Monday, April 23, 2007

Black Lizard

Black Lizard
Original title: Kurotokage
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku, Japan, 1968
Crime / Comedy, 86min
Distributed by: Cinevista Video
(DVD-R available from SASORI-41)

Story:
Japan’s top private investigator, Detective Akechi [Isao Kimura] goes head to head with the sneaky female jewel thief who goes under the name Black Lizard [Akihiro Miwa]. The Black Lizard has her eyes set on the world’s largest diamond, The Star of Egypt, in the possession of renowned jeweller Shobei Iwasa [Junya Usami]. To get her hands on the star Black Lizard has worked out a series of cunning plans to kidnap Iwasa’s daughter Sanyae [Kikko Matsuoka] to trade for her painfully desired Star of Egypt.

Me:
I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, you can’t go wrong with a Fukasaku movie. Black Lizard is a perfect example of Fukasaku at his best, but instead of the hard edge Yakuza style that he perfected in so many movies, Black Lizard plays it with a suave campy edge where the two leads, Kimura and Miwa, act out a cat and mouse game with sudden twists to the plot to show how they constantly are one step ahead of each other all the time. When you think that Detective Akechi has a good grip on the situation, Black Lizard quickly pulls her next move which has cunningly predicted what Akechi’s move would be and sets a complete new scenario in play, and every time Black Lizard thinks she’s one step ahead, Akechi is already there to surprise her with his countermove, and that’s how the movie plays. Fukasaku has probably made this structure deliberately and it works with the film instead of against, because even though you may already know that there’s going to be a twist, it just keeps dragging you in as you try to anticipate how they will outdo each other in each step they take. The grand finale is brilliant with it’s many plot twists and sudden revelations when Black Lizard reveals the final details of her fiendish plans for Sanaye and shows off her gallery of life-sized mummified dolls, the panic and fear that Sanaye shows and the sudden twist she’s confronted with as she thinks Amamiaya [Yuksue Kawazu] has come to save her, and then surprise a new twist that you definitely didn’t see coming and at the same time you’re awaiting Akechi to turn up and save the day… It’s an amazing blend of ingredients that make up one hell of a great movie that you’ll want to watch over and over again.

Black Lizard is based on Yukio Mishima’s stage adaptation, Mishimia who two years later committed seppuku, and was eternalized in Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, who also can be briefly seen as one of the human statues in Black Lizards evil lair, anyhow, the movie is based on Mishimas stage adaptation of Rampo Edogawa’s book (who frequently has Detective Korogo Akechi as a main character) and it is an amazing movie with a fantastic aura, great sets, wonderful locations and style that could possibly be called pop-art chic. Quite a few times I find myself thinking of Mario Bava’s Diabolik 1968, or some of Franco’s sexy/kitschy spy spoofs Sadist Erotica & Kiss Me Monster both from 1969 in particular, or even Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter 1966 and Branded to Kill 1967, which is no surprise really, the style, tone and attitude of the movies are very much in the same vain. Tongue in cheek, full of strong visuals, devoted criminals, focused heros , hot chicks and smooth soundtracks. The acting is on a terrific campy level, and the fact that Black Lizard is portrayed by the transvestite Akihiro Miwa, which is never discussed or mentioned in the movie, it’s just the way it is, just adds to the weird atmosphere of the movie, and spices up the passionate thrill between the two leads. (It's worth pointing out that Akihiro Miwa also supplied her/his voice talent to Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke 1997 and Howl's Moving Castle 2004)

Image:
Widescreen 16:9, with burned in English subtitles. Apart from three distortions in the source material the print is immaculate. I can’t dream of what a top notch company could do with a digital restoration of this movie.

Audio:
This DVD-R originates from a vhs master so the sound is Stereo 2.0

Extras:
None apart from the two page chapter sub-screen, but doesn’t really qualify as an extra does it.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Survive Style 5+


Survive Style 5+
Directed by: Gen Sukiguchi, Japan, 2004
Thriller/Comedy/Drama, 120min
Distributed by: Geneon


Story:
Five constellations of people and how their lives are interwoven in a fast paced blend of Guy Ritchie, Wes Anderson and Takashi Miike. There’s Yoko [Kyôko Koizumi] the self centred AD who is constantly trying to sell her abstract ideas to friends and customers, Aman [Tadanobu Asano] who is desperately trying to get away from his wife [Reika Hashimoto], but every time he succeeds in killing her and buries her, she mysteriously is resurrected by the time he gets home and the fight starts all over again. Sombre businessman Mr. Kobayashi [Shihori Kanjiya] and his family who find themselves stuck in a strange state a hypnotism goes terribly wrong, the three burglars Tsuda [Kanji Tsuda], Morishita [Yoshiyuki Morishita] and J [Jai West] where Tsuda is secretly in love with J, and finally the contract-killer-agent [Yosiyosi Arakawa] who has flown in a philosophical killer [Vinnie Jones] to help him out with a few cases.

Me:
I was in doubt a few times under the first fifteen minutes, as I thought Sukiguchi’s almost two hour debut feature would be a typical “first time feature film with a past in music videos” kind of movie and just rely heavily on fast editing fancy colourful sets and pacing to substitute plot and likeable characters but then something started to happen and I was slowly drawn in to the flow of the movie. Characters start to develop, obstacles for the five constellations are set in motion, music cues are introduced (like the “come Baby, come, come baby” Erasure-ish cues every time Tsuda starts to fantasize about J.) and the five individual tales are kicked into motion. One by one the paths cross into each other and have a varied effect on the cast. As soon as the five groups are introduced Sukiguchi starts of his magic, and one of the characters that I thought was going to be a lead character, Aoyoma the Hypnotist [Hiroshi Abe], after interacting with Mr. Kobayashi is violently killed off by Vinnie Jones hit man. This is how it continues to play through out, each set interacting with the others in one way or another. The moods that Sukiguchi tries to put on screen work like a charm, at the end of it all you end up believing the characters and rooting for their inner battles, The Homo-erotic tension between Tsuda and J, Aman and his wife battling it out and the wonderfully poetic twist that comes out of it, and even the surprise ending of Mr. Kobayashi, how unbelievable it still is, works and you feel satisfied with the conclusions. All of this isn’t depending on the fact that there’s loads of music, fast editing and some great sets and costume design, that’s just the two hour music video style and form coming though, No it all boils down to the well written stories and how the group of characters evolve, and the cast is really good, they do a great job of portraying all these fragile characters. The majority of the acting is great, Kanjiya is truly believable as the hypnotised father who now goes on living his life under hypnosis (I won’t tell you how, as it’s a hilarious story in the film), Koizumi sways from happy pitcher to misunderstood creative genius, which I’ve seen happen so many times in reality that I truly believe her. There’s even a great cameo by Sonny Chiba as Koizumi’s boss. It’s always a joy to watch Tadanobu Asano who always manages to wear his characters most inner feelings by only using very small measures; his Aman character is no exception. There’s almost no dialogue at all between Asano and Reika Hashimoto in their scenes, but still they manage to make the larges impression as their tale moves from so many extremes (fighting to the death, to reconciliation and happiness, to finally end up with saddens and despair). The only person that actually feels like he’s completely out of place is Vinnie Jones. His hard-as-a-rock jargon “What’s your function in life?” doesn’t quite work for me, or it could just be the sickness of him sticking to the same type of roles that he’s become accustomed to, like Ritchie’s Lock Stock, and Snatch. A loudmouthed hit man with no sense of remorse anywhere.

So to summarize, Survive Style 5+ truly is a kickass fun fest of a rollercoaster where Sekiguchi skilfully blends his music video and commercial trademarks of vibrant colours and surreal situations with well plotted storylines that make for a great movie which in the end didn’t felt way shorter than the two hours it plays, which is a good thing. Definitely worth checking out. Unfortunately this is the only movie to date that Sekigushi has directed, and that’s a shame, it’s these kinds of young in-your-face directors that we need to keep the Asian film scene from becoming synonymous with Samurai, Yakuza and pale subtle ghosts.

Image:
16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen. Subtitles in Japanese, and English optional

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Digital 2.0

Extras:
Promotional films for the movie, TV trailers and the Theatrical trailer. There could easily have been a lot more on this disc.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

PULSE

PULSE
Directed by: Jim Sonzero, USA, 2006
Horror / Thriller / Sci-Fi, 90 min.
Distributed by: Dimension Films


Story:
When Mattie's [Kristen Bell] computer hacker boyfriend Josh [Jonathan Tucker] starts ignoring her she goes to visit him after a mysterious phone call left on her answering machine. When she gets there Josh is obviously disturbed by something and proceeds to take his life in front of her eyes. Three days later Mattie receives an email from Josh begging her to help him. This is just the start of a series of strange events that seem to be triggered by the wireless technology that we take for granted as a strange ghost like figure glitches it's way into Mattie and her friends life scaring them beyond belief as they one by one fall for the curse that makes them want to take their own lives...

Me:
What a load of bollocks. Honestly, what a waste of time. Based on the far superior movie Kairo by Kioshi Kurosawa, this movie is just another in the way to long line of piss poor US remakes. The acting is appalling, when Mattie finds her hung boy friend the best she can do is blurt out an "Oh My God" which could just as easily have been in reference to the price of her cell bill. It just doesn't work. It's flat and even though they try to make it scary it isn't. In one of the many "featurettes" in the special features they claim to have taken a scary movie and enhanced it so that it's even scarier... Duh, listen here all you remakers, the originals work because they take a low key no frills approach to the spectres, ghosts and scary little white ghosts. They just appear, or they are already part of the scene. When Josh first appears in his flat they use this to perfection just like in the original, he's already there and just stands up. No soundtrack key, no glitchy sound effect, just natural and raw. But after that and Kristen Bell's worst line every delivery "Oh My God.", it just goes down hill. Musical keys all the time, I know that something is going to happen because all the classic Hollywood keys tell me to get ready for a shock, that's what turned me off western horror and made me start watching Asian horror instead. Nope, for me this movie did nothing, nothing at all, and the only thing that made me sit though it was the fact that they at least had carbon copied key scenes from the movie they are trying to outdo. It's also very obvious that Sonzero comes from the music video side of the spectrum. Because there's a feeling to the movie that I can't put my finger on it, but sometimes a movie is all look and no feeling (or acting] and that's a good sign that it's a music director trying to pull off something he can't. Niespel's TCM [2003] remake works in some ways, Tarsem's eye popping The Cell [2000] work's, they have great visuals, rather good acting and the movies have a storyline that create an interest. The last I heard of Sonzero is that he's helming Clive Barker's Hellraiser remake. That is one hell of an original movie to try to remake, and it's more than likely going to be one of the last nails hammered into the last few years remake craze. But perhaps this is a good thing; at least we'll not have to see favourite movies desecrated again and again until the next wave hit's us.

So stay away from this movie, and put your money on buying the original there's a very obvious reason why this film bombed at the theaters.

Image:
Widescreen 1.66:1. For some reason the creators of this movie thought that giving the "ghost scenes" and the "other side" a washed out grey scale look would help the movie, but in my opinion it didn't. It just adds to the fakeness that wasn't anywhere to be found in the original.
Subtitles in English [H.O.H.] and Spanish are optional.

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 & French Dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1

Extra:
A bunch of deleted/additional scenes, including a totally anticlimactic death of Dexter scene that is so lame I'm lost for words. Creating the Fear a making of and featurettes focusing on the visual effects and one on the paranormal phenomenons found in Pulse. Two commentaries that I'm sure never to endure listening too, and the theatrical trailer.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Borat : Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Borat : Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan Directed by: Larry Charles, USA, 2006 Comedy, 84min Distributed by: SF / Fox

Story:
Kazakhi journalist Borat Sagdiyev [Sacha Baron Cohen] takes a trip to the US and A to learn stuff for the benefit of his homeland. During his learnings he sees an old Baywatch re-run on TV and falls head over heels for Pamela Anderson who now becomes his new quest. Together with his producer Azamat Bagatov [Ken Davitian] they take to the road in a desperate journey from New York to Los Angeles.

Me:
Is Borat really a funny movie? Well Ok, so I did laugh out loud a quite a few times. Sometimes over old skits in new settings, old skits taken one step further and obviously some of the new skits and wraparound scenes created for the flow of the movie. But at the same time there's a way too familiar feeling to the movie that makes it feel tiresome, even for its short run of 84 minutes. Sure the gags work, but being an avid fan of Cohen's Borat since he first started hitting the air some ten years ago as part of the Ali G show we've seen the most of it before, we know where there going, and we already know what sort of a pay off we're in for. We've seen the two US seasons and we already know that the yanks are arrogant, racist bigots so I don't really know if we actually needed this movie. That's where I somehow feel that the 2002 movie Ali G Inadahouse, directed by Mark Mylod is in some ways a better film. Cohen uses his writing to set Ali G in his home town of Staines where his life outside of the TV-studios and bad interviewing take a new level, and Ali G has an adventure unlike anything that we have ever seen the character in before. (There's even a Borat cameo in the movie) Unfortunately that's where Borat is sort of a let down. The opening sequences in Kazakhstan as Borat shows us round his village and it's complex gallery of personalities is great stuff, predictable, but amusing, the new "candid" skits like the driving instructor & the ghetto boys before Borat wiggers himself into begging thrown out of a hotel also makes me giggle just writing about them, but by far the best are the scenes with Davitian which mostly work like a charm and have the fresh element that I was asking for earlier. I mean who will ever forget the naked wrestling? So yes, Borat is a funny movie even if it in fact only is a greatest hits package with some new material thrown in, but it works and is an entertaining movie.

Image:
Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic. Removable subtitles in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish are optional

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1 & Dolby Digital dts.

Extras:
This is the rental version and has nothing apart from a few trailers for other SF / Fox movies.