Reviews written by registered user
life_on_screen

7 reviews in total 
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24 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
It's really all about the hair, 10 June 2006
6/10

Don't come expecting plot: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is just a concert film, recorded at the last show of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" tour at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, July 3rd, 1973. However, to say it's _just_ a concert film doesn't quite cover the bases... Let's be blunt: if you like the idea of the 26-year-old Bowie in a skimpy satin tunic and boots, growling into a microphone and spreading his thighs for the fans, then you're going to love this film. If that idea does nothing for you -- and, frankly, if it doesn't then I think you're missing one of life's great kicks -- then you're not the target audience.

I should add that there are also five or six costume changes, some amusing backstage conversation, plenty of shots of the audience (apparently mostly fourteen-year-old girls in varying states of sexual ecstasy), and some rather scorching extended solos from lead guitarist Mick Ronson. Oh, yes: and I shouldn't forget to mention that Bowie's showmanship is amazing and the musical performances range from interesting to excellent -- there's a truly fabulous version of "Cracked Actor," for instance, with Bowie maintaining a surprising level of fierceness while playing harmonica and draped in a satin kimono.

Beyond the music -- "Ziggy" staples like "Changes," "Space Oddity," "My Death," "All The Young Dudes," etc., as well as covers of the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend The Night Together" and Lou Reed's "White Light, White Heat" -- the visual imagery is what really makes this interesting. The come-hither hip-shaking of "Moonage Daydream," or the guitar-sex-flavored performance of "Time" (with Bowie in unitard, garter and feather boa), all make this a fantastic education in what Bowie's original aesthetic -- and sex appeal -- were all about.

Personally, I think this is a _Gesamtkunstwerk_ -- that is, a total work of art -- and should probably be beamed into outer space for the aliens to have fun with. But you can probably figure out which segment of the audience I fall into.

P.S.: By the by, Todd Haynes' Velvet Goldmine made a hell of a lot more sense after I'd seen this film.

44 out of 55 people found the following review useful:
Good Lord, I can't take my eyes off Kevin Spacey, 13 April 2005
8/10

Like every film Clint Eastwood makes, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" is fascinated by the mystery of masculinity: what it means to be a man, and what you have to do to be the kind of man you think you need to be -- whether that's a father, a member of a cultural group, or the ideal man in a certain social situation. Two highly-acclaimed recent Eastwood films -- "Mystic River" and "Million-Dollar Baby" -- mildly disappointed me by sinking into oversimplification and predictability. Possibly Eastwood's directing hand is more interesting when less "self-assured," because 1997's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" follows these questions down less well-defined, and thus less predictable, paths. Maintaining a scrupulously neutral eye, the film recounts a complex tale of murder, involving characters who are recognizable types on the surface but carry deep difference underneath. It unfurls a slow, rich, and troubling narrative which answers the mysteries of its crime premise even as it opens much more difficult questions about the very things that murder stories are supposed to make simple: innocence, guilt, motivations, affection, and its characters' so-called morality.

Thanks in large part to a literally mesmerizing performance by Kevin Spacey (I'm riveted every time he appears on screen) and a well- balanced turn by John Cusack as the sympathetic investigating reporter, who charms us even as he maintains a total and focused receptivity to new information and strange events, the movie fills its two and a half hours with a slow-paced and carefully balanced story that brings us into the suffocating green world of Southern Gothic, with its all its mannered refinements, thick silences and passionate secrets. There's something in this film that would have pleased Tennessee Williams or Truman Capote, those cool-eyed investigators of the closeted South. John Berendt's nuanced book, Spacey's restrained, smoldering performance and Eastwood's lucidly hands-off direction have created a strange, slow gem of a film. It's not a gem appreciated by everyone, but two years before Spacey's turn in "American Beauty" struck a chord that resonated with the wider public, "Midnight in the Garden" asks similar questions in a context that is, at the same time, more precise, more exotic, and equally American.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Brilliant or deadly? Oh, Bollywood, Bollywood!, 26 February 2005
7/10

When I came out of the theater last night after seeing "Kabie Khushi Kabie Gham" on the big screen, I felt vaguely ill, as if I was suffering from saccharine poisoning. On the other hand, I drank an entire bottle of raspberry-flavored YOP during the film so that might have had something to do with it.

The thing that frustrates me about Bollywood movies is that I want to love them, I really do. Not just because they're new and trendy in the West, but because I really love the spectacle of brilliant music and dancing, and Bollywood show numbers do something for me that Hollywood musicals never have. I love bhangra and Bollywood dancing, the beauty of the costumes and the catchiness of the songs. Watching "Kal Ho Naa Ho" and "Devdas" in movie theaters was an experience like I'd never had before: it was as great as watching live dance, or Broadway, and I felt like for the first time ever I understand what Americans used to get out of big-budget spectaculars way back in the day.

When I say I like the musical numbers, I'm not damning with faint praise; I'm genuinely amazed by these scenes' power to move and enchant. So that -- combined with the fact that, it must be admitted, India's male stars are scarily attractive -- keeps me coming back, and makes me willing to give all my best efforts to understanding why Bollywood films do what they do.

But my explorations, so far, keep leading me to disappointment in terms of story and acting. "Devdas," I thought, was great as long as you weren't trying to believe in any of the characters or the emotional relationships among them. "Kabhie Khushie Kabhie Gham" doesn't come in for quite such harsh judgment -- I think it has a lot of good moments, and, after doing some reading, I understand that Jaya Bachchan's performance as "a strong, heartbroken Indian mother" touched Indian audiences deeply. But I can't find in "KKKG" the kind of emotional continuity, the meaningful evolution of characters from a starting point to an end, that I want and expect from epic-length films constructed around family and interpersonal relationships. I wonder if someone can explain to me if there's something I'm just missing here -- or if there are Bollywood movies out there that might give me what I want.

Actor evaluations: I really enjoyed Sharukh Khan in the film's first half, and loved Kajol, when they play the energetic young couple in full flirtation. But in the second half, when the latter's character is reduced to flat comic relief and the former can't seem to do anything but sniffle, they lost a lot of my sympathy. (I had a very similar problem with "Devdas," actually.) Hrithik is cute as all get-out and leaves me very curious to see if he can actually act; Kareena Kapoor sure kept my interest, but made me wish that films would use less English if the actors can't speak it well enough to deliver their lines with flair; and Amitabh Bachchan sort of disappointed me by chewing the scenery. About Jaya Bachchan I won't say anything, because she seems to be sacred.

Honestly, I don't know if the thing I find problematic are related to acting, direction, writing, or simply the fact that Bollywood films go on for more than three hours and drag things out longer, and at a slower pace, than a Western film would.

On the plus side, "KKKG" has a hell of a lot of ear and eye candy -- and in terms of the latter, it includes both men and women, which I adore. After seeing "Kal Ho Naa Ho," I get the sense that this has something to do with the super-special, super-gay magic touch of Karan Johar. If it does, it'll keep me coming back. There are not nearly enough films in which all the guys spend the movie dressed in body-hugging sweaters and fishnet shirts, shaking their hips in nightclubs like Elvis or John Travolta, and yet somehow manage to retain their heterosexual credibility. Hilarious and sexy at the same time. And definitely fresh. Bring it on, Karan Johar! I speak for all American women when I say our movie screens need you.

Gozu (2003)
8 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Violent, deconstructive, surreal, entertaining, tender: a yakuza road-trip movie like you've never seen., 23 February 2005
8/10

While not exactly a "gay movie" -- there's no actual homosexuality anywhere in the film -- "Gozu" gradually morphs from a yakuza buddy/ quest story into a exercise in deconstructing the genre's confident myths of masculinity. A young yakuza tough finds himself in an unfamiliar city, stuck with the task of tracking down an old friend and mentor. Problems: first of all, he's not sure whether the friend is dead or alive, and second, when he does find him, he's been ordered to kill him, and third, he's surrounded by increasingly bizarre characters out of a David Lynch or Fellini film -- half of whom seem to want into his pants. His cool thoroughly shaken, our protagonist is unprepared for what he discovers when he finally tracks down his friend. Paradoxically, the story's escalating weirdness makes the film's emotional trajectory totally comprehensible -- and it's the only thing that possibly could.

Miike has created a minor masterpiece here, though you have to wonder if he knew what he was doing; coming from a director who's made overtly homophobic films, it's hard to believe that he was aware of all the things "Gozu" suggests. On the other hand, Miike gets credit for never losing his sense of humor, which perhaps gives him enough perspective to make films that approach the question from different, even contradictory, points of view. "Gozu" isn't recommended for anyone with a low tolerance for violent humor, body-fluid gross-outs or the theater of the absurd. On the other other hand, if you're interested in seeing the yakuza genre's masculinity myths picked apart by a director eminently qualified for the job, consider this film unmissable.

12 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Even Sho Aikawa can't save this one, 16 February 2005
5/10

I'm so honored to see I'm one of the 3 women who have rated DOA: Final on the IMDb that I feel compelled to comment. Look, Ma, I'm an arcane-trash-cinema hound! Yippee!

Right. Having seen all three DOA films in one evening at a triple-feature (this is what happens when you live in a small French city and only one cinema in town shows subtitled films), I'm in a terrific mood, because the movies were tons of fun. More fun than I'd been expecting, because Miike films seem to come accompanied with user comments like "Don't bring a girl to this." Thanks, guys. Anyway, DOA: Final is, sadly, easily the weakest of the trilogy. After DOA 1, which is a nutso, gutsy genre-jumping yakuza tale, and DOA 2, which pretends to be a yakuza tale for ten minutes and then turns into a Wim Wenders film (and a good one too), this last entry apparently wants to be science fiction. But, alas, it just can't cut the mustard.

Sho Aikawa is the bright point -- as effortlessly, unclassifiably entertaining here as he is in the first two DOAs. With his bad bleach job, crackily teenage voice, tracksuit and sneakers, and zen spaciness, he's as counterintuitive and appealing as you'd expect in his role as a battle cyborg, or "replicant," named Ryo. If I could just watch him hang out with nine-year-olds for two hours, that might be worth the admission price. But even a blond Sho Aikawa is no Rutger Hauer, and he can't make this film work.

The SF premise is of the most worn-out sort -- an authority figure is making people take anti-fertility drugs to stop them having children. Oh, no! The all-business, authoritarian hand of the state is placed in opposition to the natural world of human instinct, family bonds and lush jungle backdrops! That's enough to make a sci-fi movie, right? Throwing in a band of sex-friendly "rebels" doesn't help: Terence Yin and Maria Chen seem to have been cast more for their attractively Eurasian features and ability to look good in camos than for their acting talent. Admittedly, it's a tough trick to shuttle between three languages, but Yin's "acting" in English is just wince-worthy, and Chen isn't convincing even when she doesn't speak.

The pompadoured Riki Takeuchi is fun, as always, here in the role of a police chief caught in a moral dilemma about whether to enforce his boss's orders. But returning to that SF premise, we have the problem of an unaddressed: WHY? What's the motivating engine behind all this evil-drug, Mad-Max-type-rebellion, anti-family stuff? Miike's very hand-wavy about this -- "It's an overpopulation thing" -- but, and this is the bad part, he's none too subtle about suggesting the bad-guy mayor's obvious homosexuality has a lot to do with it. Thanks, Takashi Miike! I guess homosexuals really are the ultimate threat to the survival of humanity, huh? I mean, come on, this crap went out with "Dune." Watch Miike associate homosexuality with pedophilia, decadence, pastel scarves and -- a sign of true evil -- saxophone concerts, in order to see why this movie has to get a three-point deduction for catastrophic moronicity.

This is the only one of the three DOA films I wouldn't see again. It's not without its bright spots, but there are far too many negatives to make it hold together. In the little quality meter in my head, I was rating it as low as a 4/10, right up until the final five minutes. Then I started laughing my head off. The bizarreness of Miike's wrap-up pushes the whole experience up to a 5/10. But, you know, if an out-of-left-field conclusion improves the filmic experience, you can be pretty sure there's something wrong with the movie to begin with. Unfortunately, in this case there's quite a lot.

223 out of 291 people found the following review useful:
Terrific Miyazaki, although not his best, 12 January 2005
7/10

"Howl's Moving Castle" opened here in France on Jan. 12th (as "Le Château Ambulant," natch), and I saw it at an avant-première. As a raving fan of Miyazaki and of Diana Wynne Jones, I feel lucky to be an American living in France -- I see there's no release date announced yet for the U.S. Sorry, folks, and blame Disney!

I understand the feelings of viewers who have criticized the movie as trite. I find it's less imaginative, in terms of character development and emotional profundity, than Miyazaki's best masterpieces. However, even a pedestrian Miyazaki movie is infinitely more rich, frightening, imaginative and humane than any six Disney films put together, and there's a lot to love in "Howl's Moving Castle."

I am glad I didn't reread Jones' book before seeing the film; even going on my six-year-old memory of the novel, I can see the movie's a very loose adaptation, and I think Jones fans would do best to try to take the movie on its own merits instead of looking for a faithful adaptation. That said, Miyazaki is surprisingly successful, at moments, in capturing the richness of the novel's characters: the peculiar co-habitation of charm and terror in Howl the sorcerer and his demon companion Calcifer, and the pragmatic strength of will that makes us love Sophie, the protagonist, who embodies both the fairy-tale archetypes of the young girl and the old woman at once.

Miyazaki's directorial trademarks are here in spades. Most of them lend strength and power to the film: his passion for open landscapes, his vision of the power and horror of war, the uncompromised way his movies work to empower children, and especially girls. A few of them are just Miyazaki quirks that fans will recognize with amusement (walrus mustaches, cobbled European squares, and flying machines for everyone!) Richer and stranger, though, are the very successful integration of two things that Disney animation never even approaches: the way even a children's story can blur lines between an enemy and a friend, and the cohabitation of the monstrous and the sublime. Enemy, ally, monster, beloved: Miyazaki gives both visual and moral weight to these disturbing contradictions, and certain scenes in "Howl's Moving Castle" evoke a frightening sublimity I have never seen elsewhere than in "Princess Mononoke."

I think the film suffers from a slightly hurried pace, especially with respect to the protagonists' character development, and the result is a loss of the subtlety that makes Jones' book such a gripping fairy tale. Her Howl is more ambivalent, and her story is a more complex investigation of adolescent heartlessness and the growth of the heart. The ending, which falls back too much on clichéd imagery and deus-ex-machina, also could have been better handled. All that said, "Howl's Moving Castle" contains lots of treasures and will, I think, stand up to repeated viewings. Miyazaki fans will be delighted, and kids around the world should be given the chance to taste this latest rich, respectful children's tale. (Be warned, though: there are moments as terrifying as those in "Princess Mononoke," and younger kids will need their parents with them.)

On a final note, as few hardcore fans of Japanese anime will need to be reminded, the movie is doubtless best seen in its original version with subtitles. The Japanese voice acting is terrific -- although the voice of "young Sophie" doesn't strike me as anything special, the actors playing the aged Sophie, Howl, and especially Calcifer are fantastic. Calcifer is a magnificent creation and should delight even the most conservative fan of the novel. I have serious doubts that the inevitable English-language dub will do the nuances justice.

Hellboy (2004)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Visual elegance, lame plot and pacing, 25 May 2004
4/10

Hellboy's a real pity: a strong cast and beautifully designed visual environment are wasted with a doofy script and lazy characterization. Ron Perlman's Hellboy -- and, in casting terms, Perlman's the perfect choice -- is unleashed upon the movie without depth, idiosyncrasy or soul, and forced to spend twenty minutes at a time pummelling large voiceless CGI dogs. It's a waste of the lovely work done by the visual designers, who beautifully render a steampunkish detective lair; sinister Nazi-era villains; and the delicately amphibious Abe Sapien. The greater shame is that the source material, Mike Mignola's comic, is a work of dry elegance and understated wit. Try it if you're interested in seeing what would happen if this world and its characters were allowed to run a little deeper.