Red Lion follows a pattern laid down by many of the best movies in that it attempts to do many things at once and succeeds at all of them. It’s set in pre-modern Japan, so it’s a rousing samurai adventure; it’s a comedy of manners and errors; it’s a sly satire on the nature of power and heroism; and it stars the indispensable Toshiro Mifune in one of his best performances. All of the bases have been touched.
The film deals with, in fictionalized form, a real incident that took place in Japan’s pre-modern history. Shortly before the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Imperial forces were sent into the countryside to foment rebellion against the Shogunate by promising tax cuts, but when the peasantry realized the throne had no intention of following through on their promises, they rebelled. The messengers for the throne had to be branded as traitors to quell the uprising. It wasn’t until decades later that the scapegoats were absolved and honored as national heroes.Read more
The best works of horror don’t simply scare us, but give our fears form and make us look objectively at them. Alien worked not just because the monster was really scary, not only because the protagonists were trapped on a spaceship with it with nowhere to go, but because the heroes couldn’t even count on their fellow humans to help them. Likewise, Paranoia Agent is terrifying in the best way: it’s scary not just because of what happens, but because the bigger implications of what’s going on are even more unnerving.
Agent is not even, strictly speaking, a horror story: it starts off like one of those thrillers about an urban legend, but by the end it’s assimilated so many other things into its basic conceit that it defies you to put an easy label on all of it. It’s closest in spirit to some of Stephen King’s best works, where the power of imagination is the only defense against the darkness, but it owes nothing to any specific work of his. It's unmistakably original.Read more
The problem with crime is not that it doesn’t pay, but it pays so well most people have no idea what to do next. Movies about criminals usually wind up being about a) drugs or b) “one last job,” because crime is even more of an addiction than coke. Retiring on the beach is nothing compared to knowing you put one over the fuzz yet again. There’s also the fact that crime tends to attract people who are either too smart for their own good, or too stupid to live. The smart ones get out early, or never start. The stupid ones never have time to regret their mistakes.
Layer Cake deals with one of the smart ones, who would like very much to get out sooner rather than later. He (Daniel Craig) is a midlevel London drug merchant — he gets the stuff in from overseas, cuts it up, farms it out, rakes in a decent profit, and launders it through his legitimate real-estate business. He’s smart in that he keeps his mouth shut, doesn’t throw good money after bad, and is very careful about the people he admits into his inner circle. All of this has kept him spotless through his years in the trade, and now that he’s preparing to leave the business for keeps, it’s all the better that he has no obvious skeletons beating on the closet door. In an amusing touch, we realize only after the credits have rolled that one has ever spoken his name, not even him. He’s only listed as “XXXX” in the credits.Read more
Nobody Knows begins with a mother and son moving into a new apartment somewhere in Tokyo — an ordinary scene, except that two of their suitcases seem to be…well, fidgeting. They contain two younger children, another daughter and son, who are being smuggled in against the landlord’s wishes. A fourth one, a second daughter, sneaks in after hours.
There is something terribly wrong here, of course, but one of the most remarkable things about Nobody Knows is that it’s told more or less seamlessly from the childrens’ points of view. What we would perceive as being out of kilter is for them simply the way their lives have always been lived. They see nothing wrong with packing their siblings into suitcases and smuggling them into their new home — mostly, as the film suggests, because their mother is able to make it seem like the most natural thing.
The oldest son, Akira (Yuya Yagira) is, as her mother says at the beginning of Nobody Knows, a “very mature child,” and it is his maturity that will be the saving grace of his family. There is something strangely blowsy and not-quite-all-there about his mother (pop singer You [rhymes with “Go”]); she reminds one of the equally off-center Mabel Longhetti in A Woman Under the Influence. The children are for the most part cheerful and well-behaved: the youngest two are happy with toys and TV, while Akira and Kyoko (the older daughter) deal with the fact that their mother simply isn’t equipped to do her job.Read more
Battlefield Baseball comes from the same people who gave us Versus, and it has the same wacky ramshackle feel to it, but its main flaw is that it isn’t a better movie for the material. The premise: A gang of supernaturally violent tough kids have formed a high school baseball team that leaves dead bodies strewn in its wake. The only one who can stop them is a delinquent dropout who quit playing baseball after he accidentally murdered his father with a brutally fast pitch.
This ought to be funny, and there are long stretches of Battlefield Baseball that are right on the mark. There are also just as many that miss the mark, possibly because the movie is so willing to entertain by throwing in everything it can think of that it loses sight of its truly original conceits. It’s been adapted from a comic by Gataro Man, so it has all the outlandish visual tropes of a live-action version of a manga but does not always have the needed focus. There are so many competing and conflicting ideas at work here that they work at cross-purposes. A leaner, less uninhibited movie might actually have been funnier. Read more