It’s been over 35 years since the release of “Blood Simple,” a film noir classic where we were introduced to the brilliance of the Coen Brothers as a director/producer team. It’s now streaming on HBO and is definitely worth your time. If you’ve seen it before, you’ll know this film is always worth a rewatch. And for newcomers you’ll get to see many of the techniques the Coen brothers used throughout their amazing career.
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Zhang Yimou is perhaps one of the most well-respected directors in international cinema, and yet you wouldn’t know it from the amount of flack he’s received for his Chinese-language remake of “Blood Simple.” I don’t count myself among the many admirers of the Coen brothers’ 1984 neo-noir – it’s a great debut film, though hardly one of their best – but Yimou obviously does, so it’s strange that his love letter to the film has been met with so much hostility. With the exception of a few tonal changes, his version remains surprisingly faithful, with the story transported to 19th century China and revolving around a noodle shop owner who hires a policeman to kill his cheating wife and her lover when he learns of the affair, only for things go horribly wrong for everyone involved.
Though Yimou’s attempts at including a little screwball comedy to the proceedings fails miserably, the film still works as a slow-burning crime thriller, with Sun Honglei delivering a killer performance (no pun intended) as the quiet assassin. The movie also looks incredible (from the colorful costumes to the gorgeous cinematography), and though it’s never going to replace the original, “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop” is still a mostly interesting interpretation that I’d actually like to see done more often.
Click to buy “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop”
First-time feature directors — especially when they’re essentially financing their films — tend to make low-key stories without much in the way of action. Often, they are offbeat romances or perhaps something about a bunch of guys in their teens or late twenties avoiding the responsibilities of adulthood. Directors who emerge from the world of commercials often wind-up making movies that rely on flashy visuals and employ the worst kind of ADHD editorial approach. To his everlasting credit, Patrick Hughes, a first-time self-financing feature director with a background in commercials, did none of those things in his first feature, “Red Hill,” an often violent suspense tale with elements of classic westerns, monster films, and a strong sense of its Australian heritage.
Its star, Ryan Kwanten, is by far best known as Jason Stackhouse of “True Blood,” an occasionally likable dim-bulb of a character who would pretty much be nothing if it weren’t for his athletic good looks and sexual prowess. But Kwanten as an actor is certainly no mere boy-toy, even if he remains a favorite of young female fans and looks about a decade younger than his actual age (he’ll be 34 later this month). As the rather archly named Shane Cooper, the earnest, violence-averse policeman hero of “Red Hill,” he must be believable dealing with the rampage of revenge waged by an Aboriginal escaped convict (Tommy Lewis) while protecting his loving and pregnant wife (Claire van der Boom), dealing with the barbs of his taskmaster of a new boss (Steve Bisley), and spending a good chunk of the movie marinating in his own blood and believably fighting on. If that isn’t proof that Kwanten is, you know, a real actor, his next non-“True Blood” role appears to be as Charles Manson.
I met with voluble writer-director Hughes and actor Kwanten – who, as befits this film’s low budget provenance, come across as remarkably down-to-earth in person – during a press day held at Strand Releasing’s east Culver City office. A short time later, Kwanten would be chatting telephonically for a solo interview with my colleague, Will Harris, who’d be concentrating on his career, definitely including “True Blood.” No prima dona, and you’ll see just what I mean by that later in the interview, he was fine with surrendering some of the spotlight to director Hughes, who kind of dominates the discussion during the first half of this interview. However, do not fear, Kwantenites: we do hear from the very talented actor starting just past this interview’s halfway point, as he discusses crucial matters of blood, guts, and pig poo.
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You can feel it. After more than a week of Hollywood flacks being in overdrive announcing every comic book-derived, science fiction, fantasy, and horror project they’ve got, things have suddenly gone a little languid as we enter something like the late summer doldrums. That’s highly relative in a business where ADHD sufferers are seriously over-represented, but even Nikki Finke is mostly ignoring movies and has turned her megablog into a detailed celebration of every aspect of the parting of her bete noir TV executive, Ben Silverman.
But that leaves room for a couple of items relating to two filmmakers who are always worthy of attention.
* AICN’s Capone has a chock-full-of-good-stuff interview with Peter Jackson, whose been busier than you might even think considering the number of projects he’s got going, including some really cool sounding short pieces alongside his upcoming return to his “Heavenly Creatures” “small-movie” mode with “The Lovely Bones.” (Capone also raves about the upcoming Jackson-produced feature debut for South African-born director Neill Blomkamp, “District 9” — already notable because of its semi-unavoidable viral marketing campaign.)
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