Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Movie Review: American Dharma

American Dharma **** / *****
Directed by: Errol Morris.

Errol Morris’ American Dharma is essentially a feature length interview with Steve Bannon – the former head of Breitbart, who became a senior Trump adviser, before getting himself fired. Bannon stands for everything that the left hates about Donald Trump – he is racist and xenophobic, he tosses out fiery rhetoric, and stories that have little to no basis in reality. He claims to be on the side of the little men – while being fabulously wealthy himself, having attended all the Universities they know hold in contempt – and when they achieve power, they focus on getting a tax break for the wealthy, that will do little to nothing to help all those little men. He is, in essence, all of the things people hate about Trump personified in one hateful package. And Morris lets him talk and talk and talk for 90 minutes in American Dharma – and apparently, Bannon is quite happy with how the film came out. It was his idea after all – having been a fan of Morris’ The Fog of War – he wanted the same basic treatment.
Many see the fact that it lets Bannon talk – and his apparent happiness with the result – as proof that Morris was played – that he “lost” the interview with Bannon, and further proof that the left shouldn’t try to debate people like Bannon – but essentially to stop giving them a platform to spew their hatred at all. It that’s the way you feel, then nothing I can say will make you change your mind – make you see this movie, or not hate it if you do. But I don’t think Morris “lost” this interview with Bannon – mainly because I don’t think Morris ever really tries to “win” these interviews. Morris’ strategy – with everyone from the Holocaust denying inventor or death penalty devices in Mr. Death, to Robert McNamara in The Fog of War, to Donald Rumsfeld in The Unknown Known, to the soldiers at Guantanamo in Standard Operating to Procedure and everyone else he has ever interviewed – is to basically give them enough rope to hang themselves with, and to undermine them as they do so with the visuals Morris so famously cuts those interviews with.
The framing device in American Dharma is basically Bannon talking about the movie he loves – from 12 O’clock High to the cinema of John Wayne – and Morris lets Bannon talk about these films, while at the same time showing us clips of those films. Sometimes, they underline what Bannon is saying – but others it undermines them (Bannon talking about The Searchers, seemingly unaware that Wayne’s character there is a racist for example). Later in the film, when Bannon tries to defend himself and Trump against allegations of racism, Morris simply shows us a ton of headlines that prove the opposite, a tactic he uses again and again, no matter what the topic is. Morris makes it clear where he stands on everything – while he never does the verbal evisceration that audiences on the left seem to want him to do on Bannon.
This is all part of Morris’ methodology, and while you can critique it, I think it’s an interesting and valuable one. How many times have we seen headlines about how John Olivier, Samantha Bee or other (mostly great) late comedians have “eviscerated” or “destroyed” Trump or one of his cronies? Have any of them actually stopped Trump? They are, in essence, preaching to the choir when they do those shows.
Morris is doing something different here. American Dharma is essentially a cinematic Rorschach test – and what you think of Bannon going in will color what you think of him coming out. And yet, Morris also makes it abundantly clear just what he thinks of Bannon – he just does it in a different way – perhaps a way that may actually have a chance to reach a wider audience. Probably not, but the other way hasn’t worked. And at least here, we get to hear everything straight from Bannon’s own mouth – and judge him accordingly.

Movie Review: The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Robert Eggers.
Written by: Robert Eggers & Max Eggers.
Starring: Robert Pattison (Ephraim Winslow), Willem Dafoe (Thomas Wake), Valeria Karaman (Mermaid).
The Lighthouse is about two men stationed at an isolated lighthouse in the 1890s for weeks on end, who rub each other the wrong way from the start, and then slow (and then not so slowly) start to drive each other insane. Robert Eggers follow-up to his terrific debut, The Witch, is a film that wants to place you right there on this rock with these two men, and drive you just as mad as they go. And remarkably, it succeeds. The film is a stylistic triumph – shot in black and white, on a very narrow aspect ratio, using film stock and lens designed decades ago, the film resembles one of those Guy Maddin films which shoots out in all directions, while trying to seem like some lost relic for time gone by – except Eggers is more tightly focused than Maddin as ever been. It’s two men, and some birds, on this rock – and there is no getting out of it with your sanity intact.
Ephraim (Robert Pattinson), is the younger of the two men – already having a number of different careers in his past, who decides to take this on as well – for mysterious reasons. Thomas (Willem Dafoe) was a sea captain, before an injury hobbled him, and he has now been keeper of this lighthouse for years, and dammit, that’s the way it’s going to stay. He senses something up with the new young man – he calls him nothing but lad for the first half of the movie – and he pokes and prods him. It seems like the division of labor on the island is that Thomas runs the lighthouse itself, and Ephraim does pretty much everything else. Ephraim better not even think of going into the top part of the lighthouse itself – that is Thomas’ domain exclusively.
The best decision that Eggers made when making The Lighthouse is in the casting of Pattinson and Dafoe – two of the most risk taking actors working right now, and two who have the right kind of faces that they don’t look out of place with the old school visuals on display from beginning to end. Pattison has used his clout from the Twilight series (where, admittedly, I didn’t think much of him) to work with some of the great directors, and great up-and-coming directors there are – from David Cronenberg to David Michod to the Safdie brothers to Claire Denis to James Gray and now Robert Eggers. It’s a great performance from him here – and a difficult one. He starts out as the audience surrogate – he knows only marginally more about lighthouse keeping then we do – and he has to learn all about the chores, the isolation, those damn birds, etc. as the movie progresses. But he’s also a man with a secret – this doesn’t seem like the type of job a sane man would take – and bit by bit – we get some reasons why he took it. From his part, I think I’ve seen Dafoe give better performances than he does here, but I’m not sure I’ve seen him (or anyone) have more fun than he has here as Thomas. Again, there is a progression here – he starts off rude and crude – there are a lot of farting noises in the film, and they are all coming from him. He is crass and rude, and pokes and prods Ephraim as well. But there is something perhaps a little deeper, a little darker, a little more cunning about him then you expect. His voice is almost a caricature of a pirate – it could be used for the Sea Captain on The Simpsons – but he uses it to great effect. You see very easily how he could drive someone crazy.
As with The Witch, Eggers is tapping into some North Eastern American mythology here, alongside some Greek myths, and H.P. Lovecraft for good measure. It is all perhaps a little neat – perhaps a side effect of it being reversed engineered by Eggers and his co-writer brother, who had figured out what they wanted to tap into, and then came up with a third act to fit it. And yet, the film goes to some genuinely deep, darker places – including a final image that will haunt you forever (and judging from what I’ve seen on Twitter, mine was not the audience that had someone scream out “What the fuck was that?” at the end.
As with The Witch as well, Eggers shows himself to be a brilliant, daring stylist. Each level of production has been carefully thought out to provide the best period detail imaginable, or to better give you nightmares. The visuals are striking – of course – but the sound design is truly terrifying. And Black Phillip from The Witch has found an ideal analogue here in the scariest seagull in cinema history.
In short, The Lighthouse is a daring film from one of the most daring young directors working today. Eggers doesn’t do half measures – he goes for broke. And he does that brilliantly here. I’m not sure The Lighthouse will quite haunt your nightmares as long as The Witch did – but it’s pretty close – and another sign that Eggers is a great filmmaker at the beginning of his career.

Movie Review: Pain & Glory

Pain & Glory **** / *****
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar.
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar.
Starring: Antonio Banderas (Salvador Mallo), Asier Etxeandia (Alberto Crespo), Leonardo Sbaraglia (Federico Delgado), Nora Navas (Mercedes), Julieta Serrano (Jacinta), César Vicente (Eduardo), Asier Flores (Salvador Mallo), Penélope Cruz (Jacinta), Cecilia Roth (Zulema), Susi Sánchez (Beata), Raúl Arévalo (Venancio Mallo).
Great directors get old enough, and they will inevitably make a film about an aging great director, no longer appreciated as he once was, and falling into a pity spiral of some kind. Some directors (like Fellini or Woody Allen) get there sooner than others, but it makes sense that Pedro Almodovar has gotten there at this point in his career with Pain & Glory. The cracks in the Almodovar’s amazing output started showing a decade ago – when 2009’s Broken Embraces was met with basically a shrug – after a string of films that won him massive acclaim, prizes at Festivals around the world (although never the Palme at Cannes – where his films won everything else) and even as Screenplay Oscar, a rarity for a foreign filmmaker. In films like All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education and Volver, Almodovar delivered on what had become one of the best streaks for international art house audiences of any director in decades. But the last 10 years have not been as celebrated – after Broken Embraces was greeted with a shrug, The Skin I Live In found some great admirers, but also a lot of confusion (was Almodovar channeling Asian extreme cinema here), and the less said about the dismal “comedy” I’m So Excited the better. Even Julieta, my favorite from this period, seemed to be Almodovar trying to recapture something he had lost – and doing good, but not quite great.
Now, if Pain & Glory was the kind of self-pitying portrait of an artist who still thinks he is a genius, and no one else can see it, it may have been insufferable. We’ve seen those films before, and they usually don’t work very well. But Pain & Glory – which Almodovar insists isn’t autobiographical, even going so far as having dialogue in the film itself to that effect, but come on – he isn’t fooling anyone – isn’t that kind of film at all. It is a portrait of a great filmmaker, now late into middle age, questioning everything. He has a variety of medical illnesses that leave him in too much pain to work. The drugs don’t work as they once did, and he still struggles with the death of his beloved mother. He lives a solitary life in his great Madrid apartment (apparently Almodovar’s actual apartment – again, he isn’t fooling anyone) surrounded by artwork, and reminders of his once great career. He is now reflecting on his life – and his choices – that has led him to this point. It isn’t self-pity – but rather a rather clear eyed examination of this director.
The director is named Salvador Mallo, and is played by Antonio Banderas – a frequent collaborator with Almodovar, delivering the best performance of his career. It starts out with Mallo being asked to host a Q&A on one of his best known films – a film from 32 years ago, that he hasn’t watched since its premiere, because he was angry at the lead actor Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) for delivering a performance different from the one Mallo wanted him to give. He hasn’t spoken to Alberto since. Seeing the film however, he realizes how good the performance was – and tracks down Alberto. Alberto was a heroin addict back then – and still uses. And slowly, Salvador, who never used, starts using heroin as well. It’s the only thing that can cure his pain – but it also allows him to escape from his life. We also get flashbacks to Salvador’s childhood – growing up poor with a mostly absent father, and a loving mother (Penelope Cruz), who as we see her played by the great Julieta Serrano later in the film, loved her only child – even if she never fully accepted him, or his homosexuality.
Pain & Glory is about Salvador coming to terms with his past – learning to let go of some of it, and just accept others parts of it. It’s also about him slowly finding his way back to expressing himself artistically – which has to do with allowing himself to explore those painful parts of his past.
Almodovar has always been an artist who has dabbled in meta-fiction in his films – but often they have come in different ways, telling the story of the women in his life, but from a distance. That distance is erased here, because Almodovar is at the core of the film in the Banderas character. It’s a tribute to Banderas’ performance that he doesn’t try and do an Almodovar impression – he doesn’t need to, he knows this man inside and out, and finds the right notes to play here. The film may not quite be as vibrant and colorful as some of Almodovar’s other films – not as bold or experimental in its style. But he’s replaced that with perhaps an even deeper emotional level. Without spoiling anything, I will say the last act of the film is one scene after another that may well inspire tears – a long conversation with someone from Mallo’s past is among the best scenes Almodovar has ever done, and it’s followed up with bolder statements on art – from the past, and moving into the future.
Almodovar is 70 now – so it’s not uncommon for filmmakers at his age to have lost a step, and maybe simply trying to repeat his past successes, or trying too hard to be relevant again. Perhaps that has what has marred his work in the past decade. But with Pain & Glory, Almodovar has crafted his best work in years – and perhaps the most honest and heartfelt of all of his films. It certainly shows that he is not done yet.

Movie Review: Dolemite is My Name

Dolemite Is My Name **** / *****
Directed by: Craig Brewer.
Written by: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.
Starring: Eddie Murphy (Rudy Ray Moore), Keegan-Michael Key (Jerry Jones), Mike Epps (Jimmy Lynch), Craig Robinson (Ben Taylor), Tituss Burgess (Theodore Toney), Da'Vine Joy Randolph (Lady Reed), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Nick), Snoop Dogg (Roj), Barry Shabaka Henley (Demond), T.I. (Walter Crane), Luenell (Aunt), Wesley Snipes (D'Urville Martin), Aleksandar Filimonovic (Joseph Bihari), Ivo Nandi (Julius Bihari), Michael Peter Bolus (Lester Bihari), Kazy Tauginas (Saul Bihari), Chris Rock (Daddy Fatts), Bob Odenkirk (Lawrence Woolner).
Eddie Murphy may seem like an odd choice to play Rudy Ray Moore – the star of the cult movie Dolemite, that sprung out of his stand up and comedy records, that made Moore a star in the mid-1970s, when he was nearly 50 years old. Moore had tried for years to become a star – trying just about everything from music to magic and everything else, before his Dolemite persona made him big. When he made Dolemite, he brought along everyone around him – they made the movie on the fly, for almost no money, and no idea on how to make a movie. He was a generous man – beloved by those around him. Murphy has had the opposite career – he was one of the biggest comedy stars in the world by the time he was in his early 20s, and hasn’t always been the most beloved of movie stars in Hollywood. And yet, in the story of Rudy Ray Moore, Murphy has found one of (the best screen roles of his career. Murphy could have done an impression of Moore – there are few people in history as gifted a mimic as Murphy – but he doesn’t that do. He also doesn’t do much to make himself look like Moore either – even with the paunch he put on for the role, this is still very clearly Murphy in every scene in the film. And yet, much like Renee Zellweger in Judy, this is the type of biopic that helps to illuminate something about its subject and the star at the same time. It gives Murphy the best role he’s had since 2006’s Dreamgirls – although, to be fair, Murphy has pretty much stopped trying in the last decade, barely working (after all – he doesn’t need to). But here, Murphy reveals something deeper about himself. And he’s having an absolute blast doing it.
The film was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who seem like an odd choice for the job – most obviously because they are white). What they do essentially though is channel their screenplay for Tim Burton’s Ed Wood – but with Murphy’s Rudy Ray Moore at its heart. Both characters are idealistic dreamers – whose dreams are bigger than their talent, but they keep on chugging anyway. Moore probably has more self-awareness than Wood ever did – he doesn’t labor under the assumption that he is making great art. He just knows what his audience wants – and believes he can give that to them. It’s charming to see them work.
The nature of Rudy Ray Moore’s story pretty much forces Murphy to be more generous than he can sometimes be onscreen. Moore was a generous guy – a guy who made room for everyone under his tent, and who surrounded himself with a lot of characters in their own right. Murphy is smart enough to allow others to steal some scenes from under him – no one more so than Wesley Snipes, who stars as D'Urville Martin – the most established of Moore’s collaborators (he brags he was directed by Roman Polanski – he was the elevator operator in Rosemary’s Baby). Snipes, who has reinvented himself somewhat in recent years, makes a meal of his over-the-top character. In Dolemite, he plays the bad guy – but he was also the credited director (although, as the movie shows, that was kind of a collaborative effort). Dolemite is My Name gives lots of opportunities for others to shine in small moments - Da'Vine Joy Randolph has a few genuinely touching moments here for example.
All of this makes the rest of the movie, which is the Eddie Murphy show, shine all the more. Murphy shows the genuine charm – the brilliant comic timing that made him a star throughout the film. He swears more than I’ve seen him swear in years here – and it all comes so naturally to him. Playing this type of role puts Murphy into a new light – and its great one for him. I have no idea if Murphy is going to capitalize on this in the future – his upcoming projects are all remakes and sequels – but it shows that that ambition to be a stretch hasn’t left him yet. This is one of the best performances of Murphy’s career – and seriously, it’s nice to have him back.

Movie Review: Greener Grass

Greener Grass * ½ / *****
Written by: Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe.
Starring: Jocelyn DeBoer (Jill), Dawn Luebbe (Lisa), Beck Bennett (Nick), Neil Casey (Dennis), Mary Holland (Kim Ann), D'Arcy Carden (Miss Human), Julian Hilliard (Julian Hilliard 'Icee' the Dog), Janicza Bravo (Marriott), Dot-Marie Jones (Little Helen), Asher Miles Fallica (Bob), Lauren Adams (Erika / Cheryl Hoad), John Milhiser (Photographer), Santina Muha (Shayna), Mike Scollins (Buck), Jim Cummings (Rob), Beth Appel (Crystal), Ammie Masterson (Mae), Abigail Kurtz (Madison Paige Wetbottom), Allison Kurtz (Madison Paige Wetbottom), Sutton Johnston (Dan), Boden Johnston (Rostaffano), Hollyn Johnston (Citronella), Jaxon Rose Moore (Raja).
I admire filmmakers who have a strange vision, and stick with that vision from beginning to end – and if nothing else, writer-directors-stars Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe do just that in Greener Grass. It’s just with this film, their subversive takes on suburbia I felt was a little too one the nose, a little too tired and clichéd to truly be subversive. Filmmakers have been picking on suburbia at least as far back as Hitchcock in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) – all the way through various Douglas Sirk films to The Stepford Wives and David Lynch in Blue Velvet and Sam Mendes in American Beauty and the entire career of Todd Solondz to name just a few of the filmmakers who have found the cookie cutter structure and the Keeping Up with the Joneses mentality of suburbia to be stifling and shallow. But those films all had a grounded level of reality somewhere at its core – even Blue Velvet – that made it feel like those criticisms were coming from a genuine place. In Greener Grass, everything is a joke, everything is a put upon act, or over-the-top, or just plain silly. I learned that this is a feature remake of a short film the two women wrote and starred in together (but didn’t direct) – and I could see how this style would work in a 15-minute film. But exploded to 95 minutes, and it’s a trail to sit through this film – which feels like punching down more than anything.
In the film, DeBoer plays Jill and Luebbe plays Lisa – a pair of soccer moms, with boys the same age, in the same class, and on the same soccer team. In the films first scene, Jill and Lisa are at their son’s game – Jill holding her new baby daughter, Madison, who Lisa says is adorable. No sooner has that happened, that Jill is insisting that Lisa take baby Madison – of course she should – and Lisa willingly excepts. The rest of the movie, Jill will try and get baby Madison back, but Lisa will grow increasingly insulted that Jill would even ask such a thing. This is the level of satire going on here.
From there, we meet their husbands (Jill’s played by Beck Bennett from SNL, who excels at this sort of thing, and does do it quite well here) and their families, and their circle of friends. The production design seems to suggest that they showed their designer Blue Velvet and told them to multiple that by a thousand. It’s all garish colors, impossibly green grass, pastels on everybody, etc. There are more twists and turns in the plot – like when Jill’s son just turns into a Golden Retriever one day for example.
The underlying premise of Greener Grass seems to be that suburban housewife’s/soccer moms are too nice – too willing to just go along with whatever anyone else thinks and says so as to not cause a commotion or a fuss. Jill apologizes constantly – from everything, even things she has no control over, and does whatever anyone else suggests. This is how she loses her baby, or why she’ll ask for a divorce from her husband or anything else. It would be rude to stand up for herself.
That’s a rather thin premise to rest an entire movie on, and as such, Greener Grass feels remarkably thin. It basically establishes everything it has to say in that first scene – where Jill gives her baby away – and then repeats it from the next 95 minutes. There are some laughs here – some of the one-liners are an absurdist delight, and the great Darcy Carden shows up as Miss Human – the boys teacher, who mentions that her father killed her mother, and her sister and her brother at every opportunity. But none of it really adds up to anything. I give DeBoer and Luebbe credit – they have a style and a theme, and they stick to it, and bring it farther than it should go, but is really the only logical place for it to go. I just wish it was at the service of something interesting to say – and they didn’t just get the same nail with the same hammer in every scene.

Movie Review: Harpoon

Harpoon *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Rob Grant   
Written by: Rob Grant and Mike Kovac.
Starring: Brett Gelman (Narrator), Emily Tyra (Sasha), Munro Chambers (Jonah), Christopher Gray (Richard).
In Harpoon, three characters go out for a daytrip on a boat, and then get stranded there. It’s a rather simple premise – one that has been done before – but co-writer/director Rob Grant keeps the twists and turns coming, keeps the tension at a boil, and manages the transition from dark comedy into thriller into out and out horror quite well. He is aided greatly by three performances that subtly shift their characters in ways that at first appear like they are out of left field, but actually make a lot of sense in general – and by the bemused narration by Brett Gelman, the all-seeing eye, who seems to be enjoying the plight of these three rotten people who perhaps deserve each other. Does the film have a twist (or maybe two) too many? Perhaps. Is there any deeper meaning here – not really. This is a low-budget genre exercise, but it’s done well.
Even before the three friends get on the boat there is tension. Rich kid Richard (Christopher Gray) – who it is implied has a mobster father – suspects his best friend Jonah (Munro Chambers) – a kid from a middle class family, dealing with the death of his parents, and his own inferiority complex has slept with his girlfriend, Sasha (Emily Tyra) – and handles it violently. Jonah and Sasha convince him he’s wrong – which is what brings up the boat trip anyway, Richard trying to apologize to the two people who he says he loves the most in the world. But he doesn’t fully believe them – there is something between Jonah and Sasha – she acts perhaps like an overprotective big sister to him, and perhaps Jonah is nursing a crush. The pair team up against the hot headed Richard at times. Of course, things go wrong on the boat – and the trip become stranded. Secrets and lies will be split, tensions will rise as days go by and they have no food or water, and the prospect of rescue becomes fainter and fainter. They will starve to death – if they don’t kill each other first.
The dark comedic tone of the film is established early – with Gelman’s narration introducing us to the characters. He’ll come back throughout the movie to tell us tidbits – and trivia – and basically just to mock these three out there. In other hands, the narration wouldn’t work – but Gelman’s delivery is perfect, and adds to the fun here. Grant, the director, is basically playing God with these three characters – so adding in a voice that reminds of that is a nice touch.
And the three leads are quite good. When they start out, you think you have a handle on exactly who each is, and what their relationship to each other is. Richard is the rich frat boy with a temper – who can keep his friends around because he has the money – and the boat – to keep them happy, and they just put up with his shit to get access to that. Jonah is the nice guy – the put upon guy, who hasn’t quite figured anything out yet, but will be okay once he does. Sasha is a little more complex – she’s with Richard, but she’s not a gold digger. She likes Jonah – but as more of a caretaker than anything else. What she actually gets out of this dysfunctional triad is debatable – but she’s also started to realize that for herself. And yet, throughout the film all three grow more complex than you expect them too.
Does Harpoon add up to anything except a fun little genre exercise? Not really. It doesn’t really need to though, because it is such a fun genre exercise – it holds your attention, and the changing tones are handled well by Grant. I do think the endings raises some questions (the third last twist, specifically) and personally, I didn’t find the last twist – even if it does perfectly keep with the dark, ironic tone of the money. Still, to so skillfully get through an exercise like this – and keep it movie, keep it entertaining, involving, and then to truly make things gory and scary, is a nice little accomplishment for all involved.

Movie Review: Maiden

Maiden *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Alex Holmes.
Maiden is an inspiring true story of the first all-female crew to race in the Whitbred Around the World Challenge – a grueling yacht race that takes place over about six months, as crews race from one place to another in their boats, taking on the elements that are, of course, harsh and unforgiving. People can, and do, die in this race. The irony is that the ocean is the only equal opportunity offender – the only challenge the crew has to face that doesn’t care that they are an all-female crew.
The crew is led by Tracey Edwards – a fine sailor, who is tired of women not being a chance of serving on a crew in these sorts of races, unless you want to cook and clean, and you know, not do any actual sailing. She finds her easiest task in this race is finding fine female sailors – there’s a lot of them just like her who are tired of not being given a chance. Every other task however is made very, very hard. She doesn’t have a boat, she doesn’t have a sponsor – and as much as she tries, it’s hard to get either. When she finally gets the Maiden – it’s an old boat, in need of repair, and she and her crew do just that. She had made friends, strangely, with the King of Jordan – who eventually comes on as her sponsor. And yet, even as it appears everything is ready, she has to deal with the kind of regular, everyday sexism that women have to face from asshole men – who of course find the whole thing funny. They don’t get respect from the crews, journalists write chauvinistic pieces about them. When they are interviewed for TV, they are asked about makeup, asked whether they are lesbians, asked if a crew of women can get along on a boat for this long, etc. They have to answer all these questions with a smile and a laugh – you don’t want to be labelled difficult, or told to smile more now do you.
I won’t spoil the results of the race – the different legs, which each have their own winners, etc. I didn’t know them – and unless you follow yacht racing closing (and maybe I’m in the minority in that I don’t) you likely won’t either. The film is full of triumphs and failures, much like you expect in these kinds of sports docs. And, of course, the results don’t matter as much as what the crew pulled off – which is bigger than a win or a loss.
So yes, Maiden does indulge in its fair share of sports movie clichés – but then again, this true story seems custom made for those clichés – the true story that proves that clichés can be true. The movie gets some extra credit for not shying away from some of the difficulties the crew faces. This isn’t a movie that tries to suggest that everything was rosy the whole time. There were personality clashes – including one sailor being replaced a week before the race because of conflicts with Edwards. Edwards herself admits mistakes – and admits her own flaws. The crew is able to look back and laugh and smile about much of what happened now – but there were conflicts. But they are the conflicts that likely take place in any confined space when you’re forced to spend grueling months with other people – and had little to do with the fact that they were women.
Maiden is the type of inspiring; true life sports story I prefer to see in docs to features. You can imagine this being made into a feature – perhaps by Disney back in the day when they were making films like Remember the Titans or Glory Road, and didn’t just concern themselves with IP. It may even make a good one. But everything would be laid on a little too thick – a little too much cheese in a story that is inspiring on its own, and doesn’t need it.

Movie Review: Motherless Brooklyn

Motherless Brooklyn ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Edward Norton.
Written by Edward Norton based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem.
Starring: Edward Norton (Lionel Essrog), Bruce Willis (Frank Minna), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Laura Rose), Willem Dafoe (Paul Randolph), Ethan Suplee (Gilbert Coney), Alec Baldwin (Moses Randolph), Leslie Mann (Mrs. Minna), Michael Kenneth Williams (Wynton Marsalis), Bobby Cannavale (Tony Vermonte), Dallas Roberts (Danny Fantl), Cherry Jones (Gabby Horowitz), Josh Pais (William Lieberman), Robert Wisdom (Mr. Rose).
You can fault many things about Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, but lack of ambition isn’t one of them. This sprawling 1950s set noir tries to tell a complex story about race, sex, murder and political corruption – all through the eyes of Norton’s Lionel – a P.I. with Tourette’s, which caused him to twitch and say inappropriate things at the most inopportune times. But he also has a genius level memory – and he needs it to untangle the web he inadvertently steps into when his boss and mentor, Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) is gunned down on the streets of New York, and Lionel wants to figure out why – leading to a very complicated story. Too complicated a story as it turns out, because over the nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Norton’s film gets so bogged down in the plotting, that nothing else really gets its proper attention.
In the film, Norton’s Lionel starts to pull at the loose threads of his sweater, before he starts pulling at the loose threads of the bare bones information he has on the people Frank was meeting, and who gunned him down. This will lead him to the height of power in New York – involving city planner Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin) – who wants to displace a lot of people to make way for his genius. It also leads him to a jazz club, and the daughter of the owner, Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is working against Moses – and to a lot of other people, like another genius – Paul (Willem Dafoe) with a brain as scattered as Lionel’s, but without Tourette’s. And many, many other characters.
The film is basically all plot – and is based on a well-regarded novel by Jonathan Lethem – but as a screenwriter, it feels like Norton didn’t know how to streamline the novel down to its essentials, so the film tries to do too much, and never quite finds its footing. Perhaps Norton was drawn to the material for the opportunity to play Lionel – it is a very showy performance from Norton, allowing him to act out ticks and rantings, which however accurate to Tourette’s is basically a distraction from everything else going on. Norton is at his best in the performance when Lionel has some degree of control over his Tourette’s, and we aren’t watching him act out those ticks. When he settles down – he’s actually quite good. Norton has assembled a talented cast to support him – the problem is, he has to rush from one narrative element to another so quickly, that none of them really get a chance to be anything other than one note characters – characters there for the convenience of the plot.
To make matters worse, Norton and his usually great cinematographer – Dick Pope (a frequent collaborator with Mike Leigh – including on the stunningly shot Mr. Turner) give the whole film a kind of brightly lit sheen to the film – which is all wrong for noir. Odd for a noir, much of the film takes place during the day – and the whole thing is too brightly lit, too colorful – and never really gives the feel for noir. The film looks best at night – or in the darkly lit clubs it sometimes ventures into. But for the most part, it plays like a bunch of people playing dress up, more than a noir film.
I do give Norton some credit here – he clearly had ambitions for his long awaited for sophomore film as a director (he made his charming debut with 2000’s Keeping the Faith, and he has always struck me as the type of actor, I want to see behind the camera – exacting in his attention to detail in his performances). He is reaching for something here – something beyond that actors showcase the movie clearly is. But he doesn’t get there with Motherless Brooklyn. I still hope Norton directs again in the future – I still think the chops are there for him to be a fine filmmaker. But Motherless Brooklyn is a pretty big disappointment. A messy film that tries to do so much, that ends up doing nothing all that well.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Films of Bong Jong-ho: Conclusion and Re-Ranking

I’m glad I revisited the films of Bong Joon-ho in anticipation of his Palme D’or winning Parasite. It allowed me to fill in a couple of blind spots in his filmography, and revisit what is really a strong filmography over the past two decades. I don’t really think that there was a real discovery here – the films were pretty much as I remembered – although a couple of films flipped in my ranking, I don’t really think I changed my mind much on his work. Still, it was a reminder of just how great his filmography is – particularly those three middle films (from Memories of Murder to Mother) made in Korea. I am happy that he returned to a strictly Korean film after two larger budget, international films with Parasite. He truly is one of the best directors working today.
And now, a re-ranking.
9. Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) – Bong’s debut film is his weakest. The best parts of the film are around the edges here, and you can tell that there is a lot of talent here, although overall, I’m not sure it all comes together. Still, a fine film – just not in relation to what else he has done.
8. Influenza (2004) – Bong’s 2004 short film is basically him experimenting with how to make a film entirely through CCTV cameras. Bong finds many ways to tell the story of one man’s downfall, and looks impressive. Still, it’s mainly an experiment – an interesting one, but an experiment just the same.
7. Tokyo: Shaking Tokyo (2008) – Bong’s segment in a triptych of stories from outsiders about Tokyo is the best of the three films – a film about a lonely man, who has withdrawn from society, and slowly is drawn back in. It’s a sad film in many ways, but wonderfully realized.
6. Snowpiercer (2013) – The film is absolutely brilliantly directed – an action masterwork in many ways, with brilliant cinematography and art direction. I wish the film was a little deeper on many other levels, but as a directing exercise, the film is still brilliant.
5. Okja (2017) – The film is massively ambitious, and perhaps a little overstuffed and messy, but that’s all by design, and brilliantly realized by Bong. The emotional core of the story is so strong that it allows him to fire off in many directions, and still have a great core.
4. The Host (2006) – This really was Bong’s international breakthrough, and the film still works. In terms of giant monster movies, it’s as good as anything ever made, with great special effects on a budget, an emotional core of a family story, some wonderfully strange slapstick moments, and some moments that are truly scary. This deserved the attention it got.
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3. Mother (2009) – Mother starts out like a movie you’ve seen before – a mother trying to prove her son’s innocence when accused of a murder. And then the film gets deeper, darker and stranger throughout. There are a lot of great performances in Bong’s films – none more so than Kim Hye-ja, who delivered a performance that puts most Oscar winners to shame.
2. Memories of Murder (2003) – Bong’s first masterpiece, is still his best film. Before there was David Fincher’s Zodiac, there was Bong’s Memories of Murder – a police procedural that grows deeper and darker, as we move further and further away from the any real answers. A deep, dark, brilliant film that is on one level a serial killer thriller – and one many other levels, so much more. One of the best films of the century so far.
1.Parasite (2019) – Bong’s latest film really is his best – a perfect distillation of everything he has done before, making you think you’re watching an escapist film, when really, you’re watching the farthest thing from it. Parasite builds slowly, but is never less than enthralling and entertaining – and then going bonkers in a brilliant way in the second half. Sometimes the buzz is right – Parasite is such a example.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Films of Bong Joon-ho: Okja (2017)

Okja (2017) 
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong.
Written by: Joon-ho Bong and Jon Ronson.
Starring: Seo-hyun Ahn (Mija), Tilda Swinton (Lucy Mirando / Nancy Mirando), Jose Carias (Señor Villacorta), Giancarlo Esposito (Frank Dawson), Jake Gyllenhaal (Johnny Wilcox), Jeong-eun Lee (Okja's Voice / Woman in Wheelchair), Hee-Bong Byun (Hee Bong), Jaein Kim (Young Mija), Je-mun Yun (Mundo Park), Shirley Henderson (Jennifer), Woo-sik Choi (Kim), Steven Yeun (K), Paul Dano (Jay), Daniel Henshall (Blond), Lily Collins (Red), Devon Bostick (Silver), Waris Ahluwalia (Waris), Phillip Garcia (Diego Alejandro).
Okja is such an ambitious film – a film that is so jam packed with narrative, characters, themes, etc. – that when I watched it the first time back in 2017, I think I underrated it somewhat. At first glance, the film can seem like kind of a mess – lashing out in many different directions, that it seemed to lack focus. Watching it again though, the piece’s kind of fall into place in a better way – and the emotional core of the film – the relationship between a little girl and her giant pig – is still so moving, that it carries the film through. I really liked the film in 2017 – I think I may love it now.
Okja takes place in the near future – where a worldwide food crisis is in effect, so the Mirando Corporation has created a new so-called Superpig. This pig will be providing meat to everyone – and do a lot more. To promote this, Mirando has given a 1 super pig to 10 farmers around the world, and for 10 years they’ll raise it however they see it. We concentrate on the Korean farmer – specifically, his granddaughter Mija (Seo-hyun Ahn), who grows up with their super pig – named Okja – and bond with him. When the 10 years are up, and Mirando comes calling for their pig, she doesn’t want to give him up – but she doesn’t much have a choice.
What follows from there is the part of the film that is ambitious, and lashes out in all sorts of directions. There is is the current CEO or Mirando – Lucy (Tilda Swinton), who wants the world of love Mirando, and is conscious of its image, and the former CEO Nancy (also Swinton) who doesn’t much care for anything but money. The “face” of Mirando is TV star Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal, who is nothing else, certainly made some choices with his performance) – one of those nature TV stars who was big when the super pig project launched, not so much anymore. There is also an animal rights group – led by Jay (Paul Dano), whose utter calmness distracts from some rather violent tactics. There is a ton of action, and heartache – all leading to a scene at a factory farm which is only a quasi-happy ending – it’s still utterly horrifying, saddening and depressing.
There is a lot going on in Okja. Like Snowpiercer, the film is an international co-production – this one for Netflix, with a mixture of cast between Korean and English speakers. Unlike Snowpiercer though, this film integrates that into the story – it is a story of cultural differences and language barriers – with Steven Yeun as K, a member of that animal rights group, being a kind of bridge (and showing how smart he is in the process – not limiting himself to what he could get in American films, a strategy starts served him even better in Lee Chang-dong’s masterpiece Burning). Bong does waste any of that money either – the special effects in the film are brilliant, and Okja is one of the most memorable, most lovable and best looking all CGI characters you will see in a film. He also shows, as he did in The Host and Snowpiercer, just how great he is at staging action sequences. Perhaps starting out with a special effects movie like The Host was good for Bong in the long term – that was fairly low-budget by blockbuster standards, and forced Bong to be smart in how he deployed special effects. He pulls some of the same neat tricks off here – with lots going on in the background.
The cast is pretty great as well. Young Seo-hyun Ahn anchors the film with an earnest, emotional performance that breaks your heart. Because she is such a strong center – it allows the likes of Swinton, Dano and especially Gyllenhaal to fly off the rails at times, going completely over-the-top, often brilliantly. I love it when Swinton lets her freak flag fly – and she gets to do that in two different roles in this film. I’m still entirely sure what the hell Gyllenhaal was doing in this film – but I think I loved it.
Okja is a film that does lash out in many different directions – at corporate greed, at factory farming, even at that animal rights group, which isn’t as pure as they like to pretend it is. It is a film that can be a heartwarming E.T.-like story one minute, an action movie the next, a satire the next, and a message movie right after. Yes, it is still is kind of a mess in that regards – but it’s a glorious mess, with Bong presiding over the entire thing, and knowing precisely what he is doing.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Films of Bong Joon-ho: Snowpiercer (2013)

Snowpiercer (2013) 
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong.
Written by: Joon-ho Bong and Kelly Masterson based on the book by Jacques Lob & Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette.
Starring: Chris Evans (Curtis), Kang-ho Song (Namgoong Minsoo), Ed Harris (Wilford), John Hurt (Gilliam), Tilda Swinton (Mason), Jamie Bell (Edgar), Octavia Spencer (Tanya), Ewen Bremner (Andrew), Ko Asung (Yona), Alison Pill (Teacher), Luke Pasqualino (Grey), Vlad Ivanov (Franco the Elder), Adnan Haskovic (Franco the Younger), Emma Levie (Claude), Steve Park (Fuyu), Marcanthonee Reis (Tim), Paul Lazar (Paul), Tómas Lemarquis (Egg-Head), Robert Russell (Gerald), Magda Weigertová (Doris), Ana Braun (Ylfa), Tyler John Williams (Young Wilford), Luna Sophia Bar-Cohen (Magdalena), Sean Connor Renwick (Sergio), Karel Veselý (Andy), Sung-taek Park (Chan). 
Watching Snowpiercer for the first time since seeing it in theaters back in 2013, I was once again struck by just how magnificently directed this film is. After perhaps too talky a first act – too much setup – the film is basically one thrilling set piece after another – one achievement in art direction, cinematography and action choreography after another, all handled brilliantly. And then the ending comes, and I cannot help but feel let down – because this movie that seems that perhaps its pushing for something wholly unique, ends up just not quite being able to get there. It’s still a thrilling achievement – an example of how to do a large scale, international co-production, action blockbuster, and how to do it well. I just wish the film had pushed itself a little harder in the end.
The basic premise of Snowpiercer is simple (which is why the setup goes on too long) – 17-years ago, humanity messed everything up, and basically created a new ice age. The only people who were able to survive are the ones who were able to board a massive train, designed by Wilford (Ed Harris), which has been in constant motion, circumnavigating the globe at the rate of one time per year ever since. The people at the front of the train were the rich and powerful – and they continue to live in luxury. The people at the back of the train were poor, and continue to be just cogs in the machine – used for manual, dirty labor, and subsisting on black gelatin rectangles of “protein bars”. Then the front people come and take two children from the back – for some undisclosed purpose – and those at the back have finally had enough. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans) they stage an uprising, and start to take back the train one car at a time.
The train itself really is a stunning feat of production design – several in fact, because each and every car is completely different than the one that came before it, and often they are stunning to look at (my favorite is probably the fish car – but there are many to choose from). The cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong is also quite stunning – the color palette changes as they make their way through the cars, and the action camera work is brilliant – as Bong and company let most of the scenes play out in longer takes, so you get a sense of what is happening. All of this is set to the pulsating score of Marco Beltrami – which keeps the movie humming along.
In an action movie like this, character development is often sacrificed – and for the most part, that happens here as well. Evans is playing the square jawed hero he already was in Captain America, and he does that very well. The film tries to give him a tragic backstory – and a monologue to tell said backstory – buts it a little too on the nose. The film does reunite father and daughter from The Hose with Kang-ho Song and Ko Asung, playing again, father and daughter – and it works, although I’m not quite sure I buy the various reveals throughout the movie about them that the film tries to spring. The best of the major performances in by Tilda Swinton as the representative from the front who has to deal with the revolution in the back – and is eventually taken hostage. It’s one of those demented Swinton performances, where a lesser actress would simple rely on the heavy makeup (brilliantly done) – but which Swinton takes, and runs with it in bizarre, memorable ways. Out of all the smaller performance, Allison Pill’s one scene wonder as a very chipper teacher is brilliant.
Watching it this second time though, I was struck by the fact that no matter how brilliantly made Snowpiercer is – and it is on every level – it just isn’t as interesting on a narrative or character level – or even a thematic one. It’s a rather typical dystopian future narrative, right down to the final reveals. Yes, everything works – the film moves rather quickly for an action movie that runs over two-hours (although, it is a movie that could probably stand to lose 20 minutes or so). This time through though, I wanted more depth to go along with the spectacle – which still delivers. – and shows what a brilliant director Bong is. I just wanted a little bit more from the film.

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Films of Bong Joon-ho: Mother (2009)

Mother (2009) 
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong.
Written by: Joon-ho Bong and Eun-kyo Park & Joon-ho Bong.
Starring: Hye-ja Kim (Mother), Won Bin (Yoon Do-joon), Goo Jin (Jin-tae), Je-mun Yun (Je-moon), Mi-seon Jeon (Mi-sun), Sae-byeok Song (Sepaktakraw Detective), Woo-hee Chun (Mi-na), Gin-goo Kim (Ah-jeong's Grandma), Moo-yeong Yeo (Lawyer Kong Seok-ho), Hee-ra Mun (Moon Ah-jeong), Mi-do Lee (Hyung-teo), Young-ki Jung (Kkang-ma), Gyu-pil Go (Ddung-ddung), Hong-jib Kim (Jong-pal), Kyung-Sook Cho (Mi-na's Mama), Myung-shin Park (Chief), Tae-won Kim (Young Do-jun).
You think you know where Joon-ho Bong’s Mother is going – and you are almost certainly going to be wrong. After a few establishing scenes, where we get to know Do-joon (Won Bin) – a mental with some mental difficulties, and his devoted mother (Kim Hye-ja), who is never given a name other than Mother – we find out a murder has been committed. The murder is that of a teenage girl – whose head was bashed in, before she was put on display for the whole small town to see. There are a few clues that point to Do-joon, and the it doesn’t take the cops long to get a “confession” out of him for the murder – although it’s clear he doesn’t really understand what is going on, and he is thrown in jail awaiting trial. The cops are convinced they have the right man – or at least don’t care enough to look any harder, the high priced lawyer she has hired (and cannot afford) doesn’t much care, and no one else does either. Therefore, it’s up to mother to get to the bottom of the case – to prove her son’s innocence.
That probably sounds like a fairly typical setup for a thriller. And you could easily make a conventional thriller out of the material. Those opening scenes of the cops interrogating Do-joon will no doubt remind you of the early scenes in another Bong Joon-ho film – Memories of Murder – where it was clear the cops didn’t really care if they caught the right person, so long as they got someone to confess, so they could close the case and move on. And yet, like Memories of Murder, Mother doesn’t go where you expect it to go. It starts as a mystery, and deepens into a character study of Mother.
Kim Hye-ja gives a truly great performance in the lead role. When the film begins, you think she is the typical, overbearing, overprotective mother – and yet, with her you understand it more. Do-joon may be an adult, but he has the mental capacity of a child – and has fallen in with a bad crowd – notably Jin-tae (Goo Jin) a low level criminal and con artist, who uses Do-joon in his schemes. Of course she worries about it – look what happens when she isn’t there to protect him. But slowly, her character deepens – and her motivations for doing so much for Do-joon become more complicated. It isn’t just motherly love and devotion – it’s a deep sense of guilt and shame. Bong even reveals what in other films may have been a final scene twist at the half way point – and then allows the film to get darker from there. The darkness isn’t just about Mother – but about society in general – the cell phone of the victim becomes a key piece of evidence, that shows things we’d rather not think about. Jin Tae re-enters the picture, full of violence and rage. And Mother finds she can do a lot of things she didn’t think she could.
By the time we get to the end of the movie, everything has been turned on its head – and no matter what, nothing can be the same again. Both Mother and Do-joon know too much about each other, and have shown that dark side, to each other. And yet, of course, Mother is still there protecting Do-joon – even when he becomes somewhat cruel to her, rubbing her nose in what he no knows that she wishes he didn’t. But the love may no longer be there.
Mother is a complicated film. It looks and acts like a thriller – a procedural, in which an unlikely detective follows one clue after another, hoping to put them all into place. But ultimately, Bong isn’t as interested in that as he seems. The film has answers to all your questions – it resolves everything. It’s just that by the time it supplies them, you care about so much more than those simple answers. It’s what makes Mother so a powerful, complex film.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Films of Bong Joon-ho: Tokyo! (2008)

Tokyo! (2008) 
Directed by: Michel Gondry (Interior Design) and Leos Carax (Merde) and Joon-ho Bong (Shaking Tokyo). 
Written by: Michel Gondry based on the graphic novel by Gabrielle Bell (Interior Design) and Leos Carax (Merde) and Joon-ho Bong (Shaking Tokyo).
Starring: Ayako Fujitani (Hiroko - Interior Design), Ryo Kase (Akira - Interior Design), Ayumi Itô (Akemi - Interior Design), Nao Ohmori (Hiroshi - Interior Design), Satoshi Tsumabuki (Takeshi - Interior Design), Motomi Makiguchi (Clochard - Interior Design), Denis Lavant (Merde – Merde), Jean-François Balmer (Maître Voland – Merde), Renji Ishibashi (L'avocat général - Merde), Toshiyuki Kitami (Le procureur - Merde), Kyûsaku Shimada (Le directeur de prison - Merde), Azusa Takehana (Le présentatrice TV - Merde), Yû Aoi (La livreuse de pizza - Shaking Tokyo), Teruyuki Kagawa (L'homme - Shaking Tokyo), Naoto Takenaka (Le patron de la pizzeria - Shaking Tokyo).
It is somewhat odd that an omnibus movie called Tokyo, which features a trio of short films set in and about the Japanese city, contain no films by a Japanese filmmaker – opting instead for two Frenchman and a Korean director. And yet, for the most part this strange decision works – as the trio of films are all about the alienating effect the city can have – making everyone feel like an outsider, like they don’t belong there. The filmmakers in question are Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Joon-ho Bong, and while none of the segments come close to being among their best work, they are all interesting in their own way.
Gondry’s segment is called Interior Design, and is about a young Japanese couple who are struggling to find an apartment in the expensive, overcrowded city, and have been crashing at a friend’s place. Akira (Ryo Kase) is an aspiring filmmaker (which gives Gondry a chance to do what he apparently loves most – make a parody of low budget art films in all their pretentious glory). His girlfriend Hiroko (Ayako Fujitani) is supportive of his career and ambitions, and they seem happy enough. But the apartment search drags on – and she begins to feel more and more useless and aimless, realizing that she doesn’t have many ambitions of her own. Eventually this emotional toll turns physical – and she literally starts changing in a way that allows Gondry many chances to be funny and whimsical, in a story that may have been better served with a more serious touch.
Carax’s segment entitled Merde is about the title character (played by Denis Lavant, in a great performance, that is kind of a dry run for part of the pairs brilliant collaboration Holy Motors a few years later). Merde is a milky eyed monster, emerging from the sewers of Tokyo to terrify residents. In the single best scene in the entire movie, he emerges and take a long walk down the crowded street (all in one unbroken shot) as he terrorizes everyone – stealing cigarettes, sandwiches, popping balloons, hitting babies, etc. Eventually, he’ll go even farther that that – and will be captured, and out on trial. He doesn’t speak a language anyone can understand – other than a bizarre French lawyer (Jean-François Balmer), who looks like a not too-distant relative. An extended courtroom scene follows – and drags the film to a halt, although you have to admire the persistence of putting it on the screen.
The overall best sequence is by Joon-ho Bong entitled Shaking Tokyo. It stars Teruyuki Kagawa as a hikikomori – that he is explains is someone who has retreated from society, and never ventures from their home anymore. He survives on money from his dad, and lives a regimented life – and has for 10 years – on routine, and no human contact. That is, until he makes eye contact with the pizza delivery girl one day – and then an earth quake that knocks her unconscious hits, and he has to care for her for a short period of time. Japan was a forerunner for this type of lonely, isolated young man – cutting himself off from the outside world, and wanting no human contact – but the rest of the world may well have caught up in the last decade. Of the three, it at least offers some hope – and also seems to be the one most grounded in reality.
The three films fit together in an odd way. They are all clearly made by outsiders from Tokyo, and they are about feeling like outsiders in Tokyo. Carax even goes so far that the two leads in his segment aren’t even Japanese at all. When I first saw this film – a decade ago – I didn’t much care for Carax’s segment. Perhaps I didn’t get it, or perhaps I was just annoyed by it. This time, I half liked it – everything leading up to the courtroom is excellent – but that courtroom scene still drags. I’m also a little less enamored with the whimsy of Gondry’s segment – and again, perhaps that’s because if the last decade has shown us anything about Gondry its that he really needs a harsher voice – like Charlie Kaufman (who he wrote his best film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with) or else his films become so lightweight they simply blow away. And I like Bong’s segment a little more – it really does seem the saddest, that someone would disappear so completely into themselves. And the finale, while hopeful, also shows how it isn’t an isolated issue.
None of them are as good as the director’s best work, and I do kind of wish that someone had presented a more positive view of the city – perhaps an insider. What the films ultimately ends up convincing you of it that you shouldn’t move to Tokyo – it’s just a group of sad, lonely people, monsters who come from the sewers, and chairs.