but, for now, movie reviews...
Peter Boyle as Muto from The Cat Returns
-Izo (directed by Takashi Miike): I came to Miike by way of "Happiness of the Katakuris", which I would probably peg somewhere in my Top 10 favourite movies of all-time, so I find it funny that he's developing a bit of a reputation in North America as that guy who does the really fucked-up violent movies. I find it funny because the ultraviolent and taboo-pushing movies (Ichi The Killer, Visitor Q) are not my favourites, it's the ones that are a little more wacky and less over the top (Katakuris, Dead or Alive 1 (still haven't seen the sequels), and City of Lost Souls). So, when I read about Izo, I was excited. I thought for sure it would be a wacky, over the top type of movie considering it was directed by Miike, starring Beat Takeshi and no holds barred fighter/pro wrestler/actor Bob Sapp!!! Instead, what I got was a pretty dreary and depressing meditation on the futility of existence. This is, by far, one of the most confusing films I have ever seen, probably the most legitimately confused I have been during a movie since Mulholland Drive. It opesns with Izo, who we later learn is a samurai ordered by his lord to go on a killing spree, hanging from a cross being stabbed repeatedly with spears. Izo becomes a demon and moves freely throughout different eras of Japan and basically kills everyone in his path. Seriously, that's pretty much the movie in a nutshell. Someone stops Izo, yells something like "Damned ghost!" "Evil spirit!" at him, Izo cuts them up. There is some typically Miike-esque gore, a woman being chopped in half at the waist holding herself up between two trees as blood pours out of her, a guy getting sliced diagonally across the chest with his top half just sliding off. There are some pretty striking visuals, too, like Izo wandering through a field of flowers, and falling sideways through a wedding. But, at its running time (over 2 hours), it's just too dreary and repetitive to work very well. I was thinking about backing off of my Miike love since this is the 3rd movie of his in a row that has left me a little cold (Yakuza Demon and Gozu being the two others), but news from my brother that Miike is at the helm of either the latest in a long line of Halloween sequels, or perhaps a Halloween remake, has me excited, I will admit.And, while we're on the sort-of subject, has anyone else seen the preview for Takeshi Kitano's next directorial project "Takeshis' "? In it, Kitano plays himself who meets his blonde doppleganger (played by himself) and he begins to hallucinate that he is the other guy. It looks pretty damned funny, I must say.
-Melinda and Melinda (directed by Woody Allen): This is the year I finally got around to giving the Woodman a try. I’ve seen 6 Allen movies this year, before this one, and they’ve ranged on the scale from loved (Mighty Aphrodite), liked a lot (Manhattan), enjoyed (Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Hannah and Her Sisters) or were okay (Sweet and Lowdown). So I was excited to see Melinda and Melinda when it came out, but missed it in theatres because it only played locally for less than a week. So I looked forward to the DVD release and finally got to see it this week and…well, there’s a new movie for the bottom of the scale. The premise is kind of neat, that, at a dinner party, one man brings up a story and then two others retell the story, one as tragedy, one as comedy. But one of the problems of the movie is that the comedy is just head and shoulders above the tragedy. The appearance of Chiwetel Ejiofor almost salvages it, he and Chloe Sevigny both play their parts very well, but it’s just not enough. The story has no real end, certain characters are just grating, and important events seem to happen off-camera. The comedy portion is much better, thanks mostly to Will Ferrell who actually pulls off the Allen dialogue better than anyone outside of Woody, himself. Roger Ebert describes this as a movie that is more about the creative process, itself, but, to me, it feels like a throwaway movie. Ebert states that Allen’s name has become an albatross and that if the movie were released with anyone but Allen’s name on it than the critics would’ve fallen all over each other to praise it, but I think it’s the opposite. If anyone but Allen’s name were attached to Melinda and Melinda, it would’ve received almost no press, and, likely, would have never been made. I truly believe that it maybe was born out of a dinner conversation, because those conversations, while engrossing if you’re involved in it, are rarely of much interest to anyone who wasn’t there.
-Palindromes (directed by Todd Solondz): Another interesting idea, a movie about a girl whose name is a palindrome, Aviva, who is played at different points by different actors (at one point she is a 6 year old African-American, then a red-headed pre-teen, than an older brunette, than a 200lb African-American woman, and, even, Jennifer Jason Leigh) in a story about how human beings never really change. But, jeez, is it moody! I mean, I know I know, it’s Todd Solondz, but even still, this is one HEAVY movie. It tackles quite a bit of issues head-on: teenage pregnancy, suicide, abortion, pro-lifers, Christianity, the killing of abortion doctors, pedophilia, teenage sexuality. Aviva gets pregnant early on, runs away from home, ends up at a cheery Christian refuge, helps a guy kill an abortion doctor. There are still some trademark Solondz jokes here, such as the movie opening with the funeral of Dawn Wiener, his heroine (of sorts…) from his first movie Welcome to the Dollhouse. And the movie looks good, it is really well shot. But, it’s just such a downer. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it on this particular day. I will probably watch it again at some point down the line, and wouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeing it, but I can’t really recommend it, either.
-The Cat Returns (directed by Hiroyuki Morita): Why didn't I watch this sooner?!?! I had no idea what it was when it came out, so I looked it up and saw a bunch of reviews proclaiming it as uninspired or even the worst of the Studio Ghibli movies, so I stayed away from it and just picked up Porco Rosso and Nausicaa (which for some reason, I still haven't watched). But, it was finally moved into the catalogue rental section a couple weeks back so I thought I'd give it a try and it's spectacular! Sure, it's not quite on the level of Miyazaki's best works Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle, or as good as Takahata's best Grave of the Fireflies (I think that one is SG), but it's still pretty great. It reminds me a lot of Kiki's Delivery Service in that it's not transcendant, and won't really stick with you for hours afterwards, but it's a fun flick which will put you in a good mood. What helps it is its running time, just 75 minutes. At too much longer it might start to get a little dull, but it's perfect at its length. I watched the dubbed version, mainly because I wanted to hear the Baron with a British accent, and was blown away by what a great job Anne Hathaway does as Haru, and how freaking amazing Peter Boyle is as Muta. Maybe it's just because I have a number of cats, myself, but I loved this movie and it genuinely made me laugh out loud three or four times, and, frankly, what more can I ask for? Highly recommended. So, whatchu got?