Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reincarnation


Reincarnation
Original title: Rinne

Directed by: Takashi Shimizu, Japan, 2005
Horror, 95min
Distributed by: ?


Story:
Young actress Yûka [Nagisa Sugiura] finally lands a major role in a movie. A horror movie to be directed by infamous gore director Matsumara [Kippel Shiina], based on violent true life murders that took place in a hotel some thirty five years ago. A deranged professor one day snaps and goes on a killing rampage murdering eleven people with his family and himself included. As the preparation for the film gets going Yûka finds that there’s more going on than just making a movie as she finds herself tormented by haunting visions of the professor’s daughter.


Me:
So it took me a while to overcome the struggle to stick this movie in the player, because I kept thinking, crap I just picked up another Shimizu movie, and in my opinion Shimizu’s first three Ju-On movies, especially the first J-Horror one, really brought something new to the table and where really atmospheric masterpieces. The creepiness, the non boom-flash-shock approach, just slowly and subtly built, the fact that the ghosts just where there almost naturally, and the terrifying sounds that the ghosts make and that kind of stuff just work perfectly. So obviously I was worried that this would just like the U.S. remakes of Ju-on (Grudge & Grudge2) just be ninety minutes of reusing the same old bag of tricks. After a rather predictable and lame opening sequence things take a nice firm pace, Yûka starts seeing the ghost here and there, and there’s some very effective moments, and even though they where very Ju-on-ish they actually had me jumping with the shocks, so obviously I was getting ready to rethink my take on Shimizu, perhaps he actually was more than a one trick monkey. Unfortunately he loses me in the final reel, perhaps I was expecting more after the promising build up, but I just didn’t like the ending. But before we get there he’s got some serious shit going on here. Spooky child ghost, haunted hotels, broken spooky dolls and a mysterious murder add to the mysterious blend. Don’t get me wrong although I find Shimizu to be taking an easy way out, with four Japanese instalments, two American remakes, and a fifth Japanese version on the go which will undoubtedly generate a third US remake, he’s not to be confused for a lazy guy. I have the greatest respect for him, and I can understand why he would want to helm his own remakes in the US, hell the foundation of one for them one for me has worked for plenty of other directors and actors through the years so why not. And if his US movies get him enough credit to keep experimenting back at home that’s just great. But I still wish that he’d come up with some new idea’s. The grey child meowing and scaring it’s victims to death is more than well done. Reincarnation on the other hand does prove that he’s doing his best, like I said it gets off to a promising start; concentrating around the parallel realms of the movie in production and the actual murders thirty five years ago, Shimizu has Yûka find herself wandering in-between the two time spaces. There are some very effective and wonderful shifts of time which are very clear and don’t try to trick the viewer. As the rather interesting plot starts to unravel it’s self it’s clear that the Professor’s murders all where part of a macabre experiment to re-unite all the victims many years later when they have been reincarnated as other people, yes you guessed it, the cast and crew of Matsumara’s movie. And when this becomes clear, the movie just goes flat. Shimizu gives no explanation to why or how, it’s just the way it is. Ok it’s a horror movie, and being a Japanese horror movie I should be accustomed to the fact that anything can happen and I’ll probably never get an explanation, but Shimizu is one of those guys up there with Miike, Kurosawa and Nakata, so I was expecting a better payoff than the one presented, and the asylum ending just annoyed me even more. So therefore I feel that he lost the ending, but up to that point I was entertained and very eager to find out what the hell was going on.

Reincarnation
is so far the strongest of the so called J-Horror Theatre series created to bring the horror of the east to the west (something that I thought already had happened some ten year ago with the first wave of J-horror movies on import!), Masayuki Ochiai’s Infection and Norio Tsuruta’s Premonition, both 2004, are the two movies which predated Shimizu’s Reincarnation, and the fourth part, Retribution, to be directed by Kyoshi Kurosawa (who has a cameo in this one as a college teacher) is the one that I’ll be looking forward to the most.


Image:
16x9 widescreen

Audio:
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, English subtitles


Extras:

This version that I watched was a copy I got from a friend so it unfortunately had no extras at all.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Doll

The Doll
Original Title; Vaxdockan

Directed; Arne Mattsson, Sweden, 1962
Drama / Thriller, 91min
Distributed by: Klubb Super 8 (OOP)

Story:
Lonley night watchman Lundgren [Per Oscarsson] spends all his free time dreaming about his dream woman. Then one night he stumbles into a robbery at a clothes shop, he wards off the burglars, calls the cops and steals a manequin [Gio Petré] the looks just like his dream woman. He smuggles the doll into his flat and finds happiness as their relationship evolves. Only he can see that she is a real person, until his neighbours start wondering who he is talking to up there in his lonely flat...

Me:
I caught the back end of this amazing movie on Swedish TV last week, and I had to dig out my old VHS to rewatch it. This is a great old Swedish movie, directed by one of Sweden's most underrated directors; Arne Mattsson. It's a creepy tale that unwinds rather slow, but the nosey and obnoxious neighbours and Oscarsson's fantastic performance as reclusive Lundgren with Petrés stiff & sexy portayal of the manequin, really make it worth the while. There's a few shocks and a surprise ending that suits this movie like a charm. If you like Mattsson and haven't seen this one, it should be next on your list of movies to see. If you've never seen a Mattsson movie, well then it's a great starting point. In my opinon it's far better than his "Hillman" series, which are more Hitchcockian and border on swedish "Pilsnerfilm" feeling.


Image:
Black & White, full frame 4:3

Audio:
Stereo

Extras:
Nope, it's one of those classic VHS tapes. Although there is a rather amusing reprint of an old TV review written by Kar de Mumma when it was first shown on tv in 1965.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fear X


Fear X
Directed by; Nicolas Winding Renf, Denmark/Canada/UK/Brazil, 2003
Drama / Thriller, 91 min.
Distributed by: Nordisk Film

Story
Shopping mall security guard Harry [John Turturo] works all day and spends all day watching surveillance camera footage in the hunt for his wife’s murderer. One day he is approached by the police who have an image of the killer, but don’t know his identity. After being lead by the ghost of his wife in a dream to the house next door Harry finds a mysterious photograph of a woman. Harry jump to conclusions and sets out to find the woman on the photograph to see if she can help him find the identity of his wife killer.

Me
Gosh! First off, I really enjoyed Winding Renf’s previous Danish movies Pusher 1996, and Bleeder 1999 which both contain a variety of homage’s and tributes to European exploitation movies from the late eighties. Fear X is based on a novel by Hubert Shelby Jr. [Last Exit to Brooklyn 1989, Requiem for a Dream 2000], it is a dark haunting movie which plays with familliar Lynch-ian / Coen-ish undertones and themes, but I liked it. I liked it a lot. Unlike other movies with open endings that I’ve watched lately, this one engages and the possible off-screen endings generate many thoughts on possible scenarios. Did the climax take place in Harry’s head or is it just yet another part of the cover up operation that he stumbles across? I can’t really understand that this movie was received so lamely by audiences, Winding Renf already has a fan based following, but for this one they just weren’t there. His company Jang Go Star even went bankrupt because the audience failed this one. Like I said, it’s a mystery to me, because the story is good. It unfolds in a nice way, even though there are a bit too many coincidences that lead the way, but that’s part of the main root to this tale. His wife is killed by coincidence, and if we’re buying that, then the rest shouldn’t be too hard to accept. Turuturo is great as the frustrated Harry, haunted by the ghost of his late wife [Jacqueline Ramel] and not knowing why she was killed. But by far the movie belongs to James Remar’s Peter character. From the first frame you see him, you know that he’s the killer, and you want him brought to justice ASAP. But this position is delicately shifted as his remorse and vulnerability shines thorough the more he’s on screen. This isn’t a cold blooded killer as we initially thought, he’s just a man who by coincidence got drawn into a dark cover up operation to eliminate bad cops, and who accidentally happened to kill Harry’s wife. His dark secret and personal demons are starting to shatter his marriage to Kate [Deborah Kara-Unger] who by coincidence it the woman on the photograph that has led Harry to Peter. To add to the Lynchian feeling of the movie, the mixture of Peter De Neergards pale colour schemes, and the minimalist interior design of Harry’s suburban home to the dark hotel and its blood red corridors and Brian Eno’s haunting score work terrific. I feel that this movie is a gem that has been misunderstood and should immediately be watched by anyone waiting for the next Lynch or Coen brother movie. Ok it’s a fair bit lighter that those guys movies, but it’s well worth the ninety minutes that it plays.


Image:
2.35:2 Anamorphic Widescreen.

Audio:
English audio, Dolby Digital 5.1. Optional Danish, Swedish, Norwegian or Finnish subtitles are available.

Extras:
A twenty five minute making of which documents the background and the shoot. Cast and crew talk about the movie and its creation. Eight trailers for other titles released by Nordisk Film.

Broken Flowers


Broken Flowers
Directed by; Jim Jarmusch, USA/France, 2005
Comedy / Drama, 106 min.
Distributed by: Nordisk Film

Story
An aging charmer, Don Johnston [Bill Murray], sits passively on the couch as his girlfriend Sherry [Julie Delphy] walks out the door in search of what she wants to make of life. Without interest Don just sits staring into nothingness until an anonymous mysterious pink letter tells him that he has a twenty something son who might be on the road trying to find him. With the aid of his next-door neighbour and friend Winston [Jeffrey Wright] he set’s off on a road trip though the states to visit lovers long lost to find out who could be the writer of the mysterious letter and the mother of his eventual son.

Me
A typical low key Jarmusch story that goes far with a fantastic performance from Murray, coming off almost like a blend of his character from Coffee and Cigarettes and Anderson’s Steve Zissou. I love the way he tries to play totally uninterested in the quest every time his friend Winston tries to get him activated, and the energy that he puts into it when Winston isn’t there. And the small details, like the checking out every young male that he sees after receiving the letter, and giving them a “could that be him” glance is brilliant. The photography by Jarmusch regular Frederic Elmes is wonderful; the colour scheme is somewhat pale, but still so deep that it looks amazing. The story is simple, one man on search of the woman who may have fathered his child, his search for meaning in his otherwise rather tepid life. But this is the simplicity that we have come accustomed to when you sit down to a Jarmusch film, a simplicity that is multifaceted and actually has more depth that meets the eye. No overacting, no out of place scenes, just a slow build as we investigate the human mind. There’s a wonderful play with Nabokov’s Lolita when past girlfriend, Laura’s [Sharon Stone] daughter Lolita [Alexis Dziena] playfully taunts Don and then shockingly walks into the room naked. Needless to say Don gets out of there in a flash of the eye. Every one of Don’s past girlfriends are played by high end actresses, like Sharon Stone, Julie Delphy, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy and Tilda Swinton who looks amazing in her white trash outfit sporting a big black wig. I have to mention the supporting actors too, mainly Chloë Sevigny who manages to portray Lange’s lesbian lover/secretary with out even saying the word. Last but definately not least, Jeffrey Wright’s Winston, he's the kind of sympathetic friend that everyone would like to have, and I love the scene where he explains to his kids that he’s only smoking ‘erbs, and that there’s definitely not any tobacco in his cigarette that he’s secretively smoking behind the garage. Hilarious stuff.

The amazing soundtrack focusing mainly on Mulatu Astatqe’s Ethiopian Jazz (currently playing warm on my iPod and stereo at home) is a great addition, the smoothness and progressiveness of Tom Waite’s Night on Earth 1991 and Neil Young’s Dead Man 1995 scores springs to mind as the fair tones of Astatqe’s instrumental jazz just washes over the scenes interweaving the meetings with Murray’s former lovers without distracting anything from Jarmusch’s trademark formula. The road movie themes, the progressive soundtrack the low key acting, it’s all great stuff that will make this movie a beloved Jarmusch classic for the future.


Image:
Like mentioned previously, great looking film presented in 1.77:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1. Optional Swedish, Danish, Norwegian or Finnish subtitles.

Extras:
The crazy Start to Finnish, a fast paced collection of all the markers through out the entire movie interwoven with a few gags, and bloopers. A look at the outtakes of the two girls on the bus scene, where the two actors Jennifer Rapp & Nicole Abisinio adlib their way through a youthful discussion about life, friends and foes. A featurette on Jarmusch as he discusses his filmmaking and finally the domestic and international trailers for Broken Flowers.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Moustache

The Moustache
Original Title:
La Moustache

Directed by: Emmanuel Carrère, France, 2005
Drama / Mystery, 86min.
Distributed by: Triangel Film



Story:
One evening Marc Vincent Lindon] asks his wife Angès [Emmanuelle Devos] if he should shave off his moustache. Against her advice he does so anyhow. When nobody in his closest circle notice that he’s shaven it off he starts to get frustrated, but when Agnès claims that he has never had a moustache his world starts to crumble.

Me:
What a promising movie this turned out to be. My wife has talked about it for quite some time, so we decided to give it a shot, and I’m not disappointed. Ok, somewhat disappointed because the movie losses itself in the latter part. But the build up to this last twenty minutes are brilliant. The basic idea of a guy shaving off his moustache and then having nobody notice, and finally claim that he never had one is brilliant. The way Carrère plays through this is very smart; small subtle changes in the relationship between Marc and Agnès, the way we keep loosing track of Marc’s sanity, the questioning of everything that we see and hear, it’s very effective and you constantly keep asking yourself is Marc really insane or is it his wife playing a really evil prank on him. The deeper in we get the more Kafka-esque the movie gets. We see what Marc sees images of him with his moustache, but then we start to believe that he’s insane again when Agnès claims that his evidence, the photographs of a moustache clad Marc taken when they where in Bali, don’t exist, they have never been to Bali. Small details like Marc’s father on the answering machine planning the meal for tomorrows get together, which if flipped over when Agnès explains to Marc that his father died a year ago. Great stuff and we are just as confused about what’s going on as Marc. When the penny falls down and Marc makes his escape the movie like I mentioned earlier, just gets lost in itself. The Hong Kong bit works until Agnès all of a sudden turns up and life goes on as if nothing ever happened. Nah, it just gets stupid from here and director Carrère’s explanation that it’s all a cyclic movement is just a load of bollocks. We are so accustomed to non-linear narrative in these days that we don’t even question the Hong Kong footage from the opening sequence, as we understand that this is Hong Kong the second Marc escapes there. We just assume that the story will continue from here and all before was leading us here, So to bring Agnès in here just annoyed me, especially as my theory is that she’s trying to dump Marc for his co-worker Bruno to start with, that’s why they are all in on the tormenting of Marc. Because the idea that it was all Marc and that he was temporarily insane and now mysteriously sane again as Agnès comes back into his life is just too shallow for me to accept. But up to this part the movie really rocks and is very effective. I have no better solution to the ending, but I can’t help felling let down when the movie ends even if there is a open question mark at the end or not.

Image:
Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Anamorphic.

Audio:
French Dolby Digital 5.1. Optional subtitles in Swedish or Finnish


Extras:

A twenty minute making of where the cast and crew talk about the movie and what it means. An interview with Director Emmanuel Carrère and Editor Camille Cotte. The making of is decent, but the interview with Carrère and Cotte is so fucking pretentious that it almost made me want to put my foot through the TV screen, which is a pity as I quite enjoyed the film.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jigoku


Jigoku
Directed by: Nobou Nakagawa, Japan, 1960

Horror / Drama, 101 minutes

Distributed by: Criterion Collection


Story:

Theology student Shiro [Shigeru Amachi] is tormented by the fact that he and his friend Tamura [Yoichi Numata] accidentally killed a man in a hit and run accident one night. His life turns to the worse when one freak accident after another kills off all the people around him until he himself passes over to the other side, Hell, where all sinners get there final punishment for all eternity.


Me:
Nabou Nakagawa’s Jigoku is one of those movies that you have to see to believe. It is probably the most extreme Kaidan movie of the early sixties and seventies, and I’d even go as far to claim that Jigoku could be the first splatter/gore movie as it was shot three years before Herschell Gordon Lewis’ landmark Blood Feast 1963 that often takes credit for starting the splatter movie genre. Jigoku has a fair share of severed hands, rivers of blood and gory mutilated corpses. Nakagawa was no stranger to the Kaidan genre as Jigoku was in fact the last of a string of nine very atmospherically and stylish genre movies that he had directed. Neither was the genre new either, as early as 1912 Shozo Makino directed the earliest version of Yotusya Kaidan [Yotsuya Ghost Story], also re-made in it’s finest version in 1959 by Nakagawa. The photography is stunning and considering the tight budget that this Shintoho Company production had it’s an amazing piece of cinema. Focusing on the Shiro we follow him though a very painful journey, his tormentor, the enigmatic Tamura who pops up when Shiro expects him the least, to poke fun at Shiro or provoke those around him. At a dinner with Shiro’s mother and father in law, when Shiro escapes to his home village to comfort his father after the death of his mother Tamura soon shows up. It’s Tamura who is in the car with Shiro as they run over the Yakuza man leaving him dead in the middle of the road, and this is the marker for Shiro's decent into the terrifying spiral that lands him in the dark pits of hell. There are many story lines running at the same time, there’s the sudden death of Shiro’s fiancé Yukkio [Utako Mitsuya] and the way Shiro’s relationship with her devastated parents evolves, then there’s the family of “Tiger” Kyoichi’s family planning and attempting to take their revenge for the hit and run accident, and the complex story of Shiro’s return to his home village where he meets neighbour girl Sachiko who is the double of his late fiancé, also played by Mitsuya in a double role. The acting is top notch Shigery Amachi and Yoichi Numata deliver memorable performances as the strangely linked Shiro and Tamura, and Mitsuya is very persuasive in her portrayal of Yukkio/Sachiko. Nakagawa’s works being an influence on later genre directors like Takashi Shimizu, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Hideo Nakata is clearly noted as the tone of the movie is reminiscent of their works. It moves from a slow explanatory build up and works delicately up to the last climactic third in a manner that we are accustomed to with the later years wave of Asian horror flicks, slowly but surely.

After re-watching this movie, now in the stunning presentation Criterion have released, I realised during the opening montage, that there’s a lot of similarities to Adrian Lynne’s Jacob’s Ladder going on here. Not that I know if Lynne ever saw Jigoku, but it plays with the same themes, a dead man re-living his own personal hell. I’m sure that the opening sequence is an indicator that Shiro actually is already dead when the movie starts, and the entire movie is in fact his time in hell. Compared to the previously released, long out of print, Beam Entertainment DVD from Japan, I can't really say that there's much differance to the print more than some obvious reapairs that have been made to it, also the colours look better with the remastered Criterion editon. On the other hand the Beam edition has 2.0 sound where as Criterion have opted for 1.0 mono. The extras are the big bonus with the Criterion version. Definitely a must see movie for fans of the recent wave of Japanese horror movies.


Image:

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Colour, shot in 35mm Shintohoscope

Audio:
Dolby Digital Mono 1.0

Extras:
Once again Criterion gives reason to buy this disc with the extra features. This time they have included an almost forty minute documentary called Building the Inferno which focuses on the movies of Nakagawa. Actor Yoichi Numata, screenwriter Ichiro Miyagawa, Nakagawa collaborators Chiho Katsura and Kensuke Suzuki, and director Kiyoshi Kurosawa all talk about Jigoku and the influence it had on them. Just this documentary is worth the price if you want to know more about the masterful movies of Nobou Nakagawa. An essay by Chuck Stephens, and two artwork galleries stills and posters. To round it all off there’s the theatrical trailer for Jigoku.