Archives for October 2007 | Varied Celluloid

Archive for October, 2007

Another Three for the Vault

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 8 - 2007

Hey ya’ll, just adding some more of the older reviews. Going to try and add three or four every day or two when I have the time. All I really have to do is reformat them all, and upload the graphics. Just time consuming is all. Anyway, films added:

9 Souls – My review for this classic piece from Toshiaki Toyoda.

Angel Guts: Red Dizzyness – Another one of mine for the Angel Guts boxset, which I STILL have not finished!

Anatomy – A review from our good buddy Scarface! Dolan said he’ll help contribute to VC in the future as well, can’t wait to hear from him more in the future!

Ya’ll keep cool and be sure to leave comments, love hearing back from everybody – and don’t worry, I’ll have that forum up this week most likely!

Anatomy

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 8 - 2007
Plot Outline: Paula Henning is a bright young medical student who has just been given the opportunity to study at the prestigious Heidelberg University. Contrary to her father’s wishes, she decides to go; leaving her family and dying grandfather behind. All seems to go well at first: she makes new friends, has a brilliant teacher, and a charming young boy quickly begins to fall for her. Until one day she makes the shocking discovery that one of the corpses used for experimentation during the lecture actually belonged to a young guy whom she had just met the day before. Much to her dismay, Karen eventually realizes that within the much acclaimed Heidelberg University there exists a secret society called the AAA; which conduct experiments on living human beings for the benefit of medical progress. As their slogan promptly points out, “Experimental killing of the few to ensure the survival of many”. Needless to say, Paula soon becomes the target of a maniacal member of the group who is determined to shut her up once and forall.



The Review
I have to admit that I had zero expectations for this movie as I popped it into my dvd player during one of those lonely, rainy nights. I had never even heard of it before, and I decided to give it a rent for the sole reason that I liked the title. I didn’t even know it was a German film, and I sure as hell didn’t expect that I’d spend 100 or so minutes reading English subtitles to fully understand what was going on. Yet, I must say that “Anatomy” proved to be a pleasant surprise for the most part. With the Hollywood horror scenario currently characterized by tired, repetitive slasher flicks and unnecessary remakes, this foreign film seemed to be a breath of fresh air.


One of the positive things about “Anatomy” is that, unlike many other horror movies, it actually has a story to tell. And I dare say a quite ambitious one too. We are presented with a secret society whose scope is to conduct experiments on living human beings for the benefit of medical science. And by experiments I mean the literal cutting and removing of flesh and body parts. Naturally enough, in a movie with this sort of plot you would expect it would have its fair share of blood and gore. In all honesty it had a substantial amount, but it’s not something which would make you lose your appetite for a week. And to tell the whole truth, I was actually expecting a little more. However, the real strength of the movie lies in the concept itself. Imagine yourself waking up tied to an autopsy table, powerless to do anything other than to stare at mysterious masked men who are cutting your abdomen apart. The idea alone makes you feel slightly uncomfortable. I mean, you could look at all the gore present in the George Romero zombie films, and something in the back of your head will tell you that what you’re seeing is just a fictitious horror movie with fictitious zombies. When you see the zombie from “Day of the Dead” rising up from the autopsy table with all his kidneys falling on the floor, you could somewhat say to yourself that this zombie is just a fictional character. You just can’t relate to a zombie. This is not the case with “Anatomy”. You know that all the characters in this movie are common human beings just like you and me, and for this reason the decapitations somewhat get more under your skin. And mind you, this whole concept isn’t just scary; it’s even quite amusing in its own demented way. It’s like, one day you make a new friend. The very next day you find him dead on the autopsy table for experimentation during your anatomy class. Call me sick, but I couldn’t help myself from giggling at that part.


Another thing that impressed me was the acting, and here I’m specifically referring to Franka Potente. I have to admit that this is the very first Potente film I’ve seen; I still haven’t got around to watching her most famous film to date being “Run Lola Run”. And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by her performance. She seems to be a very versatile actress, and her character in this movie was totally believable. If there is any justice left in the world, she has the potential to become a major Hollywood figure in the near future. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for most of the other actors in the movie. I didn’t find most of them the least bit believable. And to be completely honest, this wasn’t completely due to their performances as such. This is where I think this film fell into the first of a number of clichés. These students should be the crème de la crème of medical science. And chances are that if you are one of the brightest medical students in the country, you look and act like a nerd. And if you are a nerd, you probably won’t even know what a gymnasium is. Yet, nearly all of the students depicted in this movie seem to have been sculptured from stone. It’s as if they spend their whole day working out at the gym instead of burying their heads into boring medicine books.

The Conclusion
This leads us to the other negative aspects of the movie, which are practically present in the whole second part. Just when I thought I had found a modern horror movie with a difference, I soon became aware that I was wrong. The second part of the film basically consists of the same, old, tired elements present in 99% of slasher flicks released nowadays. There’s the inevitable sex scene, the death of the slut, the survival of the good girl, the boring chase scenes and the unsatisfactory ending. To make things worse, the movie’s soundtrack is totally off-putting. I mean, I can understand that the movie was mainly targeted at teens; but do we really have to listen to a Fat Boy Slim song in a horror movie? It was really like watching “Dawson’s Creek” at one point. And it’s a real shame because this movie really had potential. The second part of the film bored me out of my wits, even with the hundred plot twists the director decided to include. I was very disappointed it went so downhill throughout the end, because I really wanted to give this movie a higher rating. I guess I have to keep investing in my search for a truly outstanding, original modern horror movie.



Review contributed by Scarface

Angel Guts: Red Dizzyness

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 8 - 2007
Plot Outline: Nami works as a nurse in a local clinic. After spending her nights being up all the time developing film with her photographer boyfriend though, she rarely feels rested when going through the rigors of her job. While daydreaming through her job one day however, the ultimate wrong is committed against her. When checking a patient’s room, she is attacked by him and his best friend and raped. She escapes the assault eventually, but not before they have had their way with her. She makes her way home to her boyfriend, only to discover him at play with one of his models if you get my drift. Her heart broken, mind decimated and feeling this agony, she runs into the streets trying to leave this world behind. If all of this isn’t enough though, she is struck by a car driven by a salaryman who is having his own troubles. After stealing money from his investors, he is caught and the phone calls from angry customers start rolling in. His wife and family leave him, his employers ask for him to quit and his life is all but over. Then he runs into her. Thinking she is dead, he sits her up in his car and contemplates what to do. After a while though, he discovers she is not dead. His curiosity, lust and primal instincts take over – and this isn’t the nicest thing a guy can do to a girl he likes – he begins to fondle her while she is sleeping. She awakens, even more astonished at the horrors of her life and the two set themselves up in a ruined building. As the film progresses a bond builds between the two.



The Review
Red Dizzyness seemed an applicable title in my mind somewhere around five minutes into the film during a scene where our lead heroine was being masturbated by her boyfriend amidst an apartment that looked as if it were lit by a volcano just somewhere out of sight. It’s a catching visual, not only for it’s graphic sexuality (not to be explicit, but I don’t want to shy away from the sexual content of the film either, it might be worth noting that the act is done with nothing but the actresses underwear blocking our view) – but the set and lighting for the scene is breathtaking in it’s expression. Not exactly something someone would expect from a film with such potent sex sequences. The whole sex sequence is hypnotic, and although it is not, it seems as if it would be easy to believe the subtitle for this sequel to the famed Angel Guts series sprung simply from this one series of moments. You may ask though, what importance does this serve? Well, you got me. Takashi Ishii, writer of the series and manga from which it is based (as well as director of this entry and many other popular films) seems like a bit of an oddball director – I of course mean that in the most positive way possible. When I first sat through Evil Dead Trap back in the days of old, I felt both repelled and attracted to his style. The film felt like an offbeat ode to the Giallos of Italy, but with a definitive Japanese flavor. I didn’t find it to be an exceptional film, but looking back – it certain had it’s moments (though I must admit Red Dizzyness helped open my eyes to more of Ishii’s stylistic traits). Then came Gonin, which I could hardly believe came from the same director. To this day I consider it one of my absolute favorite crime films ever made. You can read more of my ranting over that film in my review. Now here I sit with Red Dizzyness, and I really don’t know what to think. Watching it, it feels like the most experimental soft-core porn flick ever made. Now, keep in mind that I have very little experience with the Pinku films of Japan (the only two flicks I can think of that I have seen were both made in 60/70’s era, and were both fairly tame), but using the term ‘soft-core’ is bound to open a whole can of worms. After all, what defines pornography over a film that delves heavily into sexual relationships? It only strikes my brain because of the frequency of the sex scenes. Mind you, excluding one scene where we are treated to some classic Japanese mosaic crotch blurring, the majority of the sex is not of the full-frontal variety. As a film, Red Dizzyness is fairly baffling. It’s a surreal and disturbing journey into the psycho-sexual. I’m not sure if it’s the bravest film to tackle the issues that are set forth, but there’s no denying how absolutely ambitious it is. The gutsyness (and no that is not a pun) of the whole affair is enough to demand my respect, but it’s the artistry and the delivery that makes me love it as a creation.

I had read up on the Pinku subgenre of Japan in the past, but my experiences have been limited to say the least. I knew the backstory, about how the Japanese film industry hit bottom somewhere a few decades back and left many of the studios making the only types of films still selling; pornography. Giving directorial jobs to many creative directors, the films may have all had tons of sex in them – but supposedly they were works of artistic creation as much as they were films of titillation. Sitting through Red Dizzyness has made me a believer. Dealing with complex themes of rape, emotional betrayal and the stereotypes of Japanese society – this isn’t exactly Deep Throat nor Bikini Carwash. Red Dizzyness strikes with a velocity I’ve never witnessed before. The sexual overtones run the gamut of perverse to sensual, and anything in between. Although the series may be centered around rape, my feeling was that rape was just used as a set-up to explore the lead characters emotional rock bottom. This isn’t a fetish film, and although I haven’t seen the whole series yet, I would urge people not to judge drastically without at least reading up on them first. The act its’ self was not gleaned over one way or another, not sensual in the least and sometimes depressingly desperate. So, for those who are easily disturbed by such topics, you’ll likely be more offended by the ample amounts of nudity than the actual scenes of forced sex. Still, despite all of this, the rape, the cheating boyfriend and the horrors of being dominated – I still believe there is still positivity to be found in Red Dizzyness. It’s not all depression an sorrow, although, I would be lying if I said those areas of life didn’t play an important role in the film as well. By the time the credits start rolling on Red Dizzyness though, there’s a hope in the air. Takashi Ishii’s explanation of the title Angel Guts as a play on words, basically meaning Angels with Guts (as in bravery), definitely comes into play towards the end. I won’t spoil it for you, but there truly is something hopefully optimistic about the film and its conclusion. Something that was desperately needed after all of the melancholy that built the foundation of the film. There are many ways to define Red Dizzyness, a love story, exploitation or even a psychological character study, but it’s fair to say the film is surprising no matter how you look at it.

The first thing that really strikes me about Red Dizzyness, and instantly gives it credibility as a true work of art – is the fantastic cinematography. It really is mind blowing how beautiful the film is shot, mainly because of the perfected lighting. A mix of blue and reds fill the screen throughout the film, with the occasional acrobatic piece of camerawork to settle things out – they really don’t make ’em like this anymore. The majority of the film has a surreal quality to it because of all this, it’s as if the characters live in a dream sequence thought up in a David Lynch film. There is definitely a dreamy quality to the film, with the few exceptions popping up every now and then – like the distant and cold streets of Tokyo or white rooms of a hospital; but when the film wants to put on atmosphere it does so with gusto! This world we are shown is illuminated with dark figures, clashing colors and a sense of foreboding doom just around the corner, but somewhere at the heart of all of this a love tale unfolds. Much like the lead character Nami, it arises like a phoenix from the ground. There is definitely some power in Red Dizzyness, and I try my best to encapsulate it, but no film is without it’s flaws. Being that this film is just part of a larger series, it tends to feel like an ‘entry’ rather than something to stand on it’s own. Although it isn’t true, one feels as if they should see the rest of the series to better understand the themes throughout. This makes the film feel a bit episodic, maybe like one long and perverse Twilight Zone tale – and the short (well, comparatively, clocking in at 70-something minutes) running time doesn’t help dissuade this feeling. Still, these quirks are easily looked over in order to get the big picture. If you’re the least bit interested in the expression of sexuality on screen, even if it means crossing a few lines, it’s certainly worth checking out – and despite what it may seem from the outside looking in, the somewhat feminist look at a female being dominated in a world of men definitely works. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t get preachy.

The Conclusion
So, with those few little problems I had with the film, I wasn’t sure whether to go with a high three or a lower than average four. I think I’ll swing towards the four this time around. It’s not that Red Dizzyness isn’t a fantastic film, but it’s probably not the one entry into the series that is going to blow my mind. It certainly has it’s advantages and is a great piece of work on it’s own, but there were moments that could have been improved. It’s a highly memorable film however, certainly bearing a selection of shocking moments. I recommend it, and highly await my chance to check out the rest of the film. Red Dizzyness may not be perfection, but it’s a morbid ride through the darkness of the human experience – and who could ever have enough of that!?

9 Souls

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 8 - 2007
Plot Outline: We begin with a disturbed young man, Michiru (Ryuhei Matsuda) who has spent many of his last few years in complete isolation. After overhearing his father and brother going through an argument, he goes off the deep end and brutally murders his only living parent. He soon arrives in a prison cell along with nine other inmates, but one of which seems to be off his meds, because after sharing a secret about a treasure he hid at a school – the man goes berserk and is sent to another cell. Just moments later one of the convicts (who happens to be a master of escape) discovers an exit, and sets the remaining nine prisoners free. Together they all set out to find the treasure mentioned in earlier on, and along the way we are guided through their highs and lows.



The Review
Although he isn’t as popular as Takashi Miike or Takeshi Kitano (or even Sabu in some circles) as of the moment, after sitting through Blue Spring, Pornostar and now 9 Souls, I am thoroughly convinced Toshiaki Toyoda may be one of the most important directors to come out of Japan in a while. Not to say there haven’t been directors now and then who have made beautiful accomplishments, but after seeing Toyoda’s first three films (Unchained sits in the list of films to see, but unlike this work, it is a documentary) I am just blown away. The consistency of his work, coupled with his truly original style heavily reminds me of Quentin Tarantino in the fact that the two directors have a vision and style that revolves around music and still remains unique, even though the two directors couldn’t be more drastically different. Toyoda is a visual director in the most absolute way possible, and with 9 Souls he sets out to prove that to the world. If after you sit through the film you aren’t completely thrown out of your socks by the imagination and photography, then you sir, have no soul! Or you just heavily disagree with me, neither stances I would recommend. It’s debatable in my mind as to whether 9 Souls is more enjoyable than Blue Spring (which is an absolute must own), both are spectacular, but 9 Souls is definitely a more mature film and an all around astounding piece of cinema. Taking the simplistic narrative of Blue Spring and Pornostar, Toyoda ups the ante with 9 Souls and offers a rather surreal fantasy with a huge cast of characters – yet still succeeds in almost all areas. With as many characters as there are in the film, it’s easy to lose track occasionally, but even if you do – Toyoda reminds the audience when necessary and slowly builds and fleshes out these characters who all get their own time to shine. The film is an epic that seems to rush by the audience, and has more heart than so many other films of a like mind, but pinning it down as one particular type or style is nearly impossible. It’s a hard film to gauge just because there’s so much substance underneath the ordinary, and marks Toyoda truly coming into his own as a complete artist. It’s violent, subversive, poetic, touching and altogether amazing. Yet, the English language only has so many superlatives to compliment the film with, so why try and keep it rolling.

9 Souls takes a cue from Battle Royale (though not in a direct reference, nor even a strong comparison) in the fact that the cast of characters is quite large and as mentioned this may draw out some confusion. There are nine convicts, and at least a few Yakuza along the way who make more than a couple of appearances, so balancing this whole cadre of beings was already an ambitious step in the first place (though not a huge move when compared to the fairly large Blue Spring), but building an emotional attachment for the audience with nearly every one of them definitely seems like a task few could muster themselves past. Something that Toyoda did, that I feel most directors would not have, is in the fact that he doesn’t shy away from showing the audience that despite their being human the majority of these criminals have committed crimes that are blatantly inhumane. Along the way the audience learns that most have repented their crimes, or at the least the situation wasn’t as cold as they would be lead to believe, but Toyoda very well could have taken the naive route and had them all play embezzlers or crooked Yakuza thieves – instead of murderers. There is the obvious need to make the characters more identifiable, yes, but a lot of this is brought about in the third act of the film anyway and the audience already has an emotional relationship with these men regardless. Toyoda may not break new ground completely with these little nuances, but it’s obvious he was starting from a place of originality rather than just trying to reproduce formula – which is always a great place to be. In my opinion, sometimes it only takes a thin layer of humanity to really perfect any character. This is something I loved about the original Battle Royale, but some people genuinely detested (often criticized for having too many characters and lacking the time to give each depth). I think Toyoda not only creates a whole list of characters who have their own unique qualities, but he gives them all motivation and independent attitudes. Toyoda crafts a list of characters as a master at work on the canvas, and never seems to fail with me as a viewer. There are moments of some inconsistency in the film I thought my first time through, but on re-thinking the situations, it is just so chock full of information throughout that it’s nearly hard to swallow in one viewing. It isn’t necessarily the type of film where you have to cling on to every bit of information given, but an attentive eye sure doesn’t hurt a thing. Although the pace is assuredly slow, the speed at which the audience is taken on this journey throughout the film is nearly hypnotizing. From one location to the next, the film continually bashes you over the head with a pace that seems other-worldly. It’s hard to describe, but once and if the film hooks you, sitting through the full two hours in one go becomes a pleasure.

9 Souls is absolutely the most visual film Toyoda has directed for the moment, and not that his previous films were lacking in that area, 9 Souls is just a tour de-force from beginning to end. The framing and placement of the camera throughout the picture is always clever no matter how ordinary the scene may be. I am reminded of a sequence where the camera is positioned on the outside of the bus our characters ride around in, as a couple of characters talk and give some expositional dialogue in the front seat, as the scene goes on (in what I remember to be quite the long take) we watch as a character exits the back of the bus and steps outside and exits to the left of the camera. There is a subtle movement as the camera adjusts its self on the hood of the vehicle and we see that the other character is actually urinating in the background. It adds a very humorous tone to what could have been a somewhat boring scene, and the fluid camera movement and awkward angle makes such a bizarre moment move by with angelic grace. That isn’t even mentioning the grand number of long takes that seem to get more and more complex along the way. There’s another moment where a woman grows angry with her husband over the fact that the convicts have taken advantage of their hospitality and begin acting rude inside of their house, the scene follows the woman from inside as her husband tries to calm her down until she walks into the kitchen where we see a man walk outside and (once again) begins urinating (it isn’t a theme or anything in the movie, trust me) and as she walks out the door still confronting her husband, she walks away, walks back and notices the man, grunts and walks away. The scene isn’t done though, the camera continues positioning its self so we can see both the backside of this stranger urinating on her property, and her as she walks away. The scene concludes once the man ‘finishes’. The film delves into the absurd at a moment’s notice but continually brings the audience back around, and as the comedy lightens up during the latter part of the film, the drama moves in without things growing stilted in the least. It is genuinely touching and hilarious in the same breath. The constant moving visuals are coupled with Toshiaki Toyoda’s complete dominance over the art of ‘cool’. The whole film is just ‘cool’ from the very start, beginning (after a few minutes of story, of course) with what appears to be a staple of Toyoda’s films, characters walking towards the camera while the hippest rock music you’ve ever heard blares over the soundtrack. Now, if you’ve never seen any of his films, you probably think that is old news and everyone and their mother has had a shot like that – but trust me, nobody does it better than Toyoda. Rather than having a rock band on the soundtrack though, with lyrical work accompanying as in Blue Spring, he returned to a full rock instrumental soundtrack as he did with Pornostar. Although I doubt there could ever be an instrumental that could create anything as powerful as the conclusion to Blue Spring (with Thee Michelle Gun Elephant’s song “Drop” magnifying the excitement), even so the musical work in 9 Souls is just as breathtaking in some ways. Especially during the concluding minutes, just the theme song adds so much to the fulfillment of the movie. Without something as catchy and beautiful I doubt things could have worked half as well. Toshiaki Toyoda has become the king of rock & roll cinema, without a doubt. All of this, and I haven’t even went into the performances, but to make it short – this film nearly brought tears to my eyes during the final minutes. I’m not ashamed to admit it, that’s how much I had grown attached to these characters, and a good script helps but the actors are the main attractions for the audience. Much of the cast are made up of regulars in Toyoda’s films, including the stars of his previous two films, Ryuhei Matsuda (Blue Spring) and Kôji Chihara (Pornostar), both of who actually share one poignant scene together on a bicycle that I felt particularly fond of as I am a fan of his other films, and seeing the two somewhat tied together is just a beautiful thing to witness. Although I wish I could, the cast is just too huge to go over individually, but each performance in my eyes is played to the hilt. With humor and a knowledge of how much drama is necessary. In short, pitch perfect!

What else can I say, 9 Souls is a beautiful follow-up to Blue Spring. I doubt it can reach those peaks, and it does have it’s moments of confusion throughout, but I can’t help but view the film as a step up in many ways and another dimension in a growing director. It’s a beautiful work that absolutely should not be missed by fans of Japanese cinema, and especially not by fans of the director. I give the film a five, but minus the Captain Stubbing award. Not something I do regularly, but as much as I feel the film is deserving of that five, I don’t know if it’s an absolute classic in that it will go down as Toyoda’s greatest film, so I reserve the award for the time being. Still, the work Toshiakai Toyoda is creating should not be passed up by any true lover of cinema, much less anyone who likes really ‘cool’ movies.

Some New Stuff!

Posted by Josh Samford On October - 6 - 2007

Okay, back to add some more content! Some old, some new. The old stuff being reviews for An Obsession and Azumi, which were posted a little while before the site went down earlier this year – and the new: A review for Johnnie To’s excellent thriller “The Mission”. One of the best films I had never seen. I am now glad to be on the Johnnie To bandwagon now however, and after finishing Running Out of Time; which I also plan to review shortly – I can think of no place I’d rather be!

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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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