September 1, 2015

Portrait of a Beauty (2008)

Shin Yun Bok (Kim Min-sun) is a painter-in-training in 18th century Korea. While skilled and creative, he has two problems. Firstly, he is constantly driven to explore unconventional styles and subject matters for his art - matter which is oftentimes controversial and obscene. Secondly, he is actually a young woman, disguising her true identity to maintain her family's honour within Korean society's strict gender expectations.

Portrait of a Beauty is a sumptuously staged historical drama. It looks great, with colourful costumes and sets, beautifully composed camera angles and reasonably strong performances. It's also a pretty awful film: twisting history for entertainment purposes, titillating audiences with regular and lengthy sex scenes, and indulging in exactly the kind of typically over-the-top and overwrought melodrama that makes so much Korean entertainment a chore through which to sit.

Popular Posts: August 2015

I haven't done one of these in almost two years. What were the most popular posts on The Angriest for the month of August 2015?

And in case you're feeling sorry for the least-read post of the month, it's:

August 31, 2015

Dracula Untold (2014)

Bram Stoker's Dracula has been adapted to cinema so many times that it must be getting difficult for filmmakers to find a fresh angle. Universal Picture's Dracula Untold essentially has a go of presenting the character through the lens of a Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movie: the results are patchy and oddly truncated, but I can't lie and pretend I didn't enjoy it overall.

Dracula Untold takes place in 14th century Transylvania, where the ruling Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) is forced to give annual tribute to the Ottoman Empire. When the imperial soldiers arrive to take not gold but Vlad's own son, he resists - and in a desperate attempt to stave off war he makes a pact with a vampire living in the mountains above his castle. He is given the power of a vampire for three days - so long as he can resist drinking human blood, otherwise he will be cursed with immortality forever.

This film took about seven years to make it out of development. It almost got produced with Alex Proyas (Dark City) directing, which could have been quite a thing to see. First-time feature director Gary Shore is no slouch, mind: for all its narrative issues Dracula Untold is a gorgeous movie to look at. It's kind of like Snow White and the Huntsman in many respect, albeit with much less rampant pomposity.

NES30 #18: Crystalis

In 2015, Nintendo's hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) turns 30 years old. The NES, an adaptation of Nintendo's already successful Famicom console, re-invigorated console gaming internationally after the collapse of Atari and went on to sell 43 million units worldwide. NES30 celebrates this anniversary by counting down my favourite 30 games for the system.

One hundred years after the Earth is decimated in a terrifying war, a lone survivor is revived from cryogenic suspension. He finds a world completely changed, and now filled with strange monsters, magic and small pockets of human civilization. Discovered what has happened to the world, and defeating the evil Draygonia Empire, forms the story of Crystalis - a 1990 action-RPG produced by Japanese publisher SNK.

The RPG genre only really took off in Japan towards the end of the NES/Famicom life-span, and flourished on their successor consoles. As a result solid RPG titles are often few and far between for the NES, particularly since most of the games that did get produced didn't get ported over from the Famicom. Crystalis is a rare and highly enjoyable exception. It's a game that feels a good three or four years ahead of its time, and still presents an enjoyable challenge today.

August 30, 2015

The Hunted (2003)

I feel there almost needs to be a sub-genre of action film based around Tommy Lee Jones looking grumpy while chasing people. Clearly he invented the genre with The Fugitive and its sequel U.S. Marshals. He grumpily chased after Ashley Judd in Double Jeopardy and he chased after Benicio Del Toro in The Hunted.

Of the four it's The Hunted that was the least successful. In Australia it didn't get a cinema release at all, instead getting shoved directly to home video. In the USA it flopped, pure and simple. It seems a shame; this is not a film classic by any stretch, but it does what it sets out to do and it achieves it in an efficient and entertaining manner.

Jones plays Bonham, a quiet tracker working in British Columbia. He gets dragged back to the USA when four deer hunters are found brutally murdered. The perpetrator is found: it's a deranged former marine named Aaron Hallam (Benicio Del Toro), who Bonham once trained in survival skills and knife fighting as part of a US army program. When Hallam then escapes custody, Bonham doggedly chases after him.

NES30 #19: Dr Mario

In 2015, Nintendo's hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) turns 30 years old. The NES, an adaptation of Nintendo's already successful Famicom console, re-invigorated console gaming internationally after the collapse of Atari and went on to sell 43 million units worldwide. NES30 celebrates this anniversary by counting down my favourite 30 games for the system.

Dr Mario exists because Tetris exists. So successful was Alexei Pajitnov's addictive falling block puzzle game that by 1990 pretty much every owner of a Nintendo console also owned a copy of it. With a huge number of gamers playing Tetris, Nintendo were understandably keen for them to buy another game. So intent were they on making their own puzzle game a smash hit they branded it with their flagship game franchise, Super Mario Bros. They assigned one of their top designers, Gunpei Yokoi, to oversee its development. The resulting game, Dr Mario, is not as good as Tetris - what puzzle game is? - but it is a wonderfully enjoyable puzzle game nonetheless.

August 29, 2015

Blake's 7: "Rumours of Death"

It's 25 February 1980, and time for more Blake's 7.

Avon (Paul Darrow) has been captured and tortured by Federation security - but it's all a ruse to get close to the interrogator who murdered his lover. Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) prepares to host the Federation council at her freshly built Presidential palace - unaware that a political coup d'etat is about to be launched.

"Rumours of Death" draws together three long-buried strands of series back story, and ties them together into a remarkable episode. We knew as far back as "Space Fall" that Avon had attempted to defraud the Federation banking system of millions of credits. In Season 2's "Countdown" we met Del Grant, brother to Avon's murdered lover Anna. Throughout Season 3 we've seen and heard references to the Federation's struggle to re-establish control in the wake of the intergalactic war. Now the Federation appears to have gone a long way to re-asserting its authority, and Avon is finally tracking down Anna's murderer.

The Bird People in China (1998)

Takashi Miike is one of Japan's most versatile directors, jumping from genre to genre pretty much on a film by film basis. He seems as comfortable making a drama as he is a comedy, or a horror film, or a children's adaptation of a popular anime. He's also remarkably prolific, having directed 90 films, TV specials or video productions between 1991 and 2015. A lot of people in the English-speaking world seem to know him for his legendary 1999 thriller Audition. On one level that's great, because it's an excellent and provocative film and deserves to be seen. On another level it's disastrous, because it's let a lot of those viewers to assume his entire oeuvre is just as horrifically violent and psychologically disturbing.

Take The Bird People in China as an example: Miike directed in a year before Audition, in 1998. It's a slightly surreal drama based on a Makoto Shiina novel. It follows Wada (Masahiro Motoki), a young man sent by his employer to China's Yunnan province to assess a potential new jade mine. When he arrives in China he is apprehended by Ujiie (Renji Ishibashi), a yakuza who claims his associates are owed money by Wada's employer. Together they journey out into the Chinese wilderness in search of the mine, instead finding an isolated village with a peculiar secret.