Sunday, June 26, 2005

From Away: Keka, Joint Secuirty Area, Happily Ever After, and Howl's Moving Castle

The other day, I got a copy of Kiki's Delivery Service in the mail and promptly put it in another envelope to mail to a couple little girls that used to come to my mother's day care center. I already had a copy, of course, but when Disney offered a free DVD with the purchase of the most recent three Ghibli DVDs they released, I figured, what's a couple of bucks to let someone else experience these fantastic movies. It was happy coincidence that I saw Howl's Moving Castle the same day. And, well, I hope they enjoy Kiki nearly as much as I enjoyed Howl. There aren't many filmmakers out there better than Hayao Miyazaki, regardless of the medium. It's unfortunate that Miyazaki's films are only moving from the art-house to the mainstream slowly in the U.S., and if Christin's and Madison's mom wants to find more, she'll probably have to dig through the anime section of the store, which shelves them next to some rather not-kid-friendly stuff.

Speaking of great filmmakers, I'm rather surprised to see that I now consider Park Chan-wook to be one, after how negative my reaction to Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance was. But there's not much denying that his other two movies to be released in the U.S., Oldboy and Joint Security Area, put him in the "great" category. It's astonishing to see how assured he is as a storyteller in his first film, and maybe Sympathy was a learning experience so that he could make Oldboy as flashy as it is.

Next up: A couple less-than inspiring English-language boutique films. I'm starting to seriously doubt that I'm going to get caught up before heading to Montreal for FantAsia (there are 25 films on my "to review list"; 3-D week and Howard Lloyd week piled the movies on while sucking up time to write about them).


* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 June 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Asian CineVisions) (projected video)

Even more than the rest of Asia, the Philippine islands seem to have had their culture just smashed into small bits by the West. Just looking at the cast and credits; the facial features are mostly Pacific Islander, but the names are mostly Spanish, and there are a lot of English words heard amidst the Filipino/Tagalog dialog. I mention this not just because this is the first Filipino film I can recall seeing, but because the movie itself seems built of parts that don't quite fit together cleanly, and not just in terms of combining romantic comedy and revenge thriller. Writer/director Quark Henares doesn't quite seem to know how he wants to tell his story, and basically throws his hands up at the end.

Props to the beginning, though, where we're treated to a couple of Dates From Hell. In the first, a man drones on and on about himself, quickly revealing himself as a prize jerk, and after a few minutes, his date Francesca "Keka" Jose (Katya Santos) makes her way to the refrigerator, pulls out a garrotte, and strangles him. Having nearly as bad a time is policeman Jason Sanchez (Wendell Ramos), who makes a quick trip to the men's room to psyche himself up to propose to his beautiful girlfriend, only to be dumped. The two will, of course, have a couple of chance meetings later, and start dating, but first we learn about Keka.

Read the rest at HBS.

Joint Security Area (Gongdong Gyeongbi Guyeok JSA)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 2 June 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Asian CineVisions)

It's easy to see why Hollywood would want to do a Americanized remake of Joint Security Area; if I were a studio executive seeing it at a festival, I'd think "great, taut thriller, a murder mystery with the specter of war hanging over it; we could sell a lot of tickets if not for the subtitle thing." Most executives probably stopped there, realizing that although you could theoretically set the story on any border in the world, few will be as inherently dramatic as the demilitarized zone between the Koreas - meaning you're a step behind even before starting the screenplay. So be smart, and go directly to Park Chan-wook's Korean original before the guys who didn't realize that this movie can't be changed without being diminished crank out an inferior version.

The movie starts with a potential disaster - shots fired on the North Korean side of the border, and a soldier from the South trying to crawl back home. Two North Koreans are dead, and one seriously injured. It's the sort of incident that could lead to a great deal of saber-rattling and perhaps even war, but fortunately cooler heads prevail, and a Neutral Nation commission is given the job to investigate, with Major Sophie Jean (Lee Yeong-ae), a Swiss officer of Korean descent, flown in to head up the inquiry.

Read the rest at HBS

Happily Ever After (Ils se marièrent et eurent beaucoup d'enfants)

* * (out of four)
Seen 11 June 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run)

Memo to my brothers and friends: If, ten years or so down the road, I start acting like the guys in Happily Ever After, please kick the crap out of me. I'll deserve that sort of wake-up call if I become that kind of sad whiner who doesn't appreciate his good fortune. Yvan Attal doesn't deserve a beating for merely making a movie about such people. Maybe just a little slapping around.

It is, I guess, a mid-life crisis movie that focuses on three friends around the age of forty. Fred (Alain Cohen) is still single, going out with a different younger woman every night. Georges (Alain Chabat) and his wife Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner) fight constantly and loudly, greatly annoying their neighbors. Vincent (Attal), on the other hand, still seems to greatly enjoy being with his lovely wife Gabrielle (Attal's real-life wife Charlotte Gainsbourg); they have food fights while their son Joseph (Ben Attal) is asleep and role-play in a bar to open the movie. So how come Vincent is having an affair with the mother of one of Joseph's classmates, and why do we see Gabrielle flirting with a man she sees in a record store?

Read the rest at HBS.

Howl's Moving Castle (Hauru no ugoku shiro)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 24 June 2005 at Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run) (subtitled)

The work coming out of Japan (Hayao Miyazaki being the greatest example) should really shame American animation studios. I'm not just talking about the cleverly designed by purely commercial things like Robots and Madagascar, but even the best American animated features aren't nearly as adventurous and full of amazing sights and stories. Even the greatest American animated features, the universally beloved films from Pixar, tend to focus on the familiar and comfortable.

Not so Howl's Moving Castle. The very first scene gives a look at the chicken-legged mechanical mountain of the title, and we've barely met the hero and heroine before they're being menaced by creepy, tar-like blob men. The town they run through looks like nineteenth-century Switzerland, but it has an express train running through the center, flying motorcycles, storefront wizards, and titanic floating battleships. There's a friendly fire demon who initially looks like floating eyes until you realize they're part of the fire, and flying monsters that we're told are wizards who have forgotten how to turn themselves human again. There's hellish visions of war and beautifully pastoral images.

Read the rest at HBS.

No comments: