Dogville: “How can I ever forgive you? There is nothing to forgive.”

[Screenshot](I wrote this while bored in an airport. No, I’m not spending the conference writing reviews) Wow. Lars van Trier hates people. Or maybe just Americans. Definitely he seems to have absolutely nothing nice to say about provincial Americans’ responses to basically good people, either in this or in Dancer in the Dark. Like Dancer, this is a highly stylized film, but with somewhat less inept camerawork. Here, the deliberate sketchiness is set-design: even though a couple of the techniques are explicitly cinematic, the set is obviously meant to evoke a stage-play, as is the division of the story into acts. In particula, I think thespartan, abstract set is meant to evoke Main Street, given a certain thematic similarity.

Anyways, Dogville should make me happy. I keep going on about theme and tone and all, and Dogville places thematic elements front-and-center, with Tom and the narrator at pretty much every point explaining exactly what’s going on. It’s almost too explicit, really—I like my moral lessons with a dash of subtlety. And even then, it’s not clear what our take-home lesson is. Is it Grace’s lesson, that we must be prepared to hold others to the same standards to which we hold ourselves? Is it the town’s (unlearned) lesson, that not everything must be tit-for-tat? Is it van Trier’s own critique, that Americans (or perhaps people) cannot deal with the concept of unequal exchange (insert our own cul-de-sac Fullmetal Alchemist ramblings here). I guess the theme feels a bit muddled, but it’s definitely strong. There’s a lot of activity to be judged here, msot of it unpleasant.

So, daringly sparse on technical aspects and frustratingly crowded on thematic elements: the question comes down to how well the cast worked with this ungainly but thought-provoking behemoth? Kidman is good enough: she’s good at being forgiving. The supporting cast is kind of enh but none of them except Paul Bettany really gets to develop much. By the stageplay standards which Dogville deliberately evokes, the cast is pretty large, and each of these characters is expected to have their own stories and desires and whatnot. The one casting I really didn’t like was John Hurt. We could’ve used a narrator (and a narrator script, at that, with about 50% less smarm.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia

らんま½ (Ranma ½), episodes 1–9: Completely bent

[Screenshot]Ranma is pretty damn silly, and also pretty early for modern anime. I’m getting pretty good at recognizing eighties-sign: something about the outlines of human figures or something. Someone who knows the history of animation better than me would probably have a better idea. Also an artifact of the time: the colors are kind of washed-out. But barring technical artifacts of the times, Ranma is fun enough. Not deep, but generally amusing, with all manner of situational humor, an awful lot of which involves water. I’ve only seen two episodes of Urusei Yatsura, but this has a similar, if zanier, style (which is not surprising, as it’s by the same creator). Anyways, it’s a lot of fun, and it has genderbending. Who doesn’t like genderbending? Nobody I went to school with, apparently, judging by the popularity of Utena. So, anyways, Ranma is fun enough, although it doesn’t seem to have long-term character-development arcs as such, which is too bad: I like how most anime seems to have continuity and tell long-arc stories. Oh well, Ranma‘s fun enough that I’ll continue to watch.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

Bunny Lake is Missing: “Otto Preminger Presents!”

[Screenshot]This is apparently a cult classic, which was news to me. I thoguht it was a completely obscure film. It was brought to my attention by a peculiar advertising jingle the Zombies did for it (I’m a big Zombies fan; I own the box set with all their music, whcih is why I’ve heard this oddity). So pretty much all I knew was that it was directed by Otto Preminger (I like Otto Preminger), featured Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley, and Keir Dullea (I like Olivier and Dullea; Lynley’s name was unfamiliar to me), and had footage of the Zombies singing (I like the Zombies). So even if it wasn’t very good, it sounded worth a watch.

So how good is it? It’s not bad, but neither does it rise to the standard of Preminger’s stronger films. The central plot device was, perhaps, overused by the time it was released, and certainly overdone by now. For my part, this device worked best in The Lady Vanishes and nothing since has quite done as well. Olivier does a creditable job, and Lynley is effective but a bit colorless. The two actors whose performances most struck me were Keir Dullea and Noel Coward; Coward is ridiculously over-the-top, but it’s a good over-the-top. Dullea’s performance is interesting but fatally marred. For most of the film he reminded me, perhaps inexplicably, of Jimmy Stewart. He’s got the right sort of eagerness and anxiety. Then his character abruptly changed and pretty much everything that happened after that point in the story made no sense and went on entirely too long. The transition needed to be more compelled, more believable, and more interesting. His character plays into a kind of stupid cliché in the end, and I found that part of the film weak. Somehow all these “is the protagonist crazy or not?” films get a lot weaker once that question is answered. It was a problem with The Lady Vanishes, too.

And as for the Zombies, they’re hardly in the film. But I guess it was the only film they were ever in, so they got pretty excited about it. And they got fairly high billing.

Odd fact: there are reports of an upcoming remake of Bunny Lake. Doesn’t Hollywood have any new ideas? I’m assuming this is meant to ride the same wave (whatever that is) as Flightplan, but can’t they come up with anything better to follow up a rip-off of an old movie with than a remake of the same old movie?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Örökbefogadäs: Low tech, high art

[Screenshot]Some aspects of Hungarian cinema surprise me. The Kádár regime was comparatively high-functioning and free for Iron Curtain states, but even so it was hardly a model state in terms of free patronage of the arts. But somehow an awful lot of social-commentary cinema leaked out. Márta Mészáros’s name was not one I’d heard before, but perhaps I should’ve: IMDB suggests she was and continues to be awfully prolific, and if Örökbefogadäs is any indication of her talent, her other films are worth seeing. It’s not a technically accomplished film, and the mediocre print doesn’t help much, but Mészáros’s deft design speaks volumes without saying much. There are lots of lingering and establishing shots, but they do a lot to set a scene of the characters and the society they work in: factories, communes, and ‘institutes’ (orphanages). A lot of credit for this is due to the actors as well, especially the superlatively peculiarly-named Gyöngyvér Vigh, who manages to look desperate and empty at the same time. It’s a sweet film, and touching, short on flash and long on heart. I can go with that.

See also: IMDB.

猫の恩返し: A Show of Weakness

[Screenshot]The Cat Returns is a Studio Ghibli prodction, which means, like an Aardman Entertainment production, it’s pretty good even at its worst. The Cat Returns isn’t bad as such, merely trifling and silly. It’s ostensibly a sequel to Miyazaki’s Whisper of the Heart, althoguh actually it’s merely a lifting of a couple of visual elements. It’s also relatively free of Hayao Miyazaki’s influence, and in some ways it shows. For one, no girls fly, unless falling without style counts. For another, there’s a lot less music. One doesn’t realize how much music there is in the average Ghibli feature until a musically sparse one comes up. The art is average Ghibli, which is an understated way of saying that it’s lovely and warm, so on technical issues, except for the sparseness of the music, it’s a good film; my problem was with tone. The Cat Returns played most things as straight comedy, and a bit over-the-top; the campy English dub probably didn’t help much. Miyazaki would’ve injected a sense of wonder into the Cat Kingdom (c.f. Spirited Away), and I don’t get that here. Although The Cat Returns is a fun enough story, it’s down there with Pom Poko in terms of tonally and thematically enjoyable Ghibli.

See also: IMDB, Nausicaa.net, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

L/R episodes 1–4: Underdeveloped

[Screenshot]I don’t shop at Big Lots. But I will go in when I’m somewhere where there is one. Why? For the cheap anime, or course. There are few series which aren’t worth $4 to check out the first disc. And that’s how I ended up with a copy of L/R. It’s worth the money, although probably not much more. It’s good-natured and light-hearted, with a good overall tone, but has little else going for it. The central characters are strong and well-designed: Rowe and Jack serve as effective foils to each other, and Noelle is uncharacteristically charming. Outside of this, though, the series doesn’t have too much to recommend it. The art is adequate but hardly extraordinary, the plot is frequently absurd, convoluted, or both, and incidental characters are only sketches.

Two uncharacteristically excellent aspects of the presentation, it must be mentioned, are the music and the dub. The dub is clean with a variety of British accents—appropriate enough for a series which is set in a thinly-fictionalized Britain. Hell, the dub’s better than the original audio, and how often is that true? The music was overall an unusually pleasant surprise, with theme music by, of all people, Billy Preston, whose connection to the project I can’t even bigin to imagine. Incidental music is also Prestonesque and kind of unusually good for an anime of this obscurity.

Would I buy future discs of this anime? Not at full price, but most anime’s a gouge at full price. Would I buy it at $4? Hell yeah.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

少林足球: Joyously wacky

[Screenshot]Stephen Chow knows what he likes, and what he’s good at. He piles on the camp unashamedly, and produces howlingly wacky kung fu flicks. Shaolin Soccer is a pretty good example. The plot is, Lord knows, nothing new: we have mostly the same characters bouncing off each other in exactly the same way as in God of Cooking. And of course, the dialogue was so ineptly translated that the original humor (which I’m given to understand there’s a lot of) is replaced entirely by weird-translation humor. So why is Shaolin Soccer so much fun? Situational humor, mostly. It’s a bouncy, manic thrill-ride, and there’s something delightful about watching a heavyweight jump 30 feet to head a ball, or a street full of people dancing uncontrollably to the sounds of a reedy off-pitch geek’s a cappella. The silliness runs deep, everyone overacts, and it’s just a lot of fun.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia