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DeZ Vylenz Log

A captain's log of activities and projects, affiliations and developments involving the Shadowsnake ship and various guerilla film expeditions. Updated in between storms by DeZ Vylenz, Writer - Director - Martial Arts Choreographer

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cinema Blockbusters: Transformers

Yesterday night needed a break from all the work, too tired to read, too burnt out to exercise. Went to see Transformers instead at the local cinema. I expected a bad series of CGI sequences with zero story, but have to say/guiltily admit, I enjoyed it tremendously. It was over the top testosterone action, techno battle porno and crisp cinematography. Good thing I forgot it was Michael Bay, so I went in unprejudiced. But I should have recognised the super cheesy moments with pompous music and golden glow photography, ridiculously sexy poses and so on. Not something I'd like to see twice though.

Probably no coincidence I eat some junk food before the decision to see this film, I'm usually a home made food kind of man, but every few months you need some junk in your system to keep the immune system in check. Junk food and junk films have one single purpose, they fulfill a simple basic need: instant gratification through a predictable but tasty formula.

The first hour was better, good reinvention of cliches and borrowing from Sci-fi genre classics such as Predator and Aliens ("humans, even the deadliest of them, are small fickle creatures compared to greater forces theme) meets Terminator (threat of technology) blockbuster-thriller. And the anticipation works, makes the bots more believable. No mention of nano-technology though, which is most likely what it would have to be. End a bit lame as well, but overall still great entertainment and the CGI was of a superior nature, usually any building, object or character created digitally breaks the illusion for me. The robots had a textured and realistic look to them and the gravity and movements made them surprisingly living characters.

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The term Blockbuster actually comes from the massive bombs in WW II, blasting entire blocks to bits. And it's fascinating to see everybody, even the most critical viewers, gravitating to the films, because the concept has pervaded our culture as a phenomenon. It doesn't always mean the writing and directing has to be bad, but in most cases it's almost a guarantee.

What it boils down to is that occasionally Hollywood brings out technically brilliant genre films that also work as pure entertainment, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But the problem is that blockbusters have created a race, a sort of competition, to be bigger, more action packed and most importantly to break the box office records. And similarly to many Olympic athletes, the studios will keep pumping in steroids.

In the meanwhile, smaller films --whether studio or independent-- struggle to get any screen time in the cinemas, because most rooms are booked for blockbusters as all the mass marketing makes selling tickets easier. It will be interesting to see how it all progresses, but in general people are getting bored with the formulas. They just don't have much choice when they visit a theatre. So the trend continues for now.

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Classic directors: Anthony Mann and Nicholas Ray

People often ask me what my favourite films are or my main influences. This is very difficult to answer, because I'm mostly influenced by music, literature, comics --or graphic novels to use the chique word-- and by a whole range of films, but usually there are elements of films or from directors that I like. Not necessarily entire oeuvres or films, but specific parts for specific reasons.

Directors like Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Kubrick are often mentioned as part of the classical canon of cinema, while other names such as Anthony Mann and Nicholas Ray seem to be forgotten. In fact it's hard to find their films at most of the main stream DVD stores. Both had their own unique style and vision in the stories they wanted to tell and had a good understanding of architecture, surroundings and environment upon the characters and the narration.

Mann's T-men and He Walked By Night are great expressionistic noirs, while his westerns were great epic tragedies set against monumental landscapes.

Ray had an architectural background, which was clearly reflected in his films. In a conservative period he was also keen to address social issues and deeper explorations into the dynamics of society and the individual spirit.

Interesting to see how Ray made a film titled: They Live by Night (1949), while Mann made He Walked by Night in 1948. Not sure if the titles have anything to do with each other, but they're both noirs and show the fascination with a darker side of humanity.

I don't know their entire body of work, but I did see their films at a time that I was studying the film medium intensely and their own unique approach definitely made me aware of the language each filmmaker can develop to bring personal stories and vision across.

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Film Remakes and Originals

Why remakes? I still find it a strange and unnecessary operation to copy the same story and characters to adapt them to a new film. There are of course exceptions where the remake was just as good or even better than the original, Carpenter's The Thing for example, as the special fx and story were very much evolved to the technical and political climate of the cold war 80s. Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi --although more a modern sequel than remake-- is also a great piece of work that pays respect to the original with new touches.

In recent years I find most of the efforts by very skilled directors to remake films such as King Kong or Psycho unnecessary exercises in big budget spending. Of course every film or theatre director takes on the mission to adapt any kind of story to their own vision and interpretation, Shakespeare's material for instance being regarded in the same way a classical musician or composer would take a classic work and adapt it to modern times.

But the main difference with other media is that such an experiment or undertaking wouldn't take millions of cash to produce, while even the smallest film production would need a lot of human and financial resources. Maybe I'm old fashioned in seeing film as a special opportunity to tell original stories and present new visions, not trodden paths. But fact is that even from a business POV, every film is a costly effort in terms of time and energy, so each project is should be unique and strong enough to make its mark.

Unfortunately, people find it much easier to empathise with contemporary "updated" looks, settings and characters. The Departed did the same with the Chinese "Infernal Affairs", adapt the same thriller from a specific cultural setting to a more familiar American landscape of crime and actors. I did actually enjoy the film, but also had the feeling that the whole appeal about the original was that the Chinese Triads are traditionally nearly impossible to infiltrate, which made a glimpse into that world something more special and unique. The Hollywood remake had the great craftsmanship of Martin Scorsese and the cast, yet I felt that all these actors and settings looked too familiar and nothing we really hadn't seen before.

Then there is The Prisoner, the classic British TV series with a massive cult following, just saw some news on this site:

I'm curious to know what they'll do with it, but reading the descriptions and public announcements from the production company, it sounds like they'll swap that unique blend of 60s psychedelica and cold war paranoia to a more simplistic, flashy 24 like action series with plenty of gadgets and conspiracy theory stuff. Who knows, it could become something else entirely and stand on its own besides the original. But it's just a waste that so many talented new writers have their unread scripts gathering dust in forgotten drawers.

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The crooked roads of the Entertainment Industry

Thanks for all the good response and comments, especially regarding the Mindscape of Alan Moore DVD. The positive feedback is really appreciated after months of hard work. As for the comments on the blog, unfortunately it was not really set up as an interactive platform, but rather as a diary I would occasionally update.

However, in the next few weeks the website will be updated and the weblog will have the option of adding comments, so rather than emailing your response immediate reactions will be possible.

As for the other projects Im working on, I can only say Im still writing the screenplays --both fiction and martial arts related-- and once they are completed I will send out more info. But in general I prefer to talk things when theyve actually materialized or are completed. In this film business nothing is certain.

Although, the following news item is one of those rare surprises. Or as the ubiquitous William Goldman saying is often quoted: Nobody knows anything.

The industry is still governed by certain formulae and genre expectations, so it will be a matter of finding the right producer and financiers who believe in the story before the projects can get to the production stage. In any case Im itching to shoot a feature film again so the development is definitely underway and the projects are once again inspiring things to work on. I constantly find inspiration in other artists who haven't strayed from the path and continue to do what they truly believe in, rather than giving in the ephemeral trends.

Will keep you all posted.

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Opera Jawa

A sad ass bunch of films on selection in the multiplex theatres, saw posters with cheesy light comedy and CGI action fantasy. Although the Harry Potter and Die Hard franchise sequels were quite effective entertainment within the limitations of their genre, nothing new there to get excited about. But I couldn't even find Johnnie To's Exiled in the listings anymore after coming back to London after one week. This is how fast the turn over time is nowadays, by the time most people have heard about a good film through word by mouth or plan to make some time, it's already gone from the cinema.

On the independent film front, I was invited last Saturday by Yume Pictures at the Barbican, where they are screening Opera Jawa this week as part of the Crowned Hope festival. There was an introduction and Q&A with Peter Sellars and the director Garin Nugroho, who had a lot of funny and interesting comments about the process. I also had the chance to meet them on the Friday before at a cocktail reception at the Indonesian Embassy, where the ambassador stated the obvious: that artists and filmmakers are in many ways the most effective ambassadors of a culture or nations, in this case the third largest democracy in the world.

The film is definitely worth watching for those who are willing to suspend their expectations of linear narrative and conventional pace and script, as it's a haunting mix of traditional Indonesian Gamelan and dance, installation art, musical, electronics, blues and a retelling of an ancient Indian myth The Abduction of Sita from the great classic Ramayana. I'm relatively familiar with Indonesian culture, because Suriname is the only country in the New World with a large group of Indonesian immigrants (the first generation arrving about 118 years ago), which is reflected in the great cultural enrichment, especially when it comes to the culinary and martial arts (great stuff). Indonesian culture --the nation also being a diverse group of islands-- is a very complex mix of ancient Asian traditions, with elements of Islam and animism interwoven into the spiritual fabric and this film reminded me how such a culture can easily adapt to a post-modern expression such as this.

I think once the viewers open their minds and realize there is more than a physical love triangle story going on and the fights are mostly on a metaphorical level through supernatural and magical powers, entities and forces, it can be a powerful meditative trip. In many ways it reminded me of Jodorowsky's Holy Mountain in the way it drags your consciousness into a metaphysical event, while still being a brilliant visual and visceral experience with powerful and intense performances from the actors and dancers. Watch the tyrant butcher played by Eko Supriyanto move every muscle in his foot. He will also be in a London performance:

Opera Jawa is according to the director also a requiem for victims of violence and natural disasters around the world, but in particular for the earth and females who are in many ways the victim of male dominance. Garin explained that the whole film was an old idea that he wanted to do for years, but once the production was commissioned by Peter Sellars and became possible through Illuminations and the executive producers Simon Field and Keith Griffiths, he assembled a whole team of installation artists, choreographers and the main composer. The film then came together quite organically, with near total freedom for most of the artists. He said that he views himself more as a gallery in the whole process than as a director and elaborated on the fact that all the arts together form an eco-system and that film should be like that.

It was nice to hear how he had so much confidence in his collaborators and was always in for "suspense and surprise". As he said in his embassy speech: "In the Chinese language, the word 'crisis' is composed of the characters, danger and opportunity, and the latter is what a director should focus on." It's hard to describe, but the way he expressed himself in English was in quite humorous chunks of information and simple situation sketches and it gave a great glimpse of his view as a director.

Stills and trailer available soon at:

The film is on this whole week a the Barbican and opens at the National Film Theatre on 7 September before wide UK release. Check it out.

Posted by DeZ Vylenz  

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