Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Today, the Criterion Collection are releasing DVD and Blu-ray editions of Seijun Suzuki’s delirious masterpieces Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill.
Would you like some reading material to accompany this visual treat? Of course you would. Good News: In 2004, Wallflower Press published 24 Frames - The Cinema of Japan and Korea, which includes my essay on Branded to Kill. I’d love to point you to a couple of places where you could buy this book, but...
Bad News: A bit of rudimentary Googling reveals that it appears that this volume is now out-of print. All is not lost, though, because...
Good News: I did, however, discover that my chapter is available in its entirety on Google Books. In fact, almost all of the book is there for your reading pleasure. There’s a lot of good stuff in that book from people far smarter and more reputable than me. I don’t claim to understand the whys and wherefores of Google Books, so I can’t explain why you can read the whole of my chapter on Branded to Kill, but not a single word of my later chapter on Battle Royale.
I’m desperately trying to avoid the usual authorial caveats about material I wrote almost a decade ago. You know the kind of thing I mean. The bits that I re-read that made me cringe, or where I spotted a different way of saying things that were more insightful or useful. Oh well. That book is receding some way off in my rear-view mirror now. Dive in and browse away by clicking here. Enjoy!
Friday, October 21, 2011
I’m also wary of Advice for Writers. There are things that work, and things that don’t work, and those things aren’t necessarily the same for everyone. Having said that, there are times when I stumble upon a different perspective or a juicy comment that casts a new light on something that I’m beating my head against. No point keeping it all to myself, though, so here are a few things I’ve tripped over on my journeys around the Internet recently.
Anna Rascouët-Paz speaking at San Francisco, Creative Mornings
(from the perennial essential Adventures in the Screen Trade)
1. Thou shalt not take the crisis out of the protagonist’s hands.
2. Thou shalt not make life easy for the protagonist.
3. Thou shalt not give exposition for exposition’s sake.
4. Thou shalt not use false mystery or cheap surprise.
5. Thou shalt respect thy audience.
6. Thou shalt know thy world as God knows this one.
7. Thou shalt not complicate when complexity is better.
8. Thou shalt seek the end of the line, taking characters to the farthest depth of the conflict imaginable within the story’s own realm of probability.
9. Thou shalt not write on the nose – put a subtext under every text.
10. Thou shalt rewrite.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The 55th BFI London Film Festival is in full flow and, judging by the vigorous churn of my Twitter stream, it’s getting full and thorough coverage. Go and stick the #LFF hashtag into Twitter Search and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve got no interest in adding to the LFF noise. I’m more excited at the prospect of the forthcoming 6th Annual London Korean Film Festival which arrives on the 3rd November and continues until the 24th. Plenty of other people want to talk about Kevin, I’d rather nock something else against my bow string - the festival’s opening night film Arrow, the Ultimate Weapon (or, as it seems to be increasingly known, War of the Arrows).
Director Han-min Kim’s third feature hits the ground running. Literally. The first images you see are pounding feet. The first sound you hear is laboured breathing. And that swiftly sets you up for the subsequent 122 minutes - a breathless, exhilarating, thoroughly enjoyable historical action movie. I found myself comparing it favourably to Apocalypto a couple of times.
The year is 1636, during the Second Manchu invasion of Korea. Chung soldiers (led by dour professional Seung-yong Ryoo, delivering the film’s standout performance) invade a village and kidnap Ja-In (Moon Chae-Won) on her wedding day. Her brother, the aimless and bitter Nam-Yi (Hae-il Park), is determined to rescue her, armed with nothing but his trusty bow and a quiver of arrows with distinctive red fletchings. The chase is on.
Han-min Kim’s sound design is glorious: lots of creaking bows, whining bow strings pulled taut and whooshing air as the arrows fly. The beautifully choreographed action sequences are leavened with well-judged moments of occasional slapstick humour, and everything builds inexorably towards a final reckoning.
The Opening Night Gala and European Premiere of Arrow, the Ultimate Weapon takes place on 3rd November at the Odeon West End in Leicester Square, followed by a Q&A with the soft-spoken and personable Han-min Kim and wrapping up with a K-Pop performance.
As usual, the festival programme is broad, varied and definitely worth exploring. I’m not going to copy-and-paste the contents of a press release here, so click here to head over to the festival website for further information.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
With your indulgence, I’d like to share Lillison’s two greatest towering achievements with you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I always have.
O pointy birds, o pointy pointy,
Anoint my head, anointy-nointy.
In Dillman's Grove
In Dillman's Grove my love did die,
and now in ground shall ever lie.
None could ever replace her visage,
until your face brought thoughts of kissage.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
American Gigolo - The second installment of Schrader’s “night workers” quintet that began with Taxi Driver. (The last three films to date in this loose, unofficial series are Light Sleeper, Bringing Out The Dead and The Walker). The scene in Drive set in the strippers’ dressing room reminded me of the scene in the opening montage where the titular manwhore Julian Kaye (Richard Gere) visits his tailor. Lots of light, mirrors, reflections. Lots of red.
Thief - James Caan is a master jewel-thief with a very fixed structure to his life in Michael Mann’s little-seen crime thriller. Sound familiar? A lot of Drive’s plot machinations echo those of Thief, but I don’t want to get into further specifics without getting too spoilery. (Did I mention that it’s “little-seen”? Worth seeking out if you are a Thief virgin.) Actually, a lot of the visual style of early Michael Mann ripples through Drive - a little bit of Manhunter, a flash of Miami Vice (the show, not the shitty movie). Also: Tangerine Dream are on synth duty.
Hitman Jef Costello (Alain Delon) wears his trenchcoat like the Driver wears his scorpion jacket. Like a uniform. The similarities go deeper than that, though - there are certain narrative and visual cues from Jean-Pierre Melville’s minimalist masterpiece that crop up in Drive. For example, the moment when the Driver strides purposefully down the narrow corridor searching for Cook made me flash on this:
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Browsing my bookshelves this morning, my eyes kept getting drawn to the same thin volume, so I pulled it down, blew the dust off it and cracked the spine. The book was Breakdancing - Mr. Fresh and The Supreme Rockers Show You How To Do It! It was a helluva way to start the day. Because it's far too good to keep to myself, I wanted to share my favourite chapter with you, a glossary of breakdancing argot circa 1984. Is it fresh or is it wack? You decide!:
And if someone tells you that they have a friend who's a really BAD dancer, don't think he's not a good dancer. And Breakdancers don't "hang around."
Tell your friends you just heard a new song and it's really fresh. And you met this girl who's wack. And that you and your friends were buggin' out. And if someone does a BAD King Tut, then their Tut is fresh. And if you're maxin', you're relaxin'.
So if you don't wanna be wack and have a heart attack, pay attention to the following words and you'll be awesome.
Amaze 'em. This is how you win a dance battle. "You amaze 'em."
"How do you amaze 'em?"
"Easy. You just amaze 'em."
Awesome. Breakdancers don't need much of an excuse to say awesome. Some nights everything is awesome.
"Wow, look at that Adidas suit. Awesome."
"We're goin' to the Roxy tonight. It's gonna be awesome."
"I got the continuation of my Windmill. Awesome."
"I met some fresh girls. Awesome."
"Look at that cheeseburger. Awesome."
Bad. Bad is real good. In other words, if it's good enough, then it's bad.
"When we get our new Chinese suits, we'll be bad."
"Man, I saw this two-month-old kid doing the King Tut, and he was bad."
"Those Gazows are bad."
Bite. When someone bites one of your moves, then they steal it. Bite only has one very exact meaning, and this it. Biting moves is really wack, but everyone does it. Biting is little bit like cheating in a card game. If you see someone biting one of your moves, you can pretend you're biting you're finger, as a sign that you know they're biting. The most interesting thing about biting is that it shows how really individual Breakdancing is. Your moves are used to win battles, so if someone bites one of your moves, then they can use it against you in a battle.
Bugging Out. When you're going crazy, you're bugging out. Or if you get confused or mess out you say you're bugging or bugging out. Or if you see something or someone that really catches your eye and really stare, then you're bugging out.
"Man, we got on the subway and we were bugging out."
"What's the matter with you? You're buggin'."
"Man, those guys were buggin' out."
Chill. Good, O.K.
"His Pop is chill."
"You wanna go to the movies? That's chill."
Chillin'. Relaxing. Hanging out. Laying back.
"Hey, what's up?" "Chillin'."
"Hey, what's up?" "Chillin', willin', maxin', and relaxin'." or "Maxin' and relaxin', chilling, willing, and able."
Fresh. This is the big word. This will get you through a lot of tough situations. Fresh means original, good, or real good. And to say it right you always accent the word fresh.
"Our new routine is fresh."
"I heard a new record. It was fresh."
"He's too fresh."
Fresh is used in so many instances and so often, as long as you use it for anything good, you'll be fresh.
Juice. If you got juice, you got pull with someone who counts.
Maxin'. Relaxing. Or use max out.
"What's your beef?" "Maxin'."
"I'm tired, I'm gonna max out."
Power. If you're a dancer and you're really rocking, you're in power. When someone is in a position of authority, power or respect, you say that they're in their power - a very common term. For example, Michael Jackson is in his power. The Beatles were in their power in the 60's and 70's. Afrika Bambaataa, one of the most respected persons in Hip Hop, is in his power. Sometimes when a dancer feels like he or she has the audience bugging out, they'll do a dance move with a closed fist to indicate a state of power.
Rock. When you're really getting down dancewise, you're rocking.
"How'd it go?" "Man, we were rockin' shit."
Take out. If you win a battle, you take the other dancer out. If someone beats you, they take you out.
Wack. The opposite of fresh. Bad, not bad. Everything bad is wack.
"Man, you wack."
"He dances wack."
"Look at that Calvin Klein outfit. "Yeah, it's wack."
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Which is to say that I might not be here, but I am around.
"You don't go down Broadway to get to Broadway! You zig! You zag!" - Ray Liotta in Cop Land
Monday, March 28, 2011
Nothing that “Dutch” Leonard writes sounds like writing. It sounds like eavesdropping.
“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” – Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing
There was a time when the overwhelming majority of Elmore Leonard adaptations failed miserably. The people who snaffled up those books as “properties” for adaptation misunderstood their appeal by foregrounding the least important component (the plot) and fudging the stuff that really makes his work sing (the characters and the dialogue). That finally stopped happening with the one-two punch of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight, paving the way for the small-screen arrival of Graham Yost’s Justified.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens first appeared in Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap before easing further into the limelight with the short story Fire in the Hole, which serves as the springboard for Justified. Working out of South Florida, Raylan Givens is an anachronism. Imagine a cowboy wandering through an episode of Miami Vice. Deceptively unassuming with the soft-spoken manner of a true Southern gentleman and his ever-present stetson, if he ever has cause to draw down on you, you can be damn sure that bullets will fly. A questionable shooting gets Raylan booted back to Eastern Kentucky and the town of Harlan where he grew up, having to face up to the family and friends he thought he’d left behind. And that’s your basic set-up. Not so much “fish out of water” as “fish thrown back in the pond he’d been desperately trying to get out of.”
Leonard trades in the archetypes of crime and Western fiction: thieves and murderers, lawmen and gunslingers, all manner of colourful scumbags. But it’s never as clear cut as black hats and white hats and it’s not straight genre fiction. He’s much more interested in letting the characters speak for themselves as they navigate that large murky wedge of grey that we all live in. Which brings me back to the dialogue again.
All my favourite moments in Justified are the two-handers between Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan and his childhood friend, nemesis, extremist and explosives expert Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins). The verbal parrying between Olyphant and Goggins crackles in an ambiguous, complex brew of mutual respect, affection and enmity. It is the stuff that slash fiction is made of (and some of the “Brokeback Justified” videos I stumbled across on YouTube seem to bear that out.)
Although, running a close second in the favourites stakes, there is a killer moment in Season One when Raylan, sitting in a bar trying to get quietly shitfaced, turns and silences the raucous guffaws of a bunch of redneck boors with the line: “I didn't order assholes with my whiskey”.
But this is starting to sound a little bit too much like “Justified's Greatest Hits”, and that’s not the way to truly soak up the heady moonshine brew of the show. Justified is deep into the guts of Season Two right now. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to sample the downhome, deadly delights of Harlan County, it’s time to play catch-up.
Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Monday, February 28, 2011
It's become something of a cliché to melodramatically declare "Today, a part of my childhood died", but last week, that was heartbreakingly true. For me, Nicholas Courtney and Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart are as integral to the mythology of Doctor Who as the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver and the Daleks. And now, he's gone.
"The Cabinet's accepted my report, and the whole affair is now completely closed. A fifty-foot monster can't swim up the Thames and attack a large building without some people noticing, but you know what politicians are like." -- The Brigadier in Terror of the Zygons
In the hands of a lesser actor, the Brigadier could have come across as a humourless, officious, militaristic prig. But Nick Courtney brought a twinkly eye and a light touch to the role. I can't imagine another actor pulling off killer lines like "Chap with the wings there -- five rounds rapid."
The Doctor will live forever. Eleven bodies and still counting. But there was only one Brig. Splendid chap - all of him. RIP Nicholas Courtney.
The Destroyer: "Pitiful. Can this world do no better than you as its champion?"
The Brigadier: "Probably. I just do the best I can." -- Battlefield
In April, Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch will be unleashed on cinema screens. Zack Snyder - the "visionary director" who made a career out of co-opting the visions of George A. Romero, Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. This must be a definition of "visionary" that I'm not familiar with...
The tagline for Snyder's Sucker Punch is "You Will Be Unprepared". I decided to prepare myself.
Over the last couple of months, I've noticed a gradual uptick in people arriving at the blog by Googling for information on Snyder's forthcoming geekbait. Sorry about that, Snyder fans. This blog has been called Sucker Punch for a long time. But it wasn't always thus. Back in 2004 when I launched this blog, it was called Stray Bullets. Time to dust that one off and rename this place once more. Everything old is new again.
Sucker Punch is dead. Long Live Stray Bullets!
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Based on poor advance buzz and an uninspiring trailer, I don't have high hopes for Green Lantern at all, but that doesn't stop me from thinking that I'll get a slight frisson of excitement the first time that Ryan Reynolds recites the Green Lantern oath.
On the other hand, I am genuinely thrilled at the prospect of seeing Chris Hemsworth shouting "I Say Thee Nay!" before whipping up a storm and whupping Asgardian ass with mighty Mjolnir in Thor. And now, I'm going to take this opportunity to run Greg Horn's illustration of Thor vs. Jaws. I smell mad crossover sequel money...
Another chapter on the road to The Avengers arrives later in the year with Captain America: The First Avenger. It's far too early to have any kind of sense of how this one will play out, although I'm pretty sure we won't be fortunate enough to see a moment quite as wonderful as this:
I'm not entirely sold on Source Code based on the trailer, but any misgivings I have are mitigated by my complete faith in Duncan Jones. Moon is one of my favourite films from the last few years and it doesn't hurt that Source Code bears a passing resemblance to one of the Greatest TV Shows of All Time. Ziggy, centre me in on Jake Gyllenhall!
Tetsuya Nakashima's Confessions (Kokuhaku) wasn't on my radar at all until Anne Billson raved about it on Twitter, describing it as "Heathers meets Battle Royale". It arrives in the UK on the 18th February thanks to Third Window Films. I am so there.
Following on from the creative nadir of Cop Out, Kevin Smith seems to have finally shaken off his predilection for dick jokes and Star Wars references for something much, much darker. This is a Very Good Thing. Bolstered by a terrific cast that includes Melissa Leo, John Goodman and Tarantino stalwart Michael Parkes, even Smith's most vocal detractors must've been impressed by the first glimpse of his low-budget horror movie Red State:
Read the following sentence: "A telepathic tyre comes to life and goes on a killing spree." Now, tell me you don't want to see that film. It's a killer tyre! It's like Christine! (But, you know, without the 1958 red and white Plymouth Fury). Pure high concept (and The Human Centipede proved that you need far more than a high concept to make a decent movie) but I'll say it again. Killer tyre! I think I love you, Rubber.
From the scuffed celluloid ashes of Grindhouse comes another film that began life as little more than a trailer for a movie that didn't exist. Until now. Rutger Hauer is a Hobo with a Shotgun. All my B-movie dreams come true in a shower of shell casings.