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Wandafuru raifu (1998)
Look at what this film has, not at what it doesn't have
Granted, Wandafuru raifu is a very slow-paced, minimalist film. It has a pretty drab set, the cinematography is far from flashy, the acting is so reserved it comes off as somewhat wooden, and it takes a lot of patience to get through the long takes. The entire premise of the story is very artificial, and there are a lot of valid "But what about...?" questions you can ask.
But to add any more would ruin the movie, because even though there are a lot of things you might find missing, there's already more than enough there. The concept is original and poignant, and the presentation is such that it allows for viewers to put themselves into the story right alongside the characters and think, "What memory would I take with me?" If that thought even crosses your mind (as it apparently did even for those who thought the film "boring" or "poorly presented"), then Koreeda has succeeded. It leaves us not with an answer, but with a question.
If you want a movie that presents a complex story and ties up all its loose ends in a nice pretty bow at the end, go see the blockbuster-film-of-the-week at your local cinemegaplex. If you don't mind open-ended stories that require a little more from your higher-order brain functions, take the time to watch and wonder at Wandafuru raifu.
An action movie to be listened to
Most action movies subsist primarily on eye candy: lots of explosions, frenetically-edited chases, and big-budget special effects. The soundtrack -- both music and dialog -- does little more than add a nauseatingly heavy dose of auditory sweetener to string all this together. But Heat is a movie you can just listen to: not only are the dialog and line delivery excellent, but the music is one of the best of the action genre. Most action movies have scores by staple genre composers such as Hans Zimmer (MI2, The Rock, Crimson Tide, Broken Arrow) that are so relentless and overbearing that they become tiresome by the last quarter of the movie. The first thing that ought to tip you off that Heat's music is different is the exclusive use of extant music and the inclusion of works by some of the best electronic ambient artists around: Brian Eno ("Force Marker"), Moby (the amazingly beautiful "God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters"), and William Orbit ("The Last Lagoon"). Like the other elements of the film, the soundtrack is very reserved and thus more powerful because it is not overwhelming and balanced well with the rest of the movie. And when all the other elements are this good, you have the makings of an excellent film.
Indie film at its best
'Pi' is independent filmmaking at its best. Without the constraints of the studio/corporate system, Aronofsky and Gullette created a film that is bizarre, intelligent, and unlike anything that came out of Hollywood in the 1990's. Who would have thought to blend Wall Street, the Kabbalah, computer science, Go, number theory, and the most fascinating number in the universe in a solute of obsessive-compulsive, paranoid genius and then strain through gritty B&W cinematography and hyperkinetic editing? The mixture is definitely not for everybody, but I certainly loved it.
Plus the soundtrack (featuring Orbital, Clint Mansell, Aphex Twin. Gus Gus, Spacetime Continuum, and other techno talents) just flat-out rocks.
The Cider House Rules (1999)
Too simplistic for the material it presents
Technically, CHR is a fairly well-done film. The visual design's nice, the script is well-written, and the acting is good, but other elements like cinematography and music are at best ordinary. Everything in the film serves to support the narrative and its barely-concealed theme. Yes, it is a pro-choice film, but more than that it's a film that advocates complete moral relativism; I'll keep this spoiler-free, but pay attention to the thinly-veiled symbolism of the "Cider House Rules" and you'll understand what I mean. My personal philosophies aside, all the situations involving moral decisions are just too simplistic -- the situations themselves are unrealistically contrived and the "correct" choice for each one is far too clear-cut. The movie tries to tackle some real, difficult moral issues, but presents them so simplistically that this is little more than a propaganda film. Well-done propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless.