Halloween on Halloween

halloween

Since it’s Hallowe’en, I thought I’d break out my DVD of John Carpenter’s original Halloween film, in its Extended Edition which is basically the original film, with some extra bits which were shot for the TV release spliced in. I doubt it has much effect on the film.

Despite being released in 1978, I think it stands up very well today, likely because it’s a sparse film – not many locations or actors, and it doesn’t try to show or explain too much.

I won’t give the story away, since it’s one of the original great slasher films, but it’s easy to say it’s a jump-scare film, though I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate since many of the scare scenes are mostly with protagonist Michael Myers in the background, or shadow, or perhaps not even in that shot. It tends to build up of the “he’s behind you” scare type, and there’s little on screen blood. It’s also nice how John Carpenter lingers in many shots to add to the creepiness level.

I always wonder what the police chief and Myers’ doctor, Dr. Loomis, played by Donald Pleasance are doing for much of the film. It seems they spend most of it just waiting, or in the police chief’s case, just driving around, but somehow it pays off.

You’ll love how the high-school students look a little too old to be high-school kids (star Jamie Lee-Curtis was ~20), but that’s fine, and it’s good to see the female lead fight her way out for the most part, whilst still earning Lee-Curtis the ‘scream queen’ tag. Be ready too for socially acceptable drink driving and smoking, and marvel at how child-sitting really works. Ah, the old days.

This obviously then is not a review, just to pass on that if you have the opportunity, perhaps have a watch of an old horror classic.

halloween
halloween

If you want to see a quick video review of the film, or one of so many other horror films, wander over to Cinemassacre.com which has a great selection.

Review: Why We Ride

I heard about ‘Why We Ride‘ in the middle of 2013; it’s ostensibly a documentary of sorts about why people ride and love to ride motorbikes. I love riding my motorbike, if that’s any kind of caveat, but that’s not actually why I bought the film, or what this review is about. Also, I’m reviewing the 2,000yen iTunes HD movie, not the BluRay/DVDs version.

To cover the structure, it’s beautifully shot, the camera work and direction are top notch, the soundtrack is fantastic, and as it lacks a central  narrator, the narrative is done via the people being interviewed. One trick the director uses is to not introduce the people speaking, until a sequence which closes the movie. I think this is so as to not distract you and focus on what they say, but I found it a bit confusing in places, because I like to know who is talking, and the end roll, whilst a good idea, comes off as a little bit clumsy in places by comparison.

As you can see from the trailer, it looks beautiful, and whilst much of the road footage looks good, the staged ‘bikers helping each other’ section looks a bit overly staged, and wasn’t really needed. That said, there are some wonderful pieces from the Bonneville salt flats, which reminded me that anyone can go out there and try their bike out, and the place looks truly extraordinary. There is also some time spent looking at training classes, and other skills based exercises, which fit with the theme the film has that motorbiking isn’t the outlaw groups some imagine, and it hits on the old Honda ‘you meet the nicest people on a Honda’ campaign, to show that to an extent motorbiking has grown up, though it goes without saying that it still has a sharper edge.

The film follows some of the history of American biking icons, like Daytona, some of the dirt tracks, some famous figures, and biker culture over the years, including events like the Sturgiss Rally.  One issue then for non-Americans then is that it can seem a bit disconnected. As a non-American myself, I understand the allure of biking to be universal, and some of the background on Daytona to be interesting and informative, but as I don’t follow American motorsports, I didn’t know who some people were, or their larger relevance. It’s not a criticism, just an observation. It’s also odd that they discuss European biking and MotoGP, but don’t seem to interview or go into that at all.

One person I did recognise, and I think the one who came over very well, is Ted Simon, of Jupitalia fame. I’ve read his books, and he’s a fascinating man, whose dual round the world trips inspired the Long Way Round & Down series. As ever his insight was concise and based on personal experience of going around the planet on a bike. I’m biased though; everything he says I find to be interesting.

Even if I didn’t know some of the people, or the relevance of their achievements, the key is really the points they make, there’s a focus on those women who ride, both now, and those who have ridden their whole lives, and how it’s not just about riding pillion, but being the rider. There’s a lot from kids and how they’re safely and constructively introduced to motorbikes, and thus the family and community built around it. It’s endearing to be sure, and so it’s not so much a documentary as a rallying call for those who already ride, and something of an advert perhaps to those who don’t, mainly though it’s about the people – some are champions, some of just people who like to get out on the open road.

One interesting aspect not discussed, but just something I noticed in the shots themselves are the split in those wearing helmets, and those who aren’t. It’s an issue to some, not to others, but in a documentary trying to show how safe and responsible it’s participants are, it’s interesting to see no discussion on this, and plenty of comments about feeling wind in your hair.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always worn a full face helmet on scooters/motorbikes, though I don’t mind what other people choose to wear – its a personal choice, sometimes with personal consequences either way. I remember riding 50cc Zoomers around packed Tokyo streets at night, and how bad the taxi drivers were and how close those trucks got, so any additional protection was a good idea for me. I know in America helmet laws vary by state, but in many European countries (and here in Japan) they’re mandatory.

So who is this targeted at? People who currently have a motorbike for sure, it may also coax some people back, and perhaps get some new converts, or re-assure people they can still ride. Truthfully, I think you could expand that to people who like to see some great cinematography, and listen to people who truly love doing something. In that aspect, it reminds me of the snowboard film “Art of Flight“.

It’s nice it covers so many branches of the biking community – it’s not all speed freaks, or custom bikes, or off-road, it’s a collection of different riders, and so does live up to it’s title, why we ride.

The Blender Open Source Film Projects

I first got into open source in 1998 when I installed Caldera’s OpenLinux. Open source worked for me as I could barely afford hardware, let alone software, and I’ve always kept a Linux (or FreeBSD) box running for various tasks and for playing with.

Today, most people have heard of open source, or at least use some open source software, perhaps whether they know it or not.

One aspect of open source which perhaps people aren’t aware of are open source films – creative,  original content, created open source. One of the best ‘studios‘ for this is the Blender Foundation. Blender is itself an open source 3D modeling and rendering system, and they use the foundation and industry sponsorship now to actually produce content where all of the source materials – models, music, renders, all of it, is available open source, with the CG works mainly done in Blender itself.

I first bumped in to these projects in 2008 with their “Big Buck Bunny” short film, which was well written and well made, taking on the children’s animation genre.

Big Buck Bunny
Big Buck Bunny

Then I went back to their 2006 project ‘Elephants Dream‘ , which is darker, more for adults,  a grainy, atmospheric tale of two workers seemingly in an almost sentient machine.

Elephant's Dream
Elephant’s Dream

Next up was ‘Sintel‘, a fantasy short about a young woman searching for the dragon cub she nursed, and lost.

Sintel
Sintel

Their latest work is ‘Tears of Steel‘, which is unique as it’s goal was to use Blender to create the CG parts of a mixed live action VFX short film, based on a science fiction premise.

Tears of Steel
Tears of Steel

It’s another well executed short film, which brings home the flexibility of the open source tools, but also the wealth of talent of the people who use Blender and the strength of the community.

I quite like the idea of artistic works like this being open, so just as programmers and tap into source code to learn how things work, aspiring film makers and also take a look inside some of these high quality films and maybe learn a few things.

Recommended Documentaries – February 2012

I like watching documentaries, often of topics I have only a basic knowledge of, and whilst some are great, many are often flawed or too skewed. I thought that since it’d been a year since I last listed some, I’d drum up a new list

Inside Job – This was recommended by Gen Kanai after my brief listing last year of documentaries, and is a very well produced account of the 2008 financial meltdown, and how it happened. Like the Enron documentary (‘The Smartest Guys in the Room’), it looks past all the complicated financial tools, and presents the peoples and the motivations behind it, because like Enron, it’s always about people at the end of the day.

After watching it, you’re really left to wonder whether governments (especially in the US) were incompetent or somehow complicit with the bankers, and just how hand-in-glove the financial and governmental people are anyway. This would make you believe it’s a bit of all of the above. There’s a lot of intriguing interviews, some abandoned part way through, and of course, those who refused to be interviewed, and the question of what the goal really was all along, though the end result for the most part was that it was the poor who suffered. Matt Damon does a decent job on narration. [Sony Link]

The Cove –  Although it’s perhaps more well known for the furor it caused over the vicious slaughter of dolphins in ‘the cove’ in Taiji, Japan – leading to those cinemas who chose to show it in Japan being abused by right wing groups – it’s actually a much broader documentary, investigating the motivations and history of aquatic mammal culls in Japan, the joke which the International Whaling Commission appears to be, the economics and the health situation surrounding it.

lt essentially follows former Flipper trainer Ric O’Barry who turned environmentalist, as he tries to find out what is going on in the cove, and puts together an intelligent and motivated team to find out, which they of course do. Like all good documentaries, it’s about people – the people of Taiji and elsewhere in Japan who either don’t know the cove exists or are unsure themselves of why they support it, with several essentially citing the old Japanese establishment mantra of not letting foreigners dictate their actions, and yet most Japanese interviewed were shocked to see some of the footage. It also goes into the sale of dolphin meat, often as whale meat, and the dangerously high levels of mercury it contains, and the battle of local councillors trying to stop it being fed to local school children because of these health hazards. Some people have seen it as an attack on Japan, but I actually saw it highlighting how difficult it is for small Japanese groups to stand up against this kind of thing and effect positive change – these people are truly the Japanese heroes. [Website]

Man On Wire – I’ve been trying to hunt this DVD down for a while, and had trouble getting hold of a copy, but finally Amazon.co.jp got me one! It’s the rather odd story of  Philippe Petit, who in 1974 put together a rag tag team of people to run a wire between the then newly built twin towers of the World Trade Centres in New York, and not only walked between them, but spent over 40mins performing a high wire routine before being arrested, and becoming something of a celebrity. The documentary tells the story of his life, and the very loose team he put together, several not knowing each other before the attempt, some of whom didn’t even share a language, and others who had known him for years; it also highlights his obsessive qualities, but also the exclusion within his private life that this kind of obsession or addiction brings. The actual act of walking a highwire so high up, and the detail of planning required just for the sake of doing it, is impressive, and you’re left respecting the man, admiring the sheer detail required, but also, that the price of such dedication is an amount of disconnection. [Wikipedia page]

The last two here were actually introduced to me by a friend when I was visiting the UK last year, and have more of a UK bent to them –

Starsuckers –  This assesses how the media works, and how peoples obsession with fame may have been an innate part of our evolution, and how it is exploited upon by the media to continue interest and growth, from childhood onwards. It’s really quite interesting, especially through some of the staged events they do and the set-up interviews. They also look into how news nowadays really isn’t news as we may think it is, but how it’s gossip, press releases and in some cases just completely fake – they call in to newspapers with completely false gossip tips, which are then repeated by several papers, each of which adds their own embellishments. They also follow one family who are trying to get their son into some kind of ‘fame’ career, it seems relatively harmless, though it feels odd that the goal is not to be an actor, or singer, it’s just to be famous, to be a celebrity. It’s an interesting look at modern celebrity culture from a different angle, and definitely worth a watch. [Official Website]

Taking Liberties – Taking Liberties assesses the effect of 10 years of Tony Blair’s policies on UK civil right laws, and what it shows as the erosion or outright elimination of them; in one example it cites Blair’s claims in the mid nineties to abhor national ID cards, but then just a few years later advocating them in the case of fighting terrorism. It takes the structure of assessing how Blair undermined the basic human rights identified after World War 2, which were largely shaped by Winston Churchill, and how in some people’s views, Blair’s Britain is more authoritarian and intolerant of demonstration than many former Soviet nations. Obviously a lot is tied back to the War on Terror, and the deals Blair did with George W. Bush, including allowing extradition of UK citizens with no hearing or cases to answer in the UK, to the US. Interestingly, when Dubya is discussing Blair’s morality as British nationals were being tortured in Afghanistan, I’m sure the backing music is a orchestral version of the BlackAdder theme. The film finishes with a quote from another statesman, Thomas Jefferson, “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.” [Official Website]

February Recommendations: Documentaries

I really like watching well made documentaries; I like them in the way I like most things, I don’t want to agree with them all the time, I want to learn things or angles I didn’t know before. Here’s a few I think are worth a watch:

Fog of War – An Oscar award winning series of interviews with Robert McNamara, which might elicit a “Who?” look from many – this man was in on most of the strategies and US military decisions from the statistical effectiveness of fire-bombing Tokyo in 1945, to the Cuban missile crisis escalation and potential invasion via the Bay of Pigs, through to escalation in Viet Nam, this man was in the room. He was an old man when he made the interviews in 2003, and it’s definitely him clearing the decks a bit, and admitting many strategies were based on dangerously incomplete information or understanding and that frankly in many ways he was wrong. Fascinating.

Food, Inc. – like many, I’m becoming quite concerned about the quality and origin of the food I eat; in this documentary, very like the book ‘Fast Food Nation‘, they look at the food chain in America and how big business may be massively compromising a nations diet. ‘Fast Food Nation’s’ author (Eric Schlosser) is interviewed throughout the documentary, and there’s plenty of interviews with the people actually involved – farmers, lobbyists, people being sued by Monsanto and some other ideas which really will make you sit up. It’s about the way things which are actually dangerous have been repeated so often, some people are beginning to think it’s normal. You should also read Fast Food Nation.

Supersize Me – Although not a truly ‘fair’ documentary, this is tragically funny to watch as a man (Morgan Spurlock)  submits himself to 30 days of McDonalds for every meal. It’s not scientific, and McD’s does get a rougher deal than some other companies, but the effect of eating all that fast food for so long is almost painful to watch. Along the way he meets and interviews people who love the food, hate the food and the effect it’s had on them. It also looks at the way children are targeted with Happy Meals and other promotions. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but it’s fairly compelling anyway, and there is a sense of humour to it.

Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room – It’s difficult to watch this expose of the Enron scandal/fiasco and not laugh outright or wonder how it all happened; from invented companies, to essentially faking the need for blackouts in California, to having strippers dancing on office tables, this documentary of the book tracks the people behind the Enron tale, and how they managed to build something from very little, and how essentially no one who should have been paying attention was interested as long as it kept rolling. They also look at former Enron employees left without pensions and the price some paid to keep the dream going. Definitely more bizarre than any fictional business novel.

King of Kong – I’ve included this because it’s a small scale but competent documentary about something you rarely hear about – the setting and official sanctioning of arcade game records. This one recounts a couple of years in the lives of two players, but also the community around game high scores, right up the the Guinness book of World Records. One is the incumbent, a cocky and self righteous man who never seems to play in public, and how everyone seems to want to suck up to him, and the challenger, and ‘almost’ man who started doing it as a distraction from job hunting, who becomes increasingly, and somewhat sadly obsessed. It’s also a story of how people use relatively minor things to prop up their whole faltering lives, and is more a study of their lives than the games they play.

You can also get a decent selection of documentaries streamed for free on freedocumentaries.org if you can live with watching them on a PC screen.  I’m looking to get ‘The Cove’ and ‘Man on Wire’ on DVD from Amazon in a few weeks, so that should be interesting. Let me know if there’s more I should definitely be seeing.

The Long Way Round

A few months ago, a friend lent me the DVD set of the Long Way Round TV series, which initially I hadn’t heard of, despite it happening in 2004. It’s the documentary of Ewen McGregor and Charley Boorman going around the world on a couple of BMW motorbikes.

Being a bit of a travel fan, and a wannabe biker, I thought the series was fantastic, so I was really pleased to get hold of the 3 DVD set quite cheap from Amazon.co.uk and I’ve watched it a couple of times.

It’s fascinating from a planning, biking, and geography point of view, and some of the obstacles and people they meet are fascinating, so if , like me, you completely missed it for the last three years, it really is worth it from Amazon. As you might see from the page there, you can get the ‘sequel’ journey which the same team (almost) just finished – The Long Way Down – which I’m watching now. A post on that when I’ve watched it a couple of times!

For what it’s worth, I think I’ve watched Long Way Round mostly on my iPod Classic, which I’m using for video a lot more than I ever though I would.

Elves and X-Files

Friday night saw myself and a couple of friends at the Toho/Virgin cinema at Roppongi Hills for the all-night “Lord of the Rings – Extended Editions” run. Thirteen and a half hours from start to end. I have to say it was worth every minute of it, even though I have those editions on DVD.

I hadn’t seen The Fellowship of the Ring at the cinema though, as I somehow managed to miss it, so that was an added bonus. I did discover a couple of new things though: firstly that Orlando Bloom is as bad as I suspected he was, and secondly that throughout the night, the only time I nodded off was during Liv Tyler’s scenes, which could be some kind of clever subliminal filter.

That theory ties in with most of my Saturday and Sunday, as I’ve managed to damage my big toe rather badly, meaning I can’t walk very far, so I’ve decided to watch the whole of ‘The X-Files’ season two, which I think is beginning to effect my mind. That said, one of the best lines in the many years of the show, is in the episode ‘Soft Light’ when Dr. Banton announces “They’ve been waiting to do the brain suck on me for years!” (that’s paraphrased). Indeed they have, sir, indeed they have.

Alien Night

A late post [again], but just to say we survived the all night Alien movie fest at Roppongi Hills Cinema. It started at 10pm last Friday, and comprised of all 4 Alien films, with a 20 minute break beween each film.

We emerged bleary eyed at 7am on Saturday and with Aliens on the mind. I’d never seen the first two in a cinema, so that was good to do, and amazingly, except for the odd nod, I stayed awake for the whole thing. I have to say that I still consider No.1 to be the best one, but I was surprised how much I thought No.2 had aged. No.3 I think would’ve been a decent film except for the poor ending, and Joss Whedon of Buffy fame should be slapped for penning part 4. Just a so-so Sci Fi flick at best. Anyway, it was a good night out – and remember, if you find some drool and a discarded skin on the floor of the apartment and you’re not a 6ft actress or a producer, it might be best to run like hell…or blast it out of the airlock, if your apartment has one.

Cutie Honey

Yesterday night I finally got to see the Cutie Honey film at the Virgin Cinema in Roppongi. It’s a live action version of the ’70’s animated cartoon. Let’s get it straight, this is a low budget ‘cute’ film action with virtually no plot, and some very low-budget special effects.

However, unlike recent ‘comedies’ like “The Haunted Mansion”, this one is actually *fun*. It’s the story of a cyborg girl who can change costumes to help her fight the evil “Panther Claw” gang as long as she eats enough food, which in the film is 90% onigiri from Family Mart. The hook is that she has to be naked to do her ‘Honey Flash!” identity change. Also, when she runs out of energy, she loses her clothes. Fear not, in the film, she never gets out of her underwear – much to the annoyance of a lot of the other male movie-goers I suspect.

Eriko Sato as Cutie Honey does a fairly comedic performance, though there is the otaku pleasing ‘yoga in underwear’ scene, the rest of the film is more cheeky than some fans may have liked. Her ‘flashes’ are mostly an anime style CG, and many other action sequences are very manga in their design, which makes for a very fantasy style to the film.

Why was I watching it? Well, I’m just trying to take in more smaller Japanese films, which is getting easier to do as the general quality is getting better, and most of the recent big Hollywood films have been pathetic (Matrix: Revolutions, Haunted Mansion and Day after Tomorrow for example), and also because more and more Japanese films in Japan have showings of English subtitled versions, which helps me with some of the plot points.

The Japanese film industry goes beyond Akira and Takeshi films, so try some of these smaller films and see what you think!