Still dazzled by Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service, I turned to Castle in the Sky, Hayao Miyazaki's third theatrical film after Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds, and to my delight I was dazzled all over again. Castle imagines a world a half-step away from ours, where zeppelins and wasp-like skycraft buzz through the clouds looking for the elusive floating city of Laputa. But the movie is far more than just spectacle and wide-gauge images: if Miyazaki can be said to be consistent in any one thing, it's in the amount of care and heart he put into his characters as well as the attention to detail he paid to his designs.
This is the fifth of Miyazaki's films that I have seen, and each time I see a new movie by him, or even an old one, I have to ask myself how someone of his genius has been condemned to what is essentially a cult following in the States. His work is broadly accessible to both adults and children and doesn't condescend to either; in terms of pure look-and-feel, his output is on a par with if not superior to Disney's work; and, unlike Disney, his movies are not canned, politically correct little moral treatises. Princess Mononoke was as troubling and contemplative a movie as any made with real actors, Spirited Away as enchanting, and My Neighbor Totoro as endearing. Read more
The Isle, by Ki-duk Kim of Address Unknown and Real Fiction, contains some of the most revolting and nauseating scenes in any movie, ever, surrounded by a simple story of great power. The two complement each other, although it is more than the innocent scenes being thrown into sharp relief by the scenes of bloodshed and sadism. This is a story about people for whom giving and receiving pain is the only method of communication left to them. Soon greater and greater pain must suffice, until finally there's nothing left.
It also happens to be a very good movie, and I fear its quality may be obscured because of the controversy. People who hear of such a movie often rush to pick up on it because it works for them as a kind of endurance test, or they shy away from it altogether. The first group miss the point; the second miss the movie itself. This is a difficult movie to watch in many ways, and I can't say I enjoyed it. I did, however, admire how well it observed its characters even while putting them through some of the most deeply unpleasant material yet filmed. Read more
I laughed a lot during Adrenaline Drive, not just at the movie's array of outlandish situations but at its understated sweetness. Here's a movie about a mismatched young couple on the run from the yakuza with a satchel full of stolen money, but who still have trouble admitting they like each other even when posing as a married couple in a hotel.
Director Shinobu Yaguchi's first film was Down the Drain, in which a hapless high-school girl's life turned into a surreal whirpool of bad luck. The same sort of cascading insanity seems to be at work in Adrenaline Drive, but the whole adventure here is played less as karmic evil and more as a quest for a measure of self-esteem on the part of the two heroes. It begins with a bang (literally) and ends with a couple of warm, sincere smiles.
The film stars Masanobu Ando (from Kids Return and Space Travelers) as Satoru, , a glum young man with a going-nowhere job at a rental car company. His boss is like a pathological version of one of those guys who leads "motivational" seminars: his idea of getting Satoru to "assert himself" is to cover his eyes while driving one of the company cars back to the lot. Sure enough, Satoru rear-ends another car — a fancy foreign job belonging to, you guessed it, a yakuza, Kuroiwa (Kazue Tsunogae). He's unamused by this nonsense, and his anger comes to a boil when Satoru's boss tries to (rather stupidly) jerk him around.Read more
There are movies that eschew explanations because none are needed, and then there are movies that eschew explanations only to come off as lazy and self-indulgent. Picnic at Hanging Rock gave us a mystery that had no answer, because none was needed. Ringu worked almost the same way — giving us enough of an answer that after a certain point our imaginations would take flight and go the rest of the way. Uzumaki tries to work in the same ambiguous mold but simply winds up falling flat on its face. It ostensibly has inexplicable horrors on its mind but winds up being about nothing much at all, because it never bothers to interest us more than superficially.
The problem is not ambiguity per se but what you do with it. Hanging Rock used its open-ended mystery to do two things: conjure up a foreboding atmosphere and make a sidelong running commentary about the presence of so-called civilized men in the wilderness. Ringu (and its American remake) used its cursed videotape premise for some dark commentary on the ubiquitousness of TV. Uzumaki (from a manga by Junji Ito, whose Tomie was made into an equally senseless movie) has no such deeper meaning: it's all sensation and images, hitched together by the loosest possible excuse for a plot and ending either when everyone is finally dead or the director has run out of ways to make the camera go in circles. You choose.Read more
The number of movies influenced or lending a nod to Videodrome could easily stretch into the dozens: the recent hit The Ring comes to mind, with its television-as-curse mentality, or Fight Club, with its hallucinations of grandeur. But remarkably few people have seen the movie, and on watching it again I'm surprised both by how well it holds up and how prescient it is.
Fresh from the commercial success of Scanners, David Cronenberg's follow-up film was nowhere nearly as successful theatrically, but quickly garnered a solid cult on video and laserdisc, and was one of the first movies from Universal Pictures' catalog to be reissued on DVD. Most audiences found it way too bleak and weird, even those who survived Cronenberg's earlier vision of telepathic mutiny. This time around, they had cancer bullets exploding bodies from within and Debbie Harry seducing James Woods through a breathing, pneumatic TV. No wonder they were at a loss what to make of it.
Videodrome stars Woods as Max Renn, a fly-by-night Toronto cable TV owner, whose "Civic TV" airs both soft-core porn and hard-core violence to an audience of night owls. One of the first scenes has him negotiating a deal with a Japanese porno company for "Samurai Dreams," a show that's only a half-step removed from real Japanese porn. "I think Oriental sex is a natural," says one of his boardmembers, "I think it'll give us an audience we never had before." Max disagrees: "I'm looking for something that'll break through. Something tough."Read more