During the Sixties there surfaced in Japan a whole slew of films which expressed dismay for how that country’s newly-won material prosperity came at the expense of a great many other things the Japanese barely seemed aware they were losing. Some of those films were allegorical (the monster movie Matango), some were phantasmagorical (Jigoku), some political (The Bad Sleep Well). Pleasures of the Flesh combines all three, and then some.
When Nagisa Oshima created Flesh, as the first project for his independent production company Sozo-sha, it was nominally billed as a “pink film” — that peculiar Japanese subgenre which often contains as much hard-core emotional violence as it does soft-core sexual imagery. But it borrows just as much from Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers, film noir, and melodrama about doomed love; in the end it’s a movie that is the product of no one genre. Read more
The difference between an “eccentric” and a poseur is, I think, a matter of empathy. An eccentric inspires fondness and even a little reverence, in part because the true eccentric isn’t putting on airs. He really is what he is. A poseur does it for the attention, and in such a way that you can tell they could just as easily be doing anything else.
Jazzman / bandleader / multimedia artist Sun Ra was as genuine an eccentric as could be, in much the same way that Wesley Willis or Jandek or Armand Schaubroeck were unfakeable. Any one of them could have taken shorter roads to drawing attention to themselves, but all of them, Ra included, wanted to express what they felt was themselves rather than simply wink at the audience. And when Ra did wink at the audience, it was in such a way that it didn’t blow his cover. His showmanship was not a pose in itself, but one of the genuine forms his eccentricity took — something, again, that can’t be faked. Read more
When I heard work had started on live-action film version of Osamu Tezuka’s MW — easily the bleakest, most nihilistic work ever produced by a man not conventionally known for his dark side — I was skeptical. How were they going to do justice to a story that features an antihero so repellent that discovering he engages in bestiality is one of the lesser shocks we get pummeled with?
They haven’t. The movie is a stripped-down rounding of the bases in Tezuka’s graphic novel, where a lot of details have been condensed or omitted entirely in favor of doing justice to the angry core of the story. This has not been a catastrophic decision, because the movie they made from those details isn’t a bad one. It looks great, it’s entertaining to watch, and it contains just enough of the troubling elements of the original to be worth it. It’s just that, as with all such adaptations, it’s impossible to not compare it detail-for-detail with the original. Read more
Before Bong Joon-Ho came to the attention of Western audiences with Memories of Murder, The Host and most recently Mother, he had made Barking Dogs Never Bite — although for years the only way you could see it was through the Korean DVD import circuit or a region-free rental service. It’s finally been released domestically thanks to the good graces of Magnolia, and it’s a raucous, bitterly funny movie that makes it clear Bong’s cynicism and social commentary were with him from the git-go.
Dogs takes place in a sprawling apartment complex somewhere in urban South Korea, a place where you wind up knowing your neighbors without trying. One of the tenants is a young graduate student, Yun-ju (Sung-jae Lee) up for a shot at a professor’s title. He’s hemmed in from all sides: his wife is pregnant (she has a craving for walnuts that drives him to distraction); his senior expects to be bribed well to give the young man even a chance at a position; and there’s this annoying dog somewhere in the building that just won’t shut up. In a fit of pique, he grabs what he thinks is the dog, pens it up in an old bureau in the building’s basement … and then discovers not only did he snag the wrong pup, but the building’s janitor has gleefully seized on this opportunity to boil up some dog stew. Read more
Here’s a movie that turned out to be about four times better than I expected. Besos de gato, or Cat Kisses as it’s been Anglicized, has the plot of one of those dreadful TV movies about an estranged father and daughter. But it moves from this dreary premise through a series of surprises, all of which spring from the characters and not the mechanics of the screenplay, and ends up becoming genuinely and surprisingly moving. If this were an American film, I suspect it would have become bogged down in the tedious mechanical details of its story — but it was made in Spain, has an eye and an ear for its characters, and cares deeply about them. It’s also emblematic of how Spanish film (outside of obvious figures like Pedro Almodovar) is really on a roll.
The setup, as I mentioned, isn’t terribly promising. Fran (veteran Spanish actor Juano Puigcorbé) is a hot-shot lawyer who has started to go to seed. His marriage is sterile and bitter, his children alienated from him, and his work has degenerated into a cynical money mill. One night his daughter doesn’t come home for dinner, and his wife goads him angrily into doing something about it. “So call the cops,” he snaps, but his wife would rather he do something for himself for once. Especially something pertaining to his kids, whom he has progressively lost interest in for the sake of his career. Read more
[Note: I originally wanted to publish this review with screenshots, but I decided to file it as-is, let people read it for flavor, and then add the images later when time permitted.]
Of all the TV shows I adored as a kid, none ended up being more mythic or prophetic than Max Headroom. Growing up in 1987, it was all too easy to imagine living in a future that looked like this, smelled like this, worked (or, better yet, did not work) like this. It was a mash-up of all the dystopian flavors of the Seventies and Eighties: equal parts Blade Runner, Brazil, Mad Max and Network, with doses of L.A. Confidential and Kolchak (or even the old Charles Bronson show Man with a Camera) thrown in for good measure.
Few other shows also became harder to find after Max’s less-than-one-season run on ABC ended with the show being yanked and relegated to only the most occasional rerun on cable TV years later. The only other place it seemed to exist at all was as a Japanese LaserDisc import, another of the many items of legendary distinction in the 1992 Pioneer LDCA catalog. Now Shout! Factory has brought the whole series back to life on DVD, right at a point in time when it ought to have seemed dated. It isn’t. If anything, it’s still ahead of its time, which means in another 20 years it might well seem timeless. Read more