Saturday, September 25, 2010

Film — True Legend (Su Qi-Er)

Woo-Ping Yuen's latest chop-socky film about Beggar Su, the master of Dunken Fist wu-shu had its UK première here this evening.

It was almost solid martial arts mayhem, with just a few pauses for breath; however the structure of the film was a bit of a mess -- the intrusive 'now put on your 3D glasses/OK take them off again' around the training arc and what looked like it was going to be the Boss Fight didn't help (nor did the 3D itself where the actors often seemed to be floating detached from the rather washed-out scene around them.

The story itself seems to be a fairly direct one about Su and his adopted brother Yuan who spurns the generosity of his adopted family, and cue two-way revenge tragedy -- then just when you think it's all over, a long coda culminating in the real Boss Fight out of nowhere.

Clearly it must be following the high points of a well known tale -- but it ends up feeling unresolved because of the broken narrative rhythm, whereas stopping at the tragedy of the 3/4 mark would have given closure (if you don't ask too deeply why a martial artist of Su's calibre would dig a box out of sandy ground with his bare hands, rather than using some one-inch-punch technique to break open the lid in situ).

In all, not entirely satisfying popcorn fare.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Film — Henri Quatre (Henry of Navarre)

Added to the Film Festival programme after the program went to print, a competently done edited-highlights costume drama (German production, dialogue in French with some Italian and Latin) of the life and turbulent times of the eponymous French King.

Not something I would have gone out of my way to see, had I not already earmarked this week for the festival, but equally not something where I felt I'd wasted the afternoon.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anime — Kemono no souja Erin

Where 2007's Seirei no Moribito adapted the first of a series of ten novels by Nahoko Uehashi over 26 episodes, this 2009 series adapted the first two of a separate quartet of hers over 50 episodes; and while they are, in broad, fantasy, there is none of even the limited magic from the Moribito series.

We follow Erin -- crabapple -- for a decade or so from her childhood, where her mother, Soyon, tends some of the ferocious war lizards -- touda -- that the Grand Duke of the land employs as the ultimate weapon against potential invaders, and Erin herself is a keen observer of her mother's craft and of the natural world around her. As an outsider, from a despised people, who had only married into the touda raising village, Soyon is the obvious scapegoat when the whole colony fall to some mysterious sickness.

Literally cast adrift after her mother's death, Erin is eventually fostered by a kindly bee-keeper, under whose care she discovers more about the natural world -- and encounters for the first time the ohju, the wolf/roc lord beasts with their iridescent plumage. Being fascinated by these creatures, and nature as a whole, she finally manages to be inducted into the prestigious school-cum-ohju care centre near the capital, in the peaceful lands of the True Queen, whom the Grand Duke protects.

And as Erin takes to her craft, and violates all manner of traditions of ohju-care in doing so, politics and dissension amongst the successors of both the throne and the dukedom brew up and engulf her, against all her desires, until a final resolution that changes the status quo forever.

Being spread over so many episodes, the pacing is glacial during the first arc, until Erin is cast into exile (part of the reason why this review is somewhat belated); but once that is past, and the story starts to move, albeit at a leisurely pace, it becomes gently compelling, in the same quiet way that Aria is.

It is clearly an anime aimed at younger children -- not only are there some comic relief characters whose function is purely that; but the last episode concluded with an announcement that there would be a 10 episode summary then broadcast on an education channel. As such, where there is violence involving touda or ohju, the art moves from realistic to an effective highly stylized mode; and the person-to-person combats are almost bloodless; this being Japan, though, there are several themes, including Erin's preference for suicide to being used as a tool by any of the competing factions, that are probably not sanitizable for sensitive Western tastes.

Overall, good, but not great. Being on Crunchyroll, it's viewable without fansub guilt -- but equally it's unlikely to make it to DVD.

Caught in the Act -- Again!

This evening, after I'd made sure that the cat-flap was set to inbound-only, I heard the door swinging, and thought to myself "but all the cats who know how to use it are in, unless this is a visitor" -- but there was no sound of challenge from the cats who had just a little while before been at their feeding station nearby.

So, I wander into the lobby, just in time to see the hindquarters of a cat exiting through the 'In' door, clearly having hooked it open by the rubber rim and stuck a nose under.

Some cats are too clever for their own good!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Film — The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

For someone who announced his retirement a few years ago, Luc Besson remains remarkably active...

The 30th Cambridge Film Festival opened with his latest film, an adaptation of a 1970s bande dessinée about the eponymous Adèle, who is an Edwardian Lara Croft, with a touch of Tintin, in a turn of the century Paris, populated mainly by bumbling gentlemen with florid moustaches and ghastly haircuts. And, for reasons that become apparent as the film progresses, a rapacious pterodactyl which serves as the maguffin.

For a comedy adventure, the humour is uneven, sometimes leaden, some gags are over used (the rule of three is callously disregarded at times), sometimes a little too knowing (in the form of a certain quip about a change in the Parisian landscape that post-dates the original publication), but in the main, works.

Two strikes against the film -- an anachronistic attitude to tobacco (fixable by tweaking one line of dialog), and two uses of bullet time.

Oh -- and you do have to stay through the credits for this one.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Film — L'Illusioniste

A new feature directed by Sylvain Chaumet (Triplettes de Belleville) to a 1956 screenplay by Jacques Tati. This 100+ minute animation is very clearly a Tati film -- it's almost done in mime, an absolute mimimum of dialogue -- with a strong air of melancholy under the veneer of humour (an example of the mood being the scene where the girl, who has attached herself to the middle-aged, slightly past-it stage magician of the title, serves up rabbit stew to him, and some of the other stage acts who share their digs, while he is surreptitiously looking for where the obnoxious creature which he pulls out of hats has gone). Although the CGI leaps out at you in a slightly obnoxious fashion in a couple of shots, for the most part it could be line and watercolour after the style of Oliver Postgate.

Its evocation of Britain (some London, a lot of Scotland) c1960 rings very true, both in the looks -- I'm sure there were photographic references underlying the scenery -- but also the cultural references, as the old music hall acts are elbowed out by the new rock'n'rollers exemplified by Billy Boy and the Britoons. And there are some more knowing, more contemporary, jokes embedded in some of the signage (it's very worth reading all the text, like the menu at the chippie, and the pawnbroker's hoardings).

And look out for the actual Tati to make a brief appearance, as well as the namesake central character.

Likely to be the best film I see all year.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Caught in the act!

For a while now, I've had my suspicions as to who was responsible for the level of food in an open tin going down. Now I have the suspect red-handed --

Call me Arthur

"Call me Arthur"

At least that's not as bad as bringing a pigeon in through the cat-flap, which is what I came home to today -- a flurry of feathers and a bemused looking half-plucked bird standing in the middle of the living room floor, and needing shooing out,