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Month: July 2004

Before the beginning

I’m being a completist, yeah.

Before One Missed Call, we saw trailers for Gozu, which was completely weird and stylized; Haute Tension, except it was under the nom de plume Switchblade Romance and dubbed into English (ick); a samurai movie which I badly want to see, but which I did not catch the name of, so all I know is that there’s a young woman who apparently trains to be a samurai when her… brother? is killed; Memories of Murder, a Korean movie that looks like it’s about a bunch of friends who share a terrible secret; and Dead and Breakfast, a zombie comedy. Looks like David Carradine is in Dead and Breakfast.

Before Deadly Outlaw Rekka, there were trailers for Suspect Zero, the Ben Kingsley serial killer movie which I am so much seeing when it opens in Boston although I have to miss it here; and Eternal, a bad Elizabeth Bathory movie. Are there good Elizabeth Bathory movies? Also a trailer for some Korean movie about a jailbreak, which was incomprehensible.

Kiss kiss kiss

After fifteen minutes of Saving Private Tootsie, I realized that I was watching something for which I had very few if any cultural touchpoints. So, um, yeah — it’s a bold statement about the acceptability of Thai queer culture framed by a Steven Spielberg pastiche and beyond that I am not competent to say. I liked it, I think, but it was a strong reminder that our understanding of film relies on a shared vocabulary.

The ground the transvestites and soldiers travelled on their way back to Thailand, even, was unfamiliar. Landmines were a huge concern, the focus of much of the tension in the movie. That doesn’t resonate the same way with me. There were assumptions about hill tribes that I missed, I think, because I was too busy going “Huh, it’s a world in which it’s completely normal to expect tribes up in the jungles to be heavily armed and autonomous. Also, that kid is wearing a Liverpool shirt. Wow.”

On the other hand, the basic theme of intolerance defeated by simple forced contact is pretty universal, and the sergeant who was unhappy about his gay son was an easy character to follow. So it wasn’t as odd as I’m making it out to be. Just — different.

Brain full

I gotta remember that two Takashi Miike movies in quick succession can have unusual effects. Fortunately, Deadly Outlaw Rekka wasn’t the disturbingly transgressive experience that One Missed Call was, so I survived the doubleheader without too much pain.

One Missed Call first. The theater was packed. The first hour of the movie was a straight-faced satire of the Japanese technohorror genre (Ringu, Ju-on, Uzumaki, etc.). One by one, the cell phones belonging to a group of attractive college students ring. The call comes from three days in the future and was made by the person getting the call at the exact moment they die. No matter what they do, at the moment the call was placed, they die. The imagery is stolen from the rest of the genre with glee: we’ve got the tight focus on the medium of horror, the long flowing hair appearing from off-frame, the half-seen spirit in grainy photos (this time from the cell phones) — all that good stuff.

Miike also found time to skewer the Japanese obsession with cell phones; I think it’s significant that at no point does anyone even come close to explaining why the curse decided to use cell phones as the medium of transmission. The first half culminates with a television producer putting the latest victim on television as the clock ticks down, cut with shots of the cell phone masses pouring through Tokyo’s public places, chatting on their phones as the drama unfolds on a gigantic television screen above. Funny stuff.

Then Miike gets bored and decides to scare the shit out of us and does it with intensely gruesome effects, brutal gut-punching story twists, and masterful camerawork. I wasn’t sure, after seeing Audition, whether Miike was always technically brilliant or if he just turned it on for that one film. Looks like that’s par for the course for him. One Missed Call was beautiful, even when I was uncertain I wanted to watch the next chunk of brutality on the screen.

For the finale, he returns to the parody, wrapping everything up with a sequence that’s just as tense as anything else in the movie but that also undercuts the assumptions of the genre with surgical precision. I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but that’s OK.

Deadly Outlaw Rekka was kind of a relief after that. This is the first of his yakuza movies I’ve seen, and the feel was markedly different. The fight scenes were blunt and brutal, but there wasn’t really any gore qua gore. The story was simple — Kunisada gets out of jail to find that the leader of his yakuza group was killed, and gets revenge despite the fact that his new leader wants a truce. Carnage ensues.

The style was also simple but very interesting. It was compressed — sort of a more successful version of what Warren Ellis was trying to do with Global Frequency. Every scene was exactly long enough for the characters to say what they were there to say, and then Miike quick-cut to the next scene. No dissolves, no transitions. He even cut sharply inside scenes from time to time. There wasn’t a lot of plot, either — terse is really the key word here.

Also: no soundtrack, except for the handful of moments of extreme violence, which were scored to Japanese rock songs. And, come to think of it, those moments were also filmed more fluidly and with more transitions between shots. So there you go.

I liked both of the movies a lot, although I liked One Missed Call somewhat more.

Strangling conversation

Hillside Strangler was pretty much blah. If you’re in the market for fictional Hillside Strangler stories with semi-pro acting and over-used looping camera work, you’re good; otherwise it’s worth missing. In short, Samantha Stone is a psychologist who uncovers the truth behind Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi’s killings by finding out what Kenneth is hiding. It’s ploddingly predictable.

Also, the subplot — Samantha breaking up with her drug dealer husband Jack — is pointless other than as an excuse for a lot of breasts. It doesn’t go anywhere and it doesn’t particularly reflect the main plot. Chris Fisher’s movies aren’t going to pass as an art film as long as there’s so much pointless exploitation riding shotgun.

Next movie: One Missed Call, by Takashi Miike. I am looking forward to this one a lot.

Going mobile

I’m in Montreal! This is written post-first movie, of which more anon; there’s a coffee shop with wireless across from the theater but I don’t want to lose my place in line. I’ll upload entries as I find time.

The trip up was pretty painless. The high point was the New York Italian-themed restaurant at a highway exit in the middle of Quebec farmland. Our hotel is small but charming, and it’s an easy walk to Concordia University, where the festival takes place. It was a little disturbing seeing a “For Sale” sign on the hotel facade, but it hasn’t been sold as of this weekend, thankfully.

The area reeks of college, in a fairly cool way. Lots of coffee shops and two comic book stores between hotel and University. There’s a sushi buffet across the way from one of the venues, which I am sure I will not find time to visit. Alas.

Looks like lines will be varied in size; so far I’ve seen one short one and one long one. I hear Red vs. Blue is sold out, but nothing else seems to be. The audiences are exactly the sort of cinema fanatic/genre geek crossover you’d expect from a genre-oriented film festival. I like it.

If I were doing this again, I’d e-ticket the whole thing. The poor ticket desk had to print out our 26 tickets one at a time, which did not exactly endear us to the people behind us in line. There’s a DVD retailer with a big booth across from the ticket booth, selling mostly anime videos, which I will check out later. Other than that merchandising is light. I will get pictures of the immense MegaBlock statues — think Legos, but not.

My back is killing me, so that’s it for now. More anon.


What I’m doing during the interminable classic rock segments is cranking up Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and pretending that’s the DNC soundtrack. It works particularly well when CSPAN goes to a flag waving shot: the combination of flags and dance music has that edgy mechanical appeal that Madeline L’Engle ascribes to IT on Camazotz. The people dancing are a little out of sync with the music, but you can ascribe that to a failure of the controlling intelligence.

Eyes wide open

Tomorrow I begin the trek up to Montreal for FantAsia. I am so much looking forward to this I can’t even begin to explain. Sadly, I won’t make Porco Rosso, but Cutie Honey is an acceptable replacement.

To do:

  • Pack (clothing, toiletries)
  • Update iPod, get rid of 9/11 speeches (good but they take up room), add Germany 70s electronica
  • Charge camera battery
  • Detach USB cell phone charger from keyboard, tuck into laptop bag
  • Detach Firewire iPod charger from home Mac, tuck into laptop bag
  • Print maps

Cut a check

Glenn Reynolds is curious about Atrios. More precisely, since Atrios has unveiled as Duncan Black, who works for a group that’s partially funded by George Soros, Glenn Reynolds wants to know why nobody’s making a fuss about it. The money quote: “… if I were working for, say, Richard Mellon Scaife, I think somebody — like, say, Duncan Black — would be making something of it.”

As it happens, Glenn Reynolds has a paying gig with Tech Central Station, which is funded by the DCI Group, which is a top-notch Republican lobbying organization. So I guess Glenn actually is working for Republican money-men after all. Funny how that works out.

Superhero artist

I think I need an artist to do a cover (b&w) destined for a 6” x 9” book, plus three or four half-page interior illos, also b&w. The subject matter is, unsurprisingly, superheroes. I’m not too picky about the era, although I’d want heroes rather than anti-heroes. I can’t pay real artist rates; I’m thinking more towards the low end of RPG artist rates — $125 for the cover, $25 for each interior art piece. I may be slightly off on those prices. I just want publication rights; I don’t want to own the piece.

I figure I’ll start poking around on the Forge and maybe on Elfwood soon, but I figured I’d put out the call here first.