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Jaws in Japan (2009)
But the girls are pretty
I don't know about you, but I always enjoy seeing pretty girls on vacation, giggling and posing for the camera in their bikinis. Maybe that's just me, though. Lots of suspense, not much horror, although the evil psycho "shark" is very wicked indeed. And it's a shame the cuties have their vacation spoiled. It just goes to show that if you're going to plan a trip to an exotic local, you really should make reservations and know where it is you are going.
All in all, this movie seemed a lot longer than it was, since nothing much really happened until the very end. And it was odd that those bikini tops never even came off; that might have livened things up a bit.
Death Proof (2007)
Consider the Sum of the Parts
I've seen most of Tarantino's offerings, and generally like all that I've seen. I have read and commented on the message boards for many of them, and I've read and commented on this one as well.
"Death Proof" is Tarantino's half of the "Grindhouse" double feature, and it is not only a quintessential "grindhouse" production, it is a quintessential Tarantino film. It features all of his repeated themes and motifs: bare foot fetishism, inspired retro music, lurid sets and colors; odd camera angles, references to '70's films, amazing stunts, minimalist use of computer-generated effects when the old-fashioned type won't do, and the one thing that I have seen his work panned the most for---extended dialogue. Characters sitting around, talking about inconsequential things, the trivia and meaninglessness of their little lives. Boorr-ing!!!
That is not the case, and you critics are missing the point. It doesn't matter whether or nor we like these people, these fictional characters who may or may not be about to get killed off. It is through the words that they say to each other that they reveal who they are. We may not like who they are, we may not identify with them, but we can identify them. We come to know them. They fill in the blank spaces in the character's soul, and make them three dimensional human beings.
There are long passages where the characters--in this case two separate groups of young women--sit around talking. We learn what their backgrounds are, their hopes, their dreams, their petty annoyances. They reveal what it is that makes them who they are by what they say to each other. They reveal what their intentions are, and they further the plot thereby. When the time comes for action--and there is plenty of that (this IS a Tarantino film, after all)--it is completely in character. The wordy dialogue that was written off as boring, mindless chatter is brought to life in adrenaline-pumping action.
And that is what makes this "Grindhouse" movie great entertainment. It's not supposed to be something we meditate on in the quiet moments of our lives, it is raw entertainment--filled with sexy babes, violent action, and all the movie artistry that true craftsmen can provide.
From "Speed" to Lithium
What could Sandra Bullock have been thinking? She has played many parts in her career, but seldom made a film in which virtually every character was so thoroughly unlikeable that the audience didn't care about them, other than to wish they would stop wasting our time. Even her mother and her friends are unpleasant.
Her character is a woman with recurring premonitions of doom--hence the title--and who is unable to determine whether they are true or false, whether they have come to pass or are just dreams. She pursues the truth in ways that guarantee her self-fulfilling prophecies become realities.
The scope of her tragedies are such that she is stunned, paralyzed into inaction. Poor Ms. Bullock wanders through this film in a fog, a frozen expression on her face as if she had just bitten into a bad-tasting lemon. Her children either run around blissfully ignoring her, or tiptoeing around their moody mom. Her husband spends what little time he's at home obviously wishing he were somewhere else. Don't we all.
In some ways reminiscent of "Jacob's Ladder", the schizophrenic nature of the character's waking dreams are painted in shades of grey, pale blue, and black. It is not the acid trip that "Ladder" was, but it is seriously in need of some anti-depressants. It is a bleak, over-long, ultimately miserable film that the previews made look interesting by picking out the only vaguely intriguing parts. I'm glad I borrowed the DVD and didn't pay to see this one, but I still wish I had my 96-minutes back.
Tale of the Vienna Woods (1934)
I saw this as a Special Feature on the 1934 "Treasure Island" DVD, and was captivated by the charming story. Bookended between the live action opening and closing shots of a hand opening and closing a storybook book--a common devise for these cartoons, and with no dialogue--simply a delightful score by Scott Bradley based on Richard Strauss's classic--the film portrays a fawn and satyr gambolling and skylarking in the woods, and is filled with humor, drama, excitement, and brought tears to my eyes.
It's really a wonderful example of the disappearing art of animated film making that has been taken over by computer effects. The opening shot of the fawn drinking from the pond in reflection, with the falling leaves and butterflies was breathtaking, and there were other scenes that likewise remained in my memory and have brought smiles to my face in idle retrospect.
"Treasure Island" was cool, the best version of the story ever made, but this short animated special alone was worth the price of the purchase.
World Trade Center (2006)
A human drama, not a political one.
Some months ago, I participated in some of the message board discussions of this film without having seen more than clips from it. Some of the boards had rather pointed political opinions, and I took part in some opinionated discussions. I believe that was wrong not because of my stated views, but because this movie has nothing whatsoever to do with the politics of the new millennium's world order.
Whatever one's opinions of Oliver Stone's political and militaristic views, or of the Bush administration or our current involvements in Iraq and Afganistan, in all fairness this movie has nothing to do with any of that. The plot of this film could have happened in any fictional setting, or in a million other situations in world history, but it happened to take place on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City, to two particular individuals and to their families.
Yes, there are certain inaccuracies in the details of the events as they unfolded, and there are certain gratuitous sops thrown to Catholicism and to the USMC, but those are not things for which this movie should be derided.
"World Trade Center" is masterful film making. The characters are well developed, completely identifiable, and the situations are true to life. The technical mechanics of the movie are unassailable.If you want to attack the film on it's political slant, you are making your attack on political predisposition, because the movie does not begin to address that. It is about the human drama of the men and women who where trapped and put in life's jeopardy on that terrible day.
This is a wonderfully moving film. It makes the audience look at their own relationships and priorities, and challenges them to better honor the best of us who are no longer here to share our lives.
Be prepared for a long haul
It's nine and a half hours of travelogue footage and interviews with terribly ordinary middle-aged and senior citizens about events that happened a half-century ago.
Except that the sites visited are the scenes of the systematic mass murder of roughly 11 million men, women and children, including some 6 million Jews, and the ordinary grandparents are the survivors and perpetrators of some of the most horrendous atrocities that mankind has committed upon each other.
It is a terribly draining movie, hypnotic and disorienting, both in it's length and in the blandness, the matter-of-fact descriptions of things that would make a normal person scream in horror. And that is what is so amazingly important and meaningful about this film; that these were ordinary, average people. These were, and are, normal folks like you and me, and anybody, regardless of background, moral upbringing, and standards of decency can be caught up in circumstances beyond their power or experience, and can do the most depraved or heroic things imaginable. It is shocking, insightful, and a very,very important film that forces us to confront our own humanity and decide what that, in fact means.
But it's nine and a half hours long. Be prepared to be drained and leave with your head buzzing.
Kimi ga wakamono nara (1970)
A poignant timelessness
While not denying the criticisms leveled by other reviewers, I found a resonance in this movie that transcends the narrow framework on which it is set, the economic challenges of Japan in the 1960's.
The situation has been fairly well laid out--five friends, drawn together in a dream of hope for the future in a heartless city, the weak are weeded out, the two who succeed find no happiness.
But the film is not about the story of a dream deferred, it is the story of the individuals. Each of these characters is defined not by what they are striving for together, although that is the one thing they share in common, but by the weaknesses in their characters, the baggage they have brought with them from childhood, that have made them who they are and conspire to defeat their goals. One was traumatized by his mother's promiscuity, which creates an insurmountable barrier in forming intimate relationships; one was twisted by his insecurities into becoming a chronic liar and vicious coward. These characters rage more against their personal demons that betray them at every turn more than they are fighting against society.
They want to fit in, to form loving families, to trust and sustain their friends, but they end up betraying one another. It would be accidental if it weren't consciously decided upon, and even they are unable to articulate why they must behave as they do. Their own confusion is translated to the audience, and the cinematography contributes to this.
There is a bleakness to the film despite the vivid colors, but at the same time there is a sense that the surviving characters have not given up hope for the future, and the final message in this film is the same as in "Battle Royale"--Run for all you're worth. Run!
Usmiech zebiczny (1957)
An excellent preview of great things to come.
An early short, very obviously a student effort, "Teeth Smile" offers an excellent view of the genius that marks the rest of Polanski's film career, as well as demonstrating many of the visual characteristics that he has maintained throughout. The dramatic use of lighting, shadows and sharply contrasting, asymmetrical shapes that create a surrealistic feeling to a natural setting, the claustrophobic lives of urban apartment dwellers who's privacy is insecure and violated, the odd camera angles that distort the audience's perception and reflect the distortion of the character's mind, and the sexual tension and suspense in fear of discovery are all very apparent here.
The lead character becomes an inadvertent voyeur, and then a willing one, and the audience is seduced as a co-conspirator. We are drawn to the window and enter into his perversion--the teeth of the title smile, but what is revealed in the eyes is something altogether different.
When discovery is imminent, the audience is caught with the same panicked emotions of the voyeur, and yet what ultimately prevails is the humor which in so many of Polanski's films is under-appreciated. This movie struck me as quite funny, one of his more successful efforts in the field of comedy, and it is this surprising contrast as well as the explorative stylization that I find most endearing in this short.
Availible with the Critereon edition DVD of "Knife in the Water", I believe "Teeth Smile" deserves a much wider viewing by film lovers everywhere.
The Funeral (1996)
One of the best gangster movies around
I didn't rate this movie higher only because of what I considered flaws in pacing and continuity--as others have noted, the ages of the brothers and their physical dissimilarities seemed peculiar and it seemed to drag at times, but the actors were so good and played their roles with such intensity and skill, and the intelligence and insight of the movie was so sharp that I feel guilty for not giving it another star. It seems like my own problem rather than the film's.
If you haven't seen this movie, you are missing one of the most powerful essays on the corrosive, self-destructive effects of lives addicted to criminality ever made, and if you have I'd be happy to hear you agree or disagree with my assessment.
Dai-bosatsu tôge (1966)
This has got to be among the greatest films of all time
From the cinematography to the music, from the subtle acting to the sword choreography, this film is a first-class masterpiece. Based on one of the greatest epics of early 20th century Japanese literature, the one criticism I offer is that good as the English subtitles may be, the author himself asserted that the dogma of the Buddhist plot will elude the Western viewer, for the most part. As a consequence, the more sensational aspects of the story can cheapen the spiritual meaning of the work.
This is primarily an allegory of a lost soul's karma. Because of the demonic nature of Ryunosuke's crimes, his willing embrace of the evil through the use of his sword, he pursues a path that can only lead to his own destruction. Shimada-sensei, based upon a historic figure from the Restoration-era conflicts, as are a number of other characters and incidents, presents the true art of the sword. The sword is primarily an instrument of justice and righteousness, the symbol of order. To make the sword, the samurai's soul, into a tool of murder is truly a foul thing, and Ryunosuke pays dearly for what he allows himself to degenerate into. This is a fantastic movie and I highly recommend it.