Monday, September 18, 2006

"Everyone's A Critic."

It seems that the Gods must've read the recent blog entry about my hours at work because the powers that be (aka: the store manager) granted me my requested three consecutive days off. :) I used much of the time off to hang out in Boston with my aforementioned friends from New Hampshire and even stopped by the Somerville Theater in Davis Square for a couple of Chuck Norris 80's "classics" from the Cannon Pictures vaults (Silent Rage and Invasion U.S.A.) and a good time was had by all. So, in short, there's not much new to report this time around. Instead, here are a couple of reviews of some interesting Japanese films released in the USA by the great folks at Artsmagic DVD. Enjoy, and more later...

The Bird People in China
Artsmagic DVD
Anamorphic Widescreen
NTSC/Region Zero
Dolby Digital Sound; Japanese Audio/English Subtitles
Biographies/Filmographies, Original Theatrical Trailer
Japanese Theatrical Film Promotional Material (translated into English)
Lyrics of and Essay on "Annie Laurie" (traditional Scottish ballad)
Interview featuring Takashi Miike (director)

From the DVD Cover:
We journey with the Japanese Salaryman (an impressive Masahiro Motoki) and the debt-collecting Yakuza (the hilarious Renji Ishibashi) on a journey to investigate a jade mine, which turns into a search for the Bird People but ultimately becomes a voyage of discovery to the core values of modern man.

Perhaps the most critically respected film of Takashi Miike's wildly varied career, The Bird People In China is a funny, nostalgic and emotionally deep antidote to the "man against nature" themes put to use in so many other films of the time. Motoki and Ishibashi shine as the two city men thrust into the Chinese countryside who's rough relationship is the film's center. The always-welcome work of the wonderful character actor Mako brings a good-natured smile to the viewer with every scene.

The commentary track (feature length) and Takashi Miike Interview (17 minutes) cover everything from the actual genesis of the film and it's production (including how everything was -- quite unusually -- paid for in cash), the casting and location processes, and what the success of the film has meant to Miike both personally and in terms of his career. Also included are trailers for the Black Society Trilogy films directed by Takashi Miike and a look at the Scottish folk song "Annie Laurie," which features prominently in the film's narrative.

Featuring the work of the writer of the Young Thugs films and the cinematographer of Takeshi Kitano's Fireworks and Boiling Point, Miike's film and its message about getting one's self "back to basics" has an emotional resonance that many will find uplifting and worth thinking over. And, perhaps most significantly, The Bird People in China will show the uninitiated that Miike is not just a gross-out-noir filmmaker but an insightful artist, as well.

An Obsession
Artsmagic DVD
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
NTSC/Region One
Dolby Digital Sound; Japanese Audio/English Subtitles
Commentary Track featuring author Jasper Sharp
Interview featuring Shinji Aoyama (director)

From the DVD cover:
As in Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog, "filmmaker Shinji Aoyama weaves his plot around a Detective (Ryo Ishibashi) whose stolen gun is used for murder, but from there on in the two works part company. In Aoyama's world, onsession is the common condition of man, and for his purposes here it takes the form of a workaholic detective and a homicidal leukemia patient (Kazuma Suzuki). Each is driven down the road to destruction, a path on which Aoyama explores the dark night of the human soul. Along the way, Saga is forced to endure the rewards of his own dehumanized behavior."

An Obsession (and likewise, the Korean film The Missing Gun, with which it shares some similarities) offers an alternate take on the aformentioned work of cinema master Akira Kurosawa. While the film does try to travel different ground than the classic Stray Dog, it unfortunately doesn't really go anywhere new. Shinji Aoyama has been referred to as having a style that's occassionally too clinical and distant and that style is displayed again, here. On the plus side, though, the film is quite a bit more involving than his previous EM: Embalming, due to the work of the lovely Eiko Nagashima as the Detective's Wife (adding a bit of emotional warmth)... and lest we forget, the comical, unexplained, recurring appearances of a mysterious Squad of Men in haz-mat suits. An Obsession also features very good work by Ryo Ishibashi as one of Aoyama's strongest lead characters yet and it is his work as the obsessed detective that makes the film worth seeking out.

Jasper Sharp of the website The Midnight Eye contributes a lively and humorous commentary and, along with the Aoyama interview, discusses the director's career, the links between the film and Kurosawa's acknowledged masterpiece, the terrorist gas attacks on the Japanese subway system from years ago, Jean Luc Godard, Shakespeare's Hamlet and illuminates how An Obsession could never really be described as "a date film."

More on these films can be found at

This week's star-reviews:

Silent Rage *
Invasion U.S.A. **1/2

Get On The Bus **1/2
Summer Of Sam ***
The 25th Hour ***1/2
The Pope Of Greenwich Village **1/2
Cop ***
Cache (France) ***

Video Games
Yakuza (PS2) ***1/2

Friday, September 08, 2006

"Did I miss anything?"

Firstly, apologies for the delay in bloggination. I'd originally planned to update this little baby every week or so but as someone once said, "Sometimes, life gets in the way." And sometimes it's work specifically. Being the manager-type at your city's only enjoyed major corporate videostore has it's share of tiny little perks... but one of them certainly wouldn't seem to be the hours.

If you're primarily a second-shift employee, you sort of have to expect to give up certain freedoms in your life. You have to give up your days to sleep, you can't hang out with many of your friends who work more regular, desirable (and respected, it seems) nine-to-five gigs... and finding that special someone to share a romantic relationship with is difficult at best (though I'm out there, trying). And on top of that, to not be able to enjoy the relaxation of two days off in a row (such as weekends)... How can one find the time and energy to blog? (No, this is not me pictured here. I may be funny looking, but I'm hotter than this.)

Yes, it beats being unemployed and yes, I'm happy to have a job that requires no commute as I'm a five-minute-tops walk from the shop. But, like many, I dream of something more. Something better. This blog is an attempt to keep me on track and I'm going to try and work at it more effectively and more regularly than I have this past month. That's my promise to you, the reader. And to myself, the whiner. ;)


For the last two years or so, I've been taking single-day and two-day trips to New York City every sixty days or so. NYC and I have a bit of a history, you see. Years ago, after having decided to become a filmmaker and winning a couple of awards for some of my video work in high school, I applied to the undergraduate Tisch Film Program at New York University -- "the Harvard of film schools." This was quite an undertaking for a lunch-ticket, state-assistance kid from the woods of Massachusetts but I took my shot. And to my astonishment, I was accepted. This was probably the highest point of my creative life, the equivilent of a Minor League Pitcher getting his chance at the Majors, and getting the call to NYU -- a school where film giants like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee regularly act as instructors -- this was a dream come true. My mom and I were called to the school for a "financial aid counseling meeting" as we had no real assets and had tapped out all the available scholorships and grants that we could get our hands on. My mom got all dressed-to-impress -- so proud she was of her loving son -- we bought two Peter Pan bus tickets out of Providence, Rhode Island and embarked upon the four hour trip to the Big City to see what riches life held in wait for us and our collective futures. Cut to: Interior, NYU Offices, Day...

After about fifteen minutes, the Financial Aid Counselor looked us in the eyes and said "I'm sorry, but I just don't see any way that you can afford to attend NYU." You see, even with every resource tapped and every penny squeezed, we would still be an estimated seven thousand dollars short for tuition and room/board per year. Heartbroken and beaten, my mother and I left the Financial Aid office and shared the saddest lunch I think I've ever experienced. "Should we stay the day and see the city?" my mom asked, only having been to New York once herself a decade or so before. I saw little point in it. Why show a starving man a buffet and not let him touch a morsel of food? I asked if we could just catch the next bus home. She tearfully agreed, and we did so.

Of course, this all worked out in various ways as the years have passed. Had I been accepted to NYU I never would have attended Keene State College in beautiful Keene, New Hampshire and made several of the greatest friends a guy could ask for. But this in a nutshell was my tale of a New York Dream that never happenned. And this, largely, is what has led to my desire to learn the streets of Manhattan and a little of Brooklyn. Call it righting a wrong. Call it curiosity. Call it what you will. My recent trips to NY have been great experiences all across the board. Spotting movie locales, visiting museums and libraries, seeing sights, I've become a huge fan of the ol' Big Apple. Now that I've learned my way around -- from Battery Park up to the mid 80's, anyway -- I feel at one with New York. They say "if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere." Having been there a few times now, we'll see soon enough how true that is.

My most recent trip to New York City was a bit of a washout, both literally and figuratively, due to a 48-hour rain soaking of the East Coast at the hands of Mother Nature. The day's damp coolness certainly beat the 110-degree-with-the-heat-index sunshine of my last visit in late June. This was a trip with a purpose, though, as my primary goal was to search for the offices of a certain literary agency that I'd read was looking for new, undiscovered screenwritng talent. I'd read about them (who shall go unnamed, for now) in a monthly writer's magazine and they sounded, to me, to be a decent outfit to examine. I have an issue though, careful as I am, with dealing with people I've never met, so I decided to have a look for the offices in question to see what the place was like. It's a comfortable office in a nice area and the gentleman at the front desk was kind enough to let me know that what I'd read was true, that they were seeking new writers to represent and that I should send along the standard query letter of introduction and such, should I desire to. "Thanks," I said. "I believe I'll do that." And so I will. More on this, as it develops. :)

Well, that's about enough "Dear Diary" for me for one afternoon. Must be at work in less than an hour (see above). On a non-related note, please look below at what sounds to be a great occassion here in Boston that I hope to attend next week. It's called FILMS AT THE GATE. Lamenting that there are no more Chinese cinemas in Boston's Chinatown district, local businesses have joined forces with local moviefans to present a five-day series of screenings of martial arts classics to be held outdoors in Chinatown, free to the public, to call attention to these films of old and to unite to community. If this isn't the definition of "beautiful" I don't know what is. Please check them out at the following links and spread the word.

Oh, and here's this week's reviews.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ***1/2
Beerfest ***
Crank **1/2

Day Watch (Dnevnoy Dozor) ***1/2
The Inside Man ***1/2
Malcolm X ***1/2
Bamboozled ***
Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction *** (for being a laugh riot)
Running Wild (Korea) **1/2
Intolerable Cruelty **

More later...