Archive for October, 2014

The Tale Of Princess Kaguya – Isao Takahata – 2013

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2014 by bookofdread

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Isao Takahata has redefined the possibilities of a hand-drawn animated film with The Tale Of Princess Kaguya. Adapted from a centuries old folk tale, Princess Kaguya is invoking all kinds of hyperbole and it is much deserved. While, only the perspective of time can define whether something is, “best all time”, the fact that the primary theme of Princess Kaguya is the perspective of time, and in choosing this astonishing finish line and then seeing it through and then some, the film must be at least considered not only one of the best animated films of all time, but truly, one of the best films ever made.

Before I begin to discuss the text of the film, I really want to describe the feeling of watching the film in a room full of people. It was transporting in a way that was so universally transfixing that despite it’s nearly three hour runtime every soul was locked in fully to the narrative. We truly saw life itself, in all its pitfalls and joys, tragedies and triumphs that we could not look away. Many if not all left the cinema in tears of complex emotion!

Princess Kaguya is a mini-baby found in a bamboo stalk by a wood-cutter. He and his wife live simply in the forest and want for little, as the bamboo cutter has all the work he needs. They have no children and they see it as a blessing from the gods. After the baby first arrives home there is a scene that might be the all-time most adorable baby scene in cinema/animation history! The baby tumbles and giggles with abandon and even the rockiest heart would crack during this scene.

The girl grows up faster than it seems possible and even outgrows the children around her. Her country life and the freedoms it affords are accentuated here and she loves her hillside friends, but her father has other plans for her.

Seeing as she is a gift from the gods her parents want nothing but the best for her and want her named a princess in the city. So they sell their house and move to the city seeking to do better for their blessed daughter. However Kaguya finds city life and princess life in particular a source of much consternation, and to the audiences amusement bucks her straight faced hand-maiden frequently and hilariously!

During a coming out party in which Kaguya doesn’t reveal herself, (according to custom), the locals begin to question her authenticity as a real princess. Kaguya is despondent with doubt and flees her home helpless into the snowy forest.

I’m not going to lie to you, as I was watching this scene I thought, this might be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen animated. It’s just a girl running through the woods, but, due, not only to the extraordinary impressionistic turns the animation makes during this scene, but also due to the context of the moment. This girl, who basically appeared out of nowhere, has her identity being debated and she has no say in the matter. As an audience member we identify with not wanting to lose our identity, and furthermore, we freakin’ love this character by now! She’s awesome!

After some sad stuff about going back to her mountain and finding the forest dead and her childhood beau grown up and wed, she resigns to at least return to her parents. Her dad has set her up with all the best guys, who are set on impossible quests by Kaguya to bring her impossible treasures. Every one brings back a fraud and she marries none of them. Eventually she is to wed the emperor, and then shit gets super crazy.

Turns out, she’s a moon princess with super powers, and the moon is this super sweet party with beautiful people and music, and if you leave you don’t get to remember what the moon is like, but if you live on the moon everything is elevator music and white marble, so it’s a tradeoff.
The moon people come down from the clouds and take Kaguya while her parents weep. She is screaming, “I want to remember!”

So, heavy stuff man. Normally, here’s where I’d deconstruct a little bit, but man, it’s really all right there on the surface. Children are a blessing, especially to an older couple who think they can’t have kids. My folks were 44 and 47 when I was born, and I know that’s more normal now, and with cloning, its easier than ever to make a person, but I digress. These folks had a new thing to value, and overcompensated for never having a child. They pushed hard for what they perceived as best for the child, and took her from what was actually the best thing, the freedom of a country life.

I grew up away from a city, in a town of only 2500. By the time I could ride a bike, I was allowed to go as far as I could and return before the sun came down. People in the city don’t have that privilege. There are cars, bad people, industrial dangers. The world is full of sharp corners and rough edges, and in the open country, a kid can be free.

But then there in the middle of the film, in the coolest sequence is the key moment. These men, men who aren’t even related to the girl, basically society at large, discuss her identity. She can see and listen to them but has no input. So she runs she runs as most women her age do and looks to her past for perspective, but in time, the things that brought her solace and warmth are changed, thus is the transient nature of humanity, the heartbreak of pastime.

The film offers up a beautiful comparison of cultures and values, but ultimately is universal in its’ hopeful message. Whether you are parent or child, friend or suitor, cherish the time you have with the ones you hold close and do not project identity on them (especially women). Understand the freedom of the country and the restrictions of the city. Let your children play while they can.

Did I mention the score? The music by Joe Hisaishi is one of the best you’ll hear all year. When the film and music soar, so will your heart! Even though I said the ending was sad, it was lovely and bittersweet, I’d recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful art!

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Evil Eye – Mario Siciliano – 1975

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , , , on October 9, 2014 by bookofdread

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Mario Siciliano’s Evil Eye is weird little psycho-dream. It’s as if you dipped American Psycho in euro-sleaze and draped it in a Lynchian dream logic. The film embraces the style and color of the mid-seventies, and yet it juggles all these great elements so clumsily that it is nearly impossible to experience the film as a whole, and yet the frustrating puzzle demands at least cursory examination.

Kudos first and foremost to composer Stelvio Cipriani who’s work here is not only typically excellent, it is, in this case, the absolute finest element of the film. The swinging seventies sounds are immersive and the melodies create that kind of dreamy booze fueled haze that one imagines one might feel if waking up amidst a bunch of passed out models in a sexy euro-mansion.

So, the lead actor is Jorge Rivera, long before his be-mulleted, bone-nunchuck wielding warrior in Fulci’s conquest. However, this goofball is no less wooden and hilarious. In fact, the film, with all its strange editing and bizarre narrative might have actually congealed into some kind of immersion if not for Jorge. Every time this guy was on screen led to one of the most laughable line-readings ever. It’s like this guy never heard anyone speak before. Clearly he was cast for his sculpted torso and not his acting ability.

This film is about a guy who dreams about killing people, then kills people. Then he just kills people. Then he goes to the doctor and tells him, and the doctor says, “People who say they are crazy never are… Admitting you have a problem is the first step.”
Then playboy caveman leaves his super-hot girlfriend and hooks up with his super-hot nurse.

The two of them go up to her cabin hideaway, and are menaced by cheap telekinetic attacks ala breaking glass, and furniture being turned over. Before all is destroyed caveman playboy awakes and says, “It was all a dream.” Around him lie six passed out beautiful women.

This film is tedious, but funny, and very strange. Here’s what I think. The film is a wish fulfillment film much like American Psycho, and speaks like Easton Ellis to the hubris of youth. Like Patrick Bateman, this guy just walks around killing the women he needs to for whatever reason. And like American Psycho the film ends an “It wasn’t real, it was just their dream…”

It plays cheap and unsatisfying, but it suggests a reason for the dreamlike world that precedes it and the supernatural force that pursues Playboy Caveman is essentially his deeply buried conscience, illustrating a kind of divine retribution for thoughts and dreams so murderous and vile.

And then the film breaks under the weight of its own principles. At the end of the film, Playboy Caveman is still Playboy Caveman, and I really am not sure he’s not going to go out there and do those awful things that he never did in the dream, now that he doesn’t have some internal avenger out to get him.

On the other hand, the fact that he had such an elaborate dream, must absolutely call into question his new current reality. If he just woke from a lucid dream, how far down the rabbit-hole hall of mirrors might he go? Was it all a dream, or could this be a hellish loop, Playboy Caveman destined forever to be pursued by the gentle shaking of furniture and the breaking of glass?

We’ll never know, because these are just things I’m thinking about at this point, and no longer the text of the film. I do know this, I liked watching it.

Tusk – Kevin Smith – 2014

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , on October 8, 2014 by bookofdread

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Kevin Smith’s Tusk is about as naked a piece of self-expression disguised as a genre exercise I have seen since Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. Tusk is a provocative mad scientist tale, whose uneven tone is reflective of its shabby mad scientist creator, and I’m not talking about Michael Parks electrifying Howard Howe. I’m talking about Kevin Smith, whose mastery of the English language and of storytelling itself has become a new kind of self-aware subtext. I’m not saying Tusk is about Kevin Smith, but how can anything created so insularly not be incredibly reflective of the personality behind breathing life into it?

Tusk begins basically with Justin Long, asshole podcaster with minimal fame and frequent flier miles, headed into Manitoba to interview a jerk kid who sliced his leg off in a popular youtube video. Long makes his name making fun of internet jerks ala Daniel Tosh, and despite being affable in delivery, Long’s character is written as a complete jerk who likely enjoys many infidelities on his little field trips. Through a note found in a bar bathroom Wallace, (rhymes with Walrus), contacts Howard and before you know it Howe is serving tea in his mountain mansion and telling tales of his time at sea.

Justin Long mimes a walrus cock ejaculating on him.

After a short time and several incidents involving the sawing of a leg Howe makes clear his endgame, (well sort of…), he plans to turn Wallace into a kind of replacement for his long lost Walrus friend Mr. Tusk.

The horror of this stuff is really in the face of Michael Parks any time he’s on screen. He sells this ridiculous premise through the roof and the film will become a legend on the strength of this alone. However, just as things get humming Herbert West style, we meet Guy Lapointe.

Guy Lapointe is Johnny Depp, investigator contacted by Long’s girlfriend Genesis Rodriguez and his buddy Haley Joel Osmet. Depp is borderline awful here, crossing his eyes and affecting a terrible French-Canadian accent that borders on criminal. Still, this is the movie, and these plotlines must intersect.

By the time Howe has made Wallace go “Full Walrus”, he reveals a few more gory details about his past and the ultimate fate of Mr. Tusk. He then dons a Walrus suit himself and the two walruses have a walrus fight.

Wallace survives and is left at an animal reserve. His friends come and visit him and throw him some fish.

Before I get into any subtext, let’s talk about all the great things that are on screen, starting with Justin Long. He kills it in this role, and it’s damn punishing. Not many actors would do this, as it’s up there as one of the least glamorous things I’ve ever seen an actor be asked to do. He owns it and re-invents his image. He can go anywhere from here.

Genesis Rodriguez and Haley Joel Osment basically function as a unit, a symbol of faithfulness, even though the two of them are cheating on Wallace with each other, they love who he was and is so much that they wouldn’t abandon him when needed. They essentially believe that Wallace might transform into something better someday, and would even give up their little affair if that happened, but it’s there to remind you that there’s always a good guy around the corner, waiting to treat your girl right.

And finally, let’s talk about the man himself, the show-stopper, and in my universe a future Academy Award nominee, Michael Parks. The reason I’ll watch this film again and again is because this man is given some juicy, awesome, best -all-time-mad-scientist shit to say. The stuff that spills out of his mouth is both so fucked up and so totally awesome in his beautiful delivery that you’ll want to see film of a younger Michael Parks having adventures on the Seven Seas. His pathos, his childhood is so rich one might say he’s Smith’s greatest creation.

This is exactly what Wallace is to Howe.

Howard Howe. How did he become this man? How did he survive? How will he achieve his evil ends? Howe is a man who wants to atone for past misdeeds. He wants a fighting chance at atonement for what wrong he did. What wrong did he do? When Howe was abandoned in the ocean and left for dead a walrus took him to a rocky outcropping with a fresh water stream and fed him fish for months. When there was no more fish, (or when How was tired of fish, the teller of a story is rarely intentionally objective, (more on that later)), Howe slayed and ate the Walrus, destroying the good will between him and the beast.

If he can construct the perfect vessel, he might be able to feel better about what he has done, or at least be at peace with the ghost of Mr. Tusk.

Wallace Bryton is a used-to-be funny podcaster who basically makes lowest common denominator jokes in order to fly around the country getting laid despite the fact he has a perfectly amazing piece of ass back home. Genesis Rodriguez, come on now, that some dude would cheat on her is pretty far-fetched…I digress.

Here’s the thing, let’s imagine in some fictional universe in which some guy pissed off his perfectly awesome girlfriend. This awesome woman, who at one point in his life, when he was surrounded by an ocean of misunderstanding, provided the nurturing environment he needed to survive and flourish. Then after consuming the goodwill of his soul-nurturing benefactor by flying around the country, profiting off of lowest common denominator comedy to a cult of myopic devotees, the walrus dies. This is soul crushing, and to an artist there is only on path to absolution, catharsis, and at the very least expression. You tell a damn story.

You build a Frankenstein of a story designed to give you a fighting chance at absolution. You want more than anything to build that Walrus back from scratch, but you know you deserve to be dead for what you have done, or worse you deserve living permanently in the doghouse, living on fish, knowing Genesis Rodriguez is banging the I see dead people dude.

So what the fuck is up with Guy Lapointe? He is everything wrong with the narrative. He screams Deux Ex Machina, and those two kids could have easily solved the crime themselves and saved Wallace, and the film would in fact have been much stronger had it been written that way. Guy Lapointe is basically the Band-Aid on the problem, and really the shaggiest beast of all. He ambles in at the last minute and due to his basic incompetence has not yet caught the killer. Yet, despite this last ditch effort, the stars line up so he meets these kids. He solves his problem and gets his man.

And that’s what Tusk is. It is Guy Lapointe. It’s a last ditch effort to solve a problem that is inherently broken. Does it work? I don’t know, but Smith’s wife is a producer on the film. And she even acts in one scene. With Johnny Depp!

Finally, I must say, I truly loved the film, including the terrible performance by Johnny Depp. It’s fucking romantic as all hell, and if it saved Kevin Smith’s marriage, I think that’s sweet as fuck.

Inherent Noise – Karol Jurga – 2014

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2014 by bookofdread

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Karol Jurga’s Inherent Noise is nothing less than a sonic assault. This amazing Polish film has some of the most masterful sound I have ever heard and the experience is mesmerizing. This is not to in any way downplay the beautiful photography or the tight little plot, but the sound design is so remarkable the viewer is left not only feeling like a kind of weightless voyeur, but one with a sense of super-hearing!

Normally the device might come across as trite, however, for the first half of the film the only character we see is an old man, a musician, sound designer, recordist…He has tons of recording equipment, and though he seems reclusive and retired. I’m not sure what he did or does, but obviously it involves making recordings. So for the viewer to experience the sound as isolated and specific is exactly how and exacting and perfectionist sound artist hears the world. You hear the world around you as though you are wearing a high dollar pair of headphones.

We hear every detail in this world, including but not limited to wind in the leaves, the creaking of the house, and the constant chirping of birds. This man records the world. He is alone. He is wheelchair bound and dependent on others to bring him food.

He is not a bad proxy for artists as a whole. His trade is to record life and share and preserve his recordings. He is dependent of his audience for his food. And this man, this artist has more or less been left behind. When he calls his caretaker to tell her he is out of food he says she hasn’t been to see him in two weeks.

Abandoned, the old man listens to the unfamiliar rustle of beads in the door way. He is alone isn’t he? The digital recorder in his hand records all that follows including a distinct whistle, ala twisted nerve or a Leone film of your choice.

The film switches gears in its’ second act. We follow a beautiful young girl who receives the old man’s plea for food. She is at a house party, and has drinks with a scary character with dreadlocks before she leaves. This is a strange setting to meet a woman who is supposedly responsible for another person’s welfare. She doesn’t look like she’s taking care of herself, so she looks like the last person I’d expect to care for another. Perhaps its court ordered community service, or maybe the old man is an uncle or relative.

She calls for a ride and explains she hasn’t been to see the guy for weeks. Here again is a strange clue to her independence or lack thereof. How can she be the caretaker for some gentleman who lives out of town when she doesn’t even have a car?

Once dropped off, (at a distance?) the girl approaches the house and inspects it and finds not her friend but signs of a struggle, and more, the digital recorder.

From here to discuss much more would be to let all of the cats out the bag, suffice it to say that the film ends with a tightrope dance worthy of Blow Out or Blow Up. The ending had me scratching my head and thinking hard about the beginning until I pieced it together. The pieces of the story that exist by inference are incredible, and so much is suggested, I got the feeling of a much larger world while I was watching this film.

I sincerely hope there is a plan to expand on this story of an abandoned artist left to the mercy of others. We have only the recordings we make to leave behind. Sometimes they reflect our hopes and fears and dreams, but sometimes they capture those precious moments at the beginning or the end of life. As recording devices become more and more prevalent tales like Inherent Noise become quite realistic.

Karol Jorga has a lot on his mind and this film is heavy gauntlet thrown down daring for a budget. In the next year or so I’m sure we’ll see something incredible from this gentleman.

Rabbit 105 – Sebastian y Federico Rotstein – 2014

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2014 by bookofdread

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Sebastian y Federico Rotstein’s Rabbit 105 is a tightly constructed noose of terror, claustrophopically set in a giant, empty parking garage. Rotstein is able to invert the empty space into a crushing nothingness in which the vapid protagonist is trapped. A clueless consumer has been shopping in some kind of mega mall and she has her hands full of her many purchases and her face to her mobile phone talking to a “friend”. The garage is totally empty and she cannot find her car. As the moment s pass terror sets in and darkness creeps through the garage, the lights ominously going out one by one.

Is this woman terrorized by some unseen force? A deranged psychopath, or is she merely a victim of her own hubris, trapped in a garage, her car towed, because she refused to pay attention to the towing rules or closing times? The film can and should be read in all of the above ways.

The actress portrays the empty disconnect of the modern lifestyle perfectly. She identifies herself not even by the things she has, but by the acquiring of things, it is an addiction. She does not shop like this once in a while, it is her lifestyle. She is dressed affluently and has many bags from high dollar boutiques, she is as shallow a personality as can be.

Is this her first time in this garage? Probably not. Who’s to say she didn’t park at Rabbit 105 last time? On her countless visits she has parked on every level. She spends most of the film on her mobile. Was she on her mobile when she arrived? Did she buy all that shit while tethered to a banal conversation with her friend?

This bitch on wheels is disconnected and trapped by her own disconnect. The film plays like a DePalma style creeper, but the unseen force may very well be this empty shell of a woman’s own hollowness manifest.

I understand that the film is to be expanded and I’m sure that many of these questions will be answered. Will the woman on the phone come to help her friend? Is the woman on the phone responsible? I know if I had to listen to this chick I might plan some crazy parking lot revenge!

Rabbit 105 is an incredible experience from Sebastian y Federico Rotstein and I can’t wait to see the world expanded and the tension turned up to 11!

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