Thursday, November 25, 2004

Bright Future (2004)

Um, WTF mate? The other Kurosawa takes youthful disaffection, out-of-date electronics, trips to Death Row, a band of hooligans and lots of pretty jellyfish, throws them all into a bowl and attempts to make a cake out of them. The end result is... well, it's something. What it is exactly has yet to be determined. Kurosawa's formidable filmmaking chops get a thorough airing-out; unfortunately for the audience, so does his attraction to the senseless and inexplicable. Gorgeous and poetic, yet totally incomprehensible, this is best left to completists and jellyfish fetishists. (Note, though, that I saw the Japanese version; the American version, which runs a full twenty minutes shorter, may very well be a different film.)

Grade: C

[Addendum, 12/1: So I thought about it, and it's pretty obvious that, like the other Kiyoshi Kurosawa works I've seen, this film's about disconnection. The problem isn't in the themes but in the explication -- it seems to be as disconnected from itself as its characters are from each other. Pulse and Cure had their problems, but at least they seemed to emanate from a rigorous mind with a clear thesis and an orderly (if elliptical) presentation. Bright Future, on the other hand, just seems haphazard. I think md'a is right when he posits that K. needs the discipline of a genre framework.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Incredibles (2004)

Dream collaboration between Pixar and Brad Bird, weirdly enough, results in the studio's weakest effort. Which should just tell you how really-fucking-on these guys are, since The Incredibles is still leagues ahead of everybody else in the CGI-animation sweepstakes. Surprisingly non-functional as a clever kiddie comedy, but it makes up for it by being the year's most pulse-elevating and inventive action movie (maybe because by nature it can't be ruined by overreliance on CG effects). So it's not as magical or fulfilling as, say, Toy Story 2 or Finding Nemo (or Bird's previous The Iron Giant). So what? It's still a rollicking good time. The voice casting, as ever, is dead solid perfect. (Jason Lee as fanboy-turned-evil-villain-genius is not only a textbook definition of inspired -- it's the first time in years that Lee hasn't been miscast or misused.) By the way, I feel kinda guilty saying this about an animated character in a family movie, but Elastigirl got BACK.

Grade: B+
A Sweet Sickness (1968)

This represents a minor improvement over several other sexploitation films I've seen from this era, notably David Friedman's overrated oevre. Where Friedman's philosophy of sizzle-not-steak, coupled with his rather underdeveloped imagination, resulted in timid nudie-roughies that refused to get down in the muck with the audience, this film has moments where it feels like it was genuinely dredged out of a gutter. (The stripper auction is a sick'n'sleazy highlight.) Despite this, it's still no good anyway. I'm always impressed by the amount of useless padding a resourceful director can add to a cheapo film's slender running time -- in this case, a mere 67 minutes. You just want to tell the director, "Look, buddy, if you can't fill up an hour's worth of film without resorting to overlong, undercooked sex scenes and aggresively unerotic stripteases, then just do us all a favor and get the fuck out of the movie business."

Grade: C
In My Skin (2003)

Strange, oft-hypnotic look at the deteriorating psyche of a young woman who gains an obsession with bodily mutilation after a nasty fall. The film is by turns funny, hideous and disturbing, all the more so because star/director/writer Marina van de Ven works in a flat and unaffected style that accentuates the hyperfreakiness of it all. The film also offers no explanation as to its main character's inexplicable attraction to cutting herself to ribbons; however, enough room is left for the viewer to posit their own theories. (Myself? I see it as a thoroughly narcissistic action -- an affirmation of one's existence through the ravaging of the corporeal form. I bleed, therefore I am.) This is all well and good, but it'd be nice if the film was actually going somewhere too. But it doesn't, and the slow realization that it's not going anywhere make the last twenty minutes seem redundant. The open ending wasn't such a good idea either.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Returner (2003)

I guess this isn't exactly bad, but it's not really worth watching either -- as far as sci-fi time-travel flicks go, we've all seen better (and apparently so has director Takashi Yamazaki, judging from the number of sources from which his film steals). It's also about as authentically Eastern as chop suey, which makes the fact that I saw it dubbed seem perversely appropriate; in this context, naming two bad guys Kurosawa and Mizoguchi seems less a homage and more a sadistic reminder that you could be watching quality cinema instead of this mindless time-waster. If this was a CD, The Onion would dub it "inessential".

Grade: C
Ali G Indahouse (2002)

Much like Ali G's book (The Gospel According to Ali G), this is crude and juvenile and often functionally retarded. It'd probably be indefensible if it wasn't so fucking funny much of the time. It helps that the Ali G character is a glorious comic creation -- idiotic and faux-homeboy though he may be, the character has a certain logical consistency and a certain way of responding to situations that his creator never betrays for the sake of an easy joke. Or, to put it another way, the jokes come from within the character as opposed to the character encountering the jokes like many other comedies tend to do (Meet the Parents, for example). Which is a rather fancy way for me to justify laughing at such ridiculously stupid stuff like Ali G dropping trou when asked to lay a brick at a ground-breaking ceremony. Booyakasha.

Grade: B-
Starsky & Hutch (2004)

I knew this was a bad idea when I first heard about it. It starts out fairly amusing (I liked the scene with the iguana), but then for some reason it starts giving a shit about its overthought plot and the jokes dry up quicker than PJ Harvey. Snoop Dogg's reinterpretaion of Huggy Bear is good for some chuckles, but otherwise you've already seen the film's biggest laugh ("Are you okay, little pony?") in the trailer and commercials.

Grade: C
Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)

Okay, seriously... enough with the po-faced kaiju, alright? Your job, Mister Director-san, is to stick two big rubber monsters in the middle of a model cityscape and have them stomp everything to pieces while they tear each other apart. Profundity and social commentary simply will not work if you're making a movie about a giant turtle with fire breath and ass rockets battling a squid-bird thing. Something about a twenty-story flying turtle just drains the metaphor out of narrative, ya dig? So what we have here is a monster movie with as little monster as possible -- the city-leveling battles appear to have been tacked on after the filmmakers realized they'd made a movie with more talk than a Rohmer film. And even the scant whupass we're given is unsatisfying, since, in an attempt to one-up the previous two films, the filmmakers dreamed up a villain monster so overelaborate that it couldn't properly be realized with puppetry. So they defaulted to CGI to make the thing believable, but then that of course meant that to properly interact with Iris, Gamera had to be mostly reimagined into CGI as well... which means that we have a big rubber-monster movie which includes almost no rubber monsters. And who wants to pay to see two shoddily animated CGI monsters duke it out? Where's the fun in that?

Grade: C-
Bad Company (2001)

I will leave $100 in my will to anyone who can guarantee that I will never have to sit through another film about the behavioral misadventures of teenage girls. That goes double for French films on the topic. While not as obnoxious as, say, thirteen, this film still treads ground that is weary to death from overuse. (Yes, we know, teenage girls sometimes fall in with bad crowds. Yes, we know, teenage girls sometimes have sex for the wrong reasons. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.) And just when it seems that the film could do the impossible and pull itself out of its rut, it digs a third act out of its ass that refuses to be taken seriously. One wonders if the director actually understood the material he was tackling. There is one reason to see this, though -- Maud Forget. Her extraordinary, self-possessed debut here throws the rest of this junk into cold relief, and she almost makes the tedium worth bearing. Almost.

Grade: C

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Sanjuro (1963)

Minor but fun work from Akira Kurosawa, kept afloat mostly by Toshiro Mifune's hugely amusing performance as the no-nonsense title character. In its best moments, it's like watching a chess game between two grand masters; at worst, it's still a pleasant diversion. While not in league with a good deal of Kurosawa's other films (least of all Yojimbo, the film to which it's ostensibly a followup), it's certainly entertaining enough to warrant a watch. The lighter tone may be due to the film's general rejection of unnecessary body-count violence, relying instead on strategy and wiles; in this light, the unexpectedly serious ending shows that maybe a third one of these films could have proved remarkably interesting.

Grade: B
Through a Glass Darkly (1962)

I'm probably gonna catch some heat for this one, but I don't think this movie is all that great. It feels like Bergman directed by rote -- there's very little here that he hadn't already tackled and wouldn't tackle again with greater force and/or insight. While the schizophrenia plotline may have been inspired by the notion that the mentally ill are closer to God, it's still not convincing (the material about God feels awkwardly stuffed in as a mandatory trope). Thus, what normally in Bergman's work feels like the inexorable logic of a tortured soul here just comes off as arbitrary. It's a cold and unengaging film. You're all welcome to it if you must.

Grade: C

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Zatoichi's Vengeance (1966)

Second weak effort in a row for this series. Mostly formulaic, save for an intriguing plot thread wherein a blind monk tries to get Ichi to think critically about his life of violence. That this ends up being of no importance shouldn't be surprising. Even the title smacks of repetition (Zatoichi's Revenge was released just a year prior to this one). Is Ichi running out of gas?

Grade: C+

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Kaena: The Prophecy (2004)

Hey kids! Remember Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? Remember how much it sucked? Wouldn't you like to see how bad it really could have been? Forget Jacques Chirac -- THIS is why we should be boycotting the French. Sloppy attempt to cash in on the CG feature craze features an impenetrable screenplay, ho-hum voicework and some of the worst CG animation you'll likely ever see. It's stiff, sterile and muddily monochromatic, looking for all the world like a lost cut scene from one of the "Tomb Raider" games. If half the care that had gone into crafting the heroine's gravity-defying breasts and voluptuous ass had been put into the rest of the design, the film would at least be interesting to watch in the literal sense. We'd still be stuck with the teeth-grinding plot and characters, though. By the end of the film, Mankind has stabbed Mother Nature in the fucking heart and they call it a happy ending. Bite me, you cheese-eating surrender monkeys. You'll pay for this.

Grade: D-
Lady Snowblood (1973)

Maybe seeing this so soon after finishing the Lone Wolf and Cub series wasn't such a good idea. (A quick analogy - Lady Snowblood:Lone Wolf and Cub::stick figures:Rembrandt.) It's a watery, flashback-crazed and nonsensical revenge tale, half history lesson and half third-rate swordplay. You suck, lady.

Grade: C-
I ♥ Huckabees (2004)

Unfortunately, no one can be told what Huckabees is, you just have to see it for yourself... Indescribable, dizzy comedy-cum-Zen treatise is uneven and frustrating at times, but I would assume that has to be by design -- out of chaos comes order, the yin and the yang, that sort of thing. Likeable, lazy, off-putting and explosively funny, often all in the same scene; love it or hate it, we'll probably never see another like it. The committed ensemble cast helps (Wahlberg is especially good, and I happen to think that Watts is better here than she's been in anything since Mulholland Drive). It's not a great movie, but it is an ambitious one, and probably an important one too. I can respect that.

Grade: B
The Forgotten (2004)

This is the kind of movie clip parties were made for. There's two of the best jump scenes you'll ever see hidden inside this predictable potboiler. One of these represents probably the only time I've ever screamed involuntarily during a film. These two moments total maybe a minute of screen time. The other ninety-five minutes are resigned to making the audience trudge through a screenplay whose monumental stupidity achieves a kind of Zen purity. If you must, I'd suggest watching it until about the forty-minute mark to see what extraordinary effect a well-constructed boo scene can have, then leave 'cause your money's worth was just shot, bucko. Julianne, I love you but please please please stay the hell away from horror.

Grade: C-