Tag Archives: 2000

CAPSULE: BATTLE ROYALE [BATORU ROWAIARU] (2000)

 

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:  Kinji Fukasaku

FEATURINGTakeshi “Beat” Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Chiaki Kuriyama

PLOT:  Intergenerational relations in Japan have broken down to such an extent that

Still from Battle Royale [Batoru Rotaiaru] (2000)

youngsters are rebelling by committing acts of violence and mass truancy.  The situation has deteriorated so badly that the government reacts by passing the “Battle Royale Act”: each year a randomly selected high school class is sent to an isolated, uninhabited island, fitted with remotely detonated explosive collars, given meager supplies and told to fight to the death.  One must emerge a victor or three days later everyone will die.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Although I consider Battle Royale to be a “must see” film, it really can’t go on the list.  It’s just not weird.  It’s funny, violent, overblown, disturbing, both operatic and banal, but not weird.

COMMENTS:  My first review of the film was a little flippant and then, quite randomly, I overheard a man say it was the “sickest” film he had ever seen.  He appeared to be quite sincere and I was driven to go back and watch it again, and again, to try and see what he had seen, what had disturbed him so much.

I don’t think that there’s anything in Battle Royale which will upset “366-ers.”  Yes, it is a film filled with images of youngsters killing each other and it would not be unnatural to find that disturbing.  The violence is so over the top, however, that it’s difficult not to be amused at times.  Who would have thought that a saucepan lid could prove to be such an effective weapon in the right hands?  It’s not even a very good saucepan lid.

The controversy surrounding Battle Royale on its release centered on the graphic violence and the age of the participants, but there is no connection between the violence in the film and real life violence involving teenagers.  The high school class that we follow are being forced against their will to participate in a life or death game, and they have been forced to do so by adults: adults who have stooped so far as to rig the game.  Despite having their backs against the wall, some of teenagers behave quite nobly; pleading for peace, setting up Continue reading CAPSULE: BATTLE ROYALE [BATORU ROWAIARU] (2000)

LIST CANDIDATE: SPIRAL [UZUMAKI] (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Higuchinsky

FEATURING: Eriko Hatsume, Fhi Fan

PLOT:  One by one the residents of a small Japanese village become “infected” with an

Still from Spiral [Uzumaki] (2000)

obsession for spirals, leading them to neglect their normal day to day lives and eventually to their odd spiral-related deaths.  Yes, you read right…spiral deaths!

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:  Movies that achieve a coveted final place on the List need to be really very good or really very weird.  Some will be great enough to score on both counts.  Much as I love Uzumaki, I have to say it should earn a place based on the sheer quality and quantity of the weirdness on display.  Viewers who like a neatly wrapped plot will be annoyed and frustrated that the nature of what’s going wrong in the village is never really explained.  There’s a breadcrumb sprinkling of just enough hints to allow you to ponder the cause yourself: is it an ancient curse, casually malevolent demons or something worse, rooted in the double helix of the villagers’ very DNA?

COMMENTS: This should be a pretty grim film.  An apparently innocent group of villagers are led to gruesome self mutilation and picturesque suicides by a strange infection, for which there is no cure, no explanation, and from which there is no escape.  It “should” be a grim film, and yet it’s charming, quirky and downright laugh out loud funny in parts.  Based on Junji Ito’s manga of the same name, it was made and released before the conclusion of the print version was released, so viewers coming to it via the books will apparently find significant differences.  I have only read a couple of chapters of the manga and therefore cannot comment on how the two compare, but watching the film it’s tempting to think that some of the stylization of the cinematography and acting draws on the original artwork.  Burtonesque spirals are so ubiquitous throughout the film, appearing in clouds, bushes and ceiling panels that it would be a rash viewer who launched into an uzumaki drinking game.

The story centres on schoolgirl Kirie and her solemn, androgynous boyfriend Shuichi.  It’s Shuichi who first realizes that all is not well.  His father has become so obsessed with Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: SPIRAL [UZUMAKI] (2000)

CAPSULE: MEMENTO (2000)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Christopher Nolan

FEATURING: , ,

PLOT:  A man suffering from an inability to form short term memories hunts for his wife’s murderer, relying on notes he leaves himself and important facts he tattoos on his body.

Still from Memento (2000)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  It isn’t weird.  Other than the unconventional narrative structure, Memento could even be viewed as a bit of hardcore realism.   But it is easy to see why lovers of the weird are attracted to it; the cloudy mystery that attaches to the story and its central cipher doesn’t lift until the very end, creating a disorientation that feels subjectively weird even though the story is actually firmly grounded in reality.

COMMENTS: Here, I’ll make it easy for you with this paragraph.  To appreciate just how intricately Memento is constructed, and how big of an accomplishment the movie is, try reading the sentences in a story or essay backwards, from the last to the first, and see how much sense they make and how satisfying the experience is.  This time, it’s executed flawlessly.  The movie is epistemologically pessimistic, but artistically invigorating; it’s one of those rare, unique plot hooks that come around once or twice a decade, and you can only hope the filmmakers don’t compromise and do invest the extra work required to pull it off.  It’s a simple concept but far more than a gimmick; the inversion of cause and effect works wonders.  Nothing distracts our attention from trying to unravel the puzzle.  The direction and the performances by the three principals are professionally transparent; the script is the star, as it should be in a mystery.  Leonard insists that memory is faulty, eye witness testimony is unreliable, and that the only thing he can depend on is facts—the notes he inks indelibly on his own body—but as the story works its way from the conclusion to the origin, we start to suspect that there may be nothing that we can accept at face value.  It quickly becomes apparent that it would be Continue reading CAPSULE: MEMENTO (2000)

CAPSULE: CITIZEN TOXIE: THE TOXIC AVENGER 4 (2000)

DIRECTED BY: Lloyd Kaufman

FEATURING: David Mattey, voice of Clyde Lewis, Heidi Sjursen, Paul Kyrmse

PLOT: An explosion inexplicably causes the Toxic Avenger to switch dimensions with his

Still from Citizen Toxie: Toxic Avenger 4 (2000)

evil Bizarro-world opposite, the Noxious Offender.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: None of the other Toxic Avenger movies made the List, so the fourth installment would have to do something different to break the pattern.  Unfortunately, it follows the same path as the previous entries, showing no ambition other than to out-gross its predecessors.  Fans of the series will want to watch to see more of the same; the rest of us will continue to marvel at how Troma continues to make unfettered anarchy seem so dreadfully formulaic.

COMMENTS:  There’s little point to debating the merits of a Toxic Avenger film: you either admire Lloyd Kaufman’s dedication to offensive insanity, or you find it  juvenile and annoying.  You either “get it,” or you like it.  What can you say about a movie that begins with a gang of automatic-weapon toting teenagers clad in diapers (the “diaper mafia,” a reference to the disaffected teens of the “Trenchcoat Mafia” who committed the Columbine Massacre slayings) taking a class of “retards” hostage—on “Take a Mexican to Lunch” day, no less?  It ain’t Jonathan Swift; there’s only the feeblest and most obvious satirical point to the reference.  More to the point, it ain’t Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker, although the gag-a-minute pacing is an attempt to mimic the style of the Airplane! auteurs.  It’s the kind of thing the Zuker-Abrahams-Zucker would come up with if they spent six months sniffing paint while working on the script.  The problem is that Kaufman and his co-writers spend a lot more time and energy trying to think up ways to be offensive than they do trying to be funny.  A lot of the gags—like superheros named “Master-Bater” and “The Vibrator”— are the kind of things that are screamingly funny if  you’ve never actually heard a dirty joke before, but when they appear halfway through Citizen Toxie, you can’t possibly avail yourself of that defense.  We’re supposed to be amused on a meta-level, thinking about how “funny” it is that Kaufman would trot out lame joke after lame joke seemingly aimed at twelve year-old boys but wrapped up in a movie filled with “adult” content.  But of course, bad taste fans don’t want to hear the grumblings of a highbrow spoilsport; they want the list of anarchic atrocities documented in Citizen Toxie.  A brief survey: farting; retards shooting up heroin; a cow superhero with squirting udders; a blind woman seduced/raped by lesbian art student; a morbidly obese particle physicist turned gay prostitute; a topless interpreter for the deaf; a human slaughterhouse; the Retarded Revenger and his sidekick, a severed head; a Citizen Kane parody; God as a foul-mouthed drunken dwarf; testicles ripped off and presented to the victim; a pump-up monster- faced penis; and about 100 jokes leftover from 1961, when Jerry Lewis rejected them as too corny.  On the other hand, I did admire the originality of the scene with the twin fetuses battling to the death in the womb.  And, in a movie with this many jokes, some funny lines have to land, to wit: “heroes don’t double amputate police chiefs and hurl 12-year olds into brick walls!” and “this film is respectfully dedicated to all those who have lost their lives facing down their own evil doppelgängers.” Still, the overwhelming take home message from this film is that Ron Jeremy needs to fire his agent for landing him roles that are beneath his dignity.

Besides Jeremy, who appears as the mayor of Tromaville, other offbeat celebrities who lent their talent to the film included Hugh Hefner, Al Goldstein, and Lemmy from Motorhead—who used their real names—along with Marvel comics magnate Stan Lee (who provides narration under the pseudonym “Peter Parker”), washed-up former child actor Corey Feldman (under the pseudonym Kinky Finkelstein),  identical twin stand-up comics Jason and Randy Sklar (under the pseudonyms Foofy and Skippy Applebaum), and the Howard Stern Show’s “Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf” (who is a living pseudonym).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…imagine the zaniness of Mad magazine folded into the satire of ‘South Park’ with the grotesquery exponentially multiplied into free-for-all farce.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

SHORT: THE HEART OF THE WORLD (2000)

Must SeeWeirdest!
DIRECTED BY: Guy Maddin

PLOT: “State scientist” Anna studies “the heart of the world” and learns it is in desperate shape, all while trying to chose between suitors: brothers Osip (a mortician) and Nicolai (an actor playing Christ in a passion play), along with “dark horse” industrialist Akmatov.

the_heart_of_the_world

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Maddin pulls out all the stops in this dreamlike, hyperkinetic tribute to silent films (especially Soviet Constructivist films such as Aelita, Queen of Mars).

COMMENTS:  This six minute minor masterpiece was produced for the Toronto International Film Festival in 2000, where it became an immediate sensation and the hit of the festival.  An incredible technical achievement, the film resurrects simple camera tricks such as multiple exposures, creative use of intertitles, expressionist shadows, and blaring lighting that creates auras or halos around the actors, techniques which were largely forgotten or abandoned when films moved from black and white to color.  Add angular 1920s costumes and sets inspired by Metropolis and Aelita, a propulsive, minimalist theme from Soviet composer Georgi Sviridov, and a blazing fast editing style (it is said that the film averages two shots per second), and you have a film that is packed full of pure cinematic images, almost exhausting to watch, yet all too brief.

There is not time to develop much plot in this fabulous sprint.  The Heart of the World is more an exhibition of virtuoso visual technique than a narrative film.  Although the overwhelming emphasis is on visual style, Maddin does include boldly drawn, archetypal characters to help guide the viewer to the film’s triumphant end.  Their presence begs an allegorical interpretation of the film, although I’m not sure anything coherent can be formulated.  Osip the mortician seems to represent the body, and he is blatantly associated with sexuality (he’s seen dragging a knife across a naked woman’s torso, then later builds a phallic cannon to try to impress Anna).  Nikolai represents the spirit (again rather obviously: the chap dresses like Jesus at the crucifixion).  Anna must chose between the body and the spirit, though its not clear why.  And it’s also not clear what Anna may represent: she begins as a scientist, and ends, presumably, as a self-sacrificing artist.  And why does Akmatov, the capitalist antagonist, suddenly appear to seduce Anna away from the other two with money?  And what does all of this have to do with saving the heart of the world, anyway?

In the end, all that’s clear is this: Maddin has taken the style of a Soviet propaganda film, and turned it into propaganda for the art of cinema.

The Heart of the World is available on the DVD, “The Guy Maddin Collection” (buy), along with the feature films Twilight of the Ice Nymphs and Archangel.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an experiment oozing with creativity, layered in a knowledge of cinematic theory, history, and artistry.” –S. James Snyder, The New York Sun