Monday, August 26, 2013

A Lazy End To A Busy Summer

 Now that summer is coming to a close (I know we still have a little bit left, but late August has always felt like it's own season for me), I wanted to look back at all of the stuff I have consumed over the season.  Though the summer is usually (and still was!) populated with an overabundance of summer blockbusters and general fluff, I managed to keep up with what I wanted to see; both with new-ish releases and some older fare that I only recently got around to absorbing.
To be completely straightforward, I have been incredibly lazy this summer.  I mean, I have had some very busy moments and have been working all summer, but I really didn't do anything outdoorsy or get to travel anywhere.  On my off moments, I spent most of it indoors either working, reading, or watching movies; all of which I am a fan of, but it was still pretty lazy of me, and though I got some great experiences out of it, I can't endorse that kind of lifestyle for anyone generally interested in a great summer experience.
So (clap!), let's get down to it.  What wasted my summer, you ask?  Well, let's start with France, shall we?  Few things took up my time this year like France managed to do, and whether it was a slew of movies I parked myself in front of, or the great experiences I had with some really wonderful comics, it was this stuff that unintentionally dominated my palate for the past few months.  For the longest time I had always been more familiar with Japanese cinema than any other, and even in what I feel is a reasonable knowledge of some Hong Kong and European film, France, though my favorite of what I knew, still didn't occupy a very large room in the stupid warehouse in my brain that stores all the garbage I pick up on a regular basis.  That isn't to say I didn't love French film (I still know more about their comics than anything else that country ever produced), I just didn't know all that much about it.  Outside of a few directors I know particularly well, I still didn't explore their cinema as randomly as I do with Japanese film up until the past few years or so; this summer though, I got a little stuck and just wanted to see more.
I try my best, on this blog, to stay positive about the material I write about.  For every article I write on something I love, there are at least ten more in my head written about stuff I generally didn't enjoy or thought was straight-up awful.  Many of the films on this list, while not terrible, just didn't exactly warrant posts of their own; a few of them did, and there are some drafts of articles about them, and I really meant to finish them, but for some reason or another they fell out of focus, or the context of the original articles didn't apply anymore as time would go by and they sat in my drafts folder.  Some of it might still see some life beyond this post (some revisited works did!), but some of these works have been shoved to another room in my brain full of shit I love but don't have time or the proper context to talk about (I'll post a diagram of this thing sometime, I promise).
Criminal Lovers, In The House, A Curtain Raiser, A Summer Dress, Under The Sand, Water Drops On Burning Rocks; I pretty much really really enjoyed all of these.  I don't want to get into too much detail, as I plan on giving François Ozon his very own article, especially in anticipation of his newest film, Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie), but suffice to say, he has become one of my favorite directors over this past season. 
 Lila Says, Ultimate Heist, and The Blonde With Bare Breasts, all starring actress, Vahina Giocante; I liked Lila Says a lot.  It wasn't incredible, but I enjoyed the intimate feel of the setting and the sensuality of the actors.  The film did a great job of portraying affected, perhaps abused youth, while still keeping the sexuality and building relationship beautiful and intimate.  Ultimate Heist was kinda dumb.  It was pretty much just a French blockbuster, and as such, was kind of mindless.  There was a plot, but even after watching it pretty recently, I can't for the life of me even remember what it was; none of which I would really say is any fault of the actors involved (Jean Reno, baby!), but rather just a very lukewarm plot; I don't know what would have made this film any better though, honestly.  The Blonde With The Bare Breasts was not at all interesting to me; I feel like it played more on the sensuality and appearance of actress Vahina Giocante, and less on any actual string of events.  Sure, things happen, and maybe they happen for a reason, but the dialogue, coupled with the insane sequence of events/character developement really made this one hard to get through, despite the aforementioned actress.
Read My Lips, by director, Jacques Audiard; I admit that I missed last year's Rust & Bone, but if Read My Lips is any indication of Audiard's work, I am pretty pleased with that and am willing to take my familiarity a step or two further and check out what else his modest-ish body of work has to offer.  It stars Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Devos (the latter I am not too familiar with, though the former is a personal favorite) in a sort-of crime, sort-of maybe romantic film.  It's all played out very well, with believable performances from both actors, and although the story was a little bit of a stretch, I still enjoyed it once I was in.  Some of the problems were of a scripting nature, as I said before, it all felt well acted, but I would call it a solid B.

Little White Lies, Park Benches, The Players, and The Lookout; this is the part where we start getting into large casts or well known actor territory.  Little White Lies, by Guillaume Canet, was pretty much both of those concepts; a summer movie in and of itself, Canet's third full-length directorial outing focused on a group all of friends, all played by currently famous French actors, still going on vacation after one of them gets in a very serious, drug and alcohol influenced auto accident that leaves him mostly paralyzed and disfigured in a hospital bed.  This wasn't a bad movie at all, and for all of it's star power, something that generally doesn't do anything for me, the cast worked very well together, and I bought was the story was trying to sell me.  Park Benches, on the other hand, bored the shit out of me.  It wasn't terrible, but it dragged like a bag carrying all of the actors in that movie.  There is a gag-laden, extended third (or fourth?  I couldn't keep track) act in a hardware store that I thought was never going to end, and the payoff wasn't as such that I cared too terribly what happened.  The Players, starring Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche (reunited after Little White Lies) was an omnibus film from several of France's lofty directors pool, all focused on the concept of infidelity.  Quite a few of these were funny, a couple were not, but as a whole experience, I would have preferred these were all individual shorts (and maybe they were somewhere) that I could have seen on a weekly, serialized basis, rather than all in one go.  The Lookout was, meh, a movie.  It starred Mathiew Kassovitz, who I am still pissed at for never making anything as good as La Haine ever again.  It's a blockbuster, and it was okay as that, but it didn't stick with me; like Ultimate Heist, I really can't even remember what happened.
Elles, Sweet Evil, and Q; It took me quite a while to see Elles, but I think that I really liked it.  Juliette Binoche was fantastic, and Anaïs Demoustier, did a pretty believable job as a chic, twenty-something, student prostitute, and I liked her performance more in Elles than I did in Sweet Evil, which was a much sillier movie, despite it's serious intent and general lack of humor.  Q is something else, though.  If I had to make one of those stupid this-movie-is-a-cross-between descriptions, this movie feels like a cross between Lila Says and a Tinto Brass film.  Like Lila Says, the film explored troubled youth and sexuality, but it managed to be much more explicit, and even had unsimulated sex, which can usually go either way in a film.  For the most part, I actually liked it, despite it's Cinemax-in-the-90s style plot description.
Lastly (honestly there are some more I know I watched, but I can't even remember them), I finally got to see The Bride Wore Black, from François Truffaut, circa 1968.  I have been wanting to catch this gem for quite some time now, and I finally got around to it a couple weeks ago.  Without getting too into Truffaut's career, I love his Antoine Doinel series, and I loved this.  When it came out, Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill got more press as a take on martial arts and action films, but there are some sequences in this movie that were straight-up lifted and used in that film.  Watch twenty minutes of The Bride Wore Black and tell me that I'm reaching, please.  This was a wonderful cap to the season's long list of movies for me, and though there were plenty of great domestic and other-foreign films I saw in the past few months, this film, especially lumped in with everything listed here, was one of my favorites.  This summer felt very very long, but at the same time I feel like it blazed right by me.  Hopefully whoever is reading this had a great summer experience, and be happy I watched all these things so you didn't have to.

P.S.  Quit doing stupid shit outside and watch more movies.

Monday, August 12, 2013

An Endless Song

 Sooooooo, I apologize for the distance between posts recently.  Late in the summer has proven itself to be much busier for me in terms of projects and workload, and I have yet to balance that with also keeping up a consistent blog, so again, I apologize.  One such issue I have been dealing with is the matter of a beat automobile; it's not that it's an all encompassing matter, as I've been walking everywhere this season, but, in picking the right day to finally deal with the issue, there was the inevitable bit of revisiting the previous season's shit built up in the back seat of said automobile.  There was no greater gift to myself than finding my equally as beat CD copy of The Blue Hearts' self titled album from 1987 (I haven't had the album that long, I just wanted to put their work in some perspective), and as I pulled out of the repair shop parking lot, nothing made the annoying task feel more worthwile than the first few bars of the album's high-energy opener, Mirai wa Bokura no Te no Naka (未来は僕等の手の中 The Future is in Our Hands).
The Blue Hearts certainly aren't an unknown or niche band by any means, and I wondered whether or not an article on here would even be necessary, but I gotta think there are still some people out there unfamiliar with the legendary Japanese punk band, out of either being unfamiliar with punk rock in general, or just it's countless foreign interpretations, though I can think of very few as prolific as The Blue Hearts (there is a successful movie named after and built their most famous single, for shit's sake!).  Also, I just can't stop listening to them right now, and I like talking about things I like.
Formed in 1985 and officially debuting in 1987, The Blue Hearts, over their ten year career, managed to do what few punk bands were able to do; they were able to achieve both critical success and high album sales while still remaining relevant and credible within the punk scene in their native Japan.  In fact, their 1988 single, Chernobyl, a criticism of nuclear power, found the band in trouble with their label, Meldac Records, which was formed with funding from several large companies, one of which being Mitsubishi, who was also involved in the nuclear power industry.  Instead of dropping the song around the time of their third studio album, Train Train, the band instead decided to ditch Meldac records and released the single independently (along with it's A side accompanying track, Blue Hearts Theme, a personal favorite of mine) before eventually signing to East West Japan.
The Blue Hearts release eight studio albums and a ton of singles before breaking up in 1995, but soon after, members Hiroto Kōmoto, Masatoshi Mashima, and Mikio Shirai would continue playing music together as The High-Lows.  Similar in sound to The Blue Hearts, The High-Lows would last for another ten years before Kōmoto and Mashima would go on to form The Cro-Magnons (no, not the Japanese jazz-infused-funk band Cro-Magnon, but nice try) in 2006.  Former bass player Junnosuke Kawaguchi would even go on to be a record producer and studio bass player; more importantly though, he became a deputy propaganda director for the Happiness Realization Party in 2009.  I would suggest checking out that last hyperlink and then looking into the current state of politics in Japan before totally throwing that guy onto the crazy boat, though I will add that that doesn't diminish The Blue Hearts first album to me in any way.
 Lastly, I think it's also worthwhile to mention that 2005's Linda Linda Linda, by Nobuhiro Tamashita, is an excellent film.  Named after one of The Blue Hearts most famous songs, the film centers on a group of high school girls forming a band to play Blue Hearts cover songs for their school festival.  While that might not sound all too interesting to some, the payoff in that film far surpasses an easy explanation; and if anyone reading this blog has even been in a band or played music with friends, the central momentum in Linda Linda Linda is apparent from some of the earliest moments in it's still rather lighthearted plot.  It's also cool to mention that the girls in this movie even learned how to play all these songs together, and while no one really slouches in this film, it is of course Bae Doona (whos is actually Korean, and I'm pretty sure learned Japanese for this movie), who's performance as South Korean exchange student, Son, really shines and elevates a meager storyline into something both wonderfully heartfelt and hilarious.
Also, check out this awesome live performance by The Blue Hearts from 1987; they were pretty fucking rad.