Miike the Killer

Hara-kiri

He’s probably the most infamous Japanese filmmaker of all time, the man who regularly trades in screen rape, ultraviolence, and mutilation/torture. But he is also undoubtedly very interesting, a man interested in genres — he beat Tarantino to the post-modern Django film, but as consolation, he gave Tarantino a cameo.

His upcoming film, As God Says, is apparently another splatter movie, and it’s based on a comic book. This sort of runs opposite to how I view the Genre Filmmaker coming-of-age — take David Cronenberg for example. Existenz was his last traversal into the world of Cronenbergundian body horror. Ever since, he’s done Cronenbergundian dramas like Spider, Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method. As good as those movies can be, I’d be lucky to ever see another Scanners, or Rabid (as bad as those two movies were).

Recently, two of Miike’s movies felt like prestige pieces — 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri, the former being an ultraviolent take on the chambara tradition of having a numbered group of fighters, and the latter a remake of a very good 50s Japanese classic.

But I have to keep in mind that Miike directs two to five movies a year, and the same year he did 13 Assassins there came forth a little number called Zebraman 2. The same year he did an anti-bullying picture he adapted the popular handheld video-game Phoenix Wright.

I may not have a taste for his movies overall, but he’s an extremely intriguing filmmaker, one to watch. I’d be further interested to see if his filmography takes on any sense of direction or theme, consistent with other auteurs.

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Korean New Wave on U.S. Shores: The Impact of Fandom?

Olduboi

Specifically let’s discuss the new Oldboy, which unfortunately is doing pretty poorly at the box office. Variety reports that it made an exciting $2 million, opening in a whopping 583 locations. See, I planned on seeing it this weekend but I don’t want to go into Boston. Or New York. Or LA.

It might just be the zero marketing campaign, the bad buzz, or the release following the year’s two biggest blockbusters — but let’s roll with a hypothetical. And in doing so, let’s identify a potentially massive impact on financial performance, one that if proven to be real, should be taken even more into consideration than it already… should be.

Fanboys and fangirls might be loud on the Internet, but as the underperformances of Serenity and Arrested Development Season 4 show us — even the loudest fans don’t mean great box office dividends. But of course, the fans will be bitchin’, and a terribly bitchy variety of fan is that of the foreign film. Everybody knows Oldboy because for one it’s an excellent movie, but also because it’s like The Wire — a very widely available thing that snobs will not shut up about.

There needs to be a proper metric by which to measure the impact of fans on the returns of a film — it vacillates wildly between successful and failuriffic movies. The best method is to just do whatever, just make the most fast-food YA novel franchise pictures appealing to the widest audiences you can imagine. Just do it. I’ve given up. Tomorrow — we’ll continue this Asiany discussion with the news of Takashi Miike’s new movie, and a lookback/bitchiness-session of his truly awful filmography.

Olduboi2

I think the hammer is a pretty good visual metaphor for the power of the original. Let’s see how Spike Lee’s remake measures up

Marvel vs. DC: Where We’re At

Avengerinos

Could it be… The End of an Era?

No.

But I’d wager that 2012 is gonna turn out to be the turning point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Agents of SHIELD is mostly doing nothing for nobody, and the law of diminishing returns is scheduled to arrive. But will the torch pass on to DC? If the “Justice League” movie ever happens, it could be, but for my money–

No.

There is some news in that department, that DC is attempting to compete with Marvel in this way, with the big movie franchise, but they’ll have to do a lot of image consulting to make up for the mistakes they’ve made along the way — the one positive being Nolan’s Batman Thrillogy, which is more critically approved than anything Marvel’s done since Spider-Man 2.

Marvel has just completely had it together for a long time, scrambling after Iron Man to do something very big and very risky. If I were an executive at Paramount at the time I’da gotten pretty fired for being like, this is too creative, get out of my awe-fice.

Getting fan-favorite, genre filmmakers — real, filmmakers — like Joss Whedon (Serenity was great), James Gunn (his superhero connection being the ultraviolent Super), Edgar Wright (everyone’s favorite ‘underdog’ with Scott Pilgrim), not to mention Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) and Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet). This runs perfectly opposite to how a studio would typically run this type of game, either with a singular player being the creative mastermind, because they can be trusted — Michael Bay with Transformers, Nolan with Batman — or with a cycle of directors, as unimportant as they are on television.

Only, the directors of TV dramas understand their supporting duties to the showrunner, and the script, the solid foundations of creativity that elevate shows like Breaking Bad and… last year’s Homeland. The directors of Harry Potter understand their supporting duties to the source material, and to the franchise. Moneymaking is king there, and moneymaking for Marvel almost seems accidental.

That’s how brilliant it is. I think the bridge between fans and creators is getting smaller on the Internet, and while this can be a bad thing, it can also work toward that elusive agreement, that if the movies are good, the audience will respond.

Which is not a guaranteed thing (Pacific Rim), but it’s a better gamble than Transformers, which was made for the same reason John Carter was — because it had to be. That movie worked because the fanbase was huge (the 80s kids were all grown up) and the irony factor was also huge, appealing to hipsters at the advent of hipsterdom.

You put a creative director with talent on your franchise movie, you’ll get Iron Man 1, you’ll get The Avengers. These guys have built-in fanbases themselves, so you’re even bridging that gap as well — I personally won’t see another Marvel movie but I will be there day one for something by the guy who did Slither, and similarly for the guy who did Scott Pilgrim and Shaun of the Dead.

DC’s strategy has been much more difficult to parse, and praise, so we’ll have to see. What do you think? Should they take the same route as Marvel, or would that cheapen what is such a beautiful thing? Add corporate cynicism to this celebration of creativity, who knows what you’ll get…

And in time, those Warner Bros. Executives will be watching Interstellar and being like… We should’ve offered him all the money we had for “The Boy Wonder.”

R.I.P., Syd Field

 

Syd Field

Yesterday, ‘screenwriting guru’ Syd Field died at 77, of hemolytic anemia. The closest I ever came to really knowing Mr. Field was by following his Twitter account, which I really enjoyed, for his sharing of space-related news and his use of things like ‘r’ and ‘u’ (are, you), but of course I and everyone understand his great legacy in essentially defining modern screenwriting. His book Screenplay is a must-read, and for me it literally was, in a class taken here last semester at Fitchburg State.

In terms of his work, one of the things I most appreciate about his approach was the wide range of films he’ll reference — pulling critical lessons from everything from award-darling American Beauty to fan-favorite The Matrix. As a film audience we are structured in a way to perceive film within certain paradigms, as set by critics and the Academy Awards, that some movies are real and some are B-movies, where if you look, almost everything has value to offer. If you’re a screenwriter, you’ve read Screenplay and know this, but for everyone else, it’s a good lesson about judging books by their covers. Field was a teacher, and though this is just one aspect of his work, it’s indicative of his intellectual and passionate approach to film.

“Slow Train Comin”

Snowpiercer

Bong Joon-ho’s latest movie has been making the rounds in foreign markets, but has yet to pull into the US station, which isn’t exactly what fans are so fussy about. It seems that the Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton starrer Snowpiercer has secured distribution here through Harvey Weinstein, who’s notorious for editing those pesky movies with words on the screen down for us Dumbericans. If I wanted to read, I’d get a book on tape, right?

Well, it’s tricky because this movie isn’t even entirely in a foreign language, unlike The Grandmasters, another foreign film to recently befall the so-called “Harvey Scissorhands.” So to help sort out this mess, I turn this over to Joseph Moser, professor of English here at Fitchburg State.

Moser has met and talked with Bong Joon-ho, and characterizes him consistently with his filmic output. “All his movies are very cinematic, and benefit from a theatre experience,” he says, but notes that in particular, Snowpiercer seems fit for the big screen. “It’s a small consolation at this point if, for instance, the director’s cut will be released on DVD, that will be a loss.”

Fans of Bong’s previous movies, for example we have The Host, a fun and oddball comedy/horror, and Memories of Murder, a thought-provoking drama, share this sentiment. But it’s important to keep in mind the reality of the situation, that this artistic filmmaker did after all, take Hollywood money.

It will be unfortunate to get a reduced version of a potentially very good movie, but more concerning about the affair is the variety of larger ramifications.

Foreign filmmakers who cross over into Hollywood and adapt to the system to compromise and make an American movie but maintain their artistic sensibilities are few (Verhoeven), and Moser cites at least one major example of the opposite: Jim Sheridan. “Sheridan makes five really excellent Irish films with Irish and British funding, and then comes to Hollywood and makes this movie about 50 Cent. It’s critically a disaster, and he does better with his second film … but it certainly has compromised his career, crossing over to Hollywood.”

Speaking to a Bong peer, Chan-wook Park (also a producer on Snowpiercer) has succumbed to a similar fate as Sheridan’s, as Stoker didn’t blow up the planet like Oldboy, the whacked-out thriller seeing a remake later this month.

Moser mentioned Steve McQueen, whose 12 Years a Slave was released very recently. He’s an extremely un-Hollywood director who seems to have garnered a certain prestige, the allowance of final cut. “What could happen,” with 12 Years a Slave being a clear lock for Academy Award nominations, “if it ends up winning Best Picture, and/or Best Director for Steve McQueen, it could really vindicate Hollywood in the short term by making it seem like ‘Oh, Hollywood really does value art.”

But Bong Joon-ho, and other foreign filmmakers without the local recognition, without that same prestige, will see their movies delivered in a less-than-satisfactory form, and the bigwigs at the top will have some plausible deniability.

But it’s not all apocalyptic, and snow-covered. “If this is a movie that brings in people to theatres who would not otherwise be interested in Korean cinema at all, I guess there could be a positive side.” Of course, it is still sad that commercial interests outweigh the art of someone like ol’ Bong-o. “He’s someone people will still be watching … thirty, fifty years down the line. You can’t say that for a lot of people.”

It’ll be interesting to see, not only because the movie is an interesting prospect, but for how it might affect our mystical magic realm of Hollwoodland. It would seem the Korean New Wave is piercing its way into US pop culture, which also means we could see more remakes of all our favorite hits, especially if Oldboy does well. “It could have been way worse,” Moser said about the personnel behind the upcoming flick. “So we’ll see.”

The Oscar Thief?

The Book what

Look at some of the comments on this New York Times article, this review for Brian Percival’s The Book Thief, the new movie about a historical struggle that might combine an Academy voter’s two greatest loves — dressup, and the haughtiness of historical fiction. In British popular culture this might be called a costume drama, which is certainly what Downton Abbey is (several episodes have been directed by Percival). Not only is this historical drama, it’s also based on a book, which a film must be in order to qualify for existence. This is so clearly Oscar-bait it’s become a cliché, and on these comments I’m pointing to, we see that things are coming to a head.

It breaks down two ways — either you perceive this new movie as an uninspired award-worshiper, and happen to dislike the film, or you’re a fan of the book, and subsequently the film. These two are gonna go at it now, and it’s kind of a perfect storm, because both sides have urgent points to make. One side is making a broader connection to a big problem in Hollywood, and the other is the young adult crowd, filled with adults who might scoff at nerds playing D&D or jocks discussing fantasy football, but love to jaw about The Hunger Games.

And there you have it — everyone on the Internet is cloistered and lacks perspective. Of course, this is obvious, but it’s never not unfortunate. The good news is that this hub-bub is not (apparently) affecting box office returns, as pundits would have it. The film is going steady, even in the face of the mighty hammer. I can’t decide which of those movies I want to see less.

You?

Terminator Again: Rebecoming the Terminator it Never Weren’t

This is my scared Biehn Face

This is my scared Biehn Face

Jesus.

You didn’t even know you wanted more Terminator, but here it is. There’s a few things upsetting about this report from the field The Hollywood Reporter gives us about a Terminator reboot, but first and foremost in my mind is Emilia Clarke screentesting for a young Sarah Connor. Now, I don’t watch Game of Thrones, yet, but I do know that Lena Headey is on that show, and maybe they never shoot scenes together, but it’s weird to me, because Sarah Connor was sort of Headey’s star-making role. I always wonder about that kind of stuff, like would they ever get together and talk about that?

I just want to note how absolutely okay I am with reboots of all my favorite 80s SF movies, The Thing, Total Recall, and now Robocop, ‘cuz the two that’ve come out have been great. Just more of the same, but in one case with Mary Elizabeth Winstead (replacing Kurt Russell despite co-starring in two films with him. I wonder if they ever get together and talk about that?).

The difference between those movies and Terminator is that those movies were dead franchises. Frank Miller saw to Robocop’s demise, and Total Recall and The Thing existed on the fringes of genre fandom as comics and obscure TV shows based on Blade Runner. Terminator is still kind of telling its story, as childish as that sounds for me to say. As done with the actual Terminator narrative we all were after the satisfying conclusion of Part I, and then the again satisfying conclusion of Part II, it was a cash cow, and it was gonna keep going. I was glad we got Terminator Salvation, because that one was leagues over Part III, and not bad.

I guess in the end I do care about this series, though I know how out-of-control it is. This new movie, if it’s a reboot that just wipes everything clean (and not Trek ’09 style), it’s like… such a blemish. Remember “The Final Destination?” That was part 4 of 5. Also the three endings to the Friday the 13th franchise. It’s gonna make Terminator feel so soulless and corporate, like back in the day when T3 was coming out. I remember that too.

Take a note from the creepy critters who remade The Thing and Total Recall. Take a good story, and just do it again. You might say, ‘oh why bother,’ but the amount of modern genre films that are Pacific Rim border on one. You might as well have something you know you’re gonna like, even if it sucks. As I said once before, I’d rather see a movie set in 2019 L.A., than 2013 like I always do.