Friday, April 8, 2011

The Week In Watching (Early April 2011)

It's Friday evening out here, and that means it's time for a quick run-through of what's been shaking in the watching department, along with progress report on gathering back lost steam. That's right, as of this weekend, the Kaijyu shall be back to full speed with renewed energy, including all the activity one comes to expect from the several sites I dedicate time to.

So let's just get into some digests of what I've recently checked out:

Well I finally got around to catching the Smith-produced remake of The Karate Kid, starring their still larval-staged son, Jaden alongside the legendary Jackie Chan, and I have to say that despite my fears, this wasn't as horrid a project as I had feared it would be. Which isn't to say that this isn't a desperate, arch, shallow attempt at co-opting American nostalgia, which it truly is. But it at least offers enough new tweaks, and accents to the familiar story to make it at least watchable. By setting this version in China, and enlisting the production cooperation of the government, it creates a whole new cultural disconnect that transcends some of the more oversimplified elements of the original. Especially impressive is in how the script takes the time to allow these characters to breathe within those early stages of the story, before our titular kid begins to look for help from the mysterious local handyman in Mr. Han (Chan). It is clear that Smith's Dre Parker is a charismatic, likeable presence, that while is essentially the same character as Ralph Macchio was in the '84 film, has a completely new set of quirks and issues. And in the role of the teacher, Jackie shares what is easily the best english language role of his career. It is perhaps in this dynamic that allows the film to actually deliver in ways the original wasn't allowed to. And while the film does run a bit too long (2hrs and 21 minutes is asking a bit), it is hindered by a rushed finale, and a few annoying reminders that we are also watching a Chinese travel brochure in action. And lastly, henceforth, I will continue to call this film by its rightful name because there is no hint of karate to be found.

After years of putting it off for a number of reasons, I finally went ahead and took the amber plunge with Oshii's digitally "enhanced" version of his seminal anime classic, Ghost In The Shell. And all I can say is..WOW. There is no reason GiTS 2.0 to exist other than for some bizarre market subset not me. It's the very reason not to do a re-issue. For my whole review, please check this out. And the saddest part of it is, is that it feels closer in feel to the late 90s Star Wars Special Editions than anything. If there's a fate worse than some half-baked, bargain bin "special edition" dvd sold in a liquor store, this is it.

Also this week, I had the chance to revisit s film that I hadn't seen in the years after the overnight success of their second film, The Matrix. Seriously, I hadn't watched 1996's BOUND since it first came to home video well near fifteen years ago, and boy so much came rushing back reminding me of what made this sibling duo's work so entertaining, albeit removed from any sort of reality. The Wachowski's if anything are masters at styling up noir environments with hammy characters, and exaggerated actions. I remember chuckling like crazy at just how far they went toward portraying this pair of sexually confined leads as they attempt to dupe the mob out of 2 million. As much as some attempted to say that this film was a sort of first for LGBT-laden thrillers, there is so my hyperbole in character mannerisms that it borders, no strike that, reaches cartoonish heights. And even back then, I found Gina Gershon's jeans-wearing, tattoo-sporting ex-con, Corky to be little more than an exaggerated stereotype hidden under a fun performance.(swing that lugwrench!) And Jennifer Tilly's sultry & borderline desperate Violet have much to contend with as the ever master scene-larcenist, Joey Pantoliano struggles to outwit the pair of would-be runaway thieves. And yet this critically-acclaimed film never lets us forget that we're watching a movie-movie, and that it's all about assured style & over the top antics. Which clearly worked, as it opened the door for their biggest claim to fame three years later. And no matter how this film still makes me laugh, there is certainly a telling amount of material in this film for more Matrix fans to mine from regarding how much cinema has indeed changed since then. Also worthy of note is the still brilliant photography of Bill Pope (Matrix, Spiderman 2, Scott Pilgrim) which was apparently done on the cheap, and still looks phenomenal.

And lastly, after nearly two months of struggling with re-editing, tweaking, and generally rearranging, a new special episode of the Combo Attack podcast is on the air. Highlighting our Top Five Special Effects Milestones, this long in the making 90 minute episode features a return visit from old friend, and CG Texture artist, Krystal S., who also offered a list of the films that inspired her to become part of the FX community, as well as gives us a lot of insight into working on Cameron's FX landmark, AVATAR. It's a scrappy, illuminating, and monstrously geeky good time. Check it out!

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