Saturday, June 30, 2007

The New York Asian Film Fest is in town. I found out from a friend, who linked me up with, where you can find all the details (and if you're not from NYC, you can weep with the envy of 10,000 movie geeks who don't live in NYC). Over the last week, I've seen two Miike films, Big Bang Love: Juvenile A, and just today, Zebraman. Tonight, it's Park Chan Wook's new one, I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay.

Since I've seen the Miike flicks, I'm going to do a mini review in order of both. You'll have to wait for Cyborg. I'm heading to North Carolina, and I'm not sure I'll have Internet access there. Not that North Carolina doesn't have the Internet.

As you know, I've been a Miike fan since 2001. And before this week, I've seen only one of his movies on the big screen: The Audition. So since I've had the chance to see two more, I took it. I've been busy this week. My bathroom ceiling sprung 1,000 leaks. I've been working overtime to get out of the office for my vacation. I haven't had time for friends. But this is Miike we're talking about. On the big screen.

Big Bang Love is about a year old now. And for those of you who want to see it expecting the usual kinetic camerawork, the usual arterial spray, the usual deviant behavior, well, I'm sorry. It's not here. Not that this isn't weird and violent. It's just not Miike violent. In fact, it has more in common in its staging with Lars Von Trier's Dogville than anything I've seen of Miike's, and at this point, that's about 2/5s of his films, which is a fair number.

The story is about two men, Jun and Shiro, who arrive at prison on the same day for the same crime: Murder. The film opens with Shiro strangling Jun, which strikes everyone at the prison as strange, because the consensus was that they were lovers. So an investigation is begun into the murder, and it's a pretty straightforward police procedural from there. Except, this is a Miike film.

In a jail where there seem to be no walls, only darkness, two cops question inmates, guards, and the warden, who's had a run-in with Jun before to tragic results. Everyone has a motive, except Shiro. In fact, Jun protected Shiro, and as I wrote above, people thought they were an item, the main evidence of which was a supposed tryst they had together in the shadow of a rocket ship and Mayan temple, both of which were just beyond the walls of the prison yard.

It's been said in other reviews that the temple represents faith, and the rocket science. And I think they're only half right. They also, I believe, reflect the natures of the two main characters, Shiro being the rocket ship, and Jun the temple.

This is a movie, I think, for Miike die-hards, though it doesn't reflect their taste in his movies. I'm not so sure it's a must-see for anyone else, other than the art-house crowd who are in to avant garde films. Miike takes big risks here as a filmmaker, mainly with his fans. Does he succeed? I'm not entirely sure. I get the feeling that he was interested in trying something out, and now that he has, he's moved on to Spaghetti Westerns and high school gang movies.

That curiosity, though, brings me to Zebraman, Miike's first "family" film. I write it that way, because the film opens with a Defense Department agent complaining of a case of crabs, and his partner scolding him about seeing cheap hookers. Also, various characters say "fuck" about three times, making this an R film in the U.S.

Zebraman is about a school teacher, Mr. Ichikawa, played by Sho Aikawa, a Miike regular. Ichikawa's life sucks. His wife is having an affair, his son is bullied at the school, and his daughter doesn't respect him. His only solace is found in an old TV show, Zebraman, which is very much like the... ahem... Might Morphin' Power Rangers. But when green gummy aliens invade, only Zebraman can stop them. So Ichikawa dons his homemade costume, and sets about ridding the world of these dastardly invaders.

Okay, this is definitely not Miike's normal kind of film. There's very, very, very little blood in this. And no one's really all that weird. There's no perverted sex, or anything! But I have to admit, I really liked this movie. It's not great by any standard. I mean, if I took a slice of it, put it between two pieces of bread and slapped it on a griddle, I'd have a nice grilled cheese sandwich. But damn if this movie doesn't have heart. And if Sho Aikawa weren't in the lead, this movie wouldn't work at all, and to be honest, there are times when I think it has no right to work as well as it does. But it does work, and I was clapping by the end.

Zebraman will be out on DVD later this year, which is part of why it's at the festival. I would suggest all Miike fans at least rent it, because it's goofy good fun. And if you invite your friends over to see it, well, make sure they're either drunk or high.

Monday, June 25, 2007

There are going to spoilers ahead, so if you haven't seen Hostel Part 2, well, turn back now, I suppose.

The thing is, I went to this not expecting too much other than a visceral thrill or two, and I hate to say it, but I didn't get it. That's not to say Eli Roth isn't a good director. He's getting there, I think. But the script was flawed, and since the foundation of the story wasn't there, ultimately, the movie was a disappointment.

Some background: Hostel Part 2 picks right up where Hostel left off, which is all well and good. This time, it's about a group of college women off to Slovakia where they hit a spa, are kidnapped, and tortured. There's a twist at the end, which isn't much of a twist, though it's very interesting - or it could have been - and then it's over.

The problem for me wasn't so much the weak theme (money will get you out of anything), but how Roth presented the set pieces. It was as if they were jokes. I spent most of my time laughing at the movie, as did the rest of the crowd (except one guy, who walked out at the end, calling us idiots for laughing at the movie - he had an eastern European accent, so he may have been angry at Slovakia's portrayal... I don't know). The only part of the movie that got any "horror-movie" reaction out of me is when Beth is punched in the face.

The context of that punch is that she's trying to escape after her torturer has second thoughts. Then he kind of changes his mind. The punch comes out of nowhere, and I jumped. But when a girl gets her throat cut and there's arterial spray? Nothin'. When a circular saw gets caught in another victim's hair? Nada. When a torture dines on some thigh meat? That is so Hannibal Lecter.

Maybe it's because I re-watched Ichi the Killer the night before. That was a disturbing movie. But the relationship between the violence and the characters is stronger. And I think Roth doesn't realize that completely. Not yet anyway. Because his violence is divorced from the characters. He had a chance with the character Stuart to show us how horrifying this whole thing could be, but he doesn't, and that's a shame. Perhaps there will be more on the DVD, but I doubt it.

I'd say skip it, but considering its box office take, it looks like you already have.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A few weeks ago, I picked up The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I would never have done so were it not for Lost, since it's one the show's "reading list," which includes such books as The Third Policeman, A Wrinkle in Time, Watership Down, and The Brothers Karamazov (much to my chagrin). Henry James, as you may or may not know, has a reputation as being a hard read for casual readers. His sentences are complex, his descriptions can be dense. Nevertheless, this was a read for a great cause: Figuring out what the hell is happening on that damn island in Lost.

Turn takes place at a large country house in the English countryside. Our narrator is a young governess (never named, which seems to be a trend in the books I'm reading these days - see Grotesque) left with two young charges, Milo - the elder boy - and Flora, his sister. Flora is a kind enough child, but Milo is another story. He's been kicked out of school, for what we're never certain, except that he's a threat to other children.

Over time, the governess hears and sees strange things around the country house, including two spectral forms, a man and woman, who are the former (and late) groundskeeper and governess, respectively. Both died, it turns out, under curious circumstances. The governess perceives them as a threat, and takes what she believes is the appropriate action. The ending, however, is tragic.

Well, not really. Or, it didn't feel that way to me. Perhaps it's because I've been raised on Stephen King and Clive Barker when it comes to horror - and make no mistake, this is a horror story - but it didn't strike me that James had much of a grasp of the genre. Some might argue that he was making a larger point, but I'll be damned if I know what it is. As for Milo being a threat? It never really comes across, probably because we barely spend any time with him or his sister. Most of the novella is the governess running about talking to one of the housekeepers, Mrs. Grose. When Milo or Flora do speak, it's only for a few lines.

Did Milo kill the groundskeeper and his former governess? Perhaps. But I wasn't very invested in the story. Don't get me wrong, I get it: James is a grand writer, but I don't think his style fit the genre. I get the impression that in his other novels, like The Portrait of a Lady or The Wings of the Dove, what passes for horror - or at least tension - are the little foibles and common loves of society's elite. Then again, I haven't read them, so what the hell do I know?

But most importantly, what does this all have to do with Lost? What does it reveal about the show? It perhaps reveals to us why Jack saw his father, Christian, on the island; why Ben saw his mother; why Kate saw that horse; perhaps even why Locke and Sawyer saw Locke's father, and why Richard hasn't aged and has forgotten birthdays. There has been mention of hostiles on the island, and perhaps they are all like the ghosts of The Turn of the Screw, reminders of the sins of the survivors, or of survivors past.

The more books I read from the Lost reading list, the clearer things become. I don't know what I'm going to read next, but I'm thinking Watership Down, which I haven't read in years. That, or Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Just to swing you guys around to my other blogs, they're back in business. So go look at them. The one for the movie even has a picture!

As for another post here, I'll have something soon for The Turn of the Screw. I was going to finish it this morning, but the train must have been running fast, or I was reading slow, and I didn't finish it. Perhaps tonight? I dunno.

I've also Netflixed myself recently. I took up their offer of two free weeks or whatever it was. Anyway, I already have a queue of nearly 350 movies, and I've rated nearly 2,000 movies, most of which suck. I never realized how much time I wasted in front of a movie or TV screen. And now I'm wasting a lot of time in front of a computer monitor. Is that a step forward? I don't know. I'll let someone else answer that.

The point is, I've already gone through six DVDs, and I've reviewed only one. I've been watching a lot of Takashi Miike's stuff, though tonight I'm going to watch The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, which I think is going to be a good time, because it's a Japanese Pink Movie, which means nudity and simulated sex. In this case, it's with George W. Bush's severed finger sometimes, so you know it's going to be... interesting.

Will I review all the movies I've skipped over? Probably not. I'll just say that Dead or Alive: Birds is rather lovely, Dead or Alive: Final makes sense in the context of the entire series, and the robot at the end is fucking awesome, especially its head. Gozu has its moments, and could have used a tighter editing, but overall it was a great movie. As for Terry Gilliam's Tideland, I'm not sure what to say except that the parts are better than the whole.

So, next time, a review of The Turn of the Screw, and perhaps of Sachiko. Who knows?