The best films, it seems, are not the most complex ones, but the ones that are distilled down to the bare essentials. There isn't a moment, a word or a gesture in Le samouraï that seems superfluous or merely for effect. Its hero (if he can be called that) is every bit as laconic and tightly controlled as the movie that features him. Form follows function, as it were.
Le samouraï was directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, one of the great unsung directors of the past forty years and arguably the most influential director most people have never heard of. He shot at first on low budgets and with minimal crews to make the films he wanted to make, and in his own way kicked off the French New Wave. John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, Luc Besson and arguably Takeshi Kitano owe a great deal of their approach and subject matter to Melville, and in Woo's case, he openly acknowledges the debt: The Killer was Woo's homage to this film with many of the details copied intact. Read more
The closest analogue to Save the Green Planet that I could think of is with director Terry Gilliam, who in movies like Brazil and The Fisher King cheerfully exploded constraints of genre or sense. Save the Green Planet, the feature-film debut from Korean director Jun-hwan Jeon, doesn't so much occupy several genres as once as eat them alive. The film has elements of fantasy, police thrillers, horror, anarchic farce and black comedy, and even a fair amount of straight drama and tragedy. That they can all coexist together, much less make sense, is nothing short of miraculous.
One of the best perks of watching movies from other countries is seeing how they bring a unique perspective to material that one would think to be either exhausted or simply unfilmable. It's a difficult movie for me to explain without somehow also trying to convey the movie's anarchic but heartfelt tone. I don't often say a movie is like nothing you've ever seen, but this is one of the few movies that really earns the label.Read more
The end of the world as we know it will only be the beginning of something a good deal worse. That's been the premise of a great many movies, from The Road Warrior to The Day After to George Romero's Living Dead trilogy. 28 Days Later is like a distillation of what made all three of these things frightening: the survivalism, the nihilism, and, yes, the flesh-eating zombies. In fact, it's almost misleading to bill this as a "zombie horror" movie (printed on the blood-red one sheets for the film). It starts as a nifty horror shocker, but quickly mutates into a smarter and more absorbing movie — a story of ordinary people caught in terrible circumstances. Action and gore fans are not liable to be disappointed, but the movie has much smarter blood in its veins than, say, Jason vs. Freddy.
SF and horror lend themselves very naturally to satire and social commentary. Most of the time horror movies paint an unsparing picture of humanity — that man is his own worst enemy, namely, and that we have more to fear from the guy next door than from some nameless toxic spawn from outer space. 28 Days Later compacts that even further: here, the toxic spawn IS the guy next door, and you could become one yourself in a matter of seconds. It serves as a metaphor for how social decay is contagious, about how a quiet suburban block can be transformed into a burned-out crater by its own inhabitants if you raise their ire enough. Read more
A movie like Wild Zero, you either dig it or you don't, and I thoroughly dug it. Here we have a gleefully absurd rock-and-roll romantic horror fantasy from Japan that is the single nuttiest thing since Brad and Janet touched down at the Frank-n-Furter estate, and what am I supposed to do? Analyze its symbolism? Let's face it — this is the kind of movie you savor with the volume up at 11, a brewski in your fist and a hottie of the opposite sex nestled in the crook of your arm. Anything less than that would border on sacrilege.
Japan's musical underground has produced some of the most far-ranging cultural debris imaginable, from the twenty-album-a-year noise maven and renegade intellectual Merzbow (Masami Akita) to punkabilly mutants like Shonen Knife and the 5-6-7-8s (the latter finally getting some overdue recognition thanks to Kill Bill). Half of the music seems to be celebrating the past, while the other half is busy annihilating it. Among the celebrators are a trio of lo-fi rockers named Guitar Wolf, and in an irony usually reserved for American bands of the same ilk, they struck it big in a foreign country (the good ol' USA, on the indie Matador label) before returning home.Read more
When I saw Pirates of the Caribbean a few weeks ago, I remarked that it was the kind of movie that just wasn't made anymore: the genuine swashbuckler. The Adventures of Robin Hood is the prototype for such a movie, and on revisiting it in a gorgeously remastered DVD edition I can see why. It's a light-hearted genre, the product of an age where movies like Jackass or Terminator 3 would be unthinkable. You cannot make a movie with real joy in its heart unless you play it totally straight, and there isn't a whiff of irony or audience sarcasm to be found in Robin Hood.
This movie is one big, unbroken smile from start to finish. That lack of a smile was one of the things that sunk the Kevin Costner remake — aside from Costner being far too somber and glum to play someone as Puckish as Robin Hood, and many other mistakes I won't go into here. No other movie version of the tale has the same zip. There was the thoughtful Patrick Bergin / Uma Thurman TV production which lost out to theaters against the Costner version, but it's still nowhere as much fun. Read more