Trailer: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Official)

Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike followed-up his 2010 critically-acclaimed jidaigeki film 13 Assassins with another foray into classical Japanese filmmaking with his reimagining of the 1962 classic by Masaki Kobayashi. Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is not a straight out and out remake of the Kobayashi classic, but Miike’s film follow similar ideas and themes.

Miike’s latest first premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and is just now making it’s way to North America. The film is now available for viewing On Demand with Tribeca Film as it’s North American distributor. There’s one caveat about seeing the film On Demand and that’s not being able to see it how Miike filmed it and that’s in 3D which made it the first to make such a premiere at Cannes.

Here’s to hoping this film make’s it’s way into the late film festivals in Northern California so I get a chance to see it on the big-screen. Barring that I don’t mind watching it in the comfort of my new condo in 1080p HD.

Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise? Take Two : Building A Better Gotham


If there’s one area (and actually I think there are several, but that’s rather beside the point and I promised to remain focused like a laser beam on each individual subtopic in this “Batman reboot” series of posts) where I think Tim Burton’s Bat-flicks had it all all over Christopher Nolan’s it’s in their depiction of Gotham City. Not only did Burton’s Gotham have a fantastic Metropolis-gone-gothic look thanks to the late Anton Furst, but it felt like an intrinsically different sort of place than a real city, a place where you could sort of actually believe guys might run around in bat costumes and Joker facepaint , while Nolan’s Gotham was just, essentially, New York only a little grimier (even if his first two films were shot in Chicago).

I understand the reasoning behind making Gotham less fantastic, of course, and those reasons do make sense — Nolan’s Batman was supposed to be a more “realistic” character, to the extent that a billionaire who dresses up like a bat can ever be called “realistic,” and Joel Schumacher’s CGI Gotham was such an over-the-top visual disaster that a back-to-basics approach to Bruce Wayne’s hometown was a predictable enough move to make.

Still, I think something was lost, and that Batman works a bit better with at least some level of the fantastic still involved in its primary geographic setting. To that end, I think  there are basically three things any self-respecting Gotham of the potential “soft reboot” of the Bat-franchise we were talking about should have —

1. It should look at least a little bit different than a garden-variety major US city. You needn’t construct anything as elaborate as Furst’s amazing two-city-block long set, but a city that has some fairly spectacular architecture in the form of bridges, tall buildings, etc. that you can focus in on would be a definite plus, especially if they’re all a bit past their prime and have seen better days, since Gotham pretty has to be a grimy place by definition. Some constructed set pieces that could stand in as fictitious local landmarks would be a plus, as well, so to that end it would be helpful if the filming location for future Batman flicks had something of an emptied-out urban core where you could build an Arkham Asylum, or a neat-looking miniature version of Wayne tower, etc. I’m thinking an ideal sort of look would combine elements of New York as depicted in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen combined with a toned-down Gothic feel at least somewhat reminiscent of furst’s Gotham, albeit scaled way the hell back.

2. There should be some ritzy neighborhoods or suburbs where you can find adequate exterior footage for Wayne Manor and its grounds. I don’t think the next Bruce Wayne needs to live in a fucking castle like Bale’s version, but certainly a “stately manor” that exudes old-school wealth and prestige and hearkens back to the city’s more prosperous days before it became Crime Capitol, USA (which Gotham pretty much always  is).

3. As alluded to in the first two points, the majority of the city should be run down, and obviously well past its prime — a city in desperate need of a champion.

Finally, for reasons that will be made more clear as I get into the nuts and bolts of the plot outline I have in mind for this whole “soft reboot” thing, I think it would be essential for the city-to-stand-in-for-Gotham to be close to some wooded and even mountainous areas, since while the focus of this flick is most assuredly not going to be on the minutiae of the Batman’s origins per se, I still think some “flashback”-style sequences that show rugged wilderness survival-type training are going to be in order.

I suppose this is all rather just moot speculation since they’ll probably just film the next flick in Vancouver and it’ll look just fine because it pretty much always does no matter what, but just for the sake of fun speculation, I have something else in mind here — a locale that combines everything we’re looking for in terms of a run-down urban core; some truly spectacular architecture of its own; essentially empty areas that might as well hang a sign up saying “will build to suit;” palatial, ultra-wealthy, “old money” suburban areas; and fairly reasonable access to densely-wooded, geographically rugged forest. Batman Begins was filmed in Iceland, the UK, and Chicago, respectively, in order to capture all these various aspects, but you can do all this in exactly one place here in the good ol’ USA, and the state government is eevn actively engaged in rolling out the red carpet to film production in recent years, seeing the economic boom it’s brought to its northerly neighbor in Toronto.

Yes, folks, I think the next principal filming location for Gotham City — the ideal place to set the geographic tone for a re-launched, re-loaded (even if it’s done “softly”) Bat-franchise — should be (drumroll please) : Detroit!

I assure you, friends, I’m not kidding. Given the kind of place I think would work best for this “sot reboot,” as outlined in my (admittedly makeshift) criteria above, I think the much-maligned Motor City would be absolutely ideal, and bringing the production there would have the added bonus of generating great publicity for the film due to the positive economic impact it would have on an area that sure could use it. A multi-million-dollar Hollywood production setting up shop in Detroit? You can bet the city fathers (and mothers) would positively roll out the red carpet for Warner Brothers, and everything you would need is  literally right there at your fingertips. Honestly, this idea’s almost too damn good. But maybe you’ve got a better one, in which case, please chime in before I move on to step three, which will concentrate on the overall tone of the film itself (now that we’ve — okay, I’ve — established a great location) tomorrow!

VGM Entry 25: Meanwhile in Europe…

VGM Entry 25: Meanwhile in Europe…
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

It can be pretty easy to get boxed into a NES perspective and forget that, while Nintendo may have controlled the majority of the gaming market, they weren’t a total monopoly. The Commodore 64 in particular was still a close rival in the area of gaming music.

The same small handful of names seem to pop up everywhere I turn for C64 music. I don’t know if there were in fact fewer musicians, if their works drastically outshines the competition, or if most C64 composers have been unfairly forgotten, but I can tell you this much. Between 1985 and 1987 Rob Hubbard composed the music for over 60 video games. That is completely unheard of for any other time and any other system. Monty on the Run, the first Hubbard work to catch my attention, also happened to be one of his earliest. He would carry on the innovative tradition for many years to come, with such original (to the best of my knowledge) compositions as Nemesis the Warlock (Martech, 1987) rivaling his more famous 1985 works.

The tendency towards covers continued as well. Rob Hubbard visited Larry Fast and his Synergy project again on Zoids (Martech, 1986), this time arranging “Ancestors” from Audion, the same album that featured “Shibolet”. This time around, a version of the original music is conveniently available.

Which Hubbard music I post from here is really quite arbitrary, because the quality of his works is consistently high. Delta (Thalamus, 1987) is among my favorites. Delta is an interesting example of just how low-key video game development used to be. The sequel to Sanxion (Thalamus, 1986), both Delta and its predecessor were programmed by Stavros Fasoulas and composed by Rob Hubbard. To the best of my knowledge, that’s it. Perhaps this is why Hubbard was not composing ending credits themes.

I’ve read that the music to Delta was inspired by Koyaanisqatsi by Phillip Glass, but I have no reliable source to confirm this, and I have not heard the song myself.

Ben Daglish is another prolific C64 composer with dozens upon dozens of titles to his name. It’s pretty easy to miss soundtracks like Mountie Mick’s Death Ride (Ariolasoft, 1987) in the sea of material out there, especially with Daglish not getting quite the excessive attention of Hubbard and Galway. A great stand-alone song, Mountie Mick’s Death Ride also achieves a much higher level of game relativity than the average C64 composition. Unless this video is misleading, the game doesn’t seem to have had a seperate sound effects track at all; Daglish’s composition incorporated the chug of the train into the basic beat of the music.

(This video must have been removed in the past day or two, and I could not find a replacement nor did I have time to overhaul my article to adjust for it. I do hope this was deleted by the poster’s choice and not another victim to the most recent string of copyright threats by these media conglomerates who seem to be buying up massive quantities of obscure, out of print material and erasing all record of their existence. A whole ton of similarly innocent videos from different users seem to have vanished in the past few days.)

A Commodore 64 composer I drew attention to in an early post was Martin Galway, for his work in Yie Ar Kung-Fu and Roland’s Rat Race. I didn’t quite realize how significant the guy was at the time, but the more C64 soundtracks I look at (at least up through 1987), the more he comes across as the guy who scored every soundtrack that Hubbard didn’t. The two both put out ridiculous numbers. To Hubbard’s 60+, Galway can add another 30. Just how many games were released in this three year span?

By 1987, Galway seems to have gotten pretty experimental. A lot of his works don’t feel quite as “safe” as Hubbard’s. Game Over (Imagine, 1987) is a case in point. Weird as it may be, the first 1:50 still constitute a functional game soundtrack. But as the melody all drops out and nothing but Galway’s bizarre experimental drumming is left behind, well… whatever your take on the composition, I think you’ll be hard pressed to conceive of a relevant gaming context.

Maybe it’s just Game Over‘s cool box art that makes me think a relevant gaming context matters in the first place. I mean, if you tried to musically capture the title screen of The Baby of Can Guru (Rainbow Arts, 1987) you would probably be fired. So just as he did with The Great Giana Sisters that same year, Chris Hülsbeck said “to hell with this” and wrote whatever pleased him.

I mean, if the significance of what you’re now hearing hasn’t sunk in yet, let me try to clarify:

THIS GAME has a wicked soundtrack.

Anyway, this about wraps up my thoughts on SID music up through 1987. I will leave you with another Martin Galway piece: the Commodore 64 port of Arkanoid (Imagine, 1987), which is really just as absurd as Hülsbeck’s music for The Baby of Can Guru when you consider that the game is nothing more than a Breakout copycat.

Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway were not the only two people writing music for the Commodore 64–I still know next to nothing about David Whittaker, for instance–but it is consistently their works which strike me as noteworthy in the mid-1980s. Chris Hülsbeck, or Huelsbeck if you prefer, seems to really start to make his presence known in 1987, and the works of Jeroen Tel would soon follow. Tim Follin, the mastermind behind the Bionic Commando port arrangement, would also start to really expand his impact beyond the ZX Spectrum in the late ’80s. ’85-’87 might for many people constitute the real glory days of Commodore 64 music, but there was much greatness still to come.


Notice: Square Enix have apparently deemed one of my soundtrack reviews a copyright infringement and demanded I remove the offending content (brief audio samples from an out of print ost). I have complied, and I kindly encourage you to boycott all Square Enix products in the future. Since their games are terrible these days anyway I am probably doing you a favor.

Lisa Marie Does Killer Joe (dir. by William Friedkin)

I nearly didn’t get to see Killer Joe.

Killer Joe, the latest film from William Friedkin (who, 40 years ago, won an Oscar for directing The French Connection), is rated NC-17 for “graphic disturbing content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality.”  That, more than anything, was why I wanted to see Killer Joe.  I wanted to see just how extreme a film starring Matthew McConaughey could possibly be.  However, I also knew that the NC-17 rating would mean that I would have to show my ID before being allowed to have my mind corrupted.  See, I might be 26 years old but most people seem to assume that I’m 17.  That is, until I speak.  At that point, they usually realize that they’ve guessed incorrectly and decide that I’m actually 15.

Sure enough, when me and my BFF Evelyn bought our tickets to see Killer Joe earlier this week, I was asked to show my ID. Smiling my sweetest smile, I held up my driver’s license.  I was expecting that the ticker seller would just glance at the ID and then say, “Thank you,” but instead, he literally appeared to be studying my picture.  His eyes shifted from the license to me and back to the license.  I was starting to get nervous because, after all, it’s not like I was trying to get through airport security.  I just wanted to see a forbidden movie.

Behind me, I heard Evelyn say, “That looks like a fake to me.”

“Ha ha,” I cleverly replied.

Evelyn responded with, “I don’t trust her.  Maybe you guys should strip search her…”

Finally, the ticket seller looked away from my driver’s license and, as he handed me my ticket, he told us that the theater’s management had instructed him to make sure that we understood that we were about to see an explicitly violent film.  He also told us that there were free donuts available at the concession stand.  That was nice of him.

So, after all that, I finally got to see the forbidden film Killer Joe and you know what?  Killer Joe earns its NC-17 rating, not so much because it’s any more exploitive than any other mainstream film released this year but because it’s actually honest about being an exploitation film.  Killer Joe may be playing in the arthouses but it’s a grindhouse film and proud of it.

Killer Joe takes place in my hometown of Dallas (though it was filmed in New Orleans) and it features perhaps the sleaziest group of losers that you’ll find on a movie screen this year.  Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a drug dealer who lives with his mother and who moves, talks, and thinks with the scrambled energy of a meth addict.  His father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) is an affably stupid alcoholic who lives in a trailer park with his second wife, Sharla (Gina Gershon, who gives a ferociously good performance here) and his daughter, 16 year-old Dottie (Juno Temple).  Dottie is a spacey girl who is given to sleep walking and who doesn’t appear to be quite all there.  Chris is creepily overprotective of her and, though it’s never implicitly stated, it quickly becomes obvious that there’s a rather disturbing subtext to her relationship with both Chris and her father.

Chris has managed to get into debt with some local criminals but he’s got a plan.  As he explains to Ansel, his mother has got a sizable life insurance policy and if she dies, the money will go to Dottie.  Chris and Ansel hire a hitman to carry out the murder for them.  That hitman is Joe (Matthew McConaughey, giving the performance of his career), a demonic charmer who always dresses in black and who has a day job as a homicide detective.  When Chris and Ansel explain that they don’t have the money to pay him in advance, Joe agrees to take Dottie as a retainer. 

Soon, Joe is living in the trailer park with Dottie, Chris is getting brutally beaten up every time he goes out in the daylight, and the murder doesn’t seem to be any closer to actually happening.  When Joe finally does make his move, it all leads to a lot of very brutal violence, a series of betrayals, and a very disturbing scene involving a drumstick from Kentucky Fried Chicken.  As I said before, Killer Joe earns that NC-17.

William Friedkin, who has had a rather uneven career, dives right into the film’s sordid atmosphere.  The majority of the film takes place in that Hellish trailer park and Friedkin perfectly captures the feeling of a society made up of people who are trapped by their own lack of intelligence, imagination, and status.  There’s been a lot of films made about white trash but Killer Joe gets it right, creating an all too believable Hell where everyone can afford to buy a pit bull but not a decent suit (or, in the case of Dottie, a bra).  When the violence does come, Friedkin doesn’t shy away from showing it nor does he try to pretend that violence doesn’t have consequences.  When people get hurt in Killer Joe, they stay hurt. 

Matthew McConaughey is a wonder as Killer Joe.  Whereas many actors would tend to go overboard with such a psychotic character (and you’d be justified in expecting McConaughey to go overboard as well), McConaughey is actually rather restrained for most of the film. The power of his performance comes from the fact that, while everyone else is going crazy, McConaughey is subdued and steady.  It’s only when he speaks to Dottie that we get a few clues of just what exactly it is that lurks beneath Killer Joe’s coolly professional manner.  It’s only towards the end of the film that McConaughey allows his performance to get a bit more showy but, by that point, the entire film has gone to such an extreme that Joe still seems almost sensible.

Killer Joe, however, is not a perfect film.  Though the film is set in North Texas (and, in fact, the Texas-setting is pretty important to the film’s overall plot), it was filmed in Louisiana.  Speaking as someone who has lived in both of those fine states, trust me when I say that, visually, there’s a huge visual difference between Texas and Louisiana.  (Evelyn and I shared a laugh  when we spotted Palm Trees in the film’s version of Dallas.) 

While the clumsy use of Louisiana as a stand-in for Texas probably won’t be noticeable to anyone outside of the Southwest, a far more noticeable problem with Killer Joe is that the film is based on a stage play and, despite some efforts to open up the action, the film still basically feels rather stagey.  This is the type of movie where people tend to deliver semi-poetic monologues about their childhood at the drop of a (cowboy) hat.  To a certain extent, the staginess made it easier to handle the film’s violence (and perhaps that was Friedkin’s intention) but, at other times, it just caused the action to drag.

Ultimately, Killer Joe is a film that I would recommend with reservations.  It’s definitely not for everyone and I don’t know that it’s a film that I’ll ever want to sit through again (seriously, I’ll be surprised if I ever manage to eat another drumstick) but it is a movie worth seeing.  If nothing else, it’s the closest were going to get to a true grindhouse film this year.