Rushmore
9. Kind Hearts & Coronets
10. Monty Python's Life Of Brian
11. Airplane!
12. Election
12. His Girl Friday
12. The Big Lebowski
15. This Is Spinal Tap
16. Bringing Up Baby
17. There's Something About Mary
18. Dazed & Confused
18. M*A*S*H
20. Groundhog Day
21. Clueless
22. The Great Dictator
23. Clerks
24. The Jerk
25. Shaun Of The Dead

Action

1. Apocalypse Now
2. North By Northwest
3. Once Upon A Time In The West
4. The Wild Bunch
5. Deliverance
6. City Of God
7. Paths Of Glory
8. The Wages Of Fear
9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
10. The Thin Red Line
11. Raiders Of The Lost Ark
12. Ran
13. Bullitt
14. Die Hard
15. The Adventures Of Robin Hood
16. The Searchers
17. Goldfinger
18. The Last Of The Mohicans
19. Full Metal Jacket
20. The Deer Hunter
21. Gladiator
22. Rome: Open City
23. Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid
24. Where Eagles Dare
25. The Incredibles

Arthouse

1. Andrei Rublev
2. Mulholland Drive
3. L'Atalante
4. Tokyo Story
5. Citizen Kane
6. A Clockwork Orange
7. Days Of Heaven
8. Wild Strawberries
9. The White Ribbon
10. The Gospel According To St Matthew
11. Aguirre: The Wrath Of God
11. Pather Panchali
13. The Conformist
14. Death In Venice
15. The Godfather I-II
16. The Graduate
16. There Will Be Blood
18. Battleship Potemkin
19. The Rules Of The Game
19. Shadows
21. Distant Voices, Still Lives
22. The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
23. La Dolce Vita
24. Breaking The Waves
25. Spirit Of The Beehive

Sci-Fi/Fantasy

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. Metropolis
3. Blade Runner
4. Alien
5. The Wizard Of Oz
6. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial
6. Solaris
8. Spirited Away
9. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
10. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
10. King Kong
12. Terminator I-II
13. The Matrix
14. Alphaville
15. Back To The Future
16. Planet Of The Apes
17. Brazil
18. The Lord Of The Rings I-III
19. Dark Star
20. The Day The Earth Stood Still
21. Edward Scissorhands
22. Akira
23. The Princess Bride
24. Pan's Labyrinth
25. Starship Troopers

Horror

1. Psycho
2. Rosemary's Baby
3. Don't Look Now
4. The Wicker Man
5. The Shining
6. The Exorcist
7. Nosferatu
8. Let The Right One In
9. Vampyr
10. Peeping Tom
11. The Innocents
12. The Ring
13. The Haunting
14. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
15. Dead Of Night
16. The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari
17. Halloween
18. Bride Of Frankenstein
19. Les Diaboliques
20. Audition
20. Dracula
22. The Blair Witch Project
23. Evil Dead I-II
24. Carrie
25. Les Vampires

The #1 films in each genre were ranked as follows:

1. Chinatown
2. Psycho
2. Andrei Rublev
4. Annie Hall
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey
6. Brief Encounter
7. Apocalypse Now

The #1 films in the horror, comedy, sci-fi/fantasy, and action categories are also my four favourite films of all time. However, two genres - animation and the western - are under-represented, having been subsumed into other categories, and musicals have been completely excluded.

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are counted as a single entry, as are The Godfather I-II, Terminator I-II, Evil Dead I-II, and The Lord Of The Rings I-III. Scarface is the Brian de Palma remake, Carrie is de Palma's 1976 horror film, and Dracula is the Terence Fisher Hammer version. Also, Some Like It Hot is the 1959 comic masterpiece, not the obscure 1939 comedy.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Survival Of The Dead

Survival Of The Dead
Survival Of The Dead is George Romero's sixth zombie film, following Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, Day Of The Dead, Land Of The Dead, and Diary Of The Dead. While the first two films in the series remain horror classics, the others have been relatively disappointing. Survival Of The Dead is perhaps the worst in the series, with unthreatening zombies and a scenario more reminiscent of a western than a horror film.

[Warning: plot spoilers.] What's the point of the million dollars, except as a set-up for a potential sequel? Why does the twin sister appear out of the blue, for an inconsequential emotional reconciliation? Why is the zombie horse-rider initially smarter than other zombies, and why does she suddenly lose her sentience? And what, if any, socio-political comment is Romero making this time?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Jackass 3D

Jackass 3D
Jackass 3D is the sequel to Jackass II, and is again directed by Jeff Tremaine. Like the previous film, it contains violent and scatological pranks; it's actually surprising that Paramount would distribute a film that features a volcano of excrement. As the men are now reaching middle-age, this will presumably be the final Jackass film.

Johnny Knoxville, clearly the most professional group-member, now acts mainly as an announcer, excusing himself from most of the stunts. After being punched, or even urinated on, the men always laugh with (and at) each other, and I wonder how much of this camaraderie is genuine. In addition to the 3D, many stunts were filmed with ultra-fast cameras, resulting in plenty of slow-motion action footage, and this makes the film more cinematic than its predecessors.