onderhond blog - onderhond.com http://www.onderhond.com/blog/onderhond The onderhond blog is a collection of gathered thoughts about my work and my personal life. Find out about what drives me as a person and how I get about in my professional life. en-us underdog@operamail.com (Niels Matthijs) <![CDATA[Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku/Mipo Oh]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/light-shines-only-there-review

It's been a while since I watched a good, gritty, rough and introverted Japanese drama film, not something that's been broadly available the past couple of years. It's nice to see Mipo Oh pick up this type of cinema so elegantly and effortlessly. Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku [The Light Shines Only There] is a strong, intriguing and emotional drama that may not always be easy to watch, but is all the better because of it.

screen capture of Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku

The film reminded me a lot of the mid-2000 films of Ryuichi Hiroki, combining edgy drama with frank sexual scenes and a strong female lead. In the case of Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku though, there's an actual woman in the director's seat, securing a very warm and natural atmosphere that runs throughout the entire film, no matter how vile and disturbing the drama becomes.

Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku was chosen to represent Japan at the Oscars this year. Obviously it didn't get a nomination (I wonder if anyone at the Academy even made it to the end), but it did give the film the international exposure it deserves. Based on a 20-year old novel by Yasushi Sato, the film follows 3 people living their secluded lives in the lower society ranks of Hokkaido. Life isn't easy for them, but somehow they find hope and warmth in each other's company, no matter how dire their situation becomes.

It's not so much a film about poverty itself though, instead Oh focuses on the hardships that life has dealt them. Tatsuo is without a job, dealing with the death of a co-worker he was responsible for. One day he runs into Takuji, a former convict who is trying to make ends meet by working for a local criminal. Chinatsu, Takuji's sister, is working as a prostitute in a small bar, financing the care of her dad who is bedridden after having suffered a stroke.

screen capture of Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku

On the visual side of things, Oh doesn't stray away too much from the expected. Most of the scenes come across as very natural and effortless, though there are moments of stylistic excellence. A few nice tracking shots and some amazing jump cuts, coupled with some beautifully shot twilight moments add some shine to the film. All of these are classic elements of Japanese drama cinema, but they're executed quit nicely indeed.

The soundtrack is up to par, a selection of good but rather typical drama songs that get the job done. It's the sound design that provides real added value here, dropping sounds or highlighting them for extra dramatic effect. When used in combination with the sparse visual trickery it makes for some truly stand-out scenes that lift this film far above the status quo.

The acting is not extraordinary, but it's rock solid nonetheless. Go Ayano and Chizuru Ikewaki both put in a tremendous effort, drawing lots of emotional value from their respective characters, even when their motivations can be a little hard to grasp. I did need a while to get used to Masaki Suda, whose performance is a bit more accentuated. In the end though it's his performance that proves to be crucial to the balance between the harsh drama and the characters' positive outlooks.

screen capture of Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku

On paper Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku is a vile and relentless drama. Characters are abused, do things normal people would never want to be associated with and reside in a place with no real perspective of a better future. And yet, they deal with their problems in a very calm and down to earth way, putting aside their pride in return for a little bit of happiness. The ending is warm and hopeful, something I didn't really expect, but it fits the film remarkably well.

Soko Nomi Nite Hikari Kagayaku is a surprisingly dark film for Mipo Oh (who, up until now, directed much lighter fare), but it's clear she has a knack for handling edgy subjects in a very respectful and natural manner. The result is a strong, remarkable drama with no weak points and a few stand-out scenes that linger long after the end credits have faded from the screen. A very welcome addition to the dwindling Japanese drama cinema.

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Thu, 22 Jan 2015 10:39:53 +0100
<![CDATA[Meikyu Monogatari/Kawariji, Rintaro and Otomo]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/manie-manie-review

It's not a secret that I have a soft spot for anthology films, animation anthologies in particular are often a sparkling well of creativity. Case in point: Meiky Monogatari (also known as Neo-Tokyo or Manie-Manie). It's a Project Team Argos and Madhouse co-production, adapting the work of Japanese sci-fi writer Taku Mayumura and bringing together a unique combination of talented directors. The result is 50 minutes of animation wonder in a project that easily withstands the test of time.

screen capture of Meikyu Monogatari

The late '80 were a great time for Japanese animation. With films like Tenshi no Tamago, Oritsu Uchugun Oneamise no Tsubasa, Akira, Tonari no Totoro, Kido Keisatsu Patoreba: The Movie and Hotaru no Haka all released in under 4 years time, it was clear that something was bolstering over there. Meikyo Monogatari offered directors Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Katsuhiro Otomo and Rintaro a chance to show the world they deserved a place in that scene.

The first of the three shorts (Labyrinth*labyrinthos) is directed by Rintaro and serves as a small introduction to the other two short films. Even though it's very light on plot, there is a basic storyline about a clock serving as a portal to a labyrinth world, discovered by a little girl and her cat while playing hide and seek. It's a rather experimental short, toying around with outlandish camera angles, novel animation techniques (there are some very limited computer animations in there) and a very unique art style.

Labyrinth is not your typical anime short, then again Rintaro is not your typical anime director. There's also a short continuation at the end of the anthology, making it a rather strange but fulfilling wrapper episode, with enough wonder and stand-out moments to warrant it a "full short" status. Just don't try to make too much sense of it, but approach it as a fever dream with a particular goal that needs to be met to kick off the other two shorts. 4.5*/5.0*

screen capture of Meikyu Monogatari

The second short is called Hashiru Otoko and is directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Kawajiri made a name for himself directing anime classics like Wicked City, Monster City and Ninja Scroll, a very particular type of anime that introduced many boys in the West to the world of Japanese animation during the early 90s ( while also giving it somewhat of a bad rep over here because of the rather graphic gore and erotica that make up a huge part of these films).

Hashiru Otoko is a little different, as it focuses more on its scifi setting and on character development, playing like a darker and more serious version of Takeshi Koike's Redline. The film's about a legendary race car driver who eliminates his opponents with his telekinetic abilities. Things get hairy when his mind is starting to give in and he ends up racing his own mental image. While a bit cruder in style, the build-up of this short is excellent and the pay-off is more than worthy. 4.0*/5.0*

screen capture of Meikyu Monogatari

The final short (Koji Chushi Meirei) is helmed by Katsuhiro Otomo, a year before he would adapt Akira into a feature film. Still new to the field, Otomo used this chance to get acquainted with directing scifi material, something that would help him out when he finally got around to directing one of the biggest anime films ever made. The short tells the story of a young supervisor who is sent to shut down a self-sufficient plant in the middle of the rainforest.

His job is to stop the robots from finishing the plant as they're burning through raw materials, but that's easier said then done since the robots are programmed to deliver the plant on time. It's a cute little short, bristling with small details, crazy animation (Koji Morimoto was on the team as key animator) and quirky ideas. It's not as serious of Otomo's other films, but there's a clear underlying message about AI and robotics that has been gaining traction again the past few years (now that's we're actually nearing technology like the one displayed in this short). 4.5*/5.0*

Meikyu Monogatari (together with Robot Carnival, another 1987 anthology sporting promising names) helped to pave the way for a respectable stream of animated anthology films coming out of Japan. Every few years a couple of directors come together to give the best of themselves, enjoying the freedom to make something that doesn't necessary needs to meet customer demands. They use this freedom remarkably well, which is why these type of films continue to pop up in my list of favorites. If you're into animation, Meikyu Monogatari is a definite recommend. The film has clearly aged, but the animation is still impressive and there's still enough left to wow you into liking it.

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Tue, 13 Jan 2015 13:05:23 +0100
<![CDATA[The Book of Life/Jorge R Gutierrez]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/book-of-life-review
The Book of Life poster

It surprises me to say, but 2014 was actually a pretty decent year for US animation. Sure enough there was still plenty of crap floating around, films like How to Train Your Dragon 2 and The Lego Movie continue to stifle the potential of the genre (and with films like Penguins of Madagascar and Minions coming in 2015 that isn't going to change any time soon), but at least there was some solid counterweight available. I already mentioned The Boxtrolls, The Book of Life should be added to that list.

The Book of Life is produced by Guillermo del Toro and helmed by first-timer feature film director Jorge R Gutierrez (who does have a rather lengthy history in the animation industry). While the influences of roughly 20 years of US CG productions are clearly visible, del Toro and Gutierrez bring a festive Mexican vibe to the table that helps to differentiate this jolly animation from the rest.

Give the film five minutes to settle down. The intro is a little lame, but once the "book of life" story actually starts the beauty of this production quickly transpires. The art style is cute, colorful and unique, sporting smart character designs and amazing environments. Once the characters are transported to the Land of the Remembered it gets even better, evoking memories of the parade sequence in Kokaku Kidotai 2: Inosensu.

But this is a US production, so sadly the film never spends enough time making the most of its beautiful surroundings. It's a bit like constructing an awesome instrumental piece of music and then drowning it out by adding vocals. While there's plenty to admire in The Book of Life, characters keep yapping away and everything is focused on plot progression instead of taking the pacing down a few notches so people can enjoy the scenery. I understand The Book of Life is primarily aimed at kids, but a film like Chasseurs de Dragons did a much better job balancing the two.

Still, The Book of Life is a big step up from other popular US CG animation features. It's a fun film, aimed at younger viewers but with plenty to enjoy for older animation fans. The story is a bit basic, not everything is as funny as it should be (Ice Cube's character didn't really do it for me) and you can pretty much guess how it's going to end, but the flashy Mexican vibe and the amazing art direction more than make up for that. Hopefully other studios will see this as a clear sign that there is a world beyond cheap comedy and plastic animation aesthetics.

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Mon, 05 Jan 2015 12:19:23 +0100
<![CDATA[Delicatessen/Jeunet and Caro]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/delicatessen-review-jeunet

Delicatessen was one of the first films that showed me French cinema had more to offer than just conversation-based dramas and mediocre comedies. It also marked the start of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's career (Micmacs à Tire Larigot, Amélie Poulain), generously assisted by Marc Caro (who received directing credits for his work on Delicatessen). It's one of the oldest live-action films in my list of absolute favorites, so I was quite interested to see how well the film had held up after all those years.

screen capture of Delicatessen

Jeunet and Caro are a unique duo. The cominbation of Jeunet's magical touches and Caro's darker visions make for a film that's both funny and oddly creepy at the same time. While Delicatessen is a comedy at heart, the setting is a dirty, mean micro universe in total disarray. There is no room for beauty here, yet within that grim, dirty place Jeunet dredges up a lot of melancholy and wonder. It's this constant tension between two very different worlds that turns Delicatessen into such a great film.

We're looking at a dystopian future. Food is scarce, meat is a rarity and people pay each other in corn. People get by, but times are tough. Except for a little commune centered around a butchery. The butcher is rich, the people living in his neighborhood are doing relatively well for themselves. Something is off though, but as everyone seems to be in on the secret no outsider is going to find out what is happening in the butchery.

Until Louison shows up on the doorstep of the butchery. He is looking for a place to live and since the previous caretaker mysteriously disappeared the job is his. Louison quickly adapts to his new surroundings, befriending the daughter of the butcher after a fateful encounter with a sleazy mail man. The two are clearly enjoying each other's company, but the butcher isn't too happy with the blossoming relationship between the two and devises a plan to get rid of Louison.

screen capture of Delicatessen

For a film almost 25 years old, Delicatessen still looks stunning to this very day. The sepia filter helps, but Darius Khondji's skills go beyond applying a mere filter. The camera work is less than subtle, featuring plenty of weird camera angles and unique framing, the lighting is exquisite and the settings are fun and detailed (though I assume that's mostly Caro's doing). The original copy is quite grainy and foggy though, so upgrading to an HD version might make for a slightly cleaner experience.

The music on the soundtrack has a classic French vibe, mimicking old French chansons for an extra quirky effect. It's not exactly up to Amélie standards, it's definitely not quite as memorable, but as a companion to the visuals it makes for a very warm, charming and endearing whole. A good soundtrack, even though individual tracks don't really linger as long as they should.

As for the actors, Dominique Pinon is perfect for the role of Louison. He has a very expressive face and posture, granting his character an almost cartoon-like appearance. The rest of the actors is equally well-cast, Jean-Claude Dreyfus in particular impresses as the mean-spirited butcher. Those with a sharp eye may also be able to spot Marc Caro in a tiny cameo (he's one of the "Troglodytes" - an underground counteraction group that pops up during the final act of the film).

screen capture of Delicatessen

Like most of Jeunet's films, Delicatessen is at its best when it's happily ignoring the main plot line. The inhabitants of the butcher's house are a strange and quirky bunch that get up to all kinds of mischief. The toy makers are weird, there's one woman constantly trying to kill herself and the guy pretending to be a frog ... well, there's really no sane explanation for that. The director duo doesn't mind diverging a little to revel in the bizarre world they created, which may not be too pleasing for people who prefer a rigid plot or who don't like Caro and Jeunet's strange sense of humor, but in the end it's what sets Delicatessen truly apart from the rest.

I clearly prefer this film over Amélie, if only for the darker and freakier setting. Caro and Jeunet make an excellent team and while Jeunet has the skills to put out a great film by himself, Caro is dearly missed in his later work. Delicatessen won't be for everyone, it's a bit too bizarre for that, but if you like your film a tad different than it's more than a solid recommendation. From a film nearing its 25th birthday, it's still one hell of a ride.

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Wed, 31 Dec 2014 12:52:56 +0100
<![CDATA[Ryuichi Hiroki/x20]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/focus-on-directors/ryuichi-hiroki-x20
Ryuichi Hiroki

By now, Ryuichi Hiroki shouldn't be a stranger to you. If you've been following this blog you probably bumped into his name before. He may not be the most famous of Japanese directors, but he scored a few minor successes in the early 2000s and found a supporter in me ever since. Like most people Vibrator introduced me to Hiroki's oeuvre, since then I've seen 20 of his films in total.

Hiroki started out in the 80s as a pinku director. Pinku is pretty much synonymous with soft-erotica, apart from the fact that directors get full creative freedom as long as they show enough nudity/sex scenes per film. It's a weird deal, but some directors actually use this freedom tot hone their craft. In Japan it's considered a bona fide way to earn yourself some directorial credits. Big names like Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Sion Sono also started out this way.

Hiroki directed roughly 40 films in 20 years time, most of them completely unavailable to us people in the West. The "real" start of his career is probably the release of Futei no Kisetsu [I Am an S+M Writer] and Tokyo Gomi Onna [Tokyo Garbage Girl] in 2000, two films that showcased Hiroki's knack for human drama.

When he released Vibrator three years later, things started looking up for Hiroki. With the help of Shinobu Terajima (the lead) and Nao Omori, he delivered his first fully-fledged drama. These early Hiroki films still carry quite a few pinky influences, but rather than arouse Hiroki's familiarity with nudity and femininity gave his films a very natural, realistic atmosphere while handling risqué subjects. He's one of the few male directors who can make a believable drama sporting a strong, female lead.

The following five years (2003-2008) Hiroki would release about two films per year. Apart from Bakushi (haven't seen that one yet so I can't vouch for it) and his entry in anthology film Fimeiru these films are all worth watching. The one that touched me the most was Yawarakai Seikatsu [It's Only Talk], a film about a manic depressive woman (Shinobu Terajima again) who learns to deal with her illness. But films like Girlfriend: Someone Please Stop the World, Koi Suru Nichiyobi [Love on Sunday 1 and 2], New Type: Tada Ai no Tame Ni [New Type: Just For Your Love] and M are definitely worth a shot too.

In 2009 Hiroki directed Yomei 1-Kagetsu no Hanayome [April Bride] and Raiou [The Lightning Tree], two films centered more around plot and story instead of characters. It marked the start of a new period in his already lengthy career, in which he would alternate between more commercial and indie work at regular intervals. These story-driven films fail to match the quality of his character-driven work (though they're fine in their own right), luckily he never quite stopped making those. If you're looking for more recent Hiroki films to enjoy, there's always Keibetsu [The Egoists] and Kiiroi Zo [Yellow Elephant]. The rest isn't bad, just not up to Hiroki's usual standard.

If you like drama films, especially the more impenetrable Japanese kind, featuring strong female leads and somewhat risqué setups, then Ryichi Hiroki's oeuvre is an almost inexhaustible source of quality films. They can be quite hard to track down, but it's definitely worth the effort once you get a hold of them.

Best film: Yawarakai Seikatsu [It's Only Talk] (4.5*)
Worst film: Raiou [The Lightning Tree] (3.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Kiiroi Zo, Yawarakai Seikatsu, Kikansha Sensei Keibetsu, M, Koi Suru Nichiyobi Watashi. Koishita, Kimi no Tomodachi, New Type: Tada Ai no Tame Ni, Girlfriend: Someone Please Stop the World
Average rating: 3.72 (out of 5)

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Tue, 30 Dec 2014 11:14:47 +0100
<![CDATA[The Big Film Shuffle/2015 Update]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/blog-updates/top-200-update-2015

After compiling my top 10 of the best films I watched this past year, it's time to get down to some serious business. The yearly update of my list of all-time favorites takes a bit more time and effort, but it's a necessary evil as new films are always waiting for a chance to storm the list, just as somewhat disappointing rewatches are pushed back down the ladder.

There are 16 new entries this year, that means another 16 films have dropped from the tables. Five of the new entries are awaiting review, so I'll give priority to those first. After that it's back to the regular schedule of expanding the list 10 films at a time. A full top 250 by the end of 2015 sounds a little improbable right now, but it's at least a nice goal to have.

The new list of 200 entries can be found at its usual spot.

IN OUT
Miss Zombie (049) Kantoku Banzai! (126) [Glory to the Filmmaker!]
Shi Hun (055) [Soul] Tian Bian Yi Duo Yun (153) [The Wayward Cloud]
Moi-bi-woo-seu (064) [Moebius] 964 Pinocchio (155)
Kaze Tachinu (076) [The Wind Rises] Himizu (159)
Jigoku de Naze Warui (077) [Why Don't You Play in Hell?] Kimyo na Sakasu (160) [Strange Circus]
Mogura no Uta - Sennyu Sosakan: Reiji (095) [The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji] Cheuat Gon Chim (164) [The Meat Grinder]
Geung Si (138) [Rigor Mortis] Gangu Shuriya (173) [Toy Reanimator]
Grand Budapest Hotel, The (147) Mah Nakorn (174) [Citizen Dog]
Hwal (169) [The Bow] Metropia (175)
Jin Yi Wei (170) [14 Blades] Nihon Bundan: Heru Doraiba (176) [Helldriver]
Delicatessen (no review) (172) Oretachi no Sekai (177) [This World of Ours]
Meikyu Monogatari (no review) (190) [Neo-Tokyo] Nintama Rantaro (180) [Ninja Kids!!!]
Eraserhead (191) Yokai Daisenso (186) [The Great Yokai War]
Fifth Element, The (no review) (194) Yume no Ginga (187) [Labyrinth of Dreams]
Trainspotting (no review) (195) Rokugatsu no Hebi (192) [A Snake of June]
Punch-Drunk Love (no review) (199) Wu Qingyuan (196) [The Go Master]
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Mon, 29 Dec 2014 11:14:13 +0100
<![CDATA[Movies 2014/The Highlights]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/movies-2014-top

After 7 years of me doing end of year movie lists you should probably know the drill. No 2014 list for me, my soft spot for Asian cinema means that I will probably have to wait until next year (if not 2016) to watch all the best 2014 films. Instead here's a rundown of the best films I watched throughout 2014. As you might notice, most are from 2013 (Q.E.D.!). If you're looking for the previous editions, here you go: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

10. R100 (2013)

Hitoshi Matsumoto returns with another crazy comedy. It's pretty much impossible to describe what R100 is about, but if you've seen Matsumoto's other films you should roughly know what to expect. Quality between different scenes varies, the middle part is a bit dull, in contrast the entire finale belongs to the absolute best Matsumoto ever put on film. That alone is reason enough to give R100 a chance.

09. Minuscule - La Vallée des Fourmis Perdues (2013)

Minuscule is clearly aimed at a younger audience, but at the same time it's one of the most charming "bug" animations ever made. It's pretty a much a silent film that mixes real-life footage with little CG creatures. The effect is magical, even when the plot is pretty simple and hardly manages to hold everything together. It might not work as well when you've already seen the short films this is based on, but otherwise it's a superb little charmer.

08. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Wes Anderson finally did it, he cashed in on his potential. The Grand Budapest Hotel may well be his most stylized film and that's a good thing. It's probably also his funniest one, with a strong cast, lots of visual grandeur and a messy storyline that amuses from start to finish. It's 200% Anderson and it was about time he gave us that.

07. Geung Si (2013)

Chinese vampires aren't quite like their Western counterparts. There are no fangs, no stakes, no bloodsucking. Instead they act more like a cross between ghosts and zombies. It's good knowing this when watching Geung Si [Rigor Mortis] because it would be a shame to see Juno Mak's first feature film ruined by faulty expectations. It's by far the most atmospheric horror flick to come out Hong Kong ... ever. Mak's talent knows no boundaries.

06. Mogura no Uta (2013)

Aahhh, Miike is back. Mogura no Uta [The Mole Song] is a culmination of all the good parts of Miike's older work. It's a comedy, it's a crime flick, it has crazy Yakuza gangs and it's also very very weird with plenty of trademark Miiike moments. The all-star cast is clearly in on the joke, the film looks amazing and Miike shows there's still plenty of life left in him. It's the Miike film I've been dying to see the past 10 years.

05. Jigoku de Naze Warui (2013)

Some part of Jigoku de Naze Warui (Why Don't You Play in Hell?) is about Sion Sono's motivation to become a director, The other part is about a crazy bloodbath that embodies the genre-bending fun that characterizes Sono's work. Fumi Nikaido is on her way to great career, Sono is already there and keeping things fresh.

04. Kaze Tachinu (2013)

Quit while you're ahead. It's a strange thing to say about a director who passed his 70th birthday, but as a director Miyazaki is still in his prime. You don't need more proof than Kaze Tachinu [The Wind Rises]. It's a great film to end a sprawling career, an ode to an airplane architect wrapped up in strong moral ambiguity. Miyazaki will be missed, that's for sure.

03. Moi-bi-woo-seu (2013)

It took him a while, but Ki-duk has fully resurfaced. Moi-bi-woo-seu [Moebius] is a tough, relentless film, but it's not all gloom and doom. There's not a single line of dialogue, there's one actress playing two different roles and quite a few graphic scenes. It's reminiscent of the old Ki-duk, only more direct and more powerful. It's a film exclusively for the fans of his older work, others better stay away from this one.

02. Shi Hun (2013)

It took Mong-Hong Chung a while to direct a follow up to Di Si Zhang Hua [The Fourth Portrait], but Shi Hun [Soul] more than makes up for the wait. A superb mix of genres, blending traditional Chinese arthouse with strong, stylized crime cinema. It's a stunning film to look at, it comes with a terrific soundtrack and packs a mean punch. It's not as easy to get a grip on at first, but that just means you're watching something unique for a change.

01. Miss Zombie (2013)

The top spot is reserved for one of my favorite directors. Hiroyuki Tanaka has been recovering slowly for a little creative dip, but even then I hadn't expected such a major leap from him. Miss Zombie is a stylish, black & white arthouse zombie affair that really knows no equal. Superb soundtrack, lush visuals and an intriguing plot make this the best film I've seen all year. Just don't expect a run of the mill horror film, this is really something else.

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Wed, 24 Dec 2014 13:52:56 +0100
<![CDATA[Marco Mak/x10]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/focus-on-directors/marco-mak-x10
Marco Mak

Directing ten films is no simple feat. It's not actually unheard of either of course (otherwise I wouldn't even have this feature), but not every director reaches this magical number. In Hong Kong they do things a little differently though. Marco Mak directed 18 films so far, but that's just in between his job as editor.

Mak's work as a director may not be very well-known in the West, his work as an editor didn't go by quite as unnoticed. Amongst his most famous editor credits are the Once Upon a Time in China series, the Young and Dangerous series, Iron Monkey and a handful of other high-profile 90s flicks. After 25 years of stitching together the films for other directors, Mak finally saw his chance to switch to the director's seat.

He quickly found out that being a director comes with its own set of challenges. His first two films (Ji Fat Faan Fat [Cop on a Mission] and Yat Goh Laan Diy Dik Chuen Suet [A Gambler's Story]) are typical Hong Kong affairs, somewhat hastily produced films with very limited international appeal. With people like Daniel Wu, Francis Ng, Lam Suet and Eric Tsang on board though, Mak had at least enough star power to draw in the crowds.

Things picked up for Mak when he joined hands with Jing Wong (off all people). Hak Bak Sam Lam [Colour of the Truth] is a stylish, slick and fun police flick, nothing too exceptional or memorable, but awesome filler fleshed out by an all-star cast. This collaboration with Jing Wong was just a one-off though, after that Mak returned to directing utterly forgettable and average genre fodder.

Until he teamed up for a second time, this time with actor Francis Ng. Their first collaboration was Sing See [Dancing Lion], a rather poor comedy that didn't really do it for me, but two years later they would have their revenge with Zhui Ying [Tracing Shadow], a fun throwback to the nineties. Stylized martial arts and self-aware comedy make for an entertaining action film.

Mak's latest film is Naked Soldier, the third instalment in the "Naked" series (Naked Killer, Naked Soldier). While light and fun and sporting some flashy action sequences, the film was a critical and commercial flop. Even though Mak hasn't done anything since (Naked Soldier was released more than 2 years ago), he could resurface with a new project any day. That's part of the beauty of Hong Kong cinema. You can fail pretty hard, but there will always be opportunities to get back into the game.

Marco Mak is a very typical Hong Kong director. The quality of his work varies, but pretty much his entire oeuvre is aimed at a local market that doesn't have a large fanbase outside of Hong Kong. Unless you're already quite versed in Hong Kong cinema, there's really no reason to seek out Mak's films. If you are still interested though, start with Mak's collaborations as they are the highlights of his oeuvre.

Best film: Zhui Ying [Tracing Shadow] (4.0*)
Worst film: Sing See [Dancing Lion] (2.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Zhui Ying
Average rating: 2.55 (out of 5)

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Mon, 22 Dec 2014 11:59:58 +0100
<![CDATA[It's Such a Beautiful Day/Don Hertzfeldt]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/movie-filler/such-a-beautiful-day-hertzfeldt
It's Such a Beautiful Day poster

Don Hertzfeldt may not be well known to the general public, his short animation Rejected did the rounds and became an instant cult favorite. With simple animation techniques and a wacky, often absurd sense of humor he courted his audience, setting them up for an immense pay-off in the second part of the short. It seems Hertzfeldt set out to recreate that same feeling with It's Such a Beautiful Day, only on a much bigger scale.

Even thought It's Such a Beautiful Day is listed as a 60-minute film, it's actually an aggregate of three different short films (Everything Will Be OK, I Am So Proud of You, and It's Such a Beautiful Day) stitched together back to back, all involving the same main character. The separate shorts were already extremely detached and fragmented, so pasting them together to create a big one hour feature didn't pose that much of a problem.

Hertzfeldt's sense of humor is a little hard to describe. It's a combination of mind-bending logic, plain absurdity, utter mundanity and astute, recognizable observations. A bit like the beginning of Amélie, only a lot more cynical and absurd. Still, there's warmth in there, hidden among all the other weirdness that's flying towards you. There's also a more philosophical layer that starts to shine through around halfway each short, making it an even stranger experience.

The only problem I had with It's Such a Beautiful Day being a feature film is the lacking technical side of things. The simple art style works for Hertzfeldt in his shorter work, but over a timespan of 60 minutes it becomes boring real fast. The animation itself is surprisingly livid and emotive, but looking at black and white almost-stick figures left me a little wanting. The DIY special effects and poor quality stop-motion real-life backgrounds didn't make things any better. And it's not that I think Hertzfeldt lacks the technical skills, the details in the animation betray a much higher skill level, it's just that I don't really agree with the choices he made here.

The soundtrack on the other hand is a clear asset, together with the inventive editing it makes for a fun, challenging yet rather inaccessible experience. Add to that Hertzfeldt monotonous and dry voice-over delivery and you'll quickly see why his films are not intended to be enjoyed by a large audience. Still, It's Such a Beautiful Day is a million times better than the average CG animation drivel that usually comes out of the US.

If you're looking for something different, It's Such a Beautiful Day is a solid introduction into the warped brain of Don Hertzfeldt. And if you think the 60-minute format is a bit too demanding, you can always watch the three shorts separately without missing out on anything except the full-length experience.

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Thu, 18 Dec 2014 11:26:26 +0100
<![CDATA[Wu Qingyuan/Zhuangzhuang Tian]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/go-master-review-tian

On paper, Wu Qingyuan isn't the type of film that should appeal to me. Biopics aren't really my thing, Go isn't really my sport (if you can even call it that) and pre-WWII Japan isn't my favorite place and time in history. On the other hand, Zhuangzhuang built up plenty of credit with Xiao Cheng Zhi Chun and Lang Zai Ji and with Chen Chang leading the film I didn't have to think twice to give it a go. Watching the film a second time around, I'm still incredibly happy I made that jump all those years ago.

screen capture of The Go Master

Go isn't the most exciting of games, but it is a perfect embodiment of some very typical Asian mental models and ideals. There's the obvious contrast between the simplicity of the rules and the complexity of the actual game (it is said that no two games of Go have ever been the same), then there is the tranquil, almost spiritual disposition of its players, almost in trance and sometimes stretching out a game over multiple days. It's a very pure game, played with honour and urging the players to test their strategic limits.

The film is named after the biggest Go player that ever lived, Wu Qingyuan (or Go Seigen if you prefer his Japanese name) who just passed away last month at the respectable age of 100. As a young kid he was named a prodigy by the local Go players, but Qingyuan was born in China and all the important Go competitions were held in Japan. Qingyuan persevered and travelled to Japan to master the game, but with World War II approaching his social position wasn't an easy one.

The film follows Qingyuan on his travels throughout Japan. About a quarter of the it is spent on actual Go-related matters, the rest zooms in on Qingyuan's love life, his struggles with faith, the way his frail physical condition saved him from going off to war and the friends he made as a Go player. There's quite some jumping around in time, but that's to be expected from a biopic. Those expecting a rare insight in Qingyuan's private life will be left disappointed though, as the film's subject remains quite vague and enigmatic throughout.

screen capture of The Go Master

The visuals mimic the film's peaceful, zen-like core. The camera moves slowly, deliberately and meticulously through the sets, observing the world in a very rigid, stern yet respectful manner. But there's also a grim and gloomy side to the cinematography. Even though there are some brighter outdoor scenes, colors are often muted, hanging over the film like a dark veil. This is a reflection of Qingyuan's inner struggles as he tries to find a good balance between his passion (playing Go) and the personal issues he has to deal with.

The soundtrack is the perfect companion to the visuals. It's more outspoken compared to Xiao Cheng Zhi Chun (but then every soundtrack is), yet it remains a very introverted, subtle selection of tracks, surfacing only when it's able to add something substantial to a particular scene. The rest of the film is accompanied by slightly accentuated ambient noises, more in line with stilted Japanese dramas.

Chen Chang (Yi Dai Zhong Shi, Zui Hao De Shi Guang, Soom) is without a doubt one of the best Asian actors of the moment and it's always a joy to see him in a challenging role like this. Qingyuan isn't the most emotive character and even though Zhuangzhuang isn't out to unravel all his mysteries, the person you see on screen is someone who makes perfect sense. The supporting cast is commendable too, but this really is Chang's moment of glory.

screen capture of The Go Master

Wu Qingyuan differs from more traditional biopics in the sense that even though Zhuangzhuang allows you to get close to his main subject, the audience still has to do most of the work. Apart from some more direct quotes appearing onscreen, Zhuangzhuang prefers to show rather than tell. Qingyuan remains a somewhat opaque and mysterious character throughout, even though by the end of the film I felt a very clear and strong connection to the man. It's an approach that many other biopics could learn a thing or two from.

Go really isn't the most exciting of sports, but even the matches are filmed with enough integrity and mystery to make them appear tense and interesting. Zhuangzhuang Tian may not have made the most coherent biopic here, but when it comes to capturing a person as a whole he did a splendid job. Wu Qingyuan is a rather slow and moody film, but there's beauty pouring from its seams. With the real Qingyuan passing on just last month, it's a shame not more was heard from this film.

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Tue, 16 Dec 2014 13:03:18 +0100
<![CDATA[Future-Proof Mixins/A Clean Solution]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/css-techniques/less-mixins-future-adaptation

People love to complain about the mess that is css and javascript, but sometimes true beauty and elegance can be found within. In this particular case, I'll be talking less (not exactly core css of course, but something I assume most people are familiar with by now).

The biggest challenge in web design is building something that can stand the test of time. And by that I don't mean building a site that's so exquisitely beautiful and user-friendly that people won't need to touch it for the coming years, I'm talking about building a site that is so robust that future changes are easy to implement. A site that supports changes on page level as well as section level as well as site level. A site that remains slick and beautiful, even after 5 revisions and 3 redesigns.

A while ago I came across a nice construction in less that fortifies such a desire. It's a little trick that many of you will probably already know, still I feel confident that it's worth revisiting if only for the cheer beauty of the solution. Now, imagine you need to write a mixin for a button style. Typical stuff, some rounded corners, maybe a little gradient, a box shadow if it's an older design ... but it's the same button style that needs to be applied throughout the entire site. Your mixin will probably look something like this:

/* less */ .button {... padding:0.75em 1em; font-size:18px; ....}

This will need some extra work if it has to be applied to <a> as well as <button> and <input> elements but that's not really the point. The thing that will happen is that at one point, that one button isn't going to be good enough any more. Suddenly you'll want a button that looks exactly the same, only BIGGER. A real call to action.

Now, this wouldn't have been much of a problem if you'd known this from the start, you could have ended up with something like this:

/* less */ .button {... padding:0.75em 1em; ....} .buttonNormal {.button; font-size:18px;} .buttonBig {.button; font-size:24px;}

It's a decent enough solution, but not something you'd want to use midway a project as you'd have to run through your entire css code all over again in order to replace every instance of the .button mixin.

/* less */ .button {... padding:0.75em 1em; font-size:18px; ....} .buttonBig {.button; font-size:24px;}

This works too. Just make a new mixin for the cta button, this way you won't have to touch your existing code, but it's still an extra mixin that is sure to make things more confusing along the way (read: in three years time). Luckily, less can also do this:

/* less */ .button(@fSize:18px) {... padding:0.75em 1em; font-size:@fSize; ....}

Just promote the property you want to change to a variable with a default value (= the value you've been using all along). You won't need to change anything to your existing code, there's no need for extra mixins and you can start using the same mixin you've been using all along, only with an extra parameter if need be. You made something extremely flexible from something extremely rigid without breaking anything.

If only css and javascript had more mechanisms like this, our jobs would be a lot easier.

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Thu, 11 Dec 2014 14:35:14 +0100
<![CDATA[Tusk/Kevin Smith]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/tusk-review-kevin-smith

Kevin Smith, possibly one of USA's biggest enfants terribles, is back to court the audience with his latest film. He simply picks up where he left off with Red State, blending his typical sense of humor with dashes of absurdity and morbid horror. The result is Tusk, a film that sways between comedy and horror, never quite settling for either one genre but succeeding in both. That is, if you're willing to let yourself be carried away by Smith's warped ideas.

screen capture of Tusk

Smith has entered a new phase of his career. He worked himself up from nobody (Clerks) to somebody (Cop Out), but he clearly wasn't too happy with who he'd become in the process. So he rebooted himself, went back to producing films on his own (Red State) and started his battle against the industry all over again. While this meant fighting hard to get his films out there, it gave him back all creative control and that's really paying off here.

Tusk carries all the signs of Smith's older comedies. A strong focus on dialogue (mostly useless but funny banter) blended with a few extreme caricatures and some utter absurdity layered throughout the plot. What's new here is the slide from traditional horror to morbid perversity. What starts off with a curious old man living alone in a secluded house quickly turns around to become a tale of past regrets, full of demented weirdness.

Tusk's about a young, successful podcaster (Wallice) travelling to Canada to interview the latest internet sensation. Things don't go as planned and unwilling to go back home empty-handed, Wallice takes a chance when he bumps into a strange ad in a local cafe's restroom. He drives out to the Howe estate for a talk with the estate's owner, but what he finds there defies his wildest dreams. Sadly for Wallice, he is about to become Howe's latest victim.

screen capture of Tusk

Visually Smith made some important strides forward. The comedy bits may still look a bit plain, but once the horror sets in Smith does great things with the setting, lighting and camera angles. The special effects aren't half bad either, especially considering the overall tone of the film. Not that they are 100% life-like or frighteningly realistic, but I definitely expected less. The fact that Smith was able to visualize everything in plain view without having to hide behind a less is more approach is quite the feat in itself.

Just like in Red State, the soundtrack plays a big part in building up the atmosphere. Comedy and horror are two genres that are tough to combine in one single film, especially when keeping them (mostly) confined to their own separate scenes. That's where the soundtrack steps in. Whenever the horror takes over Smith makes sure there's a strong surge of atmosphere coming from the music. I never really noticed this in his earlier films, but since he rebooted his career Smith has shown his smarts by betting heavily on a solid soundtrack.

One advantage Smith has over other indie directors is that he can land a pretty decent cast if needed. Justin Long and Haley Joel Osment (yes, the Sixth Sense kid) are pretty good leads, Michael Parks truly excels as the bad guy and Johnny Depp pops in around the halfway mark for one of his crazier parts in the past few years. It's a pretty random collection of actors, but somehow, much like the film itself, Smith manages to mould it into a fitting whole.

screen capture of Tusk

The first part should be well-received by long-time Smith fans, as the comedy happily dominates the film. The middle part finally introduces the horror elements, and while it's somewhat unsettling, Smith continues to hide Tusk's premise remarkable well, building up very slowly to the big turnaround. Once Smith is ready to reveal what Tusk is really all about, the final part spirals wildly into absurd and morbid dark comedy territory.

The mix of styles and genres won't be to everyone's liking. Tusk is not a traditional horror/comedy, Smith keeps the genres more separate from each other and once he does bring them together, there's a huge "what the fuck" factor that is sure to alienate a lot of people. The fun thing is that Smith can do this without worrying too much about anyone telling him not to. His newfound independence is a true blessing, one he exploits to the fullest. I thoroughly enjoyed Smith's new film and I surely hope he can keep this up for a while longer.

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Thu, 11 Dec 2014 11:29:21 +0100
<![CDATA[Jean-Luc Godard/x10]]>http://www.onderhond.com/features/focus-on-directors/jean-luc-godard-x10
Jean-Luc Godard

Jean-Luc Godard ... if you're getting serious about cinema there's really no escaping this man. And yet, he may be more famous for his influence on cinema than for his actual films. As one of the spiritual fathers or the Nouvelle Vague he played a big part in 60s (French) cinema and even though the movement's influence can still be felt to this very day, Godard's films aren't exactly the most accessible films around.

It takes a special mindset to enjoy Godard's work. His willingness and eagerness to break with conventions make his films rather experimental in nature. But what sets Godard's films really apart from other experimental/arthouse directors is the way he deliberately seeks out ways to mess with his audience. Not that his films are all one big farce (that would be closer to Takashi Miike's territory), but Godard clearly loves to take advantage of people's expectations.

The 60s were Godard's most productive years. He made a total of 24 films in a mere 10 years time, including his most famous ones. It all started with films like À, Bout de Souffle, Vivre Sa Vie: Film en Douze Tableaux, Le Mépris and Bande à Part. And while things started off mildly normal, it didn't take long before the weirdness took over. If you're planning to dig into Godard's oeuvre, this is probably the best place to start.

While his first few films were still driven along by plot and characters, the films he made during the second part of the 60s are more random and strongly dependent on themes and ideas. Films like Alphaville, Week-end, Pierror le Fou and 2 ou 3 Choses Que Je Sais d'Elle see Godard playing around with politics, art, dialogue, music ... classic film structures were torn down with minute precision, in return Godard constructed films that were near impossible to predict and packed surprises around every corner.

I haven't seen anything from Godard's 70s, 80s and 90s period and from his recent films I've only seen his entry in the Ten Minutes Older: The Cello anthology and Notre Musique, a more tradition feature film. While interesting in their own right, it seems that Godard did lose some of his playfulness along the way. Where a director like Seijun Suzuki never lost his knack to surprise, Godard is edging closer and closer to more traditional arthouse territory.

There's only one other 60s director I can name that comes close to Godard's free-spirited approach to cinema (and that's Koji Wakamatsu, though he lacks Godard's gleeful playfulness. The 60s is clearly where it's at if you're interested to get familiar with Godard's films. Even though his older work has aged visibly, it still has a remarkable air of freshness and wonder.

Best film: Le Mépris (3.5*)
Worst film: Ten Minutes Older: The Cello (1.5*)
Average rating: 2.60 (out of 5)

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Tue, 09 Dec 2014 12:20:19 +0100
<![CDATA[Bullet Ballet/Shinya Tsukamoto]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/bullet-ballet-review-tsukamoto

If you've been following my journey through the world of film, it probably won't come as a big surprise when I say Shinya Tsukamoto (Rokugatsu no Hebi, Soseji, Haze, Tetsuo: The Bullet Man, Akumu Tantei 2) is one of my favorite directors. His films have almost infinite rewatch value, he made only one or two duds and his vision on film is still as unique as it was when he made Tetsuo. So I eagerly sat down to watch Bullet Ballet for a second time, one of the final Tsukamoto films on my list of films that needed freshening up.

screen capture of Bullet Ballet

Bullet Ballet is a typical early Tsukamoto film (Tokyo Ken, Tetsuo, Tetsuo II) in almost every conceivable way, apart from the point where Tsukamoto distanced himself entirely from his favored body horror themes that characterized his first couple of films. There is still plenty of fetish and obsession to go around in Bullet Ballet, but you won't see any mutating bodies or flesh/metal biomechanics here.

Instead, underlying the manic exterior, there's a more traditional drama about a man who lost his wife to a gun accident. He becomes fascinated by these metal killing machines and ends up obsessed with owning a real gun. Even though this puts a slightly bigger focus on plot and characters, Bullet Ballet is still a film focused primarily on style, atmosphere and experience and less so on the more common emotional execution of traditional dramas.

Bullet Ballet follows the mental and social decline of a man (Goda) who lost his wife to a misfired gun he didn't even know she owned. While trying to figure out precisely how his wife came to die, he gets entangled with a group of young delinquents. At first they see him as an easy target as they try to blackmail him for all he has, but when they themselves mingle with the wrong crowds Goda jumps to their aid.

screen capture of Bullet Ballet

With Bullet Ballet Tsukamoto reaches back to the grim and grizzly black and white imagery of Tetsuo. The camera is extremely agile, the lighting expressive the editing manic yet razor sharp. It's vintage Tsukamoto, creating a tense, explosive visual style that slowly wears you down over time. And Tsukamoto does take his time. Where Tetsuo clocked in just under 70 minutes, Bullet Ballet goes for the full 90 minute visual assault.

But Tsukamoto's film is more than just a visual attack on the senses. Chu Ishikawa is present again to provide the film with a banging soundtrack, a nifty mix of powerful industrial tracks with softer, more ethereal sounds (obviously referencing the titular ballet). It adds a lot of extra flair and together with the visuals it creates an amazing atmosphere unique to the films of Tsukamoto.

Tsukamoto takes up the lead again and while he isn't the world's most gifted actor, he is well aware of what his films need in terms of acting performances. The problem isn't so much Tsukamoto but the rest of the cast, which clearly underperforms. Kirina Mano in particular looks ill at easy in front of the camera, unnecessarily bogging down the dramatic part of Bullet Ballet. It's a shame because it does detract a little from the overall experience.

screen capture of Bullet Ballet

Bullet Ballet is a film that weighs. The gritty black and white photography, the extroverted soundtrack, the fast edits coupled with a running time of almost 90 minutes and a complete lack of fantastical pressure releases make Bullet Ballet a film that is probably one of toughest in Tsukamoto's oeuvre. The grim ending probably doesn't help either, but if at that point you're still fully invested in the film I'm sure that you'll be able to cope. Fans of Sogo Ishii's early work should feel right at home though, as the punk/rock vibe is probably the biggest in this Tsukamoto film.

The second time around I was little let down by the acting performances of the secondary cast. For a film that puts more focus on drama than usually the case, that's somewhat of a problem. Luckily Tsukamoto's stylistic prowess masks this particular flaw extremely well, making sure it never dominates the film. Still, it's one of Tsukamoto's lesser films and probably not a good entry film if you're not familiar with his work. Unless of course you don't care about fantastical elements and are more susceptible to down-to-earth drama, but even then films like Kotoko or Vital might be better suited to get to know Tsukamoto's oeuvre.

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Thu, 04 Dec 2014 11:30:41 +0100
<![CDATA[Sour. Me Fish. Like! Like, BBQ/HTML Is Easy]]>http://www.onderhond.com/blog/html-is-easy

This may sound a little strange coming from a guy who spent the last 5 or 6 years submerging himself in the world of semantics, tags and attributes, but I have a little secret to share with everyone: html is really easy. You don't have to be some kind of abstract-loving, purism-craving brainiac to make a decently marked-up html page. Some very limited knowledge of the core concepts of html coupled with some basic training will get you a long way, and yet ...

Language

Before I go on about the specifics html, let's talk language in general. Just consider the following three sentences:

  1. 1. I absolutely adore grilled salmon with a lemon on the side.
  2. 2. I like salmon on grill with little piece of lemon.
  3. 3. Sour. Me Fish. Like! Like, BBQ

I think it's pretty obvious that the first sentence is preferable. The second one has some grammatical issues and lacks the semantic depth and clarity of the first one, but it's still perfectly understandable. The third sentence is just one big mess. Sure enough, work really hard and you can try to make something of that last sentence, but I think we can agree that nobody wants to be associated with this level of skill.

Now, if English isn't your mother tongue speaking at the level of sentence 2 is acceptable. It isn't perfect, but it's good enough to make yourself unambiguously clear. Similarly, if html isn't your core skill perfection shouldn't be a goal, but you still want to reach an acceptable level of output.

Aim For 75

If you truly immerse yourself in the finer points of html you can talk hours on end about semantic grey areas. Is it div, article or section and where to draw the line? Enough food for discussion right there. Getting the whole wai-aria deal implemented to the letter or enriching all your data with the correct html5 microdata values and attributes can also be tricky business. And what about the most logical way to structure your page? Is it really meaningful to place the entire site header at the top of your document? Ask 10 different people and you'll quickly see there is plenty of room for personal differentiation.

But I'm not going to talk about getting your html "done, finished, over, hands-off!" ready. Instead, I'll be talking about writing sound, fair and usable html code. The kind of html code that wouldn't be too hard to improve if you've been staring at W3C documents for the greater part of the past decade, but is good enough to start working with considering the budget and constraints of a project. The kind of html code you'd give an 7.5/10 if you were to grade it.

Getting there isn't all that hard, as long as you keep the following core concepts in mind.

Pillar 1: Semantics

As you may know, html5 added quite a few elements to the html vocabulary. But even with all these extra elements, html remains a very limited language. In total there are about 120 tags, that's it. On top of that there are a few attributes to learn, but these too are extremely limited.

If 120 elements still sounds a little daunting, let me assure you that you could probably make do with 20 or so different tags when building an average html page.

  • Use <html>/<body>/<link>/<script> for your html page frame.
  • Use <div> for structure, ignore the other elements.
  • Use <p> for paragraphs of text, nothing else.
  • Use <ul>/<li> for lists, leave <ol> alone.
  • Use <a> for links. Not that you have much choice.
  • Use <hX> for headings.
  • Use <img> for images.
  • Use <table>/<tr>/<td> for tables.
  • Use <form>/<button> for forms and submits.
  • Use <input>/<select>/<textarea> for form input

With the elements above you should be able to handle most pages in the wild. Of course it won't yield perfect html, but it will suffice. The other elements all have their function and will add plenty of extra semantic value to your pages, but you can worry about that later.

Pillar 2: Targetability

This is basically your class and id management. Two simple rules will guide you through this process.

  • Make sure instances of the same component can be targeted throughout the site.
  • Make sure each component on a specific page can be targeted.

To accomplish that, simply:

  • add a body class for each page template.
  • use the same class for every component instance across a site.
  • add an extra class for each functional/visual component variation.

This will leave you with a html structure that can be manipulated both on global site level and on a very detailed component/page level. That's all the leverage you'll ever really need.

Pillar 3: Structure

Structure is probably the hardest part to grasp for people not used to writing html. This is a bit more abstract, but the basic premise is once again extremely simple though:

Group everything that belongs together.

What do I mean by grouping? Just put divs around elements that belong together. Have a heading and two meta data elements? Group the meta data. Do you have body content too? Group the heading and meta data to separate it from the body content. Have social links to go with that? Just group those in a div.footer element. Worry that you'll end up with too many divs in your code? Stop doing that, nobody cares.

The point is, if elements have a logical connection, just throw a structural element around them. This structural element will group the parts that belong together and it will separate the elements that don't. It may be a little abstract at first, but you'll get the hang of it soon enough.

Conclusion

If dealing with html is your daily job the rules above don't really apply. Extra semantic meaning, saner structures and better source order will all add to the overall quality of a website. So will all microdata and wai-aria decorations. I'm not saying these things are not important, but if you're just starting out with html or html isn't your core skill, the extra hurdles will only detract from the core principles of html.

So why the rant? Well, when I look at the standard output of most cmses (and even custom back-end development) today the output is still light years removed from reaching that basic quality level that's needed to do some proper front-end work. They are at the level of sentence 3. They may claim to output html, but in reality what they output doesn't make the slightest sense. They don't care about the language that html is supposed to be, instead they only see abstract hooks for css and javascript.

There is plenty room for purism in html and that should be dealt with when working against strict deadlines and limited budgets, but there's still a base level of quality that should be met even if time is sparse. If you can't reach that level, you're probably not fit for the job and web design isn't the field you should be working in. And don't blame it on html being too difficult, because it's probably the easiest part of building a website and mastering the basics shouldn't take you much longer than a week or so.

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Wed, 03 Dec 2014 13:47:58 +0100