Paranormal Activity [2007] • USA

Don't fall for the stories of people walking out of this movie because it's too scary. It doesn't even pretend to be scary until at least an hour into it. Somebody's leg is being pulled. And speaking of pulled legs ... that is the only scary scene in the movie.

There are allegedly three different endings to the film. I saw the original one ... and it's not scary or satisfying at all. There's a little bit of off-screen screaming that abruptly turns into silence. OK, that can be unnerving but it's just a technique. It doesn't move the story to anywhere that matters. The ending being shown in theaters now might be better--a whole bunch more technique with a frightening image or two that is over with quickly. The original peters out to nothingness for far too long and has no meaning.

Even if we grant that either or both of the endings I didn't see kick total ass, that doesn't make it a good film. It makes it three minutes of coolness that requires ninety minutes of suffering to get to.

The guy in this film is a completely unlikeable moron. The girl is OK but I never really thought she was scared, more just annoyed by her idiotic day-trader boyfriend. I think everyone acknowledges that this film is mostly, for at least an hour, nothing but set up before anything happens, and that's too much time spent with bad actors working without a script. There's nothing subtle about it.


Eureka (Yurîka) [2000] • Japan • Shinji Aoyama

After three and a half slow paced, sepia toned hours experiencing emotional pain and anguish I still watched the credits roll. This film starts off with a man hijacking a bus and killing most everyone on it for no apparent reason. The driver and two middle school kids survive, and we spend the rest of the film watching them live with it. We watch them fall asleep watching television and other mundane matters but there is not a wasted frame in this film. There are a remarkable number of plot points to keep things moving forward but it still feels like suspended animation, like time is moving inward instead of along. Koji Yakusho is sublime and Aoi Miyazaki, at like twelve years old--and without saying a word for nearly the entire runtime--is mesmerizing. This film is a masterpiece, a journey exploring the myriad layers of trauma, of metaphorical death, and what three people endure on a path to renewal and emergence from a world of silent suffering. It will take your breath away.


Letter from an Unknown Woman (Yi ge mo sheng nu ren de lai xin) [2004] • China • Xu Jinglei

Xu Jinglei, may I have some more, please? This film really excites me about Xu Jinglei. The directorial hand is very mature and accomplished. The film has a great period look and feel to it. The cinematography by Lee Pin Bing is gorgeous and I’m sure that helped. The acting is all quite good. Strange, then, to have to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the movie. Again, as with Xu's directorial debut, My Father and I, it's the story that let me down. I know it's an old story, one I haven't read nor seen any previous adaptations of, but I think I can say that while it might look good on paper, in outline form, it doesn't fare very well in this particular presentation.

There may be some cultural nuances that were lost on me, and I do have to say that the subtitles that came with the film were really, really bad. The character development didn't seem secure enough for me to accept the first disappearance of the writer after the initial affair. Frankly, it shocked me. I went along with it for the sake of the story, but it left me twitching a little. Then when they meet again and the writer doesn't recognize the woman, I lost it. I can accept not recognizing someone with a different hairdo eight years later passing them on the street but once you've gotten to the naughty bits, I don't buy it. I imagine this is all nit-picky to a story about the sadness of an extremely one-sided love affair, but I wanted something to assure me that this one-sided love was warranted and I didn't get it.

I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys a good love story. It's a beautiful film, and if you're not a lion in the tall grass, stalking, just waiting to pounce, like me, when you think that Xu Jinglei has failed in her exposition, the story is probably pretty good too. Stories for movies often come from outside sources but it ultimately falls on the director to tell the story in a convincing manner. Xu Jinglei, I'm officially a fanboy. Get to work.


Brass Knuckle Boys (Shonen merikensakku) The Shonen Merikensack [2008] • Japan

I'll watch anything with Aoi Miyazaki in it but it was extremely tough this time. She's fabulous, of course, and the film starts off with a refreshingly bizarre sense of humor, but it quickly devolves into toilet humor. Miyazaki plays a record company office worker who discovers a punk rock band on the Internet, thinks they are the next big thing, and decides to represent them on behalf of her company. What she doesn't know, at first, is that the band's web site and videos are 25 years old, so she must follow through promoting a group of middle-aged punk rockers because contracts have been signed and jobs are on the line. I can't imagine who this movie is aimed at. Young people (who are into punk) will recognize it as fake and older people (who may have been punks) will too. Brass Knuckle Boys confuses punk with childishness and fails to create characters that anyone will care about. For every quick and funny moment that works, and there's a bunch of them, there's umpteen that don't. And the sibling rivalry family drama subplot is painfully uninteresting. I'm a huge Aoi Miyazaki fan but a two hour fart joke is a bad vehicle for her.

Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi) [2008] • Japan • Sono Sion

Director Sono Sion is a also a street poet and musician. There is a guerilla-art quality to this film. One gets the impression it's being made up on the spot, while you are watching it, yet there isn't the slightest hint of improvisation, and the film betrays an intricate construction. Contradictions abound. There's a mature adolescence in heady ideas about original sin and up-skirt, "peek-a-panty" photography. I hesitate to call this a weird film because it's not, even though I smiled through most of it thinking This can't be serious. I was amazed by the entire cast's chameleon like ability to move convincingly among different levels of sanity. Everyone in the film is so earnestly bizarre. If you like Sono's work you will not be disappointed by this. If you haven't seen anything by him, why not start with a four hour movie? The music is great.



Ritual (Shiki-Jitsu) [2000] • Japan

One thing is for sure, this film has some of the most gloriously thought out and constructed set designs ever. A lot of the film takes place in the young girl's "apartment" which is about the size of an average K-Mart. Each room is like a different department but it doesn't seem strange once you give in to the world Hideaki Anno has created. Anno comes from years working in Anime so his visual imagination works on a different level than most. Why not have the girl sleep in a bathtub in a big empty basement that's constantly and willfully flooded?

This is a beautiful film with lots of stunning photography. When the couple are outside they're usually hanging out on or near railroad tracks, creating all kinds of wonderful lines and framing. The cinematography may not be something that grabs you but the composition of shots will.

On the downside, the story is standard "crazy free-spirited girl captivates man" stuff with a little "here's what happens to victims of abuse (real or imagined)" thrown in. The dialog and philosophy get a little precious from time to time, neither of the two can really act—they're just supposed to be attractive cool people (they are)—but Anno makes the best of their limitations. It's fairly easy to spot the scenes where the girl, Ayako Fujitani, (who wrote the original novella the film is based on, cowrote the screenplay, AND is Steven Seagal's daughter!) is left to her own devices to be charmingly a little off kilter versus the ones where she is supposed to act a scripted point of story or character development. I don't mean to dis her too hard because she is an interesting soul to spend a couple hours with. No doubt. Shunji Iwai (real life director of a number of highly rated Japanese disaffected youth films, most notably All About Lily Chou-Chou), who plays the guy, a film director (!), isn't given too much to do or say. He's just intrigued by the girl so he hangs around all intrigued and artistically stressed. He's less of an actor than Fujitani but equally as cool and worth spending a couple hours with. This is definitely an indie/arty bag of ennui, but it does do some interesting things and even goes all Dogme 95 for a scene at the end.

You can watch most of this film at the YouTube


Tidal Wave (Haeundae) Tsunami [2009] • South Korea

Tsunami, or Tidal Wave, or whatever, is a great big huge gigantic disaster. The first ten minutes introduces about a dozen characters all of whom you'll hope are dead in the next ten minutes. It's the strangest character development I've ever seen. There's no subtlety or differentiation to them. They're all loud, extremely loud, obnoxious idiots. And they all hit one another, a lot. There are three things at play here: stupid, godawful, and annoying as hell. The director of the film, in a pre-emptive strike sort of way, has acknowledged that the special effects aren't very good (i.e., very expensive) so he's going to treat us to some good ol' Korean charm. FAIL. I hope this film never sees the light of day outside Korea because it could set back by decades the good reputation of that country's cinematic output. The acting is bad (WTF Sol Kyung-gu & Ha Ji-won), the myriad plot lines are predictable and groan out loud unpleasant, the special effects are cheesy, and, well .... you get the point. If you ever get roped into seeing this movie I promise that you won't believe how bad it is.

I watched the international version that cuts 13 minutes from the Korean domestic release. Thank gosh for small favors.