Monday, August 31, 2009

Coraline: It Is So Creepy Oh My God

coraline movie,movie poster,henry selick,neil gaiman

So, did you ever watch The Dark Crystal? If you're a little younger, how about Mirrormask? Well, somewhat like Mirrormask, Coraline is a dark fantasy film written by Neil Gaiman. Like the Dark Crystal, it has puppets and whatnot, and it is so creepy you guys, holy crap. I picked up the film with the Lady over the weekend, and we (by which I mean I) were ecstatic that it had a 3D version complete with little paper glasses with the Coraline logo on it. I have Neil Gaiman's children's book that the film is based upon, but I haven't actually finished it as of yet. There are some differences, I hear, like the inclusion of an entire character, seemingly designed to make the titular character's journey less solitary. Coraline was directed by Henry Selick, who had previously directed Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas and Monkeybone. It features the voice talents of Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Ian McShane, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, and Dakota Fanning as Coraline. It's a classic example of the modern fairy tale, and is extremely, insanely creepy.

Coraline Jones is an only child to parents who work from home, but are very busy working anyway. Apparently, they're both writers of some sort, for a gardening magazine or catalogue, even though neither of them garden. They have recently moved into a new house/apartment, a surprisingly large home split into three apartments, shared by two elderly former Burlesque dancers, and a surprisingly agile and fit old Russian dude, who trains mice for a circus. Coraline finds a tiny door in one of the rooms, and with a key from the kitchen, gets it open, only to find it bricked up. In the middle of the night, Coraline is lead back to the door by one of the mice from upstairs. It isn't bricked up anymore, and she crawls through a tunnel into a virtual copy of her home, complete with different versions of her parents. Her Other Mother welcomes her warmly, with food and good cheer (her real mother doesn't cook, and is relatively bitchy). Coraline enjoys her time there until it all gets weird and creepy, like when her Other Mother wants her to sew buttons onto her eyes. The Other Mother kidnaps Coraline's real parents, and she must find them (and the souls/eyes of three ghost children) and escape the Other Mother's web of terror.


The tunnel (as you can see above) reminds me of the tiny door tunnel into the mind of John Malkovitch in the film Being John Malkovitch. Except this tunnel doesn't lead into the mind and memories of a creepy, weird (but talented) actor, but instead to a sort-of-mirror world (it's only sort-of because things aren't physically backwards). It is just as weird, off-putting, and vaguely creepy as Being John Malkovitch though, and it even has some underpinnings of genuine terror. I can't believe that this movie was marketed to children! There's a lot of awful stuff that happens, and it all happens to children. Seriously, there's some messed up stuff that happens here. The Other Mother turns out to be not good at all, no sir, and she does fascinatingly horrible things to those Other versions of Coraline's friends and father. All in the interest of finding a child to call her very own, which she'll ultimately tire of and (or choose specifically for the purpose of) ingesting their essence.

Like all fairy tales, all the great signs are there. A lonely and misunderstood child, parents that are too busy to pay attention to them, relocation to a new place, lack of friends, and a pathological curiosity. When she decides that she may be better off without he real parents, she quickly discovers that her new replacement parents are great on the surface, but that's only because they need to hide their uncompromising horror. These fairy tales always make the child perform tasks and accomplish goals in order to be reunited with her family. Once that happens, they're always extremely grateful to have their parents/loved ones back in their lives, and have a greater appreciation for them.


This film also features some pretty amazing and often times truly breathtaking work in terms of stop-motion animation, as well as the use of 3D. This is the first stop-motion animated film to be shot entirely in 3D, and is also the longest stop-motion film to date (at nearly two hours). It has a similar presentation to the other stop-motion films to have garnered serious attention, like Tim Burton's Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, as well as James and the Giant Peach. The characters have that unique creepy-fantasy sense to them, as well as a uniquely bleak and fantastic set. It's a pretty huge accomplishment, and must have taken an extremely long time to complete.

It's an amazing fantasy film, as well as an impressive accomplishment in stop-motion animation and 3D filming technology. It's dark, creepy, strange, bizarre, beautiful, funny, and wonderful. It's worth picking up. Try the 3D version at home; it's a little headachey at times, but overall it's a nice effect, and really brings something extra to the experience.

I give it four creepy doomed ghost children out of five, or four creepy acrobatic and possibly irradiated Russian upstairs neighbors out of five.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pan's Labyrinth: Creepy Kids Fantasy is Creepy As That Creepy Kid In Class, You Know The One

pan's labyrinth,movie poster,guillermo del toro

Longest blog title ever! Well, you know that kid, right? Not the one that smells kind of funny, no, not that kind of creepy. Kind of like the kid that's always saying really bizarre stuff, while his dead, terrible eyes stare vacantly into the distance, fixed upon a fiery horizon that calls only to him with a thousand wailing mouths. Whoa, ok, maybe not that creepy. Well, yes, maybe a little bit that creepy. It's pretty creepy for a children's movie, and I probably haven't seen a family movie this overtly dark and disturbingly fantastical since The Dark Crystal came out the year I was born.

Released in 2006, this Spanish-language dark fantasy was directed by Guillermo Del Toro and released under the Spanish title El Labertino del Fauno, though in English they released it as Pan's Labryinth. I have to say, I really hate spelling "labyrinth." Oh well. I'll have to do it a lot during the course of this post, so I suppose I'll have to get used to it. The film stars newcomer Ivana Baquero as the main lead, a young girl named Olivia whose mother marries a Spanish captain. Captain Vidal was played by Sergi López i Ayats, a Spanish actor known primarily for his comedic films. Ofelia's mother was played by Adriana Gil, and Ofelia must save her mother and unborn brother from an unknown evil, with the help of the Faun, played by Doug Jones. He's basically the best part of the film, playing the Faun and the disturbing and horrible Pale Man. Doug Jones is well-known in the cinema world for his amazing costumes and long, wiry, extremely creepy way of portraying these characters. He absolutely disappears into both roles, and he barely seems human in movement or action.

doug jones,the faun,ofelia,pan's labyrinth,ivana baquero

Ofelia and her mother are summoned by her mother's new husband, the mysterious and dangerous Captain Vidal. Carmen, Ofelia's mother, is extremely pregnant with the captain's son, Ofelia's half-brother. Ofelia has a vivid imagination, and begins seeing a fairy around the woods. The beginning of the film tells a fairy tale about a princess from the Underground Realm that escapes to our world, is blinded by the sun and weakened to the point of death. The King of the Underground Realm hopes she will return. On the Captain's homestead, Carmen gets sick, and Ofelia hears some murmurs of a rebellion against the government (the film is set in post-Civil War Spain), and wanders into the woods, following the fairy. She finds the ruins of a maze, where she meets the Faun, who claims she is the Princess from the fairy tale that opened the film. She must accomplish three tasks before the full moon to save her mother and return to her "real home," the Underground Realm. She must face various dangers, demons, and generally strange things. Also, it turns out that Captain Vidal is kind of a sociopath, who tortures a rebel, and when the doctor euthanizes the captive, Vidal kills him, as well. Carmen dies delivering Vidal's son, and the Faun advises her to take him to the labyrinth, where she can return to the Underground Realm with the blood of an innocent. Her decision proves to be the final test, but will she make the right choice? Of course, I know what she does. But it's a new-ish movie, so I'm not telling!

doug jones,the pale man,pan's labyrinth,guillermo del toro

The film is epic and fantastic. It blends the fantastic elements of traditional fairy tales with the backdrop of the 1944 Spanish Civil War, although I'm admittedly pretty ignorant of that entire situation. It is a very dark and foreboding tale of magic and mystery, which is a welcome change from all the Disneyfied fairy tales that everyone's so used to. It's much more reminiscent of the traditional, original Grimm versions of fairy tales, full of death, war, fear, and unstable families. The characters are interesting, relatively well-developed, and have clear intentions and personalities that make their motivations clear. I have issues with subtitled films to a certain extent, but not in a really negative way. Unfortunately, since I don't speak Spanish, I spend half my time reading the subtitles (which I like, because I like to read). However, I have to focus on the words, so I sometimes feel like I'm missing some subtle nuances in character reactions, movement, expression, not to mention mise-en-scéne and camera work (which in Guillermo Del Toro films is usually quite fascinating and often times breathtaking). On the other hand, I really don't like dubbing the English track, because I feel like I'm missing the original actors emotions and subtleties of voice (which I can still discern, even though it's not English). There's give and take, in general, and benefits to watching a film in its original language with subtitles, or dubbed over in English, but lacking the actual actor's vocal subtleties. It's kind of like reading a book that was written in another language. Overall, it would be best to be fluent in whatever language it is, so nothing is missed. Unfortunately, I'm just fluent in English, so my options are limited.

Anyway! I really enjoyed this film. I grew up with stuff like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, so it's no small wonder that a deeply disturbing and dark magical realistic film like this would catch my eye. It's visually stunning and arresting, with amazing special effects, both in terms of CGI and in make-up (by the amazing Doug Jones). It's worth four creepy, eyeless, child-eating monsters in dark hallways out of five, or four evil, sociopathic, manipulative Spanish Civil War Captains out of five.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Empire Records: Best Viewed on Rex Manning Day

empire records,movie poster

Seriously, if you haven't seen Empire Records, where have you been for the last fifteen years? Ok, so fourteen years. Released in 1995, Empire Records was met with generally negative reviews, though most people I know absolutely adore it, and watch it annually. It features a smorgasbord of young actors, many of whom went on to bigger (or at least other) things. Featuring Anthony LaPaglia, Liv Tyler, Debi Mazar, Robin Tunney, Ethan Embry (credited Ethan Randall), and Renée Zelwegger, and Maxwell Caulfield, among others. Several of the actors are now on CSI: Miami, oddly enough, and Ethan Embry would star in another popular teen coming-of-age film in Can't Hardly Wait. There are also a few people you've probably never heard of, but that's totally ok. Also, there's lots of alternative music on the soundtrack, which used to be cool.

It's full of romance, angst, attempted suicide, robbery, existential quandaries, the pain of employment, the pain of unemployment, the inherent problems within the corporate system, drugs, drug addiction, the pressures of college, the fear of expression, the fear of rejection, parental issues, and also there is music. Oh, right, Rex Manning shows up, a washed up fictional pop star, whose fan-base is inexplicably old considering he was supposed to be popular in the 1980s, at most 14 years before this movie takes place. It's pretty inconceivable that all of his fans that arrive would be middle-aged, but it also may be an exaggeration of youth, imagining "older" people as older than they actually are. Plus, Rex Manning was pretty obnoxious, so maybe he perceives his fan-base as older than they really are, to really reflect his washed-up status of used-to-be-pop-star.

empire records,empire records,rex manning,maxwell caulfield,brendan sexton

The plot is relatively simple, and takes place over the course of a single day. Empire Records is a well-liked and well-established independent record store, full of young characters of differing backgrounds and musical opinions. It's owned by Joe (LaPaglia), a hip manager that either used to be a drummer in a real band that never made it, or just really enjoys the drums. The characters represent the tortured artist, the vaguely literary rebel, the overly ambitious college-bound student, the angsty and suicidal goth-punk girl, the promiscuous girl, the punk, the shoplifter, and of course, Rex Manning. The livelihood of the store is threatened, when the employees find out that the owner wants to turn it into a popular music store chain, and they all deal with their interpersonal problems throughout the day. That night, they throw a big party to raise money to save the store, which is accomplished in a relatively easy and seemingly unimportant manner.

The actual plot seems to take a back seat to the relationships between the characters, how they interact with their environment, each other, the customers, and Rex Manning. Pretty much all of the main characters openly mock Rex Manning, except for Corey (Liv Tyler) who wants him to be her first sexual encounter, and Gina (Zellwegger) who actually ends up having sex with him (in the copy room). This is obviously a point of contention between the two characters. I still don't fully understand why Corey expects it to be a magical experience; she romanticized Rex from her girlhood as a celebrity, but she puts all of her hope and faith into this one encounter, though we never really understand what she plans on doing after that. She then unjustifiably freaks out on Gina for having sex with Rex (though the very idea of sex with Rex Manning on Rex Manning Day should be punishment enough) because she's stressed out due to unfair academic expectations set by her parents, as well as her addiction/dependence on speed to get enough studying done to get into Harvard (though she does receive an acceptance letter to Harvard during the course of the story). Also, a girl tries to commit suicide the previous day (or some undefined period of time before the day the film takes place), and shaves her head when she arrives to work. Also, a kid calling himself Warren Beatty shows up and tries to rob from the store, and then wants to work there, later bringing a gun to the store. Also, some other stuff happens?

ethan embry,Johnny Whitworth,Liv Tyler,empire records

Overall, the movie is extremely entertaining, if somewhat nonsensical. It follows some traditional dramatic patterns (as the Lady so graciously pointed out to me), or even Aristotle's definition of tragedy (plot, theme, character, dialogue, rhythm, spectacle), though it's fair to say that for the most part, all movies have these elements within them, simply twisted about for other means. Anyway, the point is, it's a pretty important film for Generation X. It deals with all the important issues of youth, yet all of their problems are resolved with money in the end (even though it allows them to remain independent, and away from the crushing oppression of a national chain corporation). I recommend checking out this film, especially if you were young and/or a teenager in the 90s.

I give it three out of five Rex Manning Days out of five, or three fake funerals for the bald-headed suicidal girl out of five.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Hitcher: Don't Pick Up Hitchhikers

the hitcher,movie poster,rutger hauer

Hey, have you ever wanted to see the bad Replicant from Blade Runner drive around and try to stab that kid from Soul Man? Well, you're in luck, because that's basically what happens in 1986's The Hitcher. My last post was about remakes, and this movie was remade recently, as well, though I've never seen it. I'll have to check it out sometime soon and write about it.

This film stars C. Thomas Howell and Rutger Hauer, and some random other people (including Jennifer Jason Leigh, how wacky is that?). Jim Halsey (Howell) picks up John Ryder (Hauer) on a rainy night as he delivers a car from Chicago to San Diego, and he quickly finds out (quickly as in the first ten minutes) that Ryder is a psychopath and murderer, and has already killed the last person to pick him up. Jim literally boots him out of the car, and finds himself chased around the highway by this crazy serial killer, and the trail of blood and bodies start pointing to Jim, much to his chagrin. Then things get a little nutty. Okay, it doesn't really get that nutty, but some crazy stuff happens pretty consistently.

rutger hauer,the hitcher

I like horror movies like this. We don't know much about these characters, and we don't really need to. Jim is a young kid just trying to get to California, because that's what kids in the 80s want to do. The John Ryder character isn't really given any motivation whatsoever for his behavior, and is purely a sociopath, killing for the joy of it. He pursues Jim so relentlessly because he had the courage to fight back and kick him out of the car, and Ryder seems to feel that Jim is a worthy adversary. In addition to just trying to kill him, he carves a bloody swatch across the highway, which leads to Jim's arrest for the murders (because Ryder's bloody knife is found on Jim's person). There are loads of car chases, and plenty of Rutger Hauer being pretty menacing. Also, C. Thomas Howell's character vomits out of sheer terror quite frequently, which is interesting. The Lady always complains that characters in movies don't seem to react naturally to extremely stressful situations (i.e. terror-vomiting), so I'm sure she'd be pretty satisfied with how this movie handles it.

The film also acts as a study in irrational human behavior. There's no real reason that Ryder should act the way that he does; he's a non-person, without any real identity, and thrives on the chaos that he creates. In Jim he finds a worthy opponent, someone who not only fights back, but genuinely seems capable of stopping him and restoring balance to the anarchic situation. Jim also finds himself acting as a criminal himself, taking two police officers hostages of sorts, trying to get the truth out, trying to get justice. He's also framed by Ryder and forced to go on the run, watching everyone he comes in contact with be killed in front of him by the ruthless and ever-present Ryder.

the hitcher

The fact that Ryder is clearly older, 40 when filming this, and C. Thomas Howell is 20 (literally, they were both born in '46 and '66, respectively, and the film was released in '86) is an interesting coincidence. There may be some subtle and possibly unintentional commentary on the modern "responsible" youth and the increasingly erratic and chaotic generation that came before it. When Ryder was Jim's age, it was the '60s, where things were more free, liberal, and the road movies of that era (like Easy Rider) were about existential wandering, sticking it to the man, etc. Now that it's the 80s, that aimless wandering and rebellion has taken on a sinister turn, resulting in violence and unchecked aggression, rather than civil disobedience and political dissent. Jim, a product of this decade, is bewildered and confused by Ryder's actions, though he continues to be drawn into them, unwittingly participating in this perverted twist on the road movie.

Or maybe I'm overthinking it, and taking it a bit too seriously.

I'll have to check out the remake they did a few years ago. They also made a sequel in 2003, starring C. Thomas Howell reprising his role as Jim Halsey, with the time between movies being literal time (basically, though not quite). I'll have to check them both out, and see how they compare. Given the state of remakes (and random, crappy sequels made 15 years later), I'm sure they'll both be terrible, and not in the excellent way that this version of The Hitcher is terrible. I still give it three puking and scared teenagers out of five, or three barely tolerable Jennifer Jason Leighs out of five.

The Last House on the Left: Not A Terrible Remake

the last house on the let,the last house on the left,movie poster

Back in the 1970s, an unknown crazy dude named Wes Craven was like, "Hey, man. I've got some groovy ideas for a movie that will scare the pants off of teenagers. I bet that if I make this movie, I can basically become a household name in horror. Man, that would be cool." And so he did. That first movie was called The Last House on the Left, and it was a slasher, horror, rape-and-revenge movie that completely blew the people smart enough to get it away. It wasn't a critical success, and isn't as well known as his later work (*cough*Nightmare on Elm Street*cough*Scream*cough*), but when I was twenty, I watched it for the first time, and I was like "Whaaaaaat."

So, as Hollywood is wont to do, they waited thirty-seven years (whoa, I just realized that, holy crap) and made a not-quite-as-good-but-not-as-bad-as-the-Texas Chainsaw Massacre-remake film with a lot more useless backstory and character development. It doesn't feel as gritty or real as the original, and not enough time was spent on the actual vengeance, and too much time was spent giving the characters completely useless and rarely referenced histories. For example, we spend several minutes of the film being made aware that Mari, the daughter (played by Sara Paxton) is an avid and quite talented swimmer. Who cares, right? It's barely relevant. Also, the parents (played by Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn) are hinted at having something of a strained marriage (in the very beginning), but it's completely useless and doesn't actually mean anything at all. We also get too much story on the villains, a strange group of criminals (played by Garrett Dillahunt, Joshua Cox, Riki Lindhome, and Aaron Paul), who share a complicated and vaguely (though for the most part literal) family relationship.

tony goldwyn,monica potter,the last house on the left

For those of you who don't know, the general plot is as follows: Too much backstory on the Collingwood family, Emma, John, and Mari. Mari is an overachieving swimmer who was deeply affected by the loss of her older brother (again, doesn't matter). Emma seems to be a teacher of some kind? I think? And John's a doctor. They go on vacation, or for a long weekend, or for no reason to their cabin/lake house/second home, the titular last house on the left. Mari goes to visit her friend Paige that works in the town (played by Martha MacIsaac), and she's pretty much the catalyst of all the crazy stuff that happens. When Paige and Mari are hanging out at the store, the son of a criminal that gets picked up on his way to jail by his brother and his girlfriend shows up to buy/steal stuff, and then invites them back to the hotel room to smoke weed. The criminals show up, kidnap the girls, bad things happen, blah blah blah. After doing the bad things to the girls, the criminals end up going to Mari's house (as it's the only one around after Mari makes the car crash), and eventually Emma and John find out what their temporary houseguests did (when Mari shows up mostly dead on the front porch, because she's such a strong swimmer get it), and then go on a crazy rampage to exact their harsh familial vengeance on them, but it doesn't last long enough for me.

Basically, in my opinion, the original was a lot better. There's far less character development, which works for horror movies. All we really need to know is some basic information, because it's likely that these people will be dead within an hour. We need to know that Emma and John are parents, and that Mari is a teenage girl, and that makes it crazy awful when the bad guys rape and supposedly kill her (and really kill her friend). The original is actually also a remake, of an Ingmar Bergman film released in 1960 titled Jungfrukällan, set in 14th century Sweden, where a farmer and his wife must exact revenge on herders that rape and murder their daughter. I haven't seen Jungfrukällan yet, but I assume it's pretty intense, as Bergman is pretty crazy. The parents are much more disturbing in their revenge acts, which they have time for because they didn't waste half the movie talking about Mari's dead brother and love of swimming, etc. This remake played out more as a thriller with vague horror undertones than a true horror film.

the last house on the left

It seems to me that all these horror remakes are missing some fundamental aspect that was present in their original versions. It's hard to put a finger on, but I've seen a lot of these remakes, and none of them are as good. It's like when they make a movie from a book. Horror films from the 70s and 80s had that little bit of something extra. Maybe it's the lack of computer-generated images (which there isn't much of in Last House...), or a different notion of pacing and suspense. Or maybe they were just ballsier back then, fresh from the carefree days of the 60s, with plenty to say. Nowadays, they just want to make a movie that will sell, going for cheap thrills without any meaning, and trying to dress it up with shaky cameras and vague/poor efforts to develop characters.

This movie is just okay, and not too great. I recommend seeing the original Wes Craven version, and you probably won't be disappointed, and you'll probably be pretty disturbed, which is exactly why you go see horror movies. It's also interesting in the reversal of traditional roles for slasher films. The normal stuff that happens in horror movies like Friday the 13th happens within the first half-hour, and then a whole new type of slasher plot starts forming when the parents find out and exact their over-the-top and bloody revenge. You can probably skip the remake, unless you're happy with semi-poor remakes that lack all the real spirit of the genre. I give it two useless plot points out of five, or two methodically crazy parents out of five.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Death Note: Seriously Japan, What Is Up

death note movie,movie poster,light yagami,Tatsuya Fujiwara

Hey everyone, this is a big ol' two-movie post! Tomorrow's my birthday, so I'll be otherwise indisposed, so I figured I'd write about two pretty crazy Japanese movies I watched recently. It works because it's really one big long movie that they split in half, so it works out well. The movies in question are Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name, two decently popular Japanese fantasy/horror movies released in 2006 directed by Shyuusuke Kaneko and starring Tatsuya Fujiwara as Light Yagami and Ken'ichi Fujiwara as "L." The films are based on the popular Shonen Jump Advanced manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Obha and Takeshi Obata.

death note 2: the last name,movie poster

Set in a Tokyo much like our own, law school honor student and all around bored genius Light Yagami finds a mysterious black notebook lying in the street, mysteriously untouched by rain. He picks it up, and discovers that it is a "Death Note," a notebook of a shinigami (a god of death). Anyone whose name is written inside the notebook will die, so long as you have their face in your mind. Light is intrigued by the implications, as he feels the world is rife with crime and corruption. He uses the notebook (with the help of its shinigami Ryuk) to eliminate criminals of all sorts. His actions bring the attention of L, the world's greatest detective. They find themselves face to face, L suspecting that Light is this new criminal "Kira" (a Japanese pronunciation of "Killer"), though he can't prove it. Light is determined to continue bringing criminals to justice, even when a "fake" Kira pops up with her own notebook and professes her undying love for Light. Light and L fight a life-and-death battle of wits for the sake of their own pride, and for their own personal value systems.

Tatsuya Fujiwara,light yagami,death note movie,L,Ken'ichi Matsuyama

Because I am such a world-class nerdlinger, I had read the manga and watched the anime before seeing this film. Nobody really cares how the films and the original story differ, but there are some pretty major differences. Some of them make sense in terms of compressing the story to fit within the constraints of two movies, but others completely alter the outcome of the overall story, leaving characters out entirely and keeping some characters alive that otherwise died. It's still a good movie though, and for the most part, I can see why the changes were made. They also did a pretty stellar job in terms of casting and attention to some character details, especially for L. In the manga, he was a strange, slouchy, unusual young man, the opposite of what one would expect of the world's greatest detective. Ken'ichi Matsuyama pulled it off pretty well, mimicking the strange way L sat, ate, held objects, and interacted with other characters. This was the first film I'd seen him in, and I was thoroughly impressed. Tatsuya Fujiawara was impressive as Light Yagami as well, pulling off the cocky genius with ease, but still maintaining the intensity that drives his character to kill strangers over and over again to perfect the world. I had seen Fujiwara before in Battle Royale and its sequel, so I knew that he was a decent actor, and apparently quite popular in Japan.

While this is definitely not as crazy as some other Asian films I've talked about before, it's definitely one of the most darkly fantastical movies I'd seen in awhile. Also, upon closer inspection, it's the first Japanese film I've talked about so far. I have a few other waiting in the queue and in my own personal library (including some mega-craziness like Takeshi Miike), but I guess it's good that I'm starting out kind of small and then getting bigger.

ryuk,light yagami,Tatsuya Fujiwara,death note movie

One of the more interesting aspects of this film is the presence of the two shinigami, Ryuk and Rem. Ryuk owns the notebook that Light Yagami, the original Kira, finds, and Rem is the shinigami for the notebook that Misa Amane finds. Oh, right. Misa is a Japanese model and pop star whose family was murdered, but then Kira took care of their killer. She pledged her life to Kira, and when she finds (or is given) her notebook, she uses it to find Light and love/serve/honor/protect him. It's kind of a twisted and complex relationship that Light takes advantage of for his own gain (especially since she traded half of her remaining lifespan for "shinigami eyes," meaning she can see the name and remaining life of anyone she sees). Anyway. The shinigami are presented in the movie as computer generated, but something about them looks kind of ridiculous, and kind of awesome. They almost look like puppets in some ways, which makes them more "realistic" in that they seem to really be on set with the characters, but they also look computer generated (and kind of "fake," though they aren't supposed to be human, and are modeled exactly after the character drawings from the manga).

light yagami,Tatsuya Fujiwara,death note 2: the last name,ryuk,rem,shinigami

I may not be cultured enough in the life and times of the average Japanese youth, so I can't really tell if there is some general Japanese commentary being made in this story. There does seem to be an overarching global commentary being made, though. Even though Light is Japanese, and the crimes originate in Japan, his attention becomes global, drawing the attention of L, as well as the fear of the world's governments. L is portrayed as Japanese, but he didn't seem to live in Japan. The idea that he is of indeterminate origin is an interesting aspect to his character, and he doesn't seem to fit in with anyone, with the exception of Light. In Light, he finds an intellectual equal, though he is constantly in a crisis because he suspects Light of being Kira, the person he's sworn to bring to justice. Their relationship is in many ways closer than Light's relationship with every other female character (including his mother and sister), and L seems to have his only real friendship with Light.

misa amane,rem,shinigami,death note movie,Erika Toda

What would you do if you had a notebook that allowed you to kill someone just by writing their name in? Of course, there are a million or so rules, like you have to picture their face while you write it, you have to spell it all correctly, you can't make them do something impossible before they die (but you can influence their actions to a limited degree), and so on. Would you experiment to stretch the limits of the Notebook? Would you be able to handle the responsibility of bringing justice and peace to the world as a god of death? Light sure tries his crazy genius ass off throughout the film. I won't give away the ending, though. Even if you have seen the anime or read the manga, don't worry. You won't see the ending coming anyway, and it's pretty much nothing like the other versions.

Overall, though, the movie isn't perfect, and could be better. There's something odd occasionally about the pacing and plot direction of Japanese films in general, which may be a cultural thing. The characters are pretty interesting, but they do have the rounded and developed characters already written up from the manga to go from. I give it three creepy, apple-eating gods of death out of five, or three creepy Japanese detectives out of five.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife: A Bunch of Different Genres Have A Baby

eric bana,the time traveler's wife,rachel mcadams

If you've ever tried to figure out how to get your girlfriend to a sci-fi movie, or your boyfriend to a romantic drama, then you should probably check out The Time Traveler's Wife. They do this interesting thing where they take a pretty interesting love story, where a husband is away from home a lot, unexpectedly. It's a pretty common thing, I think. Lots of wives I'm sure have husbands that go on business trips occasionally, or the wives of cops have to deal with random emergencies, or doctors on call, or whatever. Not that big of a deal, right? Well, what if he was actually shunting around randomly in time involuntarily? Yeah, what about that? It means that you have a movie that's part drama, part science fiction, part romance, part existential out-of-order crazy movie that only barely makes sense when you really try to think about it.

I shouldn't make fun of it too much. I haven't read the novel yet, but I'll be borrowing it from my lady soon enough. Needless to say, she's read the book as well as seen the movie as of today, and I have to admit that it is a fairly excellent romantic drama (which I don't typically enjoy) and a fairly unique science fiction movie (which I do tend to enjoy). Of course, the nerd in me kept noticing various paradoxen, like I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to touch your past/future self, right? Something about the same entity existing in two places at once, but hey. I'm not a physicist. They did do a good job of animating/showing him traveling through time, which looks kind of like his body is dissolving, leaving behind any clothing he may be wearing. Often, we get audio-only clues that he's gone traveling (for example, he goes around a corner, and we hear the sound of clothes falling). Instant comedy!

eric bana,the time traveler's wife

The plot is simple and complicated. The story is told in something that resembles chronological order. Henry DeTamble (Bana) is a research librarian in Chicago, who meets Clare Abshire (McAdams) one day. She knows Henry, having met him when he was older and she was a little girl (the first of many complicated and possibly paradoxical occurrences). He visits her through various stages of her life, but once they meet in real chronological time, they spark a relationship (apparently an inevitable relationship). Throughout their relationship, he disappears for days or weeks at a time, visiting different periods in his own past, his future, and even beyond his own lifetime (breaking the cardinal rule of Quantum Leap). This causes stress in their marriage, as Clare feels lonesome (though she seems to have a good circle of friends, a fulfilling career as a painter, and a relatively normal life, otherwise) while Henry is "away."

While I can somewhat understand her loneliness and frustration, she seems (in the film) to forget that in order for her to know him in her own past (and younger versions of him in her present), as well as future versions, he needs to jump around in time. The longer he's away, the longer he may be there in another instance. Unfortunately, we never really get a sense of what he does when he's not pushed to a point involving Clare, and we only see him returning to the scene of an accident that killed his mother a few times (though in the book, so I hear, it's a very popular place with his various versions). We get some vague sense of the skills he needs to survive, like picking pockets, picking locks, fighting, and I'm sure a variety of other skills. Basically, once he arrives somewhen, he often needs to defend himself, steal clothing, and break into homes or buildings to keep from being attacked, starving, freezing, etc.

This film also tackles the idea of free will, and presents a "closed loop" of sorts. Henry is drawn to Clare throughout his travels, and is presented as a force "like gravity," and he's literally powerless to stop it. As a result, Clare falls in love with him at a young age, and spends virtually her entire conscious life in love with Henry. Is she important to him because she loves him more than anything? Does she love him more than anything because he's always been drawn to her, because she's important to him, because he's always been there? He also is seen teaching himself about a few things (like after the car accident that triggered what we see as his first time-travel, his future self is there to cover him in a blanket and explain what happened). I think the book will be interesting in its use of pronouns and tenses. "Oh, yeah, back when I was six? The you that you will become will have visited me," and so on and so forth. Each age-version of Henry seems to be regarded as a separate person (by Clare and other versions of Henry). That's interesting, too.

Also, on a quick note, Henry can travel through time because of a genetic condition. How crazy is that? He's like an X-Man or something. It's in his genes, which means he was born with it, and it evolved somehow. He passes it off to the child that he eventually has! I wonder why he doesn't get more extensive research done on him (I can definitely see military applications to master genetic-induced time travel). Basically, he has a small seizure and it causes him to shift out of the timestream and wash up somewhere else. They don't describe it that way in the movie (in fact they barely attempt to explain it at all), but I was kind of obsessing with the fact that he was a super-powered mutant instead.

the time traveler's wife,rachel mcadams,eric bana

I think it will be interesting to read the book now that I've seen the movie. I'm sure the book is better (it always is), but I think I'll have a good understanding of the overall plot arc, and the book will fill in all the important and subtle gaps. For example, we don't really see Henry as a child, other than at the very beginning. I'm sure that he had all sorts of wacky and interesting time-travel stories before he meets Clare. I'm sure it would have made getting through school pretty easy. Think of the lottery winnings, the gambling, betting on Super Bowls, and just random bar bets. But, just like Doc Brown taught us in Back to the Future, we can't use knowledge of the future for personal gain, like when Biff stole the sports almanac and was totally wreaking havoc on an alternate timeline. Speaking of which, alternate timelines is something that wasn't really addressed, because in addition to all of our free will, we can't change what's already happened no matter what we try.

If you've seen the book, I hear that it's a pretty decent condensed adaptation. If you haven't read it, I recommend checking it out (though it's not strictly necessary to see it in theaters), and then you should probably read the book. Check your library, man, that's what it's there for! I give The Time Traveler's Wife three and a half diabolically confusing time-travel related plotlines, or three and a half under-investigated genetic anomalies out of five.

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