Thursday 25 November 2010

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Saturday 13 November 2010

IMDB 250 Challenge: #41: Taxi Driver

Made: 1976
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd
Director: Martin Scorsese

My Thoughts

  • Generally, watching a film once is enough for me; particularly in a short space of time. Of course, there are movies I've habitually watched at Christmas and seen a dozen times, but I prefer to watch something new, given the choice. With Taxi Driver, though, as soon as I watched it, I felt I could easily have pressed play again and sat right through another play. It's a subtle movie in many ways. It moves slowly and affords itself plenty of silences. There's plenty to think about. There are some hugely impactual scenes, but it's more moving as a piece (ironically, considering it has one of the most quoted lines of any movie).

  • When watching, I kept thinking back to a biography I read years ago of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma Bomber. McVeigh had been a decorated soldier in the Gulf War #1. He struggled to readjust to society's trivialities afterwards and having been discarded by his government, soon became scornful and embittered towards all aspects of the federal state. We all know what happened to him. Travis (De Niro's character), having served in the Marine Corps, battles with what he perceives to be daily injustices. He bemoans the downward spiral of morality engulfing NYC and eventually, takes matters into his own hands. There are certainly parallels and I think Scorsese (and of course, writer Paul Schrader) have framed that frustration astutely. They can't have been short of research subjects in the fallout of the Vietnam War.

  • I was genuinely surprised by the ending. I won't spoil it, but I was certain it would conclude differently. For me, it made the movie. Up until that point I thought it was a good movie. The ending really seals it's status as a great one.

  • I wondered about the main character's insomnia. It's something I think about quite a bit, being a mild sufferer. Was he a bit tapped beforehand, or was it the lack of sleep that sent him over the age? It has a great track record for ruining people; but equally, some of the most revered creative minds have been sufferers (Proust, Van Gogh, Napoleon, Monroe, Edison, Dickens, B. Franklin).

Tuesday 9 November 2010

The War on Drugs - Future Weather EP

The War on Drugs’ excellent debut album, Wagonwheel Blues (2008), was a heady helping of roots rock that drew comparisons with Dylan, Springsteen and The Band. Since then, though, their success has been arguably eclipsed by that of one of their number. Lead guitarist Kurt Vile elaborated on the dusty Americana he’d been honing on his day job with the lo-fi, well received Childish Prodigy (2008).

A full length follow up to Wagonwheel Blues has been mooted for some time, but the fact that a lot of the material earmarked for it has wound up on Future Weather doesn’t augur well for the future endeavours of The War on Drugs, at least not in their current guise. In Vile and the mercurial Morrissey to his Marr Adam Granduciel, they have two huge talents jostling for primacy and on Future Weather, it seems that the latter has won out. Vile is a notable absentee and the biggest compliment I can pay this EP is that his presence isn’t missed at all.

The War on Drugs are at their best when embellishing on a classic template. Case in point: first track proper and set highlight ‘Baby Missiles’. Rhythmically and stylistically, it’s archetypal Boss. When you expect to hear a harmonica, there’s a harmonica. Where you imagine there might be a “whoop”, well, that’s exactly what you find. But fed through stratums and substratums of fuzz, reverb and organ it acquires a whole new identity. Strangely enough, it sounds fresh.

Similarly, ‘Comin’ Through’ is a sublime slice of textured mid-70s blues rock, reminiscent of that era’s Fleetwood Mac. It’s a thread darned throughout the EP, particularly on Brothers. The complexity of the pieces, however, and the immersive nature of the sound, belies such comparison, careering instead toward the most introspective, stoned moments of Urban Hymns (‘The History of Plastic’). And so it continues. The War on Drugs recall at one point or another, a dozen or more artists; but none tell the full story. Just when you you’re about to pin the tail on the donkey, it kicks you in the face.

Lyrically, there are some clues to Granduciel’s frame of mind at the time of writing. There are themes of loneliness, abandonment and severance. Whether he’s metaphorically mourning the departure of twelve ships (‘Comin’ Through’), wondering where all his mates have gone (‘Brothers’), or contemplating his friend who “rides all alone” (‘Baby Missiles’), it’s hard not to leap to conclusions. If that sounds a tad grim, then forgive me; for the record is anything but. Future Weather is one to get lost in and at times, it’s entirely joyous.

So used, as we are, to being pummeled with outtake, cover version and bootleg filled EPs, the expectancy has been substantially lowered. It’s rare to hear one as fully formed as Future Weather. Sure, they’ve used it as a platform to try new things – they are courting more experimental tangents than ever before – but they haven’t fired them all against the wall and waited to see what’s stuck. It has been arranged precisely, fluidly and coherently. I sincerely hope it isn’t, but if Future Weather is the last we hear from The War on Drugs, then it’s one hell of an epitaph.

Gwangju Sangmu 1-2 Ulsan Horangi-i

Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix turned in yet another mediocre performance, as they tasted defeat in their final game of the season. But if truth be told, Sunday's effort was about par for the course on a season that's seen them win only 3 games from 28, scoring a paltry 17 goals and conceding a 43. Both sides came into the encounter with different reasons for needing the points. Ulsan, twice K-League champions, were looking to maintain the good form that has seen them take a place in the Asian Champions League play-off positions. Gwangju, on the other hand, were chasing a victory that would keep them off bottom position in the table; a feat they managed to "achieve" despite losing, with Daegu's inept showing at Chunnam Dragons (2-1) meaning they took this season's wooden spoon.

Gwangju started brightly enough, penning Ulsan back in their own half for the majority of the opening exchanges and their early endeavour was rewarded with the opening goal on only 12 minutes. Cho Yong-Tae rose to meet a cross and knocked it past Korean international goalkeeper Kim Young-Kwang. Gwangju's coach and supporters will have been disappointed that their team's impetus was maintained so briefly. Only 7 minutes later, Ulsan were level. Paraguayan striker Jose Maria Ortigoza (a promising attacker, on loan from Club Sol de America in his homeland and who made his international debut earlier this year), latched onto a forward ball, beat the defender and rifled in a shot from a narrow angle. Kim Jee-Hyuk, in the Gwangju goal, got his gloves, but only enough to parry it into his own net. It was a fortuitous goal, but highlighted the lethal form Ortigoza has been in of late. Second top scorer in the K-League for the season with 17 (as many as the entire Gwangju team have mustered), he finished the league season with 7 goals in his final 6 games.

Proceedings were scrappy up until half time, with neither side wanting to seize the initiative, a pattern that continued into the second period. In the 54th minute, though, Ortigoza pounced again for the goal of the game. Played in by a midfielder he received the ball at the edge of the area, held off a couple of Sangmu defenders, before firing low into the bottom corner of the hapless Kim's goal. At 2-1, it never looked as though Gwangju were going to get back into it. The players looked disinterested and demotivated and Ulsan were happy to knock it around, letting the soldiers chase their shadows. It was a disappointing end to what's ostensibly the club's final K-League season.

The newly formed Gwangju FC launched their website last month( - Korean only) and an official foundation ceremony is mooted for December, at which stage they hope to be accepted into the K-League as the 16th member, competing as of 2011. It has been suggested that they will be allowed special dispensation (as Gangwon were a few years back) to select players from this year's draft to flesh out their squad. They were previously said to be adopting the moniker "Gwangju Rayers" (supposedly because "ray" suggests imagery of light beams - a futuristic image that correlates with the growing city of Gwangju, and of course relates to Gwangju being the City of Light), but this has been put back for review (apparently due to some controversy over a local ray fish delicacy and the propensity of Koreans outside of the province to refer to Jeolla natives in derogatory terms related to the ray fish).

54-year-old Choi Man-Hee has been appointed as head coach and there is optimism that Gwangju will be able to shed the label of "whipping boys". The prospect of a citizen team frees the coach to select the players he wants, not necessarily soldiers. It also creates the possibility of strengthening yearly and not building again from scratch once the players finish their military service. The potential to recruit international players, such as the hugely impressive Ortigoza, could also result in a welcome boost to attendances at the World Cup Stadium.

We will update with further notifications once information becomes available.

Sunday 7 November 2010

IMDB 250 Challenge: #104: Unforgiven

Made: 1992

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman

Director: Clint Eastwood

My Thoughts

  • Watching this made me realize how much America and indeed the world has changed over the past 100 – 150 years; surely more than at any other point in human history. I have been thinking about this quite a bit and the barren footage in Unforgiven made me think more. In 1880, Los Angeles had a population of 11,200: smaller than my home town of Enniskillen. Now it is almost 4 million. Sure, the plains of Nebraska and Wyoming haven't come on as quickly as that, but I still find it quite disconcerting that the population boom in America is so huge (and continuing).

  • Clint Eastwood has done awfully well, considering his repertoire is so limited. I am not suggesting he is not talented: he has made and starred in some excellent movies. But he seems to play the naval-gazing hard man in almost each one. That said, I found his role in Unforgiven quite moving. His character, Will, struggles to come to terms with the ageing process, realizing he can't do all the things he once could. True to life?

  • The last movie I saw of Eastwood's was Gran Torino, which I thought was absolute rubbish. This one, however, is superb. It's beautifully shot, travels at a nice pace and has some great characters (reminds me of a McCarthy book/adaptation). One of the best Eastwood movies I've seen.

  • Gene Hackman is a great and underrated actor. His character, Little Bill, was my favourite. Looking at his filmography (Mississippi Burning, Poseidon Adventure, French Connection, Royal Tenenbaums), it's surprising that his name is not often mentioned amongst the greats. And he played one of the best baddies of all time in Lex Luther.

  • Clint Eastwood can't shout very loud. I would imagine it's quite frustrating for him. I would place him alongside Phil Mitchell in the inability to shout stakes. I remember feeling very frustrated at Phil's attempts to roar in Eastenders a few years back. There is a downside to having a husky, cowboy's growl.

  • Cowboys don't eat very much. This is one thing I always wondered about when watching Westerns, I felt it a bit of an anomaly. Surely in such a taxing line of work, they need to eat more than a tin of beans? I know it wouldn't make for a great movie if it was Clint, Morgan and Gene filling their faces for two hours, but an acknowledgement that they need regular nutrition would satisfy me.

  • Overall, a very impressive movie and one I'm happy to have checked off the list.

IMDB 250 Challenge

In the six months I’ve been in Korea, there have been a few very notable changes in my lifestyle. One that disappointed me at first is that I don’t read nearly as much as I did before I came here. I think I’ve read four books in half a year. Before I came here, I was reading three or four each month. My habitual pendulum has swung wildly in favour of film. At first, I felt I would suffer in some way from this; that my mind wouldn’t be challenged as much as it was if I was reading. I guess that’s kind of true.

Well, it doesn’t look as though things are going to change anytime soon. I’m enjoying watching movies more than I ever have and whilst I’m not or never will be a film buff, I feel I’m learning more from them and deriving more benefit. I recently checked out the IMDB Top 250 rated movies out of curiosity, to see how many I’d watched. I got to 89, which I thought was a respectable figure, but when I looked at some of the “classics” I hadn’t seen, I was shocked!

Alien, Taxi Driver, Psycho…

Over the next six months, I will be trying to save a lot of money. I’ve decided to try making up for lost time and watch as many of these films as possible and to write a short blog on each one afterwards. These won’t be reviews, just my immediate thoughts, but perhaps some people will find them interesting. Here is the list, with the ones I’ve seen in bold.

1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
2. The Godfather (1972)
3. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
4. Inception (2010)
5. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
6. Pulp Fiction (1994)
7. Schindler’s List (1993)
8.12 Angry Men (1957)
9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
10. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
11. The Dark Knight (2008)
12. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
13. Seven Samurai (1954)
14. Toy Story 3 (2010)
15. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
16. Casablanca (1942)
17. Goodfellas (1990)
18. Fight Club (1999)
19. City of God (2002)
20. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
21. Rear Window (1954)
22. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
23. Psycho (1960)
24. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
25. The Usual Suspects (1995)
26. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
27. The Matrix (1999)
28. Se7en (1995)
29. Memento (2000)
30. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
31. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
32. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
33. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
34. Leon: The Professional (1994)
35. North by Northwest (1959)
36. Forrest Gump (1994)
37. Citizen Kane (1941)
38. Apocalypse Now (1979)
39. American History X (1998)
40. American Beauty (1999)
41. Taxi Driver (1976)
42. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
43. Vertigo (1958)
44. Alien (1979)
45. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
46. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
47. Amélie från Montmartre (2001)
48. WALL·E (2008)
49. The Shining (1980)
50. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
51. Paths of Glory (1957)
52. The Departed (2006)
53. The Pianist (2002)
54. Aliens (1986)
55. Spirited Away (2001)
56. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
57. M (1931)
58. The Lives of Others (2006)
59. Double Indemnity (1944)
60. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
61. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
62. Chinatown (1974)
63. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
64. L.A. Confidential (1997)
65. The Third Man (1949)
66. Das Boot (1981)
67. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
68. City Lights (1931)
69. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
70. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
71. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
72. The Prestige (2006)
73. Back to the Future (1985)
74. Raging Bull (1980)
75. Life Is Beautiful (1997)
76. Modern Times (1936)
77. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
78. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
79. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
80. Some Like It Hot (1959)
81. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
82. Amadeus (1984)
83. Downfall (2004)
84. Cinema Paradiso (1988)
85. Braveheart (1995)
86. The Green Mile (1999)
87. Up (2009) 110,055
88. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)
89. Rashomon (1950)
90. All About Eve (1950)
91. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
92. Metropolis (1927)
93. Gran Torino (2008)
94. The Elephant Man (1980)
95. The Great Dictator (1940)
96. Gladiator (2000)
97. The Apartment (1960)
98. Rebecca (1940)
99. Sin City (2005)
100. The Sting (1973)
101. The Great Escape (1963)
102. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade(1989)
103. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
104. Unforgiven (1992)
105. Bicycle Thieves (1948)
106. Jaws (1975)
107. Batman Begins (2005)
108. Die Hard (1988)
109. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
110. Oldboy (2003)
111. On the Waterfront (1954)
112. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
113. Blade Runner (1982)
114. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
115. Touch of Evil (1958)
116. The Seventh Seal (1957)
117. No Country for Old Men (2007)
118. Fargo (1996)
119. Princess Mononoke (1997)
120. For a Few Dollars More (1965)
121. Avatar (2009)
122. Heat (1995)
123. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
124. District 9 (2009)
125. Strangers on a Train (1951)
126. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
127. The Sixth Sense (1999)
128. Donnie Darko (2001)
129. High Noon (1952)
130. The Deer Hunter (1978)
131. Snatch. (2000)
132. The General (1926)
133. Notorious (1946)
134. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
135. The Big Lebowski (1998)
136. Annie Hall (1977)
137. There Will Be Blood (2007)
138. Platoon (1986)
139. Yojimbo (1961)
140. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
141. Ran (1985)
142. The Lion King (1994)
143. Into the Wild (2007)
144. Ben-Hur (1959)
145. The Big Sleep (1946)
146. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
147. Toy Story (1995)
148. The Wrestler (2008)
149. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
150. It Happened One Night (1934)
151. Life of Brian (1979)
152. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
153. Wild Strawberries (1957)
154. Finding Nemo (2003)
155. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
156. Trainspotting (1996)
157. Gone with the Wind (1939)
158. The Terminator (1984)
159. Scarface (1983)
160. Groundhog Day (1993)
161. Stand by Me (1986)
162.The Graduate (1967)
163. The Thing (1982)
164. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)
165. Amores Perros (2000)
166. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
167. The Wages of Fear (1953)
168. Gandhi (1982)
169. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
170. Ratatouille (2007)
171. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
172. V for Vendetta (2006)
173. Star Trek (2009)
174. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
175. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
176. Casino (1995)
177. The Gold Rush (1925)
178. 8½ (1963)
179. Diabolique (1955)
180. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
181. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
182. The Princess Bride (1987)
183. The Killing (1956)
184. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
185. The Incredibles (2004)
186. The Wild Bunch (1969)
187. The Kid (1921)
188. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
189. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)
190. The Exorcist (1973)
191. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
192. Kick-Ass (2010)
193. In Bruges (2008)
194. Children of Men (2006)
195. Dial M for Murder (1954)
196. Good Will Hunting (1997)
197. Nights of Cabiria (1957)
198. The Hustler (1961)
199. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
200. Ed Wood (1994)
201. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
202. Big Fish (2003)
203. Harvey (1950)
204. Rocky (1976)
205. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
206. King Kong (1933)
207. Sleuth (1972)
208. Let the Right One In (2008)
209. Magnolia (1999)
210. Network (1976)
211. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
212. Mystic River (2003)
213. Stalag 17 (1953)
214. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
215. Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
216. Rope (1948)
217. The Battle of Algiers (1966)
218. Brief Encounter (1945)
219. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
220. The African Queen (1951)
221. The 400 Blows (1959)
222. Ikiru (1952)
223. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
224. Crash (2004/I)
225. Duck Soup (1933)
226. Patton (1970)
227. The Truman Show (1998)
228. Toy Story 2 (1999)
229. Planet of the Apes (1968)
230. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
231. Manhattan (1979)
232. La strada (1954)
233. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
234. The Conversation (1974)
235. Barry Lyndon (1975)
236. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
237. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
238. Roman Holiday (1953)
239. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
240. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
241. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
242. Spartacus (1960)
243. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
244. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
245. Infernal Affairs (2002)
246. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
247. Rain Man (1988)
248. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
249. Changeling (2008)
250. Shaun of the Dead (2007)