Saturday, July 13, 2024

Caked-Up Dread

Longlegs (2024) - Perkins Longlegs In a sodden Oregon town, there lives special Agent Harker (Maika Monroe) who has some sort of psychic abilities. After the death of her newly appointed partner in the field where she had a premonition, she is assigned to partner up with her superior, Agent Carter (Blair Underwood, who doesn't get roles in films which I do not understand), in pursuit of a serial killer known only as Longlegs because he believes Harker, with her abilities, can help the investigation. Longlegs' MO is killing the whole families who have a daughter on the 14th of some months (what month of the year it is is not crucial info so are many things in the film). Coincidentally, Harker's birthday also falls on the 14th. So is Carter's young daughter's. And it involves some life-sized creepy doll and fathers of the families going berzerk and killing everyone.

Harker constantly talks to her mom (Alicia Witt of Twin Peaks) on the phone who keeps pushing her to say prayers at night to protect herself from Nasties of the world. Longlegs keeps killing. Then Carter remembers that Harker had a scare as a child with some creep at her home with mom. Maybe mom remembers who that man was. She should check that out.

Oz Perkins, director of such films as Blackcoat's Daughter and Gretel and Hansel has a great visual sensibility in creating sense of dread. He tinkers with all the conventions of police procedural and supernatural horror genres, but floats over all of them, and doesn't quite make a solid landing. The symbology, breaking the codes, accultism are all suggested but comes off as an afterthought, not even plot devices. Harker is treated as some kind of genius but her methodology is never shown. It's all in her head, man. She just knows. There are no real surprises in Longlegs. Everything is revealed early on. Nicolas Cage's turn as a glam rock psycho-killer-devil in heavy make-up is already revealed early in the film. It's a simple movie, plotwise.

And yet, the images Perkins presents in Longlegs linger in your head (well, not as impactful as its trailer campaign its distributor Neon put out). His framing, the uneasy atmosphere plus Cage's inspiring, unhinged performance makes this movie worthwhile.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Japan Cuts 2024 Preview: Treasure Trove of New and Classic Japanese Films

North America’s largest Japanese film festival presents two weeks of contemporary premieres, including new films from Kei Chika-ura, Takeshi Kitano, Gakuryu Ishii, Shunji Iwai, Sho Miyake and Shinya Tsukamoto. 31 films including 5 International Premieres, 10 North American Premieres, 4 U.S. Premieres, 2 East Coast Premieres and 7 New York Premieres. Includes the International Premiere of SHIN GODZILLA: ORTHOchromatic.

Special guests include iconoclastic director Gakuryu Ishii, appearing for the East Coast Premiere of The Box Man as well as a retrospective screening of August in the Water; director Noriko Yuasa will appear at the International Premiere of Performing KAORU’s Funeral, winner of the JAPAN CUTS Award at the 2024 Osaka Asian Film Festival; and actress Tomoko Tabata will appear at a restoration premiere of Shinji Somai’s undisputed masterpiece, Moving.

Kubi - Kitano Kubi Beat Takeshi tells a bloody and surreal chapters in Japanese history of power struggles among many samurai warlords in Sengoku period.

A sadistic, tyrant lord Nobunaga (Kase Ryo) is in charge, abusing his subordinates and pitting against one another by promising them the positon of next-in-line to rule, while plotting to kill them all. There's Baldie Mitsuhide (Nakajima Hidetoshi, Drive My Car), there's Monkey Hideyoshi (Kitano) and there's Racoon Ieyasu (Kobayashi Kaoru).

Asano Tadanobu also shows up among an impressive ensemble cast. As expected in Kitano film, there are plenty of beheadings, violence and absurd humor throughout, as well as epic scale battle scenes.

Kitano accentuates the irony of all the shenanigans playing Toyotomi Hideyoshi, an illiterate samurai warlord who rose from his peasant background to prominence and seemingly incapable of doing anything without the help of his younger brother and his general Kanbei (Asano). He also ups inherent homoerotic nature of samurai culture- as warlords are in love and constantly banging each other.

Like his many yakuza films, Kitano takes on the extremely macho conventions of swordplay genre & samurai stoicism and turns them upside down and presents a cynical look at the revered, almost mythic Japanese history.

Whale Bones - Oe Whale Bones A tech worker Mamiya just got dumped by his girlfriend. In his depressed state, he takes up his colleague's offer to join a dating app. He meets Aska (J-pop star ano) who turns out to be a highschool student and takes her home. But after he comes out of a bathroom after a shower, he finds that Aska committed suicide by taking pills on his bed with a cryptic message left on the bedside, "Enjoy me while I'm still warm." Panicked, he wraps her body in a blanket and drives to a mountain to bury her. But her body has disappeared. It turns out, Aska is a major figure in Mimi, a GPS based social app where she 'buries' herself in a 'hole' - recording herself in a liminal spaces in Tokyo and appears in the app for people to find her. She has a big following.

Dealing with urban loneliness, obsession and internet stardom in a social media generation, Oe Takamasa (co-writer of Drive My Car)'s film hits all the right notes with empty, night time photography in liminal spaces in Tokyo. I just wish the metaphysical implication of Aska only existing in the app plays out little more.

August in the Water - Ishii Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 9.05.40 AM The grand theme of all life on earth originated from somewhere else in the universe and technology taking over the human form (computer chips for human consciousness, therefore we don't need physical bodies), the film charts very much the William Gibson, JG Ballard territory, yet very Japanese. Mixing New Age spirituality, animism, astrophysics and advancement in technology, Ishii Gakuryu's trippy 90's relic, August in the Water can be seen as the quintessential film for vaporwave - the synth tinged soundtrack, dolphins, rainbows, dated computer graphics, aliens, etc. Do not miss the opportunity to see this movie in 35mm print as it might be only only chance to see this treasure from the 90s in theaters in North America or anywhere else.

Moving - Somai Screen Shot 2021-02-01 at 8.12.21 AM Moving works largely because of Tabata Tomoko, a cat eyed child actor not afraid of delving deep into physical and emotional journey of acceptance and letting go. Sômai Shinji's always moving camera, doesn't lose focus on the young heroine and never gets bogged down in cheap sentimentality. The almost silent long sequence two-third of the way where Ren gets herself lost in the forest at night, is breathtaking.

Parents, however selfish, are not monsters and do care about you and love you. Sometimes it doesn't work out. It might be hard to grasp for a 6th grader. Children still can count more good memories with their hands and run out of fingers than old people do. Accepting that they can keep only a handful of those memories is tough. Using the backdrop of fire festival and the power of burning and renewal, Moving is an infinitely wise and beautiful film about growing up.

Mermaid Legend - Ikeda mermaid 1 It plays out like a softcore melodrama in the beginning. But the last 15 minutes of a trident rampage scene with Mari Shirato covered in arterial spray of about 100 men she killed is a sight to see. A true cult classic!

All the Long Nights (2024) - Miyake All the Long Nights Based on Seo Maiko's novel, Yoake No Subete, All the Long Nights is a perfectly pitched, calm, novelistic film about human connections and compassion.

Fujisawa (Kanishiraishi Mone) can't hold on to a job because she suffers from an acute PMS and being mercurial. She ends up in a small company making children's science kits in a small town. There she meets Yamazoe (Masumura Hokuto), an antisocial young man, who finds the job mundane and beneath him. He is demoted from his coporate world job, because his panic attack episodes.

Because of their disorders, Fujisawa and Yamazoe slowly build a mutual friendship. All the Long Nights is a beautifully drawn film where every character shines, and a deeply compassionate look at life without much unnecessary drama.

Shadow of Fire - Tsukamoto Shadow of Fire The second part of Tsulamoto Shinya's War Trilogy after his Fires on the Plain remake in 2014, Shadow of Fire shows how the war turns young men into PTSD suffering, violent zombies basically after the war. The first half plays out like a tight chamber piece, taking in one small room with a nameless young war widow (Shuri), surviving by selling/trading her body for goods in a firebombed building, a PTSD suffering young soldier who clings to her for a good night sleep and a young street urchin whom she pours out her maternal instinct to. The second half tells another guilt stricken returning soldier trying to find the redemption with the help of the boy. Stark, and unflinching and masterfully directed and top notch acting from everyone involved.

The Box Man - Ishii TheBoxMan_MAIN An oddity, based on Japanese Nouveau Roman scribe Abe Kobo's book of the same name, reunites the team of their cult hit Electric Dragon 80,000 V team- Nagase Masatoshi, Asano Tadanobu and director Ishii Gakuryu in The Box Man. Just like Abe's perennial masterpiece adaptations- Face of Another and Woman in the Dunes, there's much existential musing going on in The Box Man.

'Myself,' played by Nagase, shunned the world of consumerism and turmoil and in seeking solitude and anonymity, lives in the cardboard box with a rectangular hole for the view. Even though he wants to be left alone, there's a fake doctor assassin (Asano) who wants to know the secrets of the Box Man so that he could become like him. And there's Yoko (Shiramoto Ayana), who could be his salvation.

Hefty metaphors and paradoxes aplenty, so are the absurd sight gags as two box men duke out in the street for the supremacy.

Lacking some of the crazy kinetic energies of Ishii's earlier films, The Box Man doesn't quite conjure up its magic to be a cult classic, but its amusing enough for the fans of two lead actors.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Strays

Paradiset brinner/Paradise is Burning (2023) - Gustafson Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 10.51.56 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 9.14.25 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 9.20.19 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 9.21.06 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 9.29.14 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 9.55.16 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 9.57.07 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 10.06.20 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 10.19.02 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 10.30.22 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-03 at 10.36.59 AM In the tradition of kitchen sink realism of Andrea Arnold and Lynne Ramsay, Mika Gustafson's feature debut Paradiset brinner paints young sisters trying to survive in working class neighborhood in Sweden. There's a teenager Laura (Bianca Delbravo), the oldest of the sisters and the head of the family and two preteens Mira (Dilvin Asaad) and Steffi (Safira Mossberg), running wild in a household without any parental supervision. Mom's gone since Christmas and dad was never in the picture. Steffi still wets the bed, teething and has tendency to bring stray dogs (and sometimes street kids) home - there's a theme of strays throughout the film, Mira is having her first menstruation and Laura is skipping school and taking care of her younger sisters. Things are tight, so Laura resorts, with the help of her sisters, to stealing things from their neighbors, laundromats, supermarkets, etc. She and her marauding strays/friends constantly break into other people's houses to party and swim in their pools. Laura befriends a bored housewife Hanna (Ida Engvoll), who finds Laura's lawless behavior fascinating and stirring something inside her. Hanna suggests that she wants to tag along when Laura breaks into other people's houses. For Laura, Hanna is an obvious mother figure, needing her company. Their bond deepens.

Laura hides the fact that social services are on them from her younger siblings. She knows that like other friends she knows, the social services will try to separate them and put them in different foster care facilities. She cannot let that happen. As the appointment for a visit from the social services, Laura slowly breaches the subject to Hanna, of pretending to be their mom.

Gustafson gets phenomenal performances out of young actresses. Delbravo's Laura, a girl who's been put in a position to grow up fast is great, as is Asaad and Mossberg who plays Mira and Steffi. They are utterly believable at playing close sisters who put enormous amount of trust in one another. Paradiset brinner brims with vitality and emotional honesty seldom seen in teen/preteen films beautifully captured by Gustafson. A real stunner.

Monday, July 1, 2024

WKW Facsimile

Motel Cactus (1997) - Park Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 8.40.57 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 8.42.18 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 8.51.10 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 8.55.16 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 8.59.14 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 9.10.07 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 9.14.53 AM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 12.23.50 PM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 12.24.28 PM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 12.30.44 PM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 12.33.35 PM Screen Shot 2024-07-01 at 12.34.00 PM Before Korean cinema was a thing, the popularity and influence of Wong Kar-Wai in Korean cinema loomed large. The year wa 1997s, this Bong Joonho scripted (he also served as an AD), Chris Doyle shot film is a wall-to-wall facsimile curio of WKW aesthetics. It loosely tells 4 different stories of young loves in one location - a conveniently large, primary colored seedy love hotel room for Doyle to run around and document the trysts of young lovers up close and personal with wide lenses. It's all asthete and nothing else. But all so pretty.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Same As It Ever Was

L'empire (2024) - Dumont Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 8.59.38 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.13.06 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.22.40 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.24.29 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.39.47 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.49.41 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 10.27.00 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 10.29.30 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 10.34.24 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 10.37.42 AM Bruno Dumont's cinematic stunt continues with a large-scale Sci-fi Star Wars/Dune parody L'empire. It's completely over the top and ridiculous, you wonder what happened to this once a practitioner of Bressonian way of filmmaking and lost his ways. For those who remember, Dumont's foray into absurdist comedies started with P'tit Quinquin, a 4-part TV mini-series taking place in his beloved Brittany featuring odd-looking locals and odder police pair Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and Carpentier (Philippe Jore) investigating odd happenings in the windswept sand dunes of the provincial sleepy coastal community. That was a decade ago. Since then, the director's charade continued with Slack Bay, two Joan of Arc musicals, a sequel to Quinquin, a TV journalism satire, France. It's been 10 years of this funny/unfunny, French comedies. When would this end and when is he going to snap out of this cringe fest? Well with L'empire, not anytime soon.

Again, in a small windswept dune-y small French town, nothing is what it seems. The townsfolks are divided into the intergalactic forces of Ones and Zeros. Get it? Ones are the benevolent beings trying to defeat Zeros from taking over earth by siring a demon offspring called the Wain. Their spaceships are fashioned on a giant cathedral with stained glass windows (Ones) and a Marienbad inspired Palace (Zeros). Ones are trying to appeal goodness in humanity and Zeros are counting on bad, destructive impulses of humans. There's a local fisherman, Jony (Brandon Vlieghe) who turned into a black knight for the Zeros, protecting his infant son, the Wain who will bring out the apocalypse in the earth. Then there's Jane (Anamaria Vartolomei of Happening), a princess on the side of Ones. There's going to be light sabers battle, a black hole, dancing Fabrice Luchini in a funny costume as the ruler of the Zeros and of course, our clueless gendarmes Weyden and Carpentier too, oblivious to the dueling intergalactic empires in their backyard.

Jony and Jane hook up and have wild sex because Jony convinces prudish Jane that while they are in human form, they might as well enjoy. They are sworn enemies for eternity, but deep inside they are in love!

L'empire's ham fisted approach on colonialism - the European empires dueling for the 'heart of the people,' and its obvious parodying of Hollywood sci-fi epics, are funny for a while. But it’s also extremely silly and unengaging, save for the presence of Vartolomei and Lina Khoudri who plays Line, a selfie obsessed influencer who becomes a partner of Jony. I just hope someone talk some sense to Dumont and stop this nonsense. The joke has been going on for too long!

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Buried Alive

I Saw the TV Glow (2024) - Schoenbrun Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.07.57 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.08.29 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.10.19 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.11.07 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.11.47 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.12.14 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.12.57 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.13.04 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.14.19 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.15.13 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.18.11 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.22.14 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.22.39 AM Jane Schoenbrun's trans identity allegory aside (evidences are aplenty throughout and shouldn't be ignored), I Saw the TV Glow speaks to a very specific group of people who grew up in the 90s, consuming copious amount of late night TV alone. These are not the kids who were cheerleaders, football players, popular kids who bought into the Clinton era fake optimism. They were loners and weirdos who desperately clung to each other when they found one another.

You hoped that there was life beyond the suffocating High School years; you have aspirations and ambitions, to be somebody. But as you grow older, you find life under capitalism is just as suffocating, as if you are being buried alive. This is the feeling Schoenbrun captures so well with I Saw the TV Glow.

It tells Owen (Justice Smith), who befriends Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), an older schoolmate who introduces to the world of late night TV show, Pink Opaque. For Maddy, it's more than just a kid's TV show. It's all consuming religion. The two main characters, Isabel and Tara become extension/cosplay of Maddy and her friend. But after the big boobied friend left her to join the cheerleading squad, timid Owen becomes de facto Isabel. In this show with elaborate mythology, the girls are psychically connected with the matching glowing ghost tattoo on the back of their necks, fighting a figure called Mr. Melancholy.

Owen is fascinated by the TV show, as well as alluring Maddy, but unsure about taking a deep dive in to Pink Opaque, as Maddy's life becomes increasingly blurry between what's real and what's not. Maddy disappears after the show is canceled. The last episode was a cliffhanger - Isabel's heart was ripped out and she was buried alive by Mr. Melancholy.

Life catches up with Owen, working menial jobs and ending up working for an amusement park. As an adult, rewatching the TV show now available on streaming, Owen finds that he remembers it quite different. Now it's a benign kid's stuff.

Maddy's reemergence rattles Owen. She says she has been fighting in the Midnight World the whole time, trying to rescue Isabel/Owen and get their hearts back.

Neon colored, dreamy look captures the sleepless nights of the lonely adolescent in the 90s perfectly. Underlit photography also captures that eerie feeling that something is askew.

There is a divide between what you wanted to be when we were young and what you are now. Just like Schoenbrun's last film We're All Going to World's Fair, I Saw the TV Glow is a sad film that lingers on after days of watching.