Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pictorial -- The best of 2014

2014 closes. Looking back, I've made a rundown of the films that most satisfied my cinematic curiosities or just plain left me the most entertained. Not all of them are perfect, to say the least, but from every feature I found gusto or unique eccentricity; passion and remarkable artistry. There are very few fan favorites or critical darlings, as most of my picks range from forgotten oddities to top-heavy monstrosities to outright renegadeseven a couple box office bombs amidst the bunch. Yet, let it not be said the spectrum of my selection was left wanting: surrealism, fantasy, black comedy, pulp-noir, neo-noir, sci-fi western, straight western, urban action and suburban growing pains, slasher revisionism, long journeys, epic landscapes, ultraviolent and the serene, superhuman and the utterly inhuman's all there. 

Some of the titles below were technically from 2013 by way of some limited film festival release (one of which is actually a carryover from my last year's list) but none were given wide release until 2014, and thus I call fair game. I haven't any quick summary reviews this time around. Just see the movies for yourself and decide. Nor is there any real order or countdown of any kind, with the exception of a one Miss Scarlett Johansson, who bookends the following:

Virtuoso evolution.
Dark, romantic and French.
Strange headspace. Lynch meets Gilliam.
The great podcasting experiment.
Troublemakers. Sex and cigar smoke. 
Terrorism behind the wheel.
Heroism behind the wheel.
Frontiers of the past.
Frontiers of the future.
Another Coppola throws her hat into the ring.
Outback introspective.
Linear Keanu with a linear purpose = action reborn.
More world-building from Jackson, warts and all.
Not us.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Kata Stress

Mixed Martial Arts dominates the landscape, the mentality. It has since become the sole yardstick. In turn, Traditional Martial Arts is now viewed as a kind of relic of self-delusion ...silly old ways, which is unfortunate, to say the least. The very term 'Mixed Martial Arts' is in fact a misnomer (less mixed, more specialized) but that’s a whole other can of worms. Today is Kata.
Fighters, trainers and octagon enthusiasts in general tend to laugh at Kata. At best, they shrug it off as mere performance art. At worst, it is deemed a foolish exercise in aesthetics and bad habitual muscle memory; not simply a waste of time, but something that encourages fantasy. "Kata don’t win fights," they say. "It has no place in the ring or on the streets!"
Kata is not a fighting discipline. It is a mind discipline. The purpose of Kata is not to confine oneself in a perfect sphere of rehearsed techniques. Rather, in part and in essence, the purpose of learning Kata is to unlearn it. Variation and improvisation are meaningless without form. Kata is form. It is also the art of concentration, the discipline of discipline itself. Kata is deeply philosophical in that it establishes principles of movement and technique. This can range from a single theory or an entire library of ideas, yet the assumption that it further removes one from the realities of functional techniques is incorrect—incorrect because such is a misunderstanding of the very intent.
Kata is not meant to replicate real fighting, but to stimulate it, as in practice it allows one to execute full force, as opposed to the pulls and limitations inherent in sparing. It is not so much an attempt to visualize all that your opponent may or may not do as it is a process of building confidence in the visualization of your own movements and responses. Kata is also deeply personal. It is a means of self-examination, even down to an emotional and psychological level.
However, if nothing else, Kata is just plain hard. Below is karateka Rika Usami at the 21st WKF World Championships in 2012 during her final rounds of Female Individual Kata. What begins impressively enough as a courtly display of automated gestures quickly ignites into a passionate act of self-expression -- a roar of personal empowerment -- and one of the most extraordinary feats of pinpoint mind-body coordination one could ever witness.
Her countenance during which is not merely all business or 'game face', but a burning resolution to vanquish that which cannot be seen; the seemingly incalculable; the near infinite possibilities of failure at every step, shift, turn, leap, extension etc. Afterwards, note her contrasting state of intense emotional release. This is a girl who, for a lifetime within a few minutes, pushed herself to the brink of flawless Kata mastery. Rock the fuck on.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

So Chuck Norris walks into a bar...

Yesterday I blogged a review about the 1986 movie Firewalker, and by merely referencing one of its few action scenes, I now feel as if I've shortchanged what had become a minor staple of heyday Chuck Norris features: the Chuck Norris bar fight. The logic behind this recurring set-piece is fairly simple, in that Cannon Films seldom had the greenback to produce high-end spectacle at every turn coupled with the fact that martial arts melee offered sustainable action-movie protein at minimal cost. As archaic as it may seem now, there was a time when certain audience demographics wholesale would pay ticket prices simply to watch Chuck Norris do karate. 

To understand, food or drinking establishments can be easily acquired by plots to provide a concentration of asshole patrons eager to walk or charge in-turn towards a one-man whirlwind of fist and boot. Therefore a typical Cannon Films factory script would insert said scenario into whatever the Chuck Norris narrative. Seriously. If they had made a movie with Chuck Norris stranded on Mars, the probability nonetheless remains high that he would've manage to stroll into a dingy roadhouse of hick denizens or burly bikers before closing credits. 

Firewalker is no exception.
It's not that Norris is some kind of bully. He's a nice guy, honest. He, buddy Lou Goss' and their recently obtained lady client are just visiting the local speakeasy to share in some refreshments and maybe pickup a little info that could help find their way through rural Mexico. See? No problem. Perfectly harmless. But then spacetime happens, and Chuck is once again forced to negotiate the non-negotiable the only way he knows how, by administering the proper etiquette:
But wait, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. Let's go back and assess these chain of events objectively, starting with the point of entry. For reasons I can only surmise involve a collective contempt regarding the local failing farming industry, the three jerk-faces below vent their frustrations by denying Chuck 'n' company access to their bar; a problem Chuck solves rather succinctly using the coin toss technique:
Okay, so, maybe that was all just a random phenomenon; the rest of the evening to be cordial. And for the first few minutes everything indeed seems fine. Lou Goss' scouts for directions while Chuck and his lady friend make small-talk. When initial querying proves fruitless, Chuck takes things up another level (literally) by standing on his chair and waving some money around for anyone willing to divulge.
Parading cold cash before a barroom of strangers might seem ill-advised but, again, Chuck is a gentle soul who only assumes the best in people. Anyhow, it works and they get the scoop they're looking for.
Smooth sailing, right? Cue stock comical about-face:
Lou Goss' intervenes to pacify the situation but, alas, to no avail:
Chuck has to step in to put the big guy to bed.
But then some goons manhandle Chuck's lady friend and that's when the whole thing turns south.
The following is, amongst other things, a visual rundown of balsawood props and sugar glass laid to waste by a mildly aggravated Chuck Norris:
Blurred roundhouse.
A couple of first-person POVs.
Another blurred kick. Chuck Norris barely registers on film. 48fps required.
Then some vaquero charges in only to be met with a Chuck Norris 'Attack Face'.
Note that said 'Attack Face' is of such magnitude that it warps the film's internal reality, thereby causing severe frame distortion:
Chuck punches one guy into a coma-state whilst kicking another out the window:
Pause for coffee break.
Note the flexibility of Chuck's safari jacket. This is important.
More economizing. Three birds with one stone.
The eye of the storm.
A little hard to make out, but Chuck is kicking his last victim through a gazebo:
Once conclude, the band commences and Chuck surveys the damage with satisfaction.
Chuck Norris walks out of a bar...