Saturday, 14 July 2012

Back again


Update, with some 'lighter' reading and a return to fantasy, sci-fi, and comics


Just completed the first Song of Ice & Fire book -- Game of Thrones and have the second lined up. I've also been reading Iain M Banks culture series. I've also been reading some comics on and off. I used to be very big on them, reading superhero stuff, to darker Batman ones, to Vertigo and related titles like Preacher and Hellblazer. I've picked up Northlanders (which is a viking sort of setting. It's ok... not much going on however), some Warren Ellis stuff, and Y: The Last Man. I also mean to pick up Transmetropolitan as I'd read some of it years ago. These are digital copies...

I like the GoT TV series. I discarded fantasy in my teens, the sword & sorcery stuff obvious lacks depth to my usual reading whilst science fiction at least has other themes and tends to be better written by author who use it as a device rather than a contraining genre to fit into. I however loved a lot of HBO shows such as The Wire, gave the GoT show a go and enjoyed the drama elements in it and the character depth it had. The setting is great too. You can hear about the show from numerous other places.

I picked up an eBook of the first novel. It's almost identical to the first series of the show. A stale read for that reason, but some small differences in places. I want to see if the books are actually decent, or as good as the show. I don't know yet. There isn't much description or the amount of violence in the show. Deaths and other such things tend to happen very matter-of-fact suddenly. The first book was a recap, and filled in some of the gaps the show didn't, such as different side events and characters. I mainly read the book when I commute, it's a good book for that. I think the amount of characters, geographic elements, and the world itself connote to that Tolkien mentality... hence there being a wiki on the book series.

It will be interesting to see if I can get enjoyment from the books, get sucked into that aforementioned mentality, or just accept I enjoy the HBO show for reasons I enjoy all their dramas. Or I could wear a beret and read James Joyce when I'm on the bus...

Monday, 30 January 2012

1Q84 - Murakami

I've read Murakami for a couple years now. You'll find I've read him frequently. Perhaps far too frequently. 

I stumbled across his "Hard-Boiled Wonderland" book on a wikipedia page. Considering the author's popularity, it was a unique way of finding him. I liked the sound of the novel, the author was dubbed "Kafka's successor". It was a very surreal work, compared to his most popular non-surreal "Norwegian Wood". 1Q84 is in his surrealist works, too. The only novel that he's done that isn't is NW. As far as I'm aware, there are 3 books for 1Q84. I've got a copy with the first 2 of the books in 1 physical book. I'm going to be talking about book 1, which was a real slog and an abandoned ship.

Laying my cards on the table; I've read a lot of Murakami. This might just be my 6th or 7th. This is hailed by some as his magnum opus. It's big enough to at least be hailed as something. Some people say it has a "complex and surreal narrative". It wasn't complex. That's why I read so much of his stuff. It's something you can read on a bus, or pick up for 5 minutes here and there. I'm not saying it's cheap rubbish, it's just got a simple prose, interesting characters, etc.

If, like me, you've read a lot of this guy, and you are actually interested in reading other books, you'll find this stale. It's the same recycled characters. The same pace in all his books. You can read a few hundred pages in 1Q84 and it doesn't really say anything. It's just like his other stuff, but drawn out. I'm being very unfair. I didn't even get half way through one of the books.

After those few hundred pages, I felt my efforts weren't helping me to "get to grips with contemporary Japanese culture", or any of the praises this book and Murakami gets. In a way, it was no more than two adventure stories with a tad of surrealism mixed in with pop culture references. It wasn't bad. It's just overly stale if you're used to it.

To conclude, I'll come back to it. I'll read a few hundred pages more of that monotonous dialogue, irrelevant plot "filler", and then I'll no doubt have to read the other two books in this series. Perhaps it gets good -- but how much do you have to read of it before that happens? If I want to read a large book, I always have Tolstoy.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

À bout de souffle - Jean Luc Goddard

aka "Breathless", directed by Jean-Luc Goddard, and written by Francois Truffaut.


A young car thief kills a policeman and tries to persuade a girl to hide in Italy with him.


I liked the 400 Blows, which is written by Traffaut. I liked the Band of Outsiders, directed by JLG. The former because there's nothing to dislike about it, and the latter because it's a film that thrived with the style it was given. It was entertaining.


46 minutes into this film or so. I can't be bothered. It's so much style over substance, and the only style I was getting was watching people piss about in a bed.


The girl tries to make conversation. Music. Literature. The guy's a philistine, I get it. He just wants her for sex, I get it. The male character doesn't say anything. It's so cliché, so dull. Same with half of the film I saw. You can't waste half a film portraying an empty character. Goddard's female characters are always vulnerable, educated, but socially stupid. Even that gets monotonous: the same recycled character.


It's just style. Too much sugar in a bad cup of coffee. Trendy, yet overly weak. At least give me something decent to read, some interesting character development, something absolutely beautiful to look at. I got none. I don't really care if the latter half of the film suddenly improved or somehow crammed in a load of character development -- or anything relating to substance.

I drink coffee without sugar because I like to be able to taste it. Did I mention it was lukewarm? This guy's like the French Woody Allen.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Robert Bresson

"Robert Bresson was a French film director known for his spiritual, ascetic style."

Recently, I have been fascinated by this director's work. Bresson was born in 1901, or 1907, apparently, this differs depending on the source. This alone tells you there is going to be an interested life behind the man, and there is. Namely, it's that he was a POW during WW2, and spent 18 months in the camp. This experience went on to inspire his first film, A Man Escaped.

You may find my entry on Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest, which was my first Bresson experience, and ultimately a bad one. This was mainly due to the religious nature of the film, which I found extremely difficult to relate to. I just didn't appreciate delicate nature of his work. I do think about that film, and how the priest's character is so unparelleled, the characterisation, the acting, and the narrative tools Bresson employs have had an affect on me, because there's nothing quite like it.

I have now seen Balthazar, and Pickpocket. I can tell you that I hope to rewatch Diary of a Country Priest, perhaps after seeing more of Bresson's catalogue. I thoroughly enjoyed both of these films, Pickpocket especially, and hope to make posts for both.

After reading and watching interviews, and seeing the two aforementioned films, I can say agree that Bresson's artistic focus is to separate the theatre and the stage performance from his actors. He uses non-professionals to portray his themes, and I've never seen anything so natural by the lead actor in Pickpocket, nor have I seen such a natural way of portraying themes in film.

A lot of people have called Bresson "anti-expression", but I disagree, it's this very subtle use of emotion in his actors which works remarkably with the themes he portrays in his films. He explores themes in the realms of salvation, redemption, and ultimately, the eminence of Bresson's work does what I think all art should strive to do, to try and reveal the human soul via metaphysical ascendancy, which Bresson proves we can only do by stripping away "performance", the almost materialistic commercialism behind cinema, namely the way actors act, as if it on a theatre stage.

It's the pure elegance of his work, where every frame is vital to the film, his reconstruction of the actor's role in cinema, it's this cultivated, graceful approach that leads to such a dominating impact of art that leave me in awe.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Murakami - ダンス・ダンス・ダンス

 dance dance dance - Haruki Murakami

This was my seventh Murakami novel. I find it ranks quite highly from those I've read. It's a loose sequel to his previous A Wild Sheep Chase, which I've also read and enjoyed, if feeling it a little sparse.

Murakami has said he really enjoyed writing this one, as he'd received unexpected fame from the publication of Norwegian Wood -- a bildungsroman work (Catcher In The Rye et al) . This was a "healing act" for him, and I believe I used this novel as a "healing act" for myself. Murakami is something that isn't overly difficult to read, to comprehend, to enjoy. I feel this is why Murakami is such a modern writer; we can all use his work to mellow the blows dealt in our society.

I'd discovered Murakami when I was trawling though wikipedia.org. I'd never heard of him before, but was looking for surreal Kafka-esque works, and stumbled across a page for the novel "Hard Boiled Wonderland & The Edge of the World".

I found this a fairly fresh novel, but I've come to realise there isn't much variation in Murakami's work, which isn't such a bad thing, and why I find myself turning to him in times of need. It's as if his books are all stories based in the same surrealist world, but do actually offer a direct channel between reality. Perhaps it's not so surreal after all? He is becomming very popular over here in the west, whilst already being Japan's most popular author, something I was unaware of when discovering him. He's very in touch with western pop culture, as is Japan, and at times I don't feel I'm reading something written for the audience of a different culture.

In dance dance dance, the major themes in Murakami's work shine. The surrealist barriers paint over the loss of abandonment, isolation in society, the absurd, and of course, the joyous connection we get from reading his work: the building and discovery of human relationships to others and to art, especially music. I've actually discovered a lot of literature and music from the namedropping, especially some of the jazz standards. This is why  he has more unique style and approach than simply a modern-day Kafka.

This novel stands as a midway mark for the author's current bibliography, and after writing his renown "Norwegian Wood" it's a great return to his more surreal, metaphysical world. I found the balance between realistic and surreal content spot on, as well as the books size and chapter breakdown.

It's a fun, exciting, well paced read that you'll draw many strong comparisons to real life situations and fundamental meanings, if any. I find the confines of his work explore the sense of these meanings more than accomplished works of metaphysics.

Murakami can drift into non-accessible fantastical elements, drawn out adventures that supposedly resemble something in real life, especially his more lengthy works like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and what I've read of the latest 1Q84. It's about seeing past those clouds with enough of the connection that makes his work a joy to read, and dance dance dance is a perfect example of this, making it one of the author's finest.

Дерсу Узала - A. Kurosawa

This is a split Russian-Japanese work directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1975, based on the memoirs by Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev and his travels through the course of years in Siberia.

The majority of the film is shot in the harsh yet beautiful wilderness of Siberia. Kurosawa and his team have exploited this landscape to their full advantages. I don't think many could pull this off today.

The main character in the film is a native of the forests, who is essentially a Siberian Tarzan, of the Nanai people. Throughout the film, we see the relationship formed between a military commander ordered to map the area and the native of the forests.

It's a fascinating film that allows us to question the basis of our society, and to realise that, compared to a more primitive lifestyle, age takes its tole on us all. The film shows the growth of friendship and respect between the two men, and says that fundamentally we all strive for the same necessities in life. All this couldn't of been accomplished without the sublime character study by the main actor Maksim Munzuk, from a small acting career, who plays Dersu so authentically.

Directed by Kurosawa, each frame has been carefully crafted to form this is flawless epic of a film, that takes real skill and admiration to pull of from the filming location alone. The choice of scenery and it's execution is phenomenal, drawing comparison to other adventurous works, such as those by Werner Herzog (Fiztcaralldo, Aguirre).

You won't find any pretense here -- just wonderful story telling by one of cinema's most cherished directors. This film has an obsessive appeal, but towards the scenes in the end of the film, you'll reach a realm of intensely emotional sorrow. You'll be left in awe with one of the most rewarding feelings you can receive from cinema.

If you've tried Kurosawa before but couldn't get on with his Samurai action films -- try Dersu Uzala, which depicts the drama of humanity itself.   

En kärlekshistoria - Andersson

A Swedish Love Story, directed in 1970 by Roy Andersson.

I'd seen "You, The Living" a few months back.  I felt it was a quirky film, with characters only the director would understand. It really limited itself to a small audience.

The film, however, was a straight forward love story, with an authentic Sweden set during the summer of 1970. I kept questioning how old the characters were due to the young faces, yet excessive amount of smoking.

Teenage film, when it actually involves the teenage years rather then the stuff dubbed "teenage film" at the moment, is able to craft a realistic portrayal of the obligatory naivety of the teenage characters, to show their flaws, mistakes, and misunderstandings of the adult world they're shortly going to enter. This film manages to do this, and thrives with the unique cultural setting, and overall charm of the male and female lovers. An interesting aspect of the film is that there isn't much dialogue between the couple, which allows for the scenes and actions in the story to highlight the youthful emotions at play and genuine clumsiness of their character.

It's not a film I can praise highly with artistic or philosophical merit, but one I can praise for pure enjoyment value, it's portrayal of innocence, and it's flawless creation. I don't think there was a filler scene, or underdevelopment. Cinematography was spot on for the overall theme, the scene under the rail tracks and away from the moped gang was especially authentic and wasn't beyond the scope of the film.

The film ends fairly strangely. The lover's parents have a merry gathering, hosted by the parents that live in the country, and we see the clash of the parents with the rocky marriage who live in the city. I didn't understand the city-country perspective in this film, feeling it was drifting away from the mere love story it was portraying so well, almost as if the director wanted to fill in some time, or say more. Without detailing this stage of the plot, this was the directory's attempt to make a comparison between the perplexities and struggles of adult life, but ends abruptly without having anything concrete to think about after the viewing. This look at parental differences of the young couple relates back to their "youthful emotion", but by this time the plot hasn't naturally lead into this direction, which allowed the film to spiral into a different direction, for better or worse.

Fortunately, it was more of the better that allows me to conclude that, overall, this is a good film, with a questionable inclusion of plot direction that steers away from what we expect in the love story, but one that does not impair the quality and feel of the film, but, for me, adds a genuine interest and matter of discussion afterwards, and allows this work to stand as something far more unique than the average drama romance.

Smultronstället - Bergman

Wild Strawberries, 1957, by Ingmar Bergman.

I can't say much about the director's work. The first film I had seen by Bergman was The Seventh Seal, followed by "The Hour of the Wolf" -- Bergman's only (psychological) horror film. This is my third Bergman film.

It's an easy-flowing film to watch. mainly because the plot is so open for interpretation. At times lucid, lucious, and thought-provoking, but ultimately a film that will make you feel very insignificant, in a good way. Especially if you're a younger person. This theme in these film is the evaluation of one's life. That insignificance, however, allows you to cherish and enjoy life for what it is, rather than what society makes us believe it is.

Through the eyes of an old man, we see the coldness he has endured, yet given to others throughout his life. In some ways I felt comparisons to Kurosawa's "Ikiru", which is also about an old man having an epiphany towards the end of his days, looking back on his life, and trying to find peace before he leaves. It seems when death is approaching us, or the very thought of it, we all change. Perhaps if we all thought about death a little more, we'd be more satisfied with ourselves?

What makes the film so challenging to understand is the ground it covers on this road trip, especially when they stop at the house he used to spend summers at as a child, and picking up young hitchhikers, who trigger the dreams to troubled relationships, experiences, and moments in his life. We share the journey, whether it be the protagonists answers to his dreams, as well as the nightmares, the proposed questions about life, self-discovery, the purpose of reflection, and the meaning of human existance, or just the act of it.

The plot and cinematography, I feel, were both sitting on a back row seat. The cinematography especially was simple yet elegantly accomplished, and I feel this may perhaps be the director's most personal work. I have read Bergman wrote this script while in a hospital bed.

I'd love to watch this film later on, and perhaps give you my thoughts then, when I feel a lot wiser. It gives a warm sense of being knowing that a piece of art is going to be with you for a very long time.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Return From Hiatus?

This is a reminder: I have several books and films to blog about. Some film,s however, aren't worth mentioning, and therefore haven't made the list.

Books:
  • dance dance dance - H. Murakami
    • This leads on from previous read Wild Shape Chase
  • Currently reading: 19Q4 by Murakami
    • Murakami is an accessible read to break up my studies
  • and, The Magus by Fowles
  • soon to also be The Fall by Camus

Films:
  • The Bicycle Thief - De Sica. I am surprised I haven't watched it sooner.
  • Dersu Uzala - Kurosawa. Russian collaboration about a native Siberian.
  • Raise the Red Lantern -- Yimou. Based in 1920s. A woman becomes one of several concubines to wealthy man.
  • Seraphine - Provost -- Belgian film on the life of French artist Séraphine
  • The White Ribbon -- Austrian-German film by Haneke. Drama based on a family pre WW1
For something more worthy to blog about, here are some fantastic collections of recommended novellas that perhaps others would benefit from reading alongside a busy study or work schedule (so busy, perhaps, that they cannot research their own recommendations list!):

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Sacrifice (Offret)

Made in 1986, this is the final film by Andrei Tarkovsky. It was made whilst he was dying of cancer and died shortly after the making. This was filmed outside of the Soviet Union, in Sweden, home to one of his most admired directors, Bergman. 

The film takes place hours before a nuclear catastrophic event -- World War III. The protagonist is relaxing in a field with his son refered to as "Little man", joking around with him, and also venting his philosophical qualms (the lack of spirituality in modern manking) as the child plays in the grass. Those not familiar with Tarkovsky's films would find it slow, boring, and difficult. 

What is strange, is there's this working class man -- the 'friend' -- and the university professor (the main character) discussing Nietzsche and other modern philosophers, whilst the working class guy randomly circles around on his bike, as if in a lucid dream.

The man makes a prayer to God, saying he'll leave (sacrifice) all he has if the war ends/never happens. Perhaps it was all a dream? One of the real disasters in the film was a major camera breakdown, resulting in one very important shot going to waste. If you pick up the DVD, you'll get another disc with a documentary on Tarkovsky, and the filming of The Sacrifice.

Whilst preferring the atmospheric nature of Tarkovsky's post-apocalyptic Stalker I found The Sacrifice stunningly beautiful. There are extremely long shots in the film, one being over nine minutes. The use of imagery is varied against a rural Swedish setting, but a careful eye is required to notice the shifting from colour to black and white -- a style Tarkovsky had used in other films. The natural flowing of the character's placement on set, the stories the post-man has, the way the family interacts, and isolates itself from each other -- it all flows into a gorgeous work of art, with such careful symbolism throughout.

Tarkovsky is not a very accessible "entertaining" film-maker (he claimed that films set out to entertain insult him); some viewers claim his work makes a great demand on the viewer's attention span, but surely there are other ways to depict disaster other than explosions?

This film allows us to see into the soul of Tarkovsky. The music from Bach, Japanese flute, Swedish traditional songs, and the essential rich philosophical dialogue is just as unforgettable as the imagery. Tarkovsky's work on the screen seemed such a natural, beautiful form of art and for that, unlike many others that found The Sacrifice upsetting and left the cinema in '86 with tears, I'm upset because there will be no one like Tarkovsky.

A Short Film About Killing

Polish director Krzysztrof Kleslowski's TV series, Dekalog, was a ten-part series of one hour films centred around the Ten biblical commandments. Two of these films were expanded -- this being one of them -- A Short Film About Love being the other.

This was my first experience with Kelslowski (I have yet to see The Three Colours Trilogy). This "short film" (81 minutes) is based on the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill"; so by telling you a murder takes place is of no surprise, or spoiler material.

It's a very accessible work, one you could start a class debate with about corporal punishment (which ends up being as cold and as horrific as the murder itself), yet a gripping storyline, which makes the film flow so smoothly ends in a perfect result. I felt the film was very foreign not because it's Polish, but because the main character is a disaffected, isolated young man living in the late 80's, who no view is going to empathise with, especially not when he causes a fair amount of trouble before he commits his crime on a taxi driver. The taxi driver is a guy who loves to ignore people, even potential fairs, and generally isn't much nicer than the killer, but you aren't going to contemplate that when the brutality of the murder is shown.

The perfect execution of the film confirms that Kleslowski has a power with film; total composure, an honest story teller. Unlike the uncaring taxi driver I cannot simply ignore the rest of his work, nor recommend A Short Film About Killing an essential place to start with his work, even more so if you live somewhere where corporal punishment is still practised.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Sun (Сóлнце) - A. Sokurov

Russian film, Japanese history. Director - Alexander Sokurov, who is best known for his epic Russian Ark -- a film done in 1 take, 1 shot, which would highlight him as slightly more adventurous than most directors we know today. The film is set during the final days of WW2, and is part of a series of films that centre around political figures -- the others being Hitler and Lenin. The Sun's political figure is Japanese Emperor Shōwa Hirohito.

I don't know much about Hirohito, or why he talks really weirdly in this (even when talking Japanese) -- as if his tongue's too big for his mouth, which is intriguing. Perhaps a type of etiquette? The film epitomizes character study. The directory himself claimed not to be interested with politics and what you'd be taught from, say, the History Channel, and so those subjects are partially ignored. Hirohito's in a bunker (as they all are), yet in the Imperial Palace, which is quite cozy, rather than claustrophobic hell. He reminisces not so much on the past, but on his and the future of Japan -- or lack of it. 

It's a film that requires a lot of input from the viewer, introspection on this level is better suited to novels, but Sokurov's work will appeal to (and impress) certain audiences. Refraining from spoiling the plot -- or giving you a history lesson -- this is a film about what the man was or might of been feeling at the time (and throughout his life), his responsibilities, and his reflection on possible war crime accusations, which lead to awkward meetings to dictate peace terms with an American commander. Therefore, this is a film so many viewers will be either bored with, and perhaps bitterly disappointed that they weren't getting a historical romp or a heavy political showing.

Issei Ogata is the best Japanese actor I've seen -- especially in a role like this. What makes this role even more impressive in scale and to accomplish from Ogata's perspective is the fact that this wasn't screened in Japan due to right-wing extremists getting angry over the portrayal of Hirohito, yet Ogata and the other actors still had the guts to work with Russian director (and cinematographer) Sokurov to make this wonderful exploration of a 'human being' in an incredible situation. To think we as individuals, governments, uniting bodies and every country in the world fear atomic warfare -- this was the Emperor of a country watching his world burn before his eyes -- something even the Emperor, who was considered a deity in Japan -- a God amongst men -- couldn't control, or perhaps even understand; little of us can.

The Island (Остров) -- Pavel Lungin

the version I have

The first time I watched this film, I thought it was going to be full of overly orthodox religious Christian themes, and was a film made solely for religious audiences. I'm not saying that's not the case, but there are elements of this film that I had ignored.

The themes present in religious elements in the film such as faith, redemption, and grief are present in humanity in general, monks are just used as characters. As the film progresses, it becomes more accessible to even atheists, allowing us to empathise with the main character, appreciate the solace, and the surrounding island scenery.

The Island is an obvious title, and I bet it also refers to the monk being an island of his own. Taking place on a remote northern Russian island, holding a monastery full of monks, the protagonist being one himself, his peers are wearing robes and being the typical robed Holy guys, he's covered in coal, being called a joker, pulling pranks, and is fairly eccentric with members of the community coming to see him.

The reason he's a monk is at the start, he's serving in WW2 in the north and gets into a confrontation with the Nazis, and loses his friend. Without spoiling it, he blames himself, so becomes a monk. Throughout the feel you sometimes wonder if he really wanted to become a monk, because he's an individualist, even criticizing and mocking the way they pray, their manners, etc.

The film even contains some laugh out loud humour (from the eccentric monk clashing with the others), but it never breaks away from the desolate feel of the place. The basic piano loop music works really well, giving the film a genuine feel for the ground it's covering.

Not much light in that part of the world after all... but a fair amount in this film. I hail this as a great film, rather than a Church-goers best friend.



Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Wasp Factory


Iain Banks has a fairly large body of work, especially once you realise his alias, “Iain M. Banks” is what he uses to write science fiction, which is a subgenre he's also hailed as one of the current best. However, this novel is considered more “general fiction”, although this probably wouldn't attract more readers than SF, because this book has received a lot of controversial press, therefore only grabbing the attention of a few twisted individuals, such as myself.

I first heard about this book being overly disturbing, shockingly weird, a sick and deformed work of fiction. I'd ask what it was about, and people would tell me to read it and find out. “You'd have to read it, I can't even explain it” Even if I said I didn't mind spoilers, they couldn't sum it up. They were just being awkward and not accepting the content of the book. It's about a sixteen year old guy who lives in a relatively small town in Scotland. He likes his catapult/slingshot, his homemade bombs, his air rifle. He likes killing things. He's also got his own dark religion, where he likes to perform little sacrifices. People love the anti-religion/spirituality that Banks supposedly is making a mockery out of, and any self-proclaimed intellectual will ask him if this is a study of the history of religion and how it profoundly comments on modern Christianity, and how much of an atheist he is.

They'll ask him if he had a bad childhood, too. A lot of BLACK things happen in the book; some claim it's black humour, some claim it's strictly a disturbing, gothic, twisted work of fiction set in the remoteness of Scottish backwaters where a troubled sixteen year old can perform his occult practices.

I thought the book would only start to get interesting around the halfway mark, but it's entry into the world of this guy starts on the first few pages. The amount of ground covered, the way it'll make weaker-willed readers put it down in shame and disbelief, has been accomplished by huge books, triple it's size. Every page of The Wasp Factory is an honest look into the mind and history of this individual, a psychological painting of what we find interesting simply because it exists within us all. You'll even start to like Frank, the main protagonist. I liked him from page one anyway.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Abre los ojos

After reading Ubik, this film was linked at the bottom of an article, along with virtual reality. The main link between this film and Ubik: not being able to tell reality from dream. Unfortunately, that's on the verge of being bastardised by Hollywood for me. I suspected this wouldn't be the case with this film because 1. It's in Spanish 2. Sundance. 2 extremely important points, no doubt.

My hopes prevailed: it turned out to be extremely engaging, and true intelligent food for thought -- without dressing itself into a film for intellectuals a la Tarkovsky's Solaris, or Stalker.

It's about a ladies man who finally sees more in a girl one day. It's his friend's date, and they just spend a bit of time together. Like in Ubik, there is a suspicious female character who likes our protagonist way more than he wants, which then leads the guy towards a major event which sparks the film into that of lucid, hypnotic dreams of intertwining psychological perplexity. Which is what I loved: not being able to tell what is real.

It isn't really a film of beautiful takes and immense cinematography, yet some of the scenes are so impressive because of plot content, which any good medium of science fiction should adhere to: taking you away from the world you perceive and into an another -- one that exists in all speculative thinkers and self philosophers. When a work is done to this standard it is the epitome of existentialist nutrition: one I'll choose to absorb over Dostoevsky any day.

It's widely accessible, which brings the film into greater realms unlike the esoteric, pretentious nature it could have delved into. Due to the acting, the way it moves, and the pace the film is still going to impress art house audiences; as with myself, it managed to evoke true emotion and steer clear of cheap awkward sci-fi moments we're used to and present itself as an intelligent film with true creative flare and artistry.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

It's Winter (2006)

Here's an Iranian film set in Tehran. A man leaves home to find work abroad, leaving his wife and daughter behind. Months go by and no one hears from him. It was confusing to figure out if he just lost his beard, because that's what the main character looks like.

A younger looking man comes into that town looking for work. It's a very bleak look that basically shows us unemployment, even when people are trained specialists like the mechanics in the film.

It's a extremely cold and distant film, with some great cinematography depicting the cold, blunt isolation and lets us feel walking around the snow without a hat or a coat is the least of their worries. It's reminded me of more of the deprived scenes in Uzak, a Turkish film.

I don't understand the claim of "wanting to leave the country" (yes, that's obvious) "yet bound to home by blood" -- the latter didn't seem to relate to anything but with a film with hardly any substantial dialogue I suppose you can say what you like.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Ubik - Philip K Dick

I've read a fair few books by Dick now: Man in The High Castle, A Scanner Darkly (I think I've read it. Or was it reading me? Or was the other me reading it? Or did I imagine I read it?), 'Androids, and '3 Stigmata'. This'll be my 5th novel.

About 9 months ago, I tried to read Ubik. "I  may come back to it.", I did more than that. I completed it, and...

Ubik  was written in 1969. It seems to be in the main 4-5 of his recommend novels; his most popular. What really surprised me when I was researching the book, was how Time Magazine had named Ubik in their 100 greatest novels since 1923.

Science Fiction takes a different kind of approach to read compared to mainstream literature; you have to read it a tad more slowly, open your mind a little more. Again, I was surprised how Dick managed to create a somewhat accessible prose in this book, especially for something so archaic.

I sometimes wonder that as his work progressed, did his writing ability improve? Did it become clearer? In at least half the novels I've read of his, some pages just don't make sense; I found myself reading paragraphs or 2 over to try and piece it together. Albeit, even in modern copies, there seems to be lack of a good editor. Dick struggled with poverty, drug addiction, and mental health throughout his life which ultimately was the cause of a lot of his work, for better, and for worse: he wrote an incredible amount, and we have speed to thank for it. It's how he made a living, and he made very little -- dying before Bladerunner was even released. You could argue that we also have drugs to thank for his more schizophrenic and theological works, but you'll soon realise, or even start wondering yourself, whether Dick's drug-fuelled tales came from the drugs at all. They were simply just fuel for his writing sprees.

After reading 'Castle', I didn't think it was a great book. I thought it was a brilliant concept, and I thought it was good it parts, but it was incoherent. Perhaps you learn to understand the way he writes? For some reason shortly after, I started watching documentaries and reading interviews about Dick. I'd read this novel by the guy; it took me about 3 attempts, I kept putting it down. I got lost. I couldn't figure out one character from the other. I was drawn to his work and to his life and I'm not quite for why. I think it's because I empathise with Dick, who used science fiction solely as a way to present his unique ideas to whatever audience was willing to read it.

Why was I empathizing with a novelist who was tainted by this "genre lit" and was a classic example of what must be a standard quote -- "Sci fi writers can't write". It's so true; so caught up in their ideas, and like Dick, with his own paranoia, his speculation, doubting and questioning time, what it means to be human, and reality itself. Dick's merit has been hidden behind the ghastly, stupid covers that his work has been printed under. I dreaded again putting up the version of the cover I own: the fantasy helmet-wearing woman on my cover has absolutely nothing to do with the story line. Dick's works, and insight into his life have also allowed me to realise the struggles a lot of science fiction writers have: a lot of them are capable of writing, but they're expected to churn out so much stuff, turn stand alone novels into trilogies, forced to write series, sequels, prequels, and are ultimately doomed into everything geeky and cliched like Warhammer-playing, video-game-obsessed teenagers represent about the genre (although fellow Dick fans don't seem to be the sort -- nor do Time Magazine critics...) -- sorry for any elitism there!

It's a shame Dick never got the recognition his work deserves. He grew up reading Joyce, Proust, and numerous other "cultural" French novelists. It's a shame that if you want to base your novel in the future, it's science fiction, despite having theological and philosophical undertones -- it's going to be sold alongside the Marvel comic books and videos games and turned into blockbuster films. 1984 and Brave New World are science fiction, so why are they recognised, and so much is not? It's mainly down to luck of publishing.

Ubik in itself turned out to be a metaphor for God. We cannot be sure of anything we think is 'reality'. Are we alive, are we dead, are we just dreaming? Prepare for an enthralling existential nightmare. Don't expect to wake up though.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

羅生門 - Akira Kurosawa

Rashomon is a crime mystery film. It's always looked like a samurai film to me. I even thought Ikiru was likely to be a samurai film.

Being now my third Kurosawa film, I know it's not a "samurai film". It's hailed as one of his masterpieces, and stars the reckless Toshiro Mifune.

The majority of the film is told via flashbacks around a crime committed in the woods. We are set on lots of different paths, with accounts told from an array of characters, each one supposedly void of truth.

There is so much information on the film, making it an ideal essay for a film student, you can find: influences of silent film, modern art, how Kurosawa had the staff and actors live together, the use of light and minimal use of scenery to reflect upon all different symbolic and allegorical, profound meanings. There's even something dubbed the "Rashomon Effect", and writings that say the film is an allegory of the atomic bombing...

This is what makes reviewing classic film so difficult (or films that have been hailed as so influential): trying to find something honest to say when you just want to directly comment on how you enjoyed the film, avoiding regurgitating what has already been said.

鍵 -- Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

The Key by Tanizaki is one of the most interesting short novels I've read to date. Being written entirely via diary entries between man and wife and set during post-WW2, I thought I was in for something very oblique and dated.

Perhaps the cover should have told me more. It's not overly explicit, and by today's standards certainly isn't.

This is a completely absorbing and exciting novella formed via such intricate diary entries yet I find it absurd how Tanizaki managed to convincingly write the wife's entries... This is the first work I've read by Tanizaki; perhaps his at times cynical writing portrayed the bitter attitude women have towards their husbands; perhaps that's how he felt women in his life viewed him?

This bitterness and disgusts towards men seems to be an extremely accepted standard by women in real life and in the media,  and it  definitely isn't something I expected to relate to in a Japanese novel from the 50s which is how unique this very short book is.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

きる -- Akira Kurosawa

Ikiru is a Japanese film that was co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1952.

When I think of Akira Kurosawa, I always think of Samurai films. I've only seen Seven Samurai, which offers so much more depth; so much I needn't mention it.

Ikiru centres around a reclusive bureaucrat in Tokyo, living the same lifeless, monotonous lifestyle every day for 30 years.

We follow the man throughout his last days; learning he has stomach cancer and unable to empathise with anyone in his current life.  We join him on the final quest for a meaning to his life, to all our lives.

I wasn't entirely sure if a Japanese film from the 50s could be so moving with its conventional acting and script; I was convinced I was in for a cliched and dated film. I was wrong. It's also surprisingly long, running at 143 minutes, which is only to be expected from a film with such directional talent and profound message.

Now that I have seen it, I am certain that it will always be an important film, more than just an old warming tale from back then, and it will always find its way into any list constructed by anyone who knows film. It's perfect, and I don't think it intended to be.

Disgrace - J.M. Coetzee

A novel published in 1999 in post-apartheid South Africa.

This isn't a novel you can claim to "like" or even "enjoy". I found interest in the protagonist, who has a relationship with a student. I couldn't really understand why a 20 year old student and a 54 year old professor would cause such an uprising and lead to his resignation. Surely she's old enough?

This guy says he's guilty,  holds his ground and says that's all he'll do, and goes out to a farm where his daughter lives. They get attacked, and the novel then centres on their relationship deteriorating into awkward silences. The novel was interesting enough to keep me reading it an a fast pace, connoting to its style; simple, yet effective.

The cover refers to the phrase of a country "going to the dogs", and the professor character ends up working with dogs whilst at the farm. This novel won the Booker prize, and I'm not surprised. It was well timed, its an insight into South Africa just after apartheid, and I cannot fault it.

If you were to ask me if I would recommend the novel, and what I thought of it, its subject matters limits my answer to  an almost ignorant appreciation perception of the country and its history. Whilst this book hints at political commentary it keeps on its own track, challenging consistent themes of personal shame, the treatment of women (such as his daughter), a changing country, and animal rights.

Some of these themes require that you're up to scratch with your history, but one symbolism that I found completely inaccessible was the professor's Byron anecdotes, and trying to relate them back to his current affairs. This was an understandable use of the character at first, but dwindled into the very bleakness the novel itself was encumbered within; only meaningful to a select, esoteric group which unfortunately the author tried to immerse us into. Appropriate for the Booker prize, no doubt.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Archipelago -- Joanna Hogg, 2010

 I would describe this as a stunningly hypnotic, English middle-class family drama. The film is shot so beautifully, making use of the natural light and nature; allowing us to enjoy it photographically with long takes.

The tension between the family is something we've all experienced but it's orchestrated so culturally, but perhaps in a somewhat esoteric nature. I feel this is a far superior and honest view of Britain rather than other films that seem to enjoy showing the country as the bastard it is.

The family in the film have a lot of tensions with the son wanting to leave for charitable work in Africa, and the mother seems to be having marital problems what with the absence of their father.

It all takes place on the Scilly Isles off of Cornwall with the purpose of the trip being a farewell to the son who's due to leave, but throughout the film he starts having doubts about himself.

Despite being so alluring, the film offers more to think about than just angelic cinematography. It's a great insight into how families cause chaos not by what they say, but what they don't. The acting is superb; certain scenes highlight this without mass dialogue; it certainly shows the director and cast have a lot talent to work with something so delicate as domestics.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Great Gatsby

Gatsby is hailed as the second best novel of the 20th century. However, I didn't read it for that reason. It was just mentioned amongst general online communities that I frequent, and I liked the themes that it covered.

A blog post like this cannot really do justice towards the thousands of essays and the like you can find. I had no idea how much this book was also covered in high schools. I didn't know it was considered one of the "great American novels".

The size of the introduction in most modern publications seems to be at least a quarter the size of the book, which is great if you're studying it at school, but quite irritating if you're just treating it as another cheap paperback before bed.

The prose is written with an elite craftsmanship, and I admired the delicate clarity of emotional scenes but felt myself confused through scenes containing social events, and the bits in-between. The plot lacked a consistent flow for me: it wasn't tied together; scenes opening and closing; characters dropping into the mix quite abruptly, which gives the book a good feel once the reader gets used to it, and I suppose echoes the pace of upper-class party life. The last dramatic scene isn't made clear; everything seems to be implied -- hinted at.  

I feel like it's a fantastic book, and it does offer so much in a small amount of pages -- even sometimes listed as a novella. I have a semi-confirmed inclination that Fitzgerald set out to write a classic, or something that felt like one. I say semi-confirmed:

Fitzgerald intended to edit and reshape Gatsby thoroughly, believing that it held the potential to launch him toward literary acclaim. He told his editor the novel was a "consciously artistic achievement" and a "purely creative work — not trashy imaginings as in my stories but the sustained imagination of a sincere and yet radiant world".
It leaves me questioning: does an author successfully intend to write a classic? Gatsby feels and reads like one, but I'm not sure if it truly is a great work, quite simply because I can't ignore its significance and its history of trying to be nothing but one of the greatest. So whether or not it really is something of high literary acclaim, I enjoyed it.


Sunday, 27 February 2011

Howl

This is an American film from 2010 that looks at the debut of the poet Allen Ginsberg and the 1957 obscenity of his poem, 'Howl'. James Franco -- who played in 127 Hours and the Spider-Man films plays Ginsberg.

I forgot he had played in 127 Hours. Unfortunately though, I couldn't stop thinking of him for his role in the Spider-Man films. So, I had to look James Franco up. I was extremely surprised.

"He's a very education-minded person. We used to laugh because in between takes he'd be reading The Iliad on set. We still haven't read The Iliad. It was a very difficult book. With him, it was always James Joyce or something."
 If only I had known, because I was biased against him -- but not for long, quite simply because this has to be the most interesting film I've seen released this year.

It's an extremely nonlinear flow: historical events, lots of cinematic techniques, Ginsberg's early life, the reading of Howl in beat poetry clubs, scenes shot in colour of the trial, and even lucid animation scenes as the poem is read. In premise alone, I found it fascinating: how the 2 directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (who I've never heard of) were going to translate a poem to the scene. Not a biopic, not a full-blown documentary, but the poem itself, and related events onto the screen.

The scenes of the reading of the poem were a massive success for me, and Franco reads them with such a great understanding and appreciation for the prose. Apparently these readings were such a vital impact for the Beat Generation, helping to revolutionise the West Coast literary circles.

After reading more about Franco, and realising he is an academic, with a love for literature, it makes sense that he played the lead role here -- and he did so perfectly. I bought the poem after seeing the film.

Land and Freedom - Ken Loach


 Land and Freedom is a film from 1995 by Ken Loach.  It narrates the life of an unemployed worker and member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He decides to leave Liverpool and go fight for the republican side in Spain, during the civil war. The film went on to win several awards.

It draws strong comparisons to George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, who was also a volunteer for the same side in the war, as well as Ernest Hemingway.

It's an extremely engaging film, looking at the political differences between the Soviet-backed forces and the anarchist forces -- the POUM. David, the main character, initially went to fight for the former, but coincidentally fought for the latter (of which he hadn't heard about) -- either way, fundamentally he wanted to fight against the fascists so he could be doing something he believed in -- his socialists beliefs -- and prevent the spread of fascism to the rest of Europe. 

He ends up getting confused about the 2 different sides, who're meant to be fighting for the same thing, yet at the time, not really realising the dangers of Stalinism and the Soviet-backed forces, despite them having access to reliable arms, etc. There is an extremely compelling scene in the film between the POUM members discussing whether or not to collectivise land, what is the revolution about, and again Loach goes a step further than just showing a fight against the fascists but a social revolution in the making. This really shows the differences between real communism and Stalinism and thus the film also serves as an educational resource. My favourite film by Loach thus far.


You can watch the whole film, legally, on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WH9J48jlUE0

Thursday, 24 February 2011

La Soufrière

 Another Werner Herzog documentary, this one being older -- made in '77. Otherwise known as Warten auf eine unausweichliche Katastrophe ("La Soufrière - Waiting for an Inevitable Disaster").

Herzog visits an island on which a volcano is about to erupt. Nothing unusual there. He had heard that one man had refused to leave, and of course wanted to go find him for a chat. We're taken around the town, down streets and backroad and along the coast. It's completely deserted. Everyone has left. Animals roam the streets, dogs scrounge what little they can.

Eventually the crew takes a casual stroll up the mountainside, but return only because the clouds of sulphurous stream get the in the way. Or as Herzog more elegantly puts it, "drift that harbingers of death". The crew meet and chat with a couple of the guys, one being the man who stayed behind. I won't spoil what they say.

To conclude a half hour film: I've said lots about Herzog and the egocentric characters he finds, their harmony with nature, (or insanity). Hopefully there are more of his viewers, who also enjoy peering outside of our mainstream society.

The White Diamond

 Werner Herzog again. This is a documentary film made in 2004 and depicts the life and struggles of a British aeronautical engineer (he's designs aircraft and such). He wants to make an airship that will fly over the canopies of the Guyana waterfall.

There's a sadness behind it. The guy is also dealing with the death of a cinematographer (Dieter Plage) he took up last time. Yet again, Herzog managers to find a local, and explore his life, to make the film even more interesting. That's not to say the engineer lacked interest, but because he had to take time out to work on the craft, and for his own emotional being: coming to terms with the death that his work had caused before.

It's a great depiction of a man that needs to conquer his remorse, the canopies of the waterfall and himself -- to learn that his carelessness, his selfishness are what caused the accident, but never are we left hating the guy -- for his innocence and obsessive passion for the science leave us inspired just like the men that are driven by their inner being to explore the unknown before him.

The music and cinematography that are composed in this film are completely majestic. I was left in serene awe; some of the scenery you could admire in a trance for hours. One of his best documentary films without a doubt. 

The Wind That Shakes the Barley - Ken Loach

 Ken Loach directs a war drama film set during 1919-1923: the Irish War of Independence and Civil War respectively. Two brothers (in real life, too) join the Irish Republican Army.

Released in 2006 this is the highest-grossing Irish independent film ever. It's difficult to say something when it's all been said elsewhere.

I think the most important thing is that I'll say it's good -- and that it is, it's a solid film: acting, performance, plot, and production The theme of two men fighting for different values running throughout the film is what makes it interesting, and more than a blockbuster -- for which it isn't. 

Loach's work centres around social realism, and that's the most important aspect of this drama. 

The film poses the questions: was the Irish a social revolution as opposed to a nationalist revolution? Here's what Loach says:
"Every time a colony wants independence, the questions on the agenda are: a) how do you get the imperialists out, and b) what kind of society do you build? There are usually the bourgeois nationalists who say, 'Let's just change the flag and keep everything as it was.' Then there are the revolutionaries who say, 'Let's change the property laws.' It's always a critical moment.
I can't recommend this film and Ken Loach's work enough.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

歸途列車 Last Train Home

This is a thought provoking documentary from 2009 from Lixin Fan -- a Canadian-Chinese.

130 million workers travel back to their rural backgrounds every spring for the Chinese New Year. This is actually the world's largest human migration. It really shows the massive barrier between China's rural history and factory-driven industrial future.

The 2 parents travel back annually to see their children. They've been working in a factory for 16 years, and see the children just once a year. It's more than just an average documentary. It's soaked in human emotion and unquestionably a beautiful film -- the production and cinematography are breath taking in places -- even in close encounters.

So.. is the capitalist West to blame? Equip yourself with your own answers.




Sunday, 20 February 2011

Encounters at the End of the World

This is documentary film made in 2007 by Werner Herzog all about the people and places in Antarctica.

Instead of being a film all about penguins (although, there are some scenes -- you can't go to Antarctica and ignore the penguins...) it mainly centres around the people living and working in this frozen wasteland.

Anything that's narrated by Herzog, I'm going to enjoy. There's lots of narrative and interviews in this film and just like other Herzogian characters, they're all unique. It's a breath of fresh air that'll make your lungs ache from the cold, but it's just what I needed.

We meet station maintenance workers -- just general people... and for some reason they all seem to have these eccentric yet traumatic tales to tell about their lives and how they escaped near death on safaris gone AWOL and dodged civil wars but we never really find out what they're doing on the continent. 

We also meet scientists: iceberg fanatics, seal lovers, sci-fi obsessed biologists, and there's even some local philosopher driving a digger. It's not all cozy, because you'll find yourself being immersed under the frozen wasteland to swim in the alien seas below it, discovering a mysterious, beautiful world. Is it sounding like something the BBC've done? Well it's far too sporadic for that. Yet again I'm drawn to the fascinating music he manages to incorporate into such scenes, which definitely beats some BBC narrator droning on about the lifeforms in there and how they live. I'll let Herzog lead the voyage into the unknown abyss rather than have it fed to me.

We'll also come across volcanoes and as I mentioned: obligatory penguin scenes. Don't be fooled by that --  again, you'll come to appreciate the unique approach to all of this. I think the film should be hailed for the study and quality of the humanity it depicts -- right down the history of Ernest Shackleton and the first South Pole expedition crew. Herzog manages to produce a reflective insight into the society of people living on the frozen continent twice the size of Australia. I thought this was a documentary?

(The DVD is also stacked full of extra material. So much there's an hour plus an extra disc dedicated to it all.)