Tokyo Zombie (2005, Satô Sakichi)

It’s probably impossible to describe Tokyo Zombie’s wackiness. It is a comedic zombie movie, but the zombies themselves aren’t comedic. They’re really not a part of the film except as… I don’t know. They’re not villains or monsters. They’re just silly. The center of Tokyo Zombie is love. Specifically, the love of jujitsu. The story follows two losers (Asano Tadanobu and Aikawa Sho) who work at a fire extinguisher factory through a zombie apocalypse. Aikawa is a jujitsu master and Asano is his student. The film’s at its funniest when its a serious–think Miramax Oscar-bait–rumination of these two men’s love of jujitsu. It’s absurd and wonderful at those times.

Tokyo Zombie isn’t particularly high-budgeted. It’s reserved when it’s on location and the CG buildings aren’t particularly good (it doesn’t matter), so director Satô Sakichi’s success stems both from his script and his handling of the situation. It works perfectly on this small scale, half because Satô’s willing to hang on to moments until they come to fruition (he’s got a four minute shot in here) and also because the characters are all so damned funny. The film’s full of violence and, in the beginning, there’s a lot of mean-spirited stuff. Except it’s not mean-spirited. Satô has a unique ability–he can make anything funny over a sustained period of time. It’s an extreme black comedy, mixed with slapstick and some other things. It makes fun of black comedy approach a little too, especially in the second half when poor people are at the mercy of the rich–who feed them to the lions zombies. Narratively, Tokyo Zombie looses its footing during the transition, especially since it establishes a five-year history between two characters without showing any of it. Satô pulls it all together for the end.

I just found out a) Tokyo Zombie is from a manga, which explains a lot, and b) it’s not available (traditionally) outside of Asia, which is a shame. I haven’t been as amused–maybe not laughing aloud, but truly enjoying the experience of watching the film–in a long time.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Satô Sakichi; screenplay by Satô, based on a manga by Hanakuma Yûsaku; director of photography, Ishii Isao; edited by Shimamura Yasushi; music by Futami Hiroshi; produced by Toyoshima Yuusaku and Umekawa Haruo; released by Toshiba Entertainment Inc.

Starring Asano Tadanobu (Fujio), Aikawa Shô (Mitsuo), Erika Okuda (Yang Geun-chan), Furuta Arata (Ishihara) and Matsuoka Hina (Fumiyo).


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Chain Lightning (1950, Stuart Heisler)

Both critically and popularly, Chain Lightning gets classified as one of Bogart’s lesser, late 1940s films. While the film certainly is a star vehicle for Bogart, it’s only “lesser” if one compares it to Bogart’s stellar films (basically, the ones everyone remembers). On its own, Chain Lightning is far from perfect, but it’s a fine film. Director Stuart Heisler can direct some good scenes–since the film’s about a test pilot, there’s a lot of Bogart-only scenes, which Heisler handles (he has trouble when it’s a group scene). The special effects are quite good and they’re another thing Heisler incorporates well. I was about to say he didn’t do the romance scenes right, but there’s one scene between Bogart and Eleanor Parker where I can say I’ve never seen the shots before or since, so he does good on that aspect too.

The problems with Chain Lightning come from its lack of prestige. It’s about a test pilot, Bogart’s the only “star,” as Parker probably wouldn’t become a star for another year or two. (Apparently, Chain Lightning’s release was even held up for a year). The film’s got some really dynamic character relationships–between Bogart and Parker (he abandoned her in Europe during the war when he went home for no reason other than laziness), between Parker and Bogart’s rival Richard Whorf, and between Bogart and Whorf. Except none of the relationships are standard–Whorf, for instance, thinks the world of Bogart’s pilot, while never doubting Parker will choose him (even though, obviously, the audience knows different). Bogart gets to come across as petty and mercenary, to degrees I don’t think I’ve ever seen him go before (even in Casablanca, which is probably the best comparison). It’s just too short.

At ninety-five minutes, with multiple special effects sequences and a five or six year present action (some takes place during the war, then in 1950… sorry, 1949), it’s way too short. There’s not enough fat on the script to pad out the film, so it’s just the one straight gesture and the writers can’t quite make it work without hokey voiceovers and narration. For some of it, most of it in the middle, actually, I kept thinking it was so much better than I remembered it being (then the final act came around). Still, it’s certainly not a bad or even mediocre film. It has a lot going for it.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Heisler; written by Liam O’Brien and Vincent B. Evans, from a story by Lester Cole; director of photography, Ernest Haller; edited by Thomas Reilly; music by David Buttolph; produced by Anthony Veiller; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Matt Brennan), Eleanor Parker (Jo Holloway), Raymond Massey (Leland Willis), Richard Whorf (Carl Troxall), James Brown (Major Hinkle), Roy Roberts (Gen. Hewitt), Morris Ankrum (Ed Bostwick), Fay Baker (Mrs. Willis) and Fred E. Sherman (Jeb Farley).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 1: DREAM FACTORY.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, Clint Eastwood)

There are a couple kinds of Westerns, once you break it down enough. Ones where people go places, ones where people don’t. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a going places Western. It’s about a man on a trip and what the trip does to the man on the trip. I’ve seen Josey Wales before, probably twelve or fifteen years ago, maybe more–long before I could appreciate it. The Outlaw Josey Wales is a different kind of Eastwood directorial film. Stylistically–visually–it’s more in line with his early 1970s work. There’s also a lot of visible Don Siegel influence. Story-wise, The Outlaw Josey Wales is different from just about any other Eastwood film I’ve seen and can recollect, which leaves out maybe three contenders (but I’m doubtful of The Gauntlet’s artistic import).

Eastwood, the star, gives more in this film than he does for the entire 1980s, more than since he had to back in the 1960s. The film’s about Josey Wales and people–his effect on them and their effect on him, try as he might not to let it get to him–and Eastwood’s rarely alone. The relationships are all peculiar, with none of them having any earth-shattering importance to the character, though the romance with Sondra Locke comes the closest, but there’s more revealing character moments between Eastwood and Chief Dan George’s tag-a-long Indian friend. The Outlaw Josey Wales is so good I need a long sentence like the previous one, to show off my excitement at thinking about it. Other good performances (it’s Eastwood’s best acting job in the 1970s) include Sam Bottoms and John Vernon. I recently said Vernon’s only good in small doses and, while Josey Wales is a smallish dose, it’s more than I’d usually prefer. But I couldn’t care, since he’s fantastic. The rest of the cast is all excellent and many actors seem hand-picked from previous Eastwood films.

Since I’ve already had to acknowledge my misdiagnoses of Vernon, I have to now get on to Bruce Surtees, the cinematographer. In my response to Tightrope, I said Surtees didn’t know how to compensate for 1980s film stock. The Outlaw Josey Wales is from 1976, so I have no idea whether or not Surtees’s absolute brilliance in regards to this film proves my statement true or false. After just watching two color-drained Surtees-shot films, seeing Josey Wales was a revelation. The colors are sumptuous. It’s a stunning film to see–also to hear. Jerry Fielding’s score is fantastic. Production-wise, it’s uniformly great.

I’ll come across films I should have known were great–and Josey Wales is one of those physically-affecting good films–I had a physical reaction to experiencing it (kind of a soaring thing in the chest)–but this one kind of pisses me off. I mean, I should have thought to give it a look a long time ago….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Clint Eastwood; written by Philip Kaufman and Sonia Chernus, based on a book by Forrest Carter; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Jerry Fielding; production designer, Tambi Larsen; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Josey Wales), Chief Dan George (Lone Watie), Sondra Locke (Laura Lee), Bill McKinney (Terrill), John Vernon (Fletcher), Paula Trueman (Grandma Sarah) and Sam Bottoms (Jamie).


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Borat (2006, Larry Charles)

Back when Scream was a big deal–when Scream 3 was a big deal, actually–the ads for Bats started coming out. Bats spelled backwards is Stab, the Scream movie-in-movie… and it was from some unknown company with a suspiciously comic cast. I thought Miramax was going the extra mile and creating a sensation around their franchise. They weren’t. Borat is kind of the same thing and kind of not the same thing. If it were just performance art–just Sacha Baron Cohen going around pretending have made a movie about this guy and keeping in character the whole time–it would have been successful. As a film however, an eighty-four minute film, Borat is a disappointment. It’s not an inevitable disappointment, something unable to live up to the hype–it’s just not a good film. It’s long and there’s maybe twenty minutes without any real laughs, once you catch on. The problem with the humor is it’s stupid. Anyone (with a production deal) could do Borat.

The joke, after the staged scenes set in Kazakhstan is Cohen harassing people in character. But then, slowly, you stop buying the unscripted story (which director Larry Charles says is all real–but I read Defamer, so I know it’s not–no spoilers). People don’t react right. There’s a slickness to the production. Some of it certainly is unscripted, but definitely not all of it. I guess the scenes are staged, but the dialogue is unscripted (similar to “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). The film’s spontaneous is very reserved, uninteresting (for the most part) ways.

Charles has a lot of experience with pseudo-reality from that show, but he doesn’t utilize it here. Borat shows itself most in terms of the cameraman–Borat, the character, is supposedly being filmed all the time by a cameraman, but the cameraman is a) never referenced as a living person and b) some of the shots are impossible. The movie’s funny enough for a while it doesn’t matter, as Borat travels across the country, but then Cohen seems to have lost interest because after spending about an hour getting from New York to Georgia, he gets to California in ten minutes.

The film is funny, but it’s absurd and I can’t imagine ever watching it again. The clips available online–for free–are just as funny, maybe even more so.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Larry Charles; written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham and Dan Mazer, based on a story by Baron Cohen, Baynham, Hines and Todd Phillips, and a character created by Baron Cohen; directors of photography, Anthony Hardwick and Luke Geissbühler; edited by Peter Teschner and James Thomas; music by Erran Baron Cohen; produced by Baron Cohen and Jay Roach; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat), Ken Davitian (Azamat), Luenell (Luenell), Alex Daniels (Naked Fight Coordinator), James P. Vickers (Kidnapping Consultant), Peewee Piemonte (Safety) and Michael Li, Harry Wowchuk and Nicole Randall (Action Team).


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