Monday, June 30, 2008

Takashi Miike's ZEBRAMAN

For those who think Takashi Miike can only make films with necrophilia, amputations or sadism, you're wrong. Miike has certainly made a name for himself by going to extremes, but occasionally, with varied success, he leave the gore on the side. Films such as the folkloric The Bird People in China (1998), the period melodrama Sabu (2002), the teen sci-fi romp Andromedia (1998) and the most recent kaiju-inspired The Great Yokai War (2005) are not without the unmistakable Miike touch, but lack the excess of bodily fluids. Zebraman falls right into the category of being far from ordinary, but oddly heart-warming and charming. It was also, up until last year's Crows Zero, Miike's biggest commercial success theatrically in Japan.

Ichikawa is a gentle but uninspiring 3rd grade teacher who has been abandon by his own family in various ways: his wife comes home late with no explanation, his daughter defies his authority and goes out late with no explanation, and his son simmers with resentment from being bullied at schoool. Ichikawa retreats into his henshin superhero dreams, specifically about Zebraman, a one series dud that aired when he was a kid. Privately dressing up as Zebraman in a handmade costume, Ichikawa practices various unconvincing moves. When he catches Asono, a wheelchair-bound transfer student, drawing Zebraman, the two strike up a friendship of otaku proportions that lends Ichikawa a certain amount of confidence he never had before. Meanwhile, alien presences are lurking. As one might expect, it is up to Ichikawa as Zebraman to save the world.

There are many things I adore about Zebraman. The off-beat scenarios throughout the movie makes me smile: a superhero movie that is far from super-heroic. Zebraman's first big challenge is with a rapist wearing an absurd crap head mask who also happens to be possessed by an alien. Likewise, the aliens threatening life as we know it are some sort of inane combination of ghouls from Ghostbusters and the typical big-headed alien caricature from Roswell: a brilliantly snarky jab at any energy and resources spent on imagining such things. Absurd plot twists mixed amongst the most conventional of narrative structure gives Zebraman life beyond what it should have. But more than anything, Zebraman is about being whatever you want to be: a public or private superhero.

God loves a goofy film that can also have political subtext. Displaying subtle but appropriate awareness, Miike understands the fine line that Japan walks between non-militarization and US diplomacy. The agents inspecting the alien infiltration have hilariously learned about their existence from the US, pointing out that Japan has actually bought into the notion that the US knows more about what is going on in Japan than Japan does. In the end, the Japanese Self-Defence force is willing to give Bush their regards, but tell hi, to take his weapons where the sun doesn't shine. The analogy is over-the-top and non-sensical but absolutely straight to the point.

I have inevitably built Zebraman up into a movie that it is not. it is not a great film by any means, but it has way more to give than it is given credit for. Objective fans will have no problem finding something to enjoy, and I would hesitate to guess that those uninitiated to Miike might actually find this movie fun. Zebraman is an everyman that inevitably some will identify with and others will not. Personally, I would take Zebraman over Ironman any day. It's cool not to be cool.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A double dose of Asia Argento

2007 looked to be a big year for Asia Argento with four films from high profile directors: Oliver Assayas' trans-continental Boarding Gate, Abel Ferrara's nightclub drama Go Go Tales, Catherine Breillat's titillating period piece The Last Mistress, and papa Argento's finale to his mother trilogy Mother of Tears. With release dates lagging or non-existent, the combined impact of the films may not be what I had expected for Asia as a powerhouse artfilm starlet.

Personally, the anticipation for all four films were pretty high, coming from directors that were clearly off the beaten path. But as the international buzz started to fade, my enthusiasm also waned. Go Go Tales has all but disappeared, peaking with the irrelevant scuttlebutt about Asia kissing a dog. Fortunately, I was able to catch The Last Mistress at the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival (which opened this weekend in NYC) and found it very engaging in its measured restraint. Boarding Gate also had a screening at MSPIFF, but, wary of poor reviews, I opted for another film. When Boarding Gate came out on DVD a couple weeks ago, I put it high on my list of rentals. It was shear chance that I happened to rent Boarding Gate the day before Dario Argento's Mother of Tears opened in the Twin Cities, resulting in these two film forever being linked in my mind. Asia may be the obvious connection between these movies, but the imperceptible connections become crystal clear after watching both back to back: they are both equally ridiculous (and not in a good way) and Asia's acting indistinguishably bad.

I'm starting to rethink my respect for Oliver Assayas for simply making two films that I like quite a bit (Irma Vep and Demonlover.) Clean and Boarding Gate were both pretty big disappointments. They both try desperately to force a drama that simply isn't there. More importantly, they both reek of self-indulgence. The casts seem more like showboating than any attempt to create an ensemble suitable for a film, with Assayas exploiting connections and acquaintances to build flashy casts. I'm more than willing to admit that having Kelly Lin and Kim Gordon in a film is cool, and, indeed, that seems to be the point. (There is some sort of guilty pleasure in seeing Gordon speak Cantonese and Lin speak English, but that is another discussion.) In the case of Asia Argento, she is used for little more than an absurd male fantasy of a sensitive assassin tramp who can't keep her clothes on, at least for the camera.

Boarding Gate starts out in Paris and ends in Hong Kong in a failed attempt to build the international intrigue. Asia's character, Sandra, is a former prostitute who is now an import/export clerk psychologically torn between a former lover and a new lover. Unfortunately, it spends more than half the film fabricating an empty and laughable relationship between Asia's character and Michael Madsen's character, the former lover, in order to get the plot moving. Built on poor dialog, the first 75 minutes of the film is like a very slow and unnecessary introduction, leaving only a half an hour to redeem itself. I don't know which is worse: Assayas being ironic with this psycho-sexual thriller motif or Assayas taking himself seriously with this material that more ridiculous than edgy.

Dario Argento has made a name for himself by being self-indulgent with a fair amount of cult success. Dario's best work are his films from the late 70s and 80s (Deep Red, Susperia, Inferno, Unsane, Terror at the Opera), unapologetically B and audaciously innovative. Mother of Tears is some attempt to return to that era by capping off what is being called his "Three Mother" trilogy (Susperia, Inferno and Mother of Tears). I couldn't help wondering how Mother of Tears would have played 30 years ago, in a huge seedy theater in the middle of New York City with some guy jerking off in the back row. Instead, it is an awkward revival that doesn't stand the test of time in the contemporary arthouse cineplex.

Mother of Tears seems like a half-hearted project for both father and daughter. Dario seemed to have a cult horror film checklist: Naked witches? Check. Lesbian witches? Check. Entrails? Check. Udo Kier? Check. Poop water filled with dead bodies? Check. Well, you get the point. The visceral displays of impaling, smashing and disemboweling are the unadulterated moments of entertainment while the script, acting and editing will make you wince in pain. The structure is ripped right from Scooby Doo: find the book with the clues, open the hidden secret door, get captured, then defeat the monster. There is even a good laugh at the end not unlike the gang having a good joke with Scooby and Shaggy.

Asia plays the lead in the witch chasing tale. Sarah is an innocent student who unwittingly helps to unleash the "mother of tears" from a mysterious urn. As the streets of Rome turn into chaos with gangs of goth girls, and, low-and-behold, Sarah may just have the powers to stop the tyranny of the mother of tears! In the end, her powers simply enable her to strip the mother of tears of her powerful nighty shirt (literally) and throw it into the fire. The absurdity is shocking, and Asia's flat unenthusiastic performance doesn't even allow us to wallow in the inanity.

It is understandable why directors are drawn to Asia Argento. She has a very unique look and a voice to match. In the case of The Last Mistress, Breillat harnesses what is unique about Argento and allows the character to flourish in that space. As a result, her character is believable and her image is striking. Unfortunately the characters that Asia plays in Boarding Gate and Mother of Tears are farcical to begin with, leaving her with little chance to save them.
Assayas' notion of a character that never rang true beyond the first scene. And perhaps the role for dad was just an obligation. We certainly haven't seen the last of Asia Argento, and will no doubt continue to be chosen for interesting roles. Upcoming projects prove that: a role in hubby's adaptation of Ryu Murakami's Coin Locker Babies (with Asano Tadanobu) and she is slated to be in Alejandro Jodorowsky's will-we-ever-see-it film King Shot (with Marilyn Manson and Udo Kier!)

Happy birthday Tony

Happy birthday Tony Leung!

Being a fan of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I'm very excited to see Red Cliff in hopes that John Woo can still make a decent film. (I'm glad you are playing Zhou Yu and not that puffed up Zhu Ge Liang. We all know that Zhou Yu was the true hero of the Red Cliff battle.) Are you still going to play Bruce Lee in that Wong Kar Wai film?

Remember all that time we spent together. Don't be such a stranger. Drop me a line. Come and visit anytime. Bring Carina, too!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

DVD releases for June 24

For a week that started to look so crappy that I was thinking about mentioning 10,000 B.C. as an interesting DVD release, a little more research proved a much better week than first anticipated for DVDs:

Glitterbox: Derek Jarman x 4
This is absolutely the grand poo-bah of the week. A box set made for the buying and keeping. The set includes The Angelic Conversation (1985), Caravaggio (1986), Wittgenstein (1993), Blue (1993), and the posthumously edited Glitterbug (1994). Zeitgeist isn't exactly known for their great DVD releases, but it seems that they were up to the task of providing a worthwhile set for one of the most important avant-guard filmmakers of our generation. (See a very detailed review of the set of DVD Talk here.) Although Caravaggio and Wittgenstein are offered separately, The Angelic Conversation, Blue and Glitterbug (included as an extra on the Blue DVD) are available in the set only. $70 for a four DVD set isn't exactly a great deal, but the set is invaluable for fans. I look forward to re-watching those I have seen (Caravaggio and Blue) alongside those I have not seen. I spent a couple years trying to be a Wittgenstein groupie (but finally realized I was overall too stupid) and was thrilled when I heard Jarman had made a sort of fan-boy art film about my Wittgenstein! But alas, I have never had the chance to see it until now. I'm pulling out my weathered Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus right now!

Hana (2006) directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda
Kore-Eda seems to have fallen from favor, at least here in the US market. Afterlife (1998) made a pretty big slash, but not big enough to give his next (and even more eloquent and stunning) film Distance (2001) any distribution. Subsequently, Nobody Knows (2005) got limited theatrical distribution and failed to pull in even the arthouse crowd. Which leads us to today and the very quiet release of his 2006 film Hana (Tale of a Reluctant Warrior was added on to the ambiguous English title.) A period film was hard to imagine for a director who seemed so grounded in the here and now, but Hana is perfectly situated between the here and now and the there and then: a period piece that doesn't seem so distant. I picked up the Japanese DVD when it came out two years ago, but would recommend this film to anyone who appreciates the kind of low-key drama that Kore-Eda is known for. It is a beautiful and very sweet film that should have received much more fanfare. (There is a great Japanese website for the film that is pretty easy to navagate.)

Long Dream (2000) Higuchinsky
Fantastic! This man has only made two films, and the only one I have seen, I love! (Uzumaki - rent it now! Region free able, I will loan you the R3 DVD!) This is serious fan-boy stuff that just makes me giddy in a way I don't even understand. Long Dream is something Higuchinsky made for TV the same year as Uzumaki , also based on a manga from Junji Ito. This has low-budg J-horror written all over it. It may quickly dispel my enthusiasm for Higuchinsky, but I am nonetheless very excited.

Solo Sunny (1979) directed by Konrad Wolf
"Classic" film from East Germany.

From the Ground Up (2007) directed by Su Friedrich
Su Friedrich made a documentary about coffee? Okay.

As my hot air runs out, here are the other notable releases that need no introduction: Persepolis (2007) directed by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi; In Bruges (2007) directed by Martin McDonagh can finally end its theatrical run here in the Twin Cities; two from Criterion, Before the Rain (1994) directed by Milcho Manchevski and The Furies (1950) directed by Antony Mann; and if you really wanna there is always 10,000 B.C.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My take on Queer Takes

I wrote a piece for the Star Tribune ("Inside Out") outlining the Queer Takes series at the Walker this week. Given the number of films and the size of the article I wasn't able to be very critical or praiseworthy toward the films. Overall, it is a pretty great group of films that offers up something for everyone.

Before I Forget is the star of the series, in my humble opinion. Jacques Nolot stars, writes and directs this smart and eloquent film. The camera stares unflinchingly not only at beauty but also at humility and indeed, the complex human condition. In this case, the human condition is applied to an aging hustler (no doubt a version of Nolot himself) living with HIV for 24 years. It's a film about observation, and more specifically the observation of self-observation. Before I Forget is only Nolot's third feature, and the last in his so-called autobiographical trilogy. After reading an interesting article by James Quandt in the Summer 2008 issue of Artform ("Just a Gigolo") and seeing Before I Forget, I am more than anxious to see his first two, L' Arrière pays (Hinterland, 1998) seemingly unavailable and La Chatte à deux têtes (Porn Theater, 2002) that I vaguely remember screening here at some point.

One film that I did not touch on was Vivere, simply due to space and that fact that I felt it was the weakest film in the series (alas the only new lesbian feature.) Vivere follows three women on Christmas Eve: a teenager on the brink of adulthood, her twenty-something older sister who is bitter and lonely, and a matronly older woman (played by the legendary Hannelore Elsner) recently dumped by her lover. The film uses the structure of one story told three times, giving us new insights at each turn. It is meant to break down any generational presumption we might have have about these three women, but instead by the third pass the melodrama gets somewhat laborious. It is a sweet but downbeat film, but I selfishly just wanted the adorable Francesca (the older sister) to find a nice girl instead of making out with the dude in the bar.

If you are looking for a good lesbian film in the series, the obvious pick is Born in Flames. Ladies doing it for themselves may be some sort of pipe dream, but Born in Flames is an awesome 90 minute indulgence of this notion. I will forever carry around the image the gang of women on their bikes police the urban streets: I dream of being part of that gang and being saved by that gang. I recently re-watched Born in Flames and had totally forgotten about the final (now shocking) scene.

The documentaries in the series should not be missed. Whether you are familiar with Arthur Russell or not, music fans should all attend the screening of Wild Combination. I'm simply thankful that Russell was gay so this doc was included in the series. (Here's an article in the New Yorker from a couple years back about Russell.) Similarly fans of Don Bachardy's paintings or Chris Isherwood's writing will love the portrayal of these two fascinating men in Chris & Don. Most of the film is told by Barchardy's funny and touching narration.

Full Queer Takes schedule here.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I'm not the first person to proclaim Johnnie To a populist prodigy, but it is worth restating. Averaging two films a year for the past 25, To has energetically given the people what they wanted. To some extent, this ethos has made him into the director he is today, but Johnnie To has not been afraid to shake it all off and start over again with each film. For this reason, his films from the last decade, despite well-trodden ground, seem fresh, from his anti-action hits The Mission and Fulltime Killer to his underrated comedic charmers Wu Yen and Needing You. More recently, of course, To has brought Hong Kong film to the forefront of film fest appreciation with Breaking News, Throw Down, Election 1 and 2, and Exiled. Mad Detective is next in line. Although it has already made its rounds at notable film festival, Mad Detective is set for a theatrical release here in the US next month courtesy of IFC.

Mad Detective is gleefully hard to pin down. Calling it as a police action drama sells it way too short. To digs into his bag of tricks and creates a film that harks from his past but is like nothing he has ever made before. A very large component of that is Lau Ching Wan, who To has not worked with since the hilarious but somewhat marginal My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (2002). Lau was definitely a heavy hitter in the 90s with his more serious roles (mostly as cops) in The Longest Night, Big Bullet, Full Alert, The Victim and seven films he did with To including Fulltime Killer. Although he has receded from the front lines of acting in HK, Mad Detective finds him at his best, creating a character so tactile you can almost feel him. To and Lau are able to balance a certain amount of drama, action and comedy unique to this film.

Lau plays Inspector Bun, something of a savant, able to solve crimes with a certain amount of staging and re-enactment of the crime itself. His methods seem at bit goofy, but it becomes very clear that there is an edge to Inspector Bun that is unpredictable. Five years later, Inspector Bun has been dismissed from the police force and is mired in his own insanity. Young Officer Ho is stuck on an investigation and seeks out Inspector Bun, against everyones recommendation, to help solve the case. Ho is an admirer of Inspector Bun and his unconventional methods, but after soliciting his help, he starts to wonder if Bun's genius is no more than the insanity that everyone warned him against.

Mad Detective has a very idiosyncratic tone that would have easily fallen apart in someone else's hands. It's the moments of comedy set against the moments of brutality that shakes the viewer from the normal apathy of genre generated film. Scenes of whimsical cleverness (as Bun tails the suspect and his various personalities) to visually choreographed brilliance (the final smoke-and-mirrors showdown) are products of Johnnie To and long-time collaborator Wai Ka-Fai's combined talents. Personally, I think they have outdone themselves. Exiled will always be the hip step-brother of The Mission; comparisons between the two are completely unavoidable. Mad Detective stands as a singular work, and may well be To and Wai's best film yet. Although I am a proud owner of the Hong Kong DVD, when Mad Detective arrives in theaters next month, I will be first in line to plunk down my cash to see this on the big screen, and I'm hoping others will do the same.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

DVD releases for June 17

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) directed by Cristian Mungiu
DVD releases are a mysterious thing at times. I thought this film was coming out this week, but now I am struggling to find confirmation of that. (Greencine's site has a note that may allude to what is going on: "This release was pulled and delayed by the distributor. Please check back for release date updates.") Well, bug IFC and maybe they will get their act together. In any case, if I have to mention this film again in a month or so, it is certainly worthy of it. Cristian Mungiu is one of the recent Romanian directors to wow audiences far and wide. This film debuted at Cannes last year and made it's first appearance in the Twin Cities at the Walker and then for a short run at the Edina. Although it sounds contrived, it is the utter lack of melodrama that makes 4 Months the amazing film that it is. Yes, it is about the procurement of an illegal abortion, but it more about oppression and its commonality. Even though it looks like it is not coming out this week (or anytime soon) I look forward to seeing it again.

Joy Division (2007) directed by Grant Gee
Here's a bona fide release that should be available a reputable video stores. This is the other Joy Division movie, that tackles the band from a fact finding point of view (as opposed to the drama seeking Control) with interviews with the three surviving members of Joy Division as well as Annik Honore (Ian Curtis' girlfriend) Tony Wilson (of Factory Records) and Martin Hannett (producer). I wanted to see this after being somewhat disappointed in Control, but I don't think it ever played in the Twin Cities.

Be Kind Rewind (2007) directed by Michel Gondry
How do these films pass me by. Despite poor reviews, I fully intended on seeing this in the theaters. However, it might play out better with friends on DVD.

Under the Same Moon (2007) directed by Patricia Riggin
A melodrama that seemed undeniably weepy from the trailer about a family separated by the border that to the south that the US guards do vigilantly.

The Restless (2007) directed by Cho Dong-oh
This period swordplay film from South Korea seems to be more style than substance. The trailer exploits some of the beautiful cinematography and stunning effects. However, the real and more recent story about this film is that Ji Jung-Hyeon, who worked on the action choreography of this film, recently died during the production of The Good, The Bad and the Weird. As reported by Twitch, people involved with the production of the The Good, The Bad and the Weird (which had a special screening at Cannes) refuse to talk about the incident fearing bad luck! Ji was best known for his work on the barn busting action int Old Boy. (The is an interview with him on that special edition Old Boy DVD set.)

Boxes (2000) directed by Rene Besson
Here's an indie pick for you. Shot on a budget of $285. Yeah, whatever. The running theme of the film is...boxes! I don't know where this came from but IFC sees a need to release it. I'm interested enough to take note. (Check out the fast kicking new low-budg film from the same director here.)

And two from our friends at Criterion: Claude Sautet's Classe Tous Risques and Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

DVD releases for June 10

Like the man who thought he could run away from the maniacal hair-washing/ice-cream serving Takeshi Kaneshiro in Fallen Angels, all I can do is hold up my hands and say, with my best Hong Kong accent "Sorry. Sorry!" Inexcusably distracted by the NBA finals, unable to treat a deadline any differently than I did in college, and basking in the light of my new computer, I have been neglecting my responsibilities as...well, I'm not sure what kind of responsibility this is.

Anyway, two DVDs of note this week and one to consider:

The Wayward Cloud (2005) directed by Tsai Ming Liang
This release took a while, but I was not optimistic about any release at all for this movie. Fans of Tsai Ming-liang (who do not have a region free DVD player) should rejoice. The Wayward Cloud picks up where What Time Is It There and The Skywalk is Gone left off. Hsiao-Kang has made a career change from selling watches on the now missing skywalk to amateur porn star. Meanwhile Shiang-Chyi is still desperately trying navigate a society that she seems ill-suited for. She and Hsiao Kang's spiritual connection is reestablished building to the most audacious crescendo I think I have ever seen. Interspersed with the most delightful musical pieces that are anything but elegant, The Wayward Cloud seems like total catharsis, and I am not about to blame Tsai Ming-liang for that. This is an off-the-charts film with material that is as sexually explicit as any porn film that is sure to infuriate most film fans. Personally, I find its irreverence like a breath of fresh air. (Watch the trailer, for 18+ only, here.)

The Ballad of Narayama (1983) directed by Shohei Imamura
Is this really the first time this film has been out on DVD in the US? That is really hard to believe, but kudos to Animeigo who continues to reach outside there normal cult genres to release titles like this. The Ballad of Narayama is truly an amazing film chronicaling life, in its many facets, in a small village in 19th century Northern Japan. Emotionally powerful and beautifully made.

Funny Games (2007) directed by Michael Haneke
If you haven't seen the original, check this version out. If you have seen the original, there is really no reason to see the new version. (Read my thoughts here.)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING and a plea from the Oak Street

Marwan Hamed's epic The Yacoubian Building opened Friday and plays nightly through Monday at the Oak Street Cinema, and if there was a time to rally around the Oak Street, it sounds like this is the time. Following is a personal note sent by Al Milgrom enclosed in the recent MN Film Arts e-mail newsletter:

"Dear Oak St Cinema friends,

The very engaging Egyptian prizewinner, "The Yacoubian Building", is showing at 7:30 pm Fri. thru Mon. Oak St. Cinema, is here on a very tenuous thread. Yours truly has promised many people that The Yacoubian Building WILL GET an audience, WILL break even, or, at least, WILL NOT lose money. So I appeal to all those who say they want the Oak to stay open to SHOW UP this weekend, schedules permitting. It's that simple! This worthy, strong "word of mouth" feature from the recent Mpls/St Paul Film Fest, about this down-at-the-heels Art Deco hotel in downtown Cairo, with its aging pasha and voluptuous sirens, will charm you with its acting, photography (and controversial but revealing) portrait of an exotic Mideast society.

-- Al Milgrom, Mn Film Arts"

I have to admit that I missed the one screening of this film at the Film Fest, so I can not give any critical comments on the film. However, it might be just the time for a practical joke on your friends: gather a group and tell them you want to go to Sex and the City or Indiana Jones (depending on which would work better) and take them to this 3-hour Egyptian film! In all seriousness, this may not be the best crowd-drawing film, but it is time to put words into action and show up at the Oak if it means anything to you. I'll be there Monday night.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

DVD releases for June 3

Control (2007) directed by Anton Corbijn
What was it about this film that was so unsatisfying for Unknown Pleasures' fans? It looked beautiful and had great acting (Sam Riley had Ian Curtis down to a science, especially his on stage performing.) But something left me a little cold. Am I alone here? Control is more than worth seeing however. It is a pretty impressive first feature from Anton Corbijn, better known as a a man of music videos. Samantha Morton makes a cursory appearance as the bitter wife alongside the boys in the bad. It's beautifully shot in high-contrast black and white that makes the grittiness palpable. Control is an interesting cronical that fails to reach the heights that Unknown Pleasures (and Ian Curtis) have in my mind.

Boarding Gate (2007) directed by Oliver Assayas
Wow. That was fast. Or at least it's available sooner than I thought it would be. I guess the theatrical run didn't go so well for this film. I know Boarding Gate didn't get the best of reviews but I was still upset about missing it at the film fest. My expectations are pretty low, but, let's face it, it has to be more interesting than Indiana Crystal Skull. If nothing else I am interested in the roles Kelly Lin, Carl Ng, Kim Gordon and Hong Kong play in the film.

You May Need a Murderer (2007) directed by David Kleijwegt
A documentary on Duluth's favorite slow-core band Low. I'm not sure why there hasn't been a screening of this around town, but whatever. It's also a little hard finding any information on this doc, so if anyone has seen it or knows anything about it let me know. I will try to get a hold of it and post my own thoughts as well.

Machine Girl (2008) directed by Noboru Iguchi
Some sort of mad combination of Tetsuo, Meatball Machine and Versus. Is it campy, crappy or something in between. Check out trailer (link on the title) for compatibility.

The Eye (2008) directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud
I really meant to see this in the theater, but it wasn't around very long. (Gee, I wonder what that means.) I'm pretty keen on the original.

Noise (2007) directed by Matthew Saville
I'm also a little embarrassed that I haven't seen this yet. It played at the MSPIFF and I have had the DVD (from Film Movement) for a few months. Every time I see the trailer, I think to myself, "That looks interesting."

And for all those waiting, Cloverfield is out on Blu-ray

Monday, June 2, 2008

Marco Kreuzpaintner's TRADE

Trade was a film that always seemed so close to being the next big buzz. Even the early reports that Peter Landesman's "The Girls Next Door" (one of the most memorable and devastating exposés to appear in the New York Times Magazine) was to be adapted into a film immediately got my attention. I was stunned by the piece that chronicled the international business of human trafficking, not because I was so naive to believe that such things do not happen, but because so little was being done about it. Director Marco Kreuzpaintner was no doubt equally moved, giving partial writing credits to Landesman for the story. Its premiere at Sundance in 2007 was met with favorable reviews, especially for the two young women who play the leads, Alicia Bachleda and Paulina Gaitan. At some point last summer or early fall I started seeing the trailer for Trade at Landmark and (wrongly) assumed that it would make a theatrical appearance. After waiting and then forgetting, it was quietly released on DVD earlier this year.

The mysteries of missing theatrical releases are never to difficult to solve. After all, films need to make money, and it seemed, given the subject matter, that Trade would not be a blockbuster and would probably be a hard film to market. Nonetheless, if the film was decent and could at least garner a little critical acclaim, it could easily make for a moderately successful independent release. The foregone conclusion here is that Trade has problems. It suffers from some bad acting and some crappy writing and an inconsistent tone.

The film starts in Mexico City where Adriana is celebrating her 13th birthday and, simultaneously, Veronika is arriving from Poland on her way to the US. Both Veronika and Adriana are innocent of the road from abduction to market that they are about to travel. Adriana, who receives a new bike from her adorning big brother Jorge, goes against her mothers wishes and takes to the streets on her bike and is subsequently kidnapped. Veronika, thinking she is simply heading off to a better life in the US, is made brutally aware of her situation as she and her friend are handed off to the people who bought her and are intend on selling her. Veronika takes a motherly interest in protecting young Adriana as they are transported from hovel to hovel by their misogynistic captors. Adriana's brother Jorge, well acquainted with the seedy underworld of Mexico City, knows that he must find his sister if he ever wants to see her again. Jorge meets up with with Ray, a cop looking for his daughter, and together they try to uncover the mystery of his kidnapped sister and the trade ring she has become involved in.

Just trying to flesh out the synopsis of Trade reveals how convoluted and forced the entire story becomes. While Adriana and Veronica's characters are strong, the other characters in the story do nothing but muddy the waters: Ray, played by Kevin Kline, is a hopeless caricature of a good cop with his own problems that do nothing but deflate the film; Jorge is a contradictory character that sets up the no-duh idea that human trafficking is a social affliction that many have a hand in; Manuelo, the thug in charge of the merchandise, is unconvincingly morally conflicted with his job and his controlling girlfriend. Trade is very patronizing with its simplistic 'things are not how they always seem' scenarios and ends up being insulting given the source material. Trade veers so far off course that at one point the movie nearly becomes an ill-conceived buddy film between Ray and Jorge.

Trade doesn't even come close to the film it wants to be. Over-labored and distasteful, it is unwilling to invest emotionally or intellectually in the reality of the material. You needn't look any further than Lukas Moodysson to find someone willing to commit to unmarketable desolation. And although probably fewer people have seen Lilya 4-Ever, I'm willing to champion it for completely taking the wind out of me with it's emotional impact. Trade looks like Disney compared to it.