Scrap Heaven is one of those movies that should be more interesting than it actually is. It contains the kind of antisocial mayhem pioneered (if that’s the right word) in movies like Fight Club — and also, unfortunately, the same kind of chicanery that passes for black comedy or socially-relevant satire. If they had taken the first fifteen or twenty minutes, stripped out the rest of the film and started completely over, they might really have had something here. But the movie as it stands just doesn’t hang together in anything but the most labored way.
The film deals with three people who all end up as hostages on a bus that’s been hijacked by a loon with a gun. There’s Shingo (Ryo Kase, also of Bright Future, Letters from Iwo Jima and the as-yet-unreleased-here I Just Didn’t Do It), a desk cop whose career is at a standstill, and who becomes an object of ridicule among his cohorts when he panicks on the bus and doesn’t do anything to help. Tetsu (Jō Odagiri, of Azumi and Shinobi), a janitor with a prankish side, gets singled out by the gunman and shot in the shoulder. Saki (Chiaki Kuriyama), a pharmacist missing an eye, is the last person to interact with the kidnapper before he puts his gun to his neck and blows his brains out. Read more
The Woods sat around unreleased for three years, and I can see why. It’s one of those movies that earns the term lackluster, a word I generally avoid, but here it’s all too appropriate. There’s a premise just waiting to catch fire here, but someone forgot to bring the matches.
Funny that the movie should open up with, what else, the setting of a fire. Heather (Agnes Bruckner, very good) has rebelled a little too violently against her self-absorbed mother and indifferent father, and has been sent to cool her jets at a private all-girls boarding school. This is some school: there’s so much fog blowing around the place, so many windows rattling and tree branches outlined against the moon that the witches’ coven / dance academy in Suspiria looks like a far more urbane alternative. Read more
Why, I asked myself as The Fountain unfolded, does this movie inspire more irritation and impatience from me than anything else? It should work; all the pieces are there. And yet somehow those pieces have not been deployed in ways that click or take flight. For a movie that paints the screen with bold images and wants to be about one of humanity’s biggest and most persistent questions — the certainty of death and the cycles of life — it’s all so oddly synthetic and cold. We’re looking at filmmaking, not cinema or even storytelling.
And how I wanted desperately to speak well of this film. Darren Aronofsky, the director, was responsible for two back-to-back masterpieces: Pi and Requiem for a Dream, and had suffered terrible creative setbacks during the production of The Fountain. For a time it threatened to slide into the same limbo as the forever-missing final reel of The Magnificent Ambersons or the near-limbo of movies like El Topo, but he got it finished, got it released, and signed off on the final cut. Whatever is wrong with this film is, I’m sorry to say, entirely his fault. It is Aronofsky’s vision, no doubt, but so much so that all possible spontaneity and human warmth has been crushed out of it. Read more
Ever since his son’s murder in one of those random bits of violence that make gloomy headlines, Macon Leary (William Hurt) has been slowly dying inside. He won’t admit to it — he’s the sort of man who can bury himself in his work, metaphorically and perhaps literally as well — but his wife Sarah (Kathleen Turner) knows better. She too has been dying inside, and cannot bear to suffocate along with him. “You’re just trying to slip through life without a jolt,” she says when he returns from one of his interminable business trips. “I’m enduring,” Macon retorts, but she can only endure so much of his brand of enduring. She leaves, and Macon finds himself rattling around inside his suddenly-too-large house with his son’s Corgi, Edward, perpetually underfoot.
Macon’s job is an extension of his insularity. He writes travel guides for American tourists stuck in foreign countries, where they are not sure if they can find Kentucky Fried Chicken or a Safeway, so they can feel like they’ve never left home. The opening moments of the film encapsulate the way his work and his personal life have intersected: he loads a suitcase according to his own advice and then ends up encountering a self-professed fan of his guidebooks in the plane seat next to his. Even when Macon has done well by others, he doesn’t really seem to feel it. Maybe he never did, the movie suggests, and his son’s death simply made overt what was hiding all along. He just no longer has the capacity to fake it. Read more