Archive for August 2011
Based on Shuichi Yoshida’s hit novel, director Lee Sang-il’s Villain comes to the UK bathed in Japanese awards glory. It’s a dense, slowburner full of moral ambiguity in which a murder has serious consequences for the surreal romance developing between two loners: Yuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a seemingly friendless worker from a remote village, and shop assistant Mitsuyo (Eri Fukatsu), whose live is devoid of excitement, passion or direction.
Their Bonnie and Clyde-style escapade across the country represents the film’s narrative pulse, but positioning two low-charisma, questionably motivated individuals in a position in which the audience needs to root for them isn’t a successful move. With little motivation to back the anti-heroes, it’s hard to muster much desire to see their love overcome their struggle.
It’s actually the film’s senior periphery characters that offer more intrigue; the overwhelmed grief of the murder victim’s father and the media’s hounding of Yuichi’s almost equally devastated grandmother initiate more substance than the tale of two young lovers. The enveloping cultural context depicts a society divided by wealth, generation and prospects, and strengthens a plot which is far too meagre to justify its 140 minute running time.
Villain is a richer experience atmospherically with strong depictions of desolate beauty which reaches a peak as Yuichi and Mitsuyo retreat to a lighthouse which operates as a symbolic icon for their entire relationship, while a flashback emerging from a fish’s eye is the highlight of the visual creativity. The lack of connection, however, suggests that a cultural clash renders this a far more satisfying experience in its homeland than it is some 6000 miles away.
Varna is long established as both a port city and a tourist location, yet it fails to offer a single boat journey aimed at visitors.
The easy alternative is FastFerry’s hydrofoil service which connects Varna with the historic towns of Nessebar and Sozopol. It offers four departures from each location per day, taking 90 minutes from Varna to Nessebar at a cost of 90 leva (almost £40) return.
The current schedule allows visitors approximately four hours in the Old Town, allowing for enough time for seeing the local ruins, lounging on the beach and grabbing some lunch (and a beer, obviously).
The Fastferry.bg office is a small portacabin facing the main maritime building and is located halfway between the south end of the city beach and the lighthouse. I’d recommend booking in advance: buying tickets on the day is a slow process and on both of our visits (the first day’s trip was cancelled due to poor weather) the office was unattended until departure time was imminent.
And here’s where the journey became a little more surreal. After the slow process of taking our names and selecting our seats, we were guided down the harbour to the hydrofoil by the admittedly very friendly stewardess.
“So…” she began tentatively. “On the outward journey, you’re the only passengers.”
“Is it normally busy?”
“Oh yes,” she declared enthusiastically. The subsequent pause suggested that this statement wasn’t entirely true. “Well, yesterday was cancelled due to bad weather. And we’ve only been going for two weeks so people are still finding out about us.”
So a service aimed at tourists has been opened halfway through peak season? It’s not great planning.
On board we’re treated to the bizarre sight of empty seats; lots of empty seats. For aside from the two of us, the stewardess and occasional visits from other staff members, the remaining hundred or so seats are entirely empty. And that’s exactly how the scene remains until we arrive punctually in Nessebar.
The journey itself is pleasant if not exactly relaxing. After edging out of the point, the hydrofoil leans back like a plane preparing for take-off and bombs southwards down the Black Sea coast.
Unless you’re particularly sensitive to turbulence or seasickness it’s a relatively smooth ride, albeit one that’s sporadically noisy and seemingly almost as warm as the temperature outside. An Eric Clapton compilation counters the engine noise, although the volume ranges from a whimper to a blast depending on which staff member happens to be passing the dial.
The hydrofoil docks in the altogether more intimate port in Nessebar’s Old Town – the town is small enough that you’re never much more than a ten minute walk away and you can’t fail to find it.
The return journey offers almost the exact same experience. The staff are again lovely, the arrival precise almost to the minute and the music rather unnecessary. Indeed, all nine mind-numbing minutes of Guns n’ Roses’ November Rain combined with the quickly declining novelty of the trip make it drag a little. But the atmosphere has improved since morning courtesy of what could well be a record-breaking 600% boost in passenger numbers – yes, there were twelve of us.
From the current issue of Clash, to coincide with the film’s DVD release.
Previously known primarily as the son of David Bowie, Duncan Jones’ feature-length debut Moon introduced him as a director of serious repute. Shot with an eager eye with for retro-tech aesthetics, this surprise hit reminded audiences that cerebral sci-fi remained a hugely relevant genre after a few barren years.
Now Jones is back with Source Code which transfers the intelligence of Moon into something which can reach a mass audience. It sees Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) forced into a mission that fractures time and identity as he attempts to prevent a terrorist bomb exploding on a commuter train.
When the film was first suggested to Jones, Moon hasn’t yet made a return on its investment and had only just started collecting awards. It was too good an opportunity to turn down. What about Source Code and Moon’s shared theme of twisted identity?
“It certainly wasn’t a conscious choice when I was deciding what to do next,” he laughs. “I like the idea that you can see yourself one way, people around you see you a different way and people on the street will see you a third way. They’re all equally valid even if they’re contradictory sometimes. The idea that identity is something malleable and subjective is an interesting place to start a film.”
Although eager to emphasis the film’s human connection (“A film that works is one in which the audience cares about the characters,” he says – Colter’s escalating brief encounter with Michelle Monaghan’s passenger doing much to build that interest), Jones is obviously passionate about the bizarre extremes of the interface between technology and the brain. He cites the development of a retinal implant that mimics the function of the eye, as well as a living beetle controlled by remote control, as particularly compelling examples.
It seems Jones’ greatest strength is building that unique port between cinematic thrills and the intelligent design of humanity’s near future. “We tried to make a film that’s entertaining, but can be enjoyed on two levels,” he concludes. “You can enjoy it for the ride, for the fun of it but I think there’s enough meat there that if you are the kind of person who likes to come out of the cinema and have something to discuss, hopefully you’re really going enjoy that aspect of it as well.”
From Clash, July 2011
The Guard is an unorthodox Western: part black comedy, part buddy movie, part crime drama, it is, as director John Michael McDonagh says, “A big film about a big man with big laughs and a big heart.”
Rich with its own identity, The Guard is tonally similar to In Bruges, the surprise hit directed by McDonagh’s brother Martin that also stars Brendan Gleeson. In The Guard, Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, a hilariously unreconstructed cop whose small-town life receives a shock when FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) arrives on Ireland’s west coast to tackle an international coke-smuggling deal.
“If he’s based on anyone, he’s based on me,” confesses McDonagh. “I was pissed off with British filmmaking. I think I needed to be at my lowest ebb to write.”
After directing a short over a decade ago (The Second Sight, from which an early version of Boyle’s character originates) and writing the Heath Ledger-starring Ned Kelly, McDonagh had grown increasingly frustrated with the industry. Yet his fortune would change with The Guard. His first choices for each lead role, McDonagh and Cheadle, soon came on board which gave the film a momentum of its own.
Soon joining the festivities were Americana kings Calexico, whose Morricone-style score contributes to almost every scene as it adds to the film’s recognisable yet off-kilter atmosphere. “I’d listen to their album ‘Feast of Wire’ when pissed in my kitchen, then sober up and think they’d never do it,” says McDonagh. “But they loved the script and got the whole tone immediately.”
Under the film’s surface lurks a melancholy nature provided, in part by a sub-plot in which Boyle deals with his elderly mother’s terminal illness. “Fionnula Flanagan [who plays the character] makes a big impact in three scenes,” states McDonagh. Despite representing some of the film’s most immediately amusing moments, those scenes also possess an added poignancy given that Gleeson’s mother had died shortly before filming commenced.
Selected to open this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, The Guard is a crowd pleaser with a darker undercurrent. Not that such a summary really captures all the idiosyncrasies that make it so memorable. “It’s a jet black comedy, but that doesn’t cover everything. It’s aimed at a broad audience, but it has art house angles too,” considers McDonagh. “It’s taking a genre like CSI type shows which I hate and trying to fuck with it.”