written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt. It starts off as a rather blahzé pseudo romantic dramedy with undercurrents of annoying jazz and tacky 80’sisms. Anthony Edwards cruises a museum, catching the eye of Mare Winningham. They quickly establish a connection and suddenly it’s time for a montage of them playfully swinging Los Angeles. They arrange to meet up after Mare gets off her midnight shift at the all-night diner she works at. Anthony goes back to his hotel or apartment or whatever (I never did catch exactly whether he lived in LA or was there on business or something) and through a freak sequence of events the power in the building conks out and he wakes up at 3am, making it to the diner four hours late. He tries to call his new love interest from the paybox outside the diner but so sad and depressed she took her meds and isn’t waking up for the end of the world. While mulling about outside the diner, the pay box rings and Anthony picks it up. Frantic on the other end is a guy who works at a missile sile trying to reach his father saying, more or less, that the US has launched nukes and the Russians are retaliating. The question is, was it real or is it a hoax?
The film really begins there. Edwards is lost, unsure if he believes what he heard. His suspicions are confirmed (though not definitively, but enough to believe them) and from the moment of the phone call the movie operates in “real time”. Despite the trite opening, it’s actually quite brilliantly paced from thereon in, watching as word spreads of the impending doom in the wee hours of the morning, following Edwards as he races to rescue his love, and the futile effort to try and escape. The city begins to escalate into madness as each second wares on, and the ending is as bleak and inevitable as its set-up presumes. Completely filled with an 80’s aesthetic, it can be a little rough to watch at times, and the Tangerine Dream synth score only further dates it, but it stands as a capsule of the era in which it was made, when children would see mushroom clouds on the cover of newspapers and worry about not waking up in the morning.
written (with Ryuzo Kikushima) and directed by Akira Kurosawa. Ah, Kurosawa is a brilliant filmmaker. He’s probably best described as the Hitchcock of the East… just a completely and utterly capable director, a clever writer, and a capability for storytelling that is his own. But man, Stray Dog is boring… some might call it methodical, me I think it’s about 30 minutes too long. Kurosawa favourite Toshiro Mifune stars as a rookie detective who gets his gun lifted on public transporation. So ashamed he hands in his resignation… his superior officer tells him to grow a backbone. Mifune sets out on the trail to find his gun, making some progress and gaining confidence only to be deflated as his gun is progressively used in more and more serious crimes. The focal point of the film is the character’s guilt about having his gun used for evil purposes, but it’s just a conceit I can’t buy. Even one character explains how guns are stolen every day and how he should just get over it… but he can’t. As a protagonist he’s weak, and I don’t mean just flawed. He’s weak to the point of being unsympathetic, and the path he takes to retrieve his gun gives him little to progress with as a character. He’s even rewarded at the end of the film, when really he should have been dismissed from his position. Kurosawa doesn’t manage to keep much suspence or drama retained outside of the last 20 minutes, and even then it’s not nearly as exciting or clever as it could have been in, say, Hitchcock’s hands. Trimmed down by 40 minutes it could be taut suspense but it really falls flat as a character drama.
Immortal (ad vitam)
written (with Serge Lehman) and directed by Enki Bilal. This one was a creeper. I hated it as the opening minutes rolled on, but after the first hour I found myself incredibly wrapped up in the strange future world it presented, the oddball characters that populated it, and the absolutely bizarre special effects that were used. An almost completely digital film, it mixes and matches human actors with, honestly, quite poorly rendered animated character. At the same time however, the futuristic New York that the filmmakers created looks utterly stunning, and the hybrid human/animated characters mesh and gel quite well with their city. The film is a puzzle of characters whose purpose or motivations you’re never quite sure of, while at the same time the underlying story doesn’t really reveal itself until late in the film as the various curious aspects and random sidetracking characters begin to swirl together. It has a completely European comic/Heavy Metal feel to it, a deliberately restrained pace, just oozing mood from it’s undersaturated hues. Though it cops (heavily) elements from the Matrix, X-Men, and Blade Runner, a grand imagination backs it up, even if it feels a little random at time, and even the crappy effects don’t seem so bad by the end (why they couldn’t use humans for all characters I don’t know). The lead actors Linda Hardy and Thomas Kretschmann are fabulous in their roles, with Hardy playing a beautiful but troubled mutant, while Kretschmann is an escaped convict who she both loves her and despises as he’s used as a vessel of rape by an Egyptian God seeking eternal life. Not easy-to-consume fare, but rewarding, however people who like their effects flashy and with spit and polish are only going to be annoyed.
written by Arthur Laurents, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. A recent fascination with the “real time” effect in movies led me to this less notorious film in the Hitch’s oeuvre, a taught suspense drama with a morbid and fascinating heart. Two college school chums (with subtle homosexual underpinnings) decide, as experiment, to murder one of their class mates, stuff him in a trunk, and then hold a party in the very same room with the dead boy’s friends and family in attendance. John Dall and Farley Granger play the murderers Brandon and Philip. Brandon is the dominant member, confident and feeling the euphoric rush of both his deed and the potential for getting caught. Philip is, in essence, a patsy… someone weak and nervous whom Brandon could sucker into experiencing it all with him, and perhaps validate his ruthlessness or offload his guilt. One of the attendees is a favoured teacher of theirs, Rupert (James Stewart) one whose philosophical teachings were inspiration for Brandon’s cold plot. In inviting Rupert, a very cunning and wry man, Brandon suspects the possibility he will figure them out, and is in fact hoping for it, in anticipation of both praise and approval.
The suspense of the film lies in whether anyone will figure out the plot, and whether the boys’ own neuroses will be their own betrayal… but even greater suspence was removed by the fact that we were explicitely shown the murder and disposal of the body in the opening stages of the film. By far the movie would have played out even more intensely if the audience were unsure if the body were actually in the trunk or not.
With this film, the Hitch attempts (perhaps for the first time) to direct with one continuous shot. The limitations of film at the time meant there could only be a maximum of about a dozen minutes per reel, and so panning in and out of dark spaces was needed to transition between reels but is done well enough to seem a single continuous shot (for the era, anyway, however I did notice one explicit edit about halfway through).
The acting is solid, if a little obvious at times from Dall and Granger, and Stewart doesn’t seem to understand his role as mentor, and likely, lover to the young boys. He plays it fairly generic and sexless, which makes Rupert just a little less interesting.
Technically it’s wonderful, and storywise it’s fantastic with but a few failings in the execution on the part of both the directors and actors. Completely worth viewing.
Howl’s Moving Castle
written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Yes, yes, and a thousand times yes. This is storytelling and filmmaking at its absolute peak, using every resource to its maximum potential. In this instance it’s animation, a field which has no boundaries and no limits to what it can convey. Miyazaki is a master of the medium and his Studio Ghibli the perfect back-up band. With Howl’s Moving Castle, Miyazaki adapts fantasy author Diana Wynn Jones’ novel () into a film that just exhudes awe, wonder and imagination. Sophie is the hero of the movie, a young, insecure woman who finds herself smitten by a young magician, but soon cursed into appearing as an old lady. Confused she flees from home in search of a reversal spell, soon coming across the moving castle. Inside she meets Calcifer, the fire demon that fuels and navigates the building, and Markl, a young magician’s apprentice. Their master would be Howl, a young but powerful wizard, with a darkness inside that threatens to take control, while at the same time the two warring factions of the land demand his involvement in their battle. Sophie, having been smitten by Howl before her transformation, finds refuge in his home and cares for him and his household as deeply as anything else. Howl shows her both the wonders and the horrors of the worlds of magic and men, and his ever-growing list of enemies accumulate and continually threaten them all.
Vivid, imaginative, and utterly engrossing, “Howl’s Moving Castle” is filled with curious and mysterious characters, a tragectory and pacing that defies conventions, and is so visually creative that there’s bound to be dozens of things you’ve never seen before. The American voice work for the film features a few recognizable voices such as Christian Bale and Billy Crystal, however, the majority of the cast are solid character and vocal actors lending a comfort and naturalness to the film.
Mémoires affectives (Looking for Alexandre)
written (with Marcel Beaulieu ) and directed by Francis Leclerc. I’m not sure what it is that makes this film so much better than, say, Possible Worlds (which I reviewed back in Short Rounds vol.1) as they both seem to elicit a similar sense of moodiness, with sparse scoring, and lot of mental manipulation via story elements and visual/audio tinkering. Both also feature a fairly similar visual pallette, grey and blue hues saturating the screen, with more sepiatones during flashback moments. Perhaps it just comes down to the acting. Mémoires affectives (I like the French title so much better than the lame English one) stars one of Canada’s more prominent actors, Roy Dupuis, as Alexandre, a veterinarian who wakes up an amnesiac after many months in a coma. His family return to his side, if briefly, and the police attempt to determine, through his spotty memory, the perpetrator in his hit-and-run accident. Though the core of the film is a man figuring out his past through pieces of spotty memory, there’s also the added element of mystery… flashbacks which haunt him, dreams in which he sees himself from the outside, moments where characters fill in the blanks and in the same breath reverse their statements, and waking dreams in which Alex speaks in a Native tongue that should be foreign to him. Throught these techniques the film plays out like a puzzle, “Memento” style with a bit of the madness of “Insomnia”.
It’s a curious story crafted by a very capable production team and a talented cast. The primary failure of the film is not clearly resolving the initial mystery… by the end we understand the character and his psychoses, but we’re not quite sure why or how he fell into his coma (was it the childhood trauma rearing its head while euthanizing the deer or was he actually hit by an 18 wheeler? *shrug*)
written and directed by Jacob Gentry. Based on the novel by Patrick Kaye. A brooding little indie film that starts off hokish and perhaps a little too self aware, but quickly settles into a nice mood and pace which resonantes through to its finale. Using an non-linear narrative, the Last Goodbye follows the interweaving stories of four characters as their lives slowly come undone. Though few of the actors in the film are recognizable (Faye Dunaway and David Carradine put in special appearances), solid performances abound throughout (Alex Quinn as the rock star was really the only stiff one amongst them). Gentry’s direction is surprisingly adept, with some beautful camerawork, and a the film succeeds most thanks to an expert edit. If anything didn’t work for the film it was some of the dialogue, as the film attempted to be as natural as possible, but some of the lines probably only worked on the written page. Although it’s hardly groundbreaking, Last Goodbye is an exceptionally well put together indie film that successfully tries a few new things a lesser director couldn’t pull off. Add it to your “to see” list, somewhere in the middle.
written by Shepard Abbott, and Parnell Hall, directed by Douglas Cheek. Since I’ve been working for CHUD.com for well over a year now, I figured I should finally get around to watching the mid-80’s cult creature feature it takes its name after. I don’t have a lot of fond memories of 1980’s genre cinema, but there’s something to be said about horror and sci-fi and speculative drama from the era… they were certainly unafraid of any idea and embarassment, indeed, was counterproductive. Costuming, rubber suites, faux-technology, special effects, make-up… none of it was exactly revolutionary, but pushing the envelope of what could be done with it (or rather, what the audience would except) was the rule of the day. C.H.U.D., oddly enough, has itself a bit of a political message behind the idea of sewer-living, people-eating mutants… it’s a damning of America’s (or at the very least New York’s) treatment of the homeless, as well as attempting to stick it to secretive government and bad-enviro business practices. Sure it’s all hinged around goofy glowing, bug-eyed rubbersuits, but it’s more effort than most films put during that time. Stars John Heard, Daniel Stern, Christopher Curry and Kim Griest each bring craft and an enthusiasm to the film which says they might be in it for more than a paycheque. Though past the halfway point it descends into kind of token 80’s creature chases and explosions, the first half is sharp and engaging enough to make up for it. Fun in a guilty pleasure kind of way.
written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. A trio of tales taking place in Memphis, centered around a run-down hotel, this is another in Jarmusch’s style of sedate filmmaking. The first and most engaging tale sees a young Japanese couple hit the town to see Graceland, although the boy of the duo is more into Carl Perkins. The second story finds an Italian woman stranded in town until morning, sharing a room with a scatterbrained, down-on-her-luck American. Three imbecilic friends populate the third story, getting drunk, robbing a liquor store and sleeping it off at the hotel, tensions running high the whole time. Each story has its mildly amusing bits, however, the film seems to be a love letter to Memphis without truly focussing on the city itself. As with all of Jarmusch’s films, there is a sense of curiousity, depth and humour underneath that continues to reveal itself upon repeated watchings, it’s getting past that first viewing that is the difficulty.