Movies

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Found this thanks to a recommendation on the TetZoo podcast. It’s strange, striking and I like it quite a bit.

Sounds like a hybridisation of rap and ancient poetic story-telling, looks like a creepy monster horror movie waiting to be made. It’s by a guy called Brian Engh, who describes himself as a freelance artist/musician/monsterologist, and his website is alarmingly easy to spend a lot of time exploring and enjoying. Seems like a multi-talented fellow.

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So, this is pretty amazing if you ask me. British Pathé, the newsreel company that gave Britain its news for a big chunk of the 20th century has uploaded its entire archive to Youtube. 85,000 bits of vintage newsreel film, chronicling pretty much everything that anyone was chronicling anywhere.

Me, I think that’s pretty amazing. You can see any and all of it over at the British Pathé youtube channel, but honestly there’s so much stuff it’s impossible to know where to start. (Although I note, with slightly glum resignation, that the ‘popular uploads’ listing suggesting a lot of people are starting with clips of people dying. As you would, I suppose.)

Here’s an entirely random selection of clips in only one of which, so far as I know, anybody dies.

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Couple of movies I’ve Netflixed recently:

Grabbers is an Irish horror-comedy from a couple of years back. A remote island – so remote it’s only got one pub – is under attack by tentacled alien monsters, and the only hope the motley and rather dishevelled locals have of surviving the stormy night is getting drunk and staying that way. Sounds ridiculous, and it is, but I thought the movie did a remarkably good job of selling the bonkers premise, thanks to a decent script that doesn’t try to get too clever, some good actors and special effects (i.e. monsters) that are jolly respectable given the miserly budget I assume everyone was working with.

For the first half of the movie the humour’s fairly gentle, the pace quite measured and the atmosphere one of understated disquiet. Not entirely surprising that things get a bit broader and louder in the second half, as the monsters start hamming it up and the alcohol starts flowing in profuse quantities. It’s fun, though. If you fancy something a bit different, a pleasant way of passing a little time, you could do a lot worse than give Grabbers a try.

It’s better than the following trailer makes it look, if you ask me.

The Hunter is based on one of my favourite books. Always a bit of a lottery, that kind of situation. The novel, by Julia Leigh, is a strange, sparse, haunting story about a man hunting the last Tasmanian Tiger in the world. It’s a powerful evocation of not only natural but also spiritual, psychological wildernesses, all the more impressive for being a very short book, written in very simple, stripped down prose.

So did this story I so like survive translation to the screen? Kind of. Bits of it did. Tasmania is beautiful and wild. Willem Dafoe’s watchable as ever in the title role. The mood is – for most of the film – a very effective replication of the book: quiet, sometimes tense, with a steady undercurrent of otherness and wrongness. It never feels as though anything good can come of what’s going on, and sure enough it doesn’t.

They changed the climax. I knew they would. The book has an uncompromising, challenging last quarter that makes irrefutable sense in terms of what has gone before. The movie keeps bits of it, and bits of its bleak inevitability, but tweaks them and re-interprets them and changes some other bits radically. I didn’t find the end result as satisfying as the book’s ending – it feels as though the film-makers found a way to compromise and complicate what was previously uncompromised and uncomplicated in its hard-edged simplicity – but for all I know it might work perfectly well if you haven’t read the original novel.

Anyway, on the whole The Hunter is a good and effective adaptation of a terrific, and very unusual, book. Worth a try if you’re in the mood for something bleak and thoughtful with a powerful dose of spectacular scenery and trackless wilderness. Maybe read the book afterwards, though. That’s the real deal.

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A long while back, I highlighted the lovely film A Day in the Life of a Fire Lookout by Gary Yost in a Moving Pictures on a Friday post. You never know who’s watching when you do internet stuff, of course, but in this case it turned out the film-maker himself was. So recently he dropped me a line to point me at a new film of his, which I’m happy to offer up for your consideration. It’s a collaboration between Yost and various other folks, including the actor Peter Coyote (whose fine voice you might recognise doing the narration).

Why am I happy to put it up here? Well, it’s a nice film, with some of the gorgeous and rather clever time-lapse stuff going on that made A Day in the Life of a Fire Lookout so pleasing to the eye. It’s got an environmental slant, which pleases me since that’s the kind of stuff I’ve spent much of my life involved with for both career and pleasure. It’s got a history and culture angle, too, which also pleases me since what happens when the natural world and human history and culture rub up against one another is one of my more lasting interests.

And it’s just plain interesting, if you ask me. The world is so complicated, so full of stories, that you could pick any piece of it, any time slice, any angle, and unravel a story encompassing huge bits of history, Nature, human experience. This is just one of those stories, I guess. And the views are gorgeous. Never been to Marin County (or California at all, for that matter), but it does look nice.

The Invisible Peak from Gary Yost on Vimeo.

More on Mount Tamalpais here, and more on Gary Yost here (give it a moment to load, and you’ll be rewarded with some nice phosots and films).

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Aaaand I’m back on the blog treadmill after a festive break that ended up being a bit longer than intended. Busy, you know. Holidaying, working, thinking up new stuff. Got plans and hopes for 2014 – as I hope you all do, too! – but more on that another time.

Holidays mean holidaying, of course, but they also mean reading and watching, especially over Xmas/New Year. So here’s a quick summary of how some of my time got itself occupied while I’ve been keeping a low profile round here.

Reading first.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, is something I got to later than most other folks with an interest in this kind of stuff, but courtesy of a well-judged Christmas present, I read it in the last week of December. Fascinating, for those of you with a longing to see what was wriggling under the rock of all those superhero comics that overtook the medium in the US in the second half of the last century. The lasting impression I’ll take away is of a company, and to some extent an industry, that was winging it most of the time, populated by big, often abrasive personalities, riding momentum without the time or inclination to pay much attention to what – or who – got trampled along the way. It’s kind of a feverish vision, but I’m glad to report it hasn’t put me off the idea of dipping my own toes into the comics waters.

Then, Stealing Light, by Gary Gibson. Got this on kind of an impulse, because the e-book happened to be (and still is) ‘competitively’ priced one day when I was browsing for an impulse buy. No regrets: a fun, accessible space opera, the first of a series, featuring engaging alien masterminds, bonkers human cultures, an interesting and sympathetic heroine, and a narrative that increases the scale of the action and concepts as it goes along. I’ll be giving part 2 a try at some point (which I guess = job done, competitive pricing).

And here’s an oddity, which I include to illustrate the randomness of some of my interests. River Monsters, by Jeremy Wade. The book of the TV series, in which Mr. Wade goes to remote places and catches large, dangerous freshwater fish. I’m a long-standing fan of the TV version. It combines lots of my interests – wildlife, unusual travel, fishing (yes, believe it or not I used to go fishing now and again in my youth, but no longer) – and I find both the TV and the book refreshingly different and novel, compared to most natural history stuff.

Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I’ve heard of a lot more animals than most folks (being a naturalist/conservationist by inclination, education and past employment) but even I’d never heard of a Goliath tigerfish until Mr. Wade introduced me to it; and if you’ve not seen it’s teeth, well … check them out. Most surprisingly interesting bit of the River Monsters book, in a way, is the stuff about Jeremy Wade himself. Guy has issues – it’s not only aquatic monsters he has to deal with – and he’s pretty frank about discussing them.

On to the watching.

We’re experimenting with Netflix UK in the Ruckley household. As far as I can tell, the selection of stuff available on Netflix UK kind of sucks compared to what’s evidently available on the US service. But it’s easy and convenient and efficient and there’s still quite a lot of stuff on there. It’s meant I’ve watched more movies in the last month or so than in the preceding three or four at least.

For example: I re-watched Thor (the first one) and Captain America. That firmed up my initial impression: I much prefer Thor as a movie and a spectacle. Did reinvigorate my interest in seeing the imminent Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though. Hot tip here, if you haven’t already heard: there’s rumours floating around the internet, from people who should know roughly what they’re talking about, that Winter Soldier is going to be something a little bit special. As in, seriously good film. Wouldn’t surprise me, because I really, really liked the trailer.

I also re-watched, after years, Funeral in Berlin, the second Harry Palmer film. Michael Caine doing much darker, grimier, more realistic version of James Bond. They made three of these films back in the 60s (and crappy sequels much later, which are best ignored), and I like them all. Caine does tremendously under-stated yet magically charismatic and kind of sexy stuff here, working with a nice script. They just don’t make films like they used to, do they? You should check them out, if the idea of the young Michael Caine doing this kind of thing appeals:

And I watched, for the first time, Battle Royale. Holy cow. That, let me tell you, is … different. Difficult to explain just how fascinating I find it, beyond saying that just as I’m captivated by the strange things manga offers that Western comics don’t, so Battle Royale is not quite like anything I’ve ever seen in any US/European production. The sensibility, the preoccupations, the humour, the hyper-acting. The wonderful composition of some of the images. The bonkers violence. It’s kind of unique, and feels very, very Japanese. Extraordinary. Not sure what else I can say about it, really.

Oh, I know what else I could say: It’s crying out to be watched in a double bill with Lord of the Flies.

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Of all the imminently upcoming superhero movies, the one that’s putting the biggest anticipatory tingle into me? This one:

Very good trailer, but more importantly based on one of the very best Captain America stories ever produced in comics: Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Winter Soldier. Problem is, if you haven’t read the original comics, it’s kind of hard to recommend doing so before seeing the movie since it’d torpedo the plot twists. Nevertheless, they’re 100% great superhero comics and this just might be a spectacularly fun movie.

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What a cool trailer.  Absolutely imperative – imperative, I say – that you watch it fullscreen.  If this doesn’t make you at least tempted to go see the film on a big screen, I think you should maybe do a quick check of your pulse.  It’s possible you’re dead. Just saying.

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It’s been a while since a film I knew almost nothing about blew me away. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I watched a film without having first seen so much as a trailer for it (that’s the price you pay for living on the internet). I just happened to notice that this thing called 13 Assassins was on the telly, I vaguely remembered hearing something about it somewhere or other, and the description sounded like my kind of thing. So I set the magic box that sits under the TV to record it, and now here I am a while later having finally watched it and reporting that 13 Assassins is good. Really good.

It’s a 2010 remake, by Takashi Miike, of a 1963 original, of which I know absolutely nothing.

To deprive you of the opportunity of being as surprised as I was, here’s the trailer:

Which rather nicely highlights one or two of the things I found so striking about the movie. The colour palette for one thing, which somehow manages to be not only quite dark and muted, but also very crisp, enormously evocative of realism. All the visuals are great, in fact. There are some beautifully composed and posed single shots, lots of sequences that are visually memorable in a design sense, irrespective of the action they depict.

The sound’s the other technical thing that really wowed me. There’s not much in the way of music until really quite late in the movie. Before that, it’s all sharp, clear ‘realistic’ background noise. The loud rustling of the traditional clothes, birdsong. It made me wish, really quite intensely, that more western movies dispensed with music soundtracks. There’s a wonderful bit, towards the end, when the baddies apparently escape from the death-trap village (we’ll get to the plot in a minute), emerging cautiously to the edge of the countryside. And all you hear – after the tumult of battle that’s assaulted your ears – is birdsong. It’s a small detail but enormously satisfying, that little natural sound symbolising the propsect of escape from the hellish, man-made slaughter that’s behind them.

As for what the film’s actually about, plot-wise, it’s very simple. The eponymous 13 assassins set out to kill a tyrannical noble. They’re recruited, come up with a plan and try to execute it. That’s it. Because their plan revolves around fortifying a village and defending it against the noble’s vastly superior numbers, and for all sorts of other specific plot reasons, the whole thing’s structurally very similar to Seven Samurai and its US progeny, The Magnificent Seven. The miracle is that 13 Assassins doesn’t particularly suffer from the obvious comparison with Seven Samurai, one of the best films ever made (in my opinion, and that of plenty of others), because it is itself a fantastically accomplished bit of film-making.

The film’s essentially divided into two parts. The first, slightly longer, section sets up the plot, demonstrates the baddie’s profound and deranged badness with some really quite unpleasant scenes, assembles the goodies and gets them to the village. The second, far from short, part is wall-to-wall slaughter as the 13 go up against 200+. It’s savage, bloody (really bloody) and beautifully shot. And it’s never dull, which for a single, uninterrupted battle that’s probably the longest I’ve ever seen on the screen is no small acheivement. Especially considering that most of it is samurai fighting with swords. There’s some archery, some explosions, a little bit of spear- and rock-work, but in the main you’re watching the same swordy thing, repeated over and over. But it’s done with such panache, such stirring desperation, that it works brilliantly.

Which is not to say there’s nothing by way of character work, thematic undercurrent, even the odd touch of humour. All those things are there, and done well. I couldn’t help but notice that every single female character is a victim, which grated, and I confess to being a little confused in the first ten or twenty minutes, since to my uneducated eye everyone looked rather similarly dressed and coiffured and it was thus initially tricky to keep track of who was who. But once the set-up’s in place everything runs smoothly. You’re on rails, in fact, moving with the characters towards the inevitable, inescapable massacre.

And when you get to that extended massacre, it’s so visceral, so kinetic and so cleverly filmed and structured that you’re so engrossed you barely notice time passing. I didn’t, anyway. It’s not, though, really a celebration of violence. Clearly, it’s intended to be an exciting, invigorating specactle, but the film sows plenty of seeds for questions about why the characters are doing what they’re doing (honour, morality, politics, madness) and it is uncompromising in showing the cruelty and suffering that’re inevitable when a large number of folk with drawn blades try to settle an argument.

So all in all, I liked it quite a lot. If it sounds like your kind of thing from the above description, I think you probably would too.

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Number 13

After doing a little digging on the web, although I’m still not clear about what exactly this is – trailer for a proposed film, animated pitch document, I think it’s the latter, really, but I’m not 100% sure  – I am at least clear that I think it’s kind of fun.  Part live action, part comics-influenced animation, part 300-ish CGI fest it works quite nicely as a self-contained glimpse into a world that looks interesting.  It’s based on a comic of the same name, which I’ve never read.

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Time for some Moving Pictures on a Friday, I think.

Here’s a nice little film from Till Nowak, exploring the unrecognised potential of fairground rides as mind-liberating machines.

For maximum enjoyment, go fullscreen. Kind of like life, really.

The Centrifuge Brain Project from Till Nowak on Vimeo.

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