Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ang Lee's LUST CAUTION gets a NC-17 rating

The trailer for Ang Lee's new film Lust Caution has been online for a while now. It has also been getting some heavy play at the ol' Landmark Theaters in town. It looks somber, beautiful and, yes, a little sexy. But NC-17 sexy? Apparently Lust Caution will be released with a NC-17 rating for what is reportedly a montage of aggressive sex. The Hollywood Reporter detailed that "There's no full-frontal male nudity, but male-on-female oral sex, non-S&M restraints and several nontraditional sexual positions are depicted, conveying the aggression and emotional conflict between the main characters."

The NC-17 rating essentially replaced the X rating in 1989. I was working in a movie theater in 1989 where we played two films at the center of the
NC-17 controversy: The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. There were probably as many men who showed up expecting a typical X film as there were adventurous film fans. At this point most films will choose "unrated" over the NC-17 stigma. The MPAA explains that "NC-17 does not mean 'obscene' or 'pornographic' in the common or legal meaning of those words, and should not be construed as a negative judgment in any sense. The rating simply signals that the content is appropriate only for an adult audience." Whatever. There are many that still believe that NC-17 equals porn.

No one at Focus features is worried about the rating, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Focus CEO and co-writer of Lust Caution James Schamus contends that nothing will be changed. As a matter of fact, the article in the New York Times last Sunday seemed to imply that he and Lee were expecting the NC-17 rating. However, many newspapers and television stations may refuse to take ads from a NC-17 rated film, and there may even be theaters unwilling to play the film. That being said, Ang Lee tackled gay cowboys without hesitation so I hardly think he cares about puritanical US institutions. Lust Caution is nonetheless fundamentally a much different film from Brokeback Mountain. It is a foreign language film (strike one) and it's lead actors don't have near the star power on this side of the Pacific (strike two). Will the NC-17 rating be strike three? Honestly, if anyone can pull it off it is Ang Lee.

Although I don't think the whole NC-17 thing is a marketing strategy, I have to admit that my interest is even more piqued. Beyond seeing Tony Leung and Tang Wei getting supersexy, I am equally curious about two other aspects of the film. First is how Tony Leung's notoriously poor Mandarin will be (hopefully not as bad as Chow Yun Fat's and Michelle Yeoh's.) Hou Hsiao-hsien's remedy in City of Sadness was to simply make Tony Leung's character mute. Zhang Yimou's solution in Hero was, in the end, to dub his voice (and to be fair, you barely notice.) Second curiosity is Wang Leehom's performance. It's unfortunate that he gets no billing in the trailer. I would bet my $8 movie ticket Leehom has more screen time than Chen, but someone shotlisted him because of lack of name recognition. I like Leehom who was born in the US and moved to Taiwan after graduating from college. He has since become on of the biggest pop stars in Asia. Lust Caution could be a big breakthrough for him, so I feel he is undeservedly being shortlisted, as far as the trailer goes.

We'll all have to wait and see. Lust Caution will premiere at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals before opening in New York, followed by an October 5 release in select cities.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

DVD releases for August 28

When Alberto Gonzales resigns on your first day back from vacation, things can't be so bad. Second day back, reality sets in and I am trying to muster some sort of enthusiasm for the week's DVD offerings. Here we go:

Horrors of Malformed Men (1969) directed by Teruo Ishii
I read Tom Mes' review of this film some time ago, and the praise that he heaped on what seems to be just your average B movie stuck with me. Keeping in mind that I find "messy and illogical" a complement to a film, it goes without saying that this film is not for everyone. The folks at DVD Talk called Horrors of Malformed Men "an absurdist pageant of sadistic delights." The film sounds like a total trip. For fans, this DVD is not to be missed, boasting a new transfer and loads of special features. I love it that a small label like Synapse will take a chance and pull a title out of its hat like this.

Snake Woman's Curse (1968) directed by Nobuo Nakagawa
Another great titled from Synapse with similar special features. Nakagawa in this case is the more recognizable name, a master of stylish horror films from the 50s and 60s culminating with his film Jigoku (Hell). Contemporary Japanese horror filmmakers are all indebted for the road that Nakagawa pioneered. Snake Woman's Curse (also known as Ghost Story of the Snake Woman) is not known to be one of his best films but one of the very few available on DVD with English subtitles.

Red Road (2006) directed by Andrea Arnold
If you missed Arnold's Red Road at the Women With Vision fest at the Walker and its subsequent run at the Lagoon, you are a loser like me. Reported to be one of the best, if not the best offering, of Women With Vision this past Spring, its arrival on DVD gives us all another chance. I love the set up: the main character works as a monitor of the closed circuit TV that dot Glasgow, and sees a person from her past on one of those monitors. Red Road is the first in a planned trilogy from Lars von Trier. (The original idea being three directors using the same three characters in a separate film, all shot in a 6 week period; already off track, we'll see if the other two films ever come to fruition.)

Offside (2007) directed by Jafar Panahi
Six Iranian girls are forced to dress up as boys to gain admittance into a soccer match. Women being banned from a sporting event is of course an innocuous symbol of large problems than no doubt exist. I suspect this film will follow a very predictable narrative trajectory, but I'm willing to give it a chance.

Dave McKean's Keanoshow (2007)
McKean is the visual brawn behind the narrative brains of Neil Gaiman. I love McKean's work and will buy any comic he has illustrated. This DVD contains seventeen short works from McKean. Fun.

Citizen Dog (2004) directed by Wisit Sasanatieng
Read my thoughts on this film here. Citizen Dog did not live up to my expectations, but it is nonetheless cute and entertaining. This is released by Tai Seng, which means they take the Hong Kong version and slap their sticker on it for North American release.

Year of the Dog (2007) directed by Mike White
I'm a dog owner and I transfer any maternal compulsions I have to doting on him. Is that an excuse for wanting to see this film? I don't think so. I love Molly Shannon (I know, I know, it's not Superstar Molly Shannon) and the supporting cast seems great (Laura Dern, John C Reilly). Mike White directed the critically acclaimed Chuck and Buck and the much loved School of Rock. Oh yeah, he did Nacho Libre too. Anyway, Year of the Dog has to be better than Blades of Glory.

Notable DVDs from last week without the blah blah blah:
The Lives of Others
(2006) directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
House of Games Critrion (1987) directed by David Mamet
Broken English (2007) directed by Zoe Cassavetes
The Michael Haneke Collection

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Life's a Beach, at least for a week

Time for me to take a week off. There are two kinds of vacations: one where you travel to an exciting place and go, go, go and another where you go to a beautiful place and stop. Next week I will be partaking in the later of the two. St George Island is one of those hidden gems that you always hear about. Beautiful white sand, very little development and very few people. I look forward to sleeping in and chilling out.

I promise to return refreshed and prepared to write more interesting entries. For those interested, you can spy on me (or at least an anonymous section of the beach) here: St George Island webcam

Monday, August 13, 2007

DVD releases for August 14

Okay people. Strap in and hold on. It is a good week for good DVD releases. Okay it is a good week for a DVD release, even though there are other options out there, too. The top contender this week is an exception. I am so excited to see Inland Empire again, and even more excited that I get to watch it in the privacy of my own home - I don't know what that means.

Inland Empire (2006) directed by David Lynch
I don't care if you made more trips to the Oak Street than I did, how could you not want to see this film again. The non-linear narrative structure had my head spinning, even on the third viewing. Lynch's best film? Not sure about that. Laura Dern's best film? Absolutely. Inland Empire is an epic nightmare that has to be seen (a few times) to be believed. If you haven't seen it, make sure you get a seven day rental. Or better yet just buy it. This is a David Lynch endorsed two DVD special edition. I'm going on vacation next week and I am taking the DVD with me!

The First Films of Samuel Fuller: I Shot Jesse James (1949), The Baron of Arizona (1950), and Steel Helmet (1951)
How can this not be cool. I have not seen any of these films, and I am pretty excited that they are now available. (This is the fifth in Criterion's Eclipse Series: "a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple, affordable editions." Other editions have included Early Bergman, The Documentaries of Louis Malle, and Late Ozu. Dear Criterion, please send me screeners.) Fuller is a director that I feel I have seen way too little of, but the three I have seen (White Dog, The Big Red One, and Pickup on South Street) made me want to see more. I Shot Jesse James is the story of Bob Ford, the man who shot Jesse James. The Baron of Arizona is a western of sorts starring Vincent Price as the Baron. And Steel Helmet is Fullers film about the Korean War.

Graveyard of Honor (2002) directed by Takashi Miike
This is the film that convinced me that Takashi Miike was not just a hack. Miike has made some great films, but at the rate of about four films a year, there's a bad film for every good one. Graveyard of Honor is a remake of a 1975 Kinji Fukasaku film by the same name. Fukasaku's would have been a tough act to follow, but Miike pulls it off with stunning skill. In many ways it is a standard yakuza story about one man's rise to the top. Graveyard of Honor is unflinchingly brutal and unapologeticly grim. Goro Kishitani gives an intense performance as Ishimatsu, a dishwasher who has an appetite for violence. This film is not for the faint of heart.

Vacancy (2007) directed by Nimród Antal
This film passed me right by. I feel like I saw the trailer, but it wasn't exactly being promoted as "The new film from the director of Kontroll" so I paid it no attention. Kontoll is a Hungarian that I saw in a packed theater a few years ago at the MSPIFF. I was really impressed by this gritty yet surreal action drama. Had this film been made in the US I think it would have done really well. So I'm curious about Vacancy. Starring Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson.

Cria Cuervos (1976) directed by Carlos Saura
I should probably know more about this director and this film, but I don't. From Criterion: "Carlos Saura's exquisite Cria cuervos… heralded a turning point in Spain: shot while General Franco was on his deathbed, the film melds the personal and the political in a portrait of the legacy of fascism and its effects on a middle-class family (the title derives from the Spanish proverb: 'Raise ravens and they’ll peck out your eyes')." Criterion is sort of like film school. You can rent a movie, and watch interviews and even listen to a commentary by a scholar about the film. I'm willing to learn. This film looks interesting. That's a pretty cover too.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters for DVD (2007) directed by Dave Willis
I'm still clueless about Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but I missed this in the theaters. The trailers had me in stitches.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hideo Nakata's KAIDAN

Hideo Nakata is due for a rebirth, and maybe it will be with Kaidan, his new film that opened in Japan last week. Nakata, the man behind Ring (or Ringu, if you want), seems to have been beating a dead horse for a while now. Don't get me wrong, I would be the first to defend The Ring and the avalanche of so-called J-horror that followed. The original Ring (1998) is a great horror film with loads of style and substance. (Ring also has a special place in my heart, because it was Ring that pushed me towards my very first PAL converting Malata region free DVD player; the Japanese DVD had no subs, but it was out in the UK. The frenzy was too much, I had to see it.) However, Nakata's subsequent Japanese Ring 2 (1999) and US Ring 2 (2005), left much to be desired. Dark Water (2002) was also treading the same territory. Attempts to break from the mold, (Chaos 1999, Sleeping Bride 2000, and Last Scene 2002) have fallen flat. Who can blame him for returning to the franchise that wins the big money, press and popularity, even if it means sacrificing some creativity. (There are rumors that Nakata has signed on for a US Ring 3 due out in 2008.) It is under these circumstances that I find his new film so encouraging.

In an interview with the Japan Times, Nakata explains that he is really not a fan of the contemporary horror genre. He explains that it is the period dramas that he enjoys, which is clearly what Kaidan draws from. Nakata sites Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937), Kenji Mizoguchi's The Crucified Lovers (1954) and Kenji Misumi's Yotsuya Kaidan (1959) as inspirations for his new film, but it is probably Nobuo Nakagawa's films that Kaidan most resembles in style and plot. Unfortunately only Nakagawa's film Jogoku is available here in the US (with his film Snake Woman's Curse due out at the end of August.) Nakagawa's most famous films were full of female ghosts and the men who fell pray to them.

The other appealing thing about Nakata's Kaidan is what seems to be an involved plot with an multitude of characters, intersecting curses, and the real ambiance of a mystery. It goes like this: "250 years ago. Soetsu, a humble moneylender, is murdered by Shinzaemon, a cruel samurai, and his body is disposed of in Kasane-ga-fuchi - the pool of a snaking river where, legend has it, those who sink into the water will never float to the surface again. 20 years later, in a chance encounter, Shinkichi, the handsome son of Shinzaemon, meets Toyoshiga, the daughter of Soetsu, and they fall in love. When Toyoshiga dies from a strange disease, Shinkichi finds that not only is he unable to avoid the mysterious fatality of the past and Toyoshiga's tenacious love for him, but he is also forced to confront the ghostly truths held by Kasane-ga-fuchi." (Plot summery from

The trailer looks absolutely stunning. (Although there's an Ayumi Hamasaki song prominently featured in the trailer and the official website, I think this is no more than good ol' Japanese marketing than a representation of the film's soundtrack.) Three trailers can be found HERE on, along with ample photos. None of the trailers contain subtitles, but who cares. Watch them, you'll see what I mean. Kaidan opened in Japan on August 4th. Although it did modest business on opening weekend, at number eight, hopefully Kaidan will find a longer play time and will deliver Nakata beyond the Ring.

If you have some time on your hands and are not afraid of websites in Japanese, check out the official website HERE. (Click on 人口 and wait.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

DVD releases for August 7

How is it that out of 459 new releases on DVD, I can only find one that I am excited about, one that might be a worthy purchase and then one that I'm just sort of interested in? Here's an overview of what is encompassed in those 400+ releases: truck load of Elvis movies (if that is your bag, I will be no help), lots of triple feature repackaging (for example, you can have Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Summer Rental, and Foul Play all on one DVD), TV shows, TV shows, TV shows, and finally just a lot of crud (for example Mustang Sally's Horror House, John Deere Action, Bellydance Underworld, NFL History of the Kansas City Chiefs, The Pursuit of Excellence: Ferrets - links provided to prove I'm not lying.) Oh, yeah, and there are some Blu-ray re-issues. (Can I just say for the record that I hope the Blu-ray format loses out because I hate that name.) Enough of the whining; who needs more than three recommendations anyway? Here they are:

Private Fears in Public Places (2006) directed by Alain Resnais
Well, so much for holding out for this one in the theaters. Or maybe the smart people over at the Parkway will screen this. Alain Resnais (Hiroshima, mon amour, Last Year at Marienbad) is in his eighties and still-a-makin' the films. I have heard good (but not great) things about this film. Based on a play by Alan Ayckbourn, Private Fears follows a group of individuals looking for love, or someone to fill the void of loneliness. Some people call this a comedy, some a drama, and others a romantic version of the two. The trailer looks beautiful. Considering all the falling snow in the film, it is a perfect rent for these steamy days. I actually haven't seen that many of Resnais' films, and while I could blame that on the lack of screen time he gets here in the US, there are many of his films on DVD that I have not seen. I want to make a point of checking this out.

Luis Buñuel Boxset: Gran Casino (1947) and The Young One (1960)
The arrival of two Buñuel films that were previously unavailable in the US is something to celebrate. Gran Casino was his first film he made ofter moving to Mexico, and it was overall a failure, both critically and financially. The fifty cent plot summery goes like this: a worker assumes the business of an oil well after the owner goes missing; sister of the missing owner comes in to find out what really happened. The Young One is held in much higher regard, dealing with racism, innocence and the spoils of society. A black jazz musician, escaping a wrongful rape charge, lands on an island with only two other inhabitants. It doesn't sound like things turn out very well. Details about the DVD are scant, but it looks like special features are nil to minimal.

Disturbia (2007) directed by D.J. Caruso
"Rear Window for the Nickolodeon set." That's funny. Nonetheless this movie seems interesting.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Manohla Dargis does Comic-Con

New York Times movie critic Manohla Dargis has redeemed herself by not only attending Comic-Con, but reveling in the convention where fans rule. I have never recovered from Dargis' review of Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, that I felt was unfair in so many ways. I was convinced that she was a high-browed critic that couldn't reduce herself to fan-boydom. Maybe that is still true, but Dargis removes the fancy-pants NYT film critic hat for her report ("We're All Geeks Here") on this year's Comic-Con in San Diego.

Dargis was struck at the intimacy and sincerity between fan and producer. Acknowledging the pros and cons of such a huge convention, Dargis nonetheless wholeheartedly admits that she "had a blast" at her first Comic-Con. More than anything, I appreciate her reporting on Comic-Con, as an outsider (and a paid outsider), and recognizing the genuine spirit of the people attending. Like most conventions of this sort, whether they be pegged as a fantasy con or an anime con or a comic con, people attend because they feel they can be themselves. I would argue that there is a little bit of Comic-Com fever in all of us, and Manohla Dargis just backed that up.

Friday, August 3, 2007

August 1, 2007, Minneapolis

As July melts into August, despite the incredible heat, most Minnesotans are keen to the fact that this is the beginning of the end of summer, and winter is just around the corner. Locally we have been preoccupied a number of things that range from important to totally inane: a statewide drought threatens most of Minnesota's crops, the biggest star the Minnesota Timberwolves has seen and ever will be seen has been traded to Boston, the Twins are winning only just enough to keep possible playoff hopes alive, and the front page story in the Star Tribune about feral cats in St Paul. All this changed on Wednesday night, when one of the most freakish occurrences took place in our back yard: the 35W bridge collapsed into the Mississippi.

It is a hard thing to wrap your head around. It's not a natural occurrence or so called act of God. It is not a purposeful act or a so called act of terrorism. And, although it is hard not to have someone to blame, it is not in most probability an error in gross negligence. No doubt, mistakes were made somewhere at some time and maybe those mistakes just piled up and the bridge simply had one too many heavy loads. In the end, it is just one of those things that happens when we live in a world with man made structures. That being said, not only was it a bridge, but it was a freeway bridge. And not only a freeway bridge, but a bridge that spanned a river. I can't help but be amazed at the photos and how it just seems like the middle section dropped down into the Mississippi. Freakish.

It goes without saying that my thoughts are with those who experienced this unbelievable accident, or were injured, or knew someone who was injured, or knew someone who died. There is nothing fare about who was on that bridge and who wasn't at 6:05pm. Everyone who has a car and lives in the Twin Cities area has driven over this bridge. Even if you don't have a car, you have probably ridden across it with someone. In spite of the fact that I live relatively close to the bridge, a rarely used it. I spend most of my commuting on a bike and I rarely have to go far enough south that would enlist using the freeway. Nonetheless, my commute path to work on my bike takes me on a pedestrian footbridge that connects 5th St over 35W, just 100 yards north of the bridge span. As I rode to work on Thursday morning, the dead silence on the footbridge with no rush hour traffic going to and fro was eerie and literally gave me goosebumps. The view from the 10th Avenue bridge has long been my favorite view of downtown Minneapolis, mostly due to the proximity of the 35W bridge. In the foreground you have the freeway with cars streaming back and forth, you have the river below and the dam structure just up river, then there is the old Gold Medal Flour building and now the new Guthrie and the beautiful cityscape behind. It was really beautiful and I always enjoyed riding over the 10th Avenue bridge just to see it.

It is pretty abstract having the top news story in almost every national venue and some international venues being something two miles from your home. Laura Bush was here the other day and Dubya is here this morning. Hopefully some of the insane road blocks will ease after the president has mad his way through. I understand 10th Avenue bridge being closed for very practical reasons, but why block off the Stone Arch Bridge? If the city wants to promote other forms of transportation, they need to open the Stone Arch (which is a pedestrian/bike bridge into downtown.) The clean up and rebuild will no doubt be years in the making. The clean up will have to be thorough and methodical and the rebuild will just be just as thorough and very expensive. I hope they do something nice for the bridge.

I attempted to get a first hand look at the bridge, but everything even remotely near the bridge is blocked off. Photos of the bridge can be found on the NYT here and here. Also as part of the 35W bridge disaster flickr pool here.