Category: Film

15th Japanese Film Festival Day Two: Princess Toyotomi and The Magic Hour

The second day of the Japanese Film Festival was a bumpy ride, with one of the films essentially fizzling and dying before my eyes and the other providing solid laughter but not much in the way of substance. It’s a tough life at the festival.

Princess Toyotomi

At first I thought that Princess Toyotomi simply didn’t translate, but as it progressed it became increasingly clear that the film I was watching was simply incoherent, and more than a little bit stupid. Realising that a film’s lack of quality is not a failing on your own part is a great source of relief, because it’s near impossible to describe Princess Toyotomi as anything approaching a good movie.

15th Japanese Film Festival Opening Night: A Ghost Of A Chance

 

The Japanese Film Festival is always my favourite time of year. Any excuse to sit in a darkened room for up to eleven days is good enough for me, and Japan consistently releases some of my favourite style of films. Each year the JFF presents a selection – not always good, but normally always enough to raise a reaction from me.

 

This year the organisers went ahead with a plot to open the festival with a comedy, in stark contrast to the family melodrama of last year’s About Her Brother. While perhaps slightly too long (and not without a slight glitch), A Ghost Of A Chance was a fresh start for 2011, the festival’s fifteenth year.

Ghostbusters

“Bustin’ makes me feel good!”

Ghostbusters is legitimately one of the greatest films ever made. I like it more every time I see it, and I get more out of it each time I see it. There is something about it that simply works, whether it’s the encapsulation of New York City in 1984, the special effects that still hold up 27 years later, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis or simply its flawless script. The only element that is not all there is the soundtrack, which features a bizarre Ghostbusters swing on two occasions.

 

Still, this is a brand of perfection and it endures for that very reason. Not for Ghostbusters is the endless mystery of enduring popularity; Ivan Reitman, in his days of talent, laid his cards on the table: Ghostbusters is flat-out great.

Drive

 

Drive has been on the fingertips of everyone in Antipodean critical and festival circles for months. It wasn’t until this week, after being thoroughly sick of the hype, that I finally got to see it. Was it worth the wait? Definitely. Could I have done without Chris Murray introducing it in the same effusive tones as he did the execrable Kick-Ass last year? Indubitably.

 

Drive is a tonal delight, a package of constant surprises. Fortunately, its incredibly filmic nature means that the unwrapping can only happen before your eyes and not on my page. Drive is not perfect, but cumulative moments suggest that it very nearly is. It’s a film’s film, as only certain directors can make; it is most assuredly not an entry in the same canon as The Fast and the Furious.

The Help

Before I went to see The Help I braced myself for a horribly misguided racial nightmare, but in the final analysis I found myself quite surprised. While I can see where people would take issue with this movie’s themes and execution, I personally found that it was a fairly balanced and mostly unproblematic story about women discovering their agency in a terrible time and place in American history.

Despite the fact that I did a course called “Film in Black and White” I can’t pretend to be an expert on African American representation in cinema, and I will defer to other people on that, but The Help is a fundamentally good hearted movie that mostly fails to condescend; it aims only to drown out cinemas with the embarrassing sniffles of audience members who don’t know that they’re being played – overtly so, but not offensively.

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens was dead before release. Many people, having forgotten the Cowboys and Indians of their youth – or having a youth spawned after we realised that genocidal war games aren’t the best things to aspire to – didn’t recall what was being referred to.

On top of that, they thought the idea was stupid, forgetting that the latter day prophet Gary Larson had foreseen it years prior:

(And believe me, it’s not that hard for multiple people to come to this same conclusion – but it’s strange that the most common source of this image has a tape mark on it.)

 

So a double genre piece is a hard sell to a lot of people.

“That looks like the biggest waste of a cast in Hollywood history,” one of my friends told me. While that’s far from accurate, Cowboys & Aliens is a strangely sterile affair – it’s as if it wants to be good and exciting but can’t quite jump the required hurdles, ploughing ahead in a straight and flat line.

 

I’ve seen outright hatred for this movie, but anyone who would put it on a “worst of 2011” list plainly hasn’t seen a bad movie this year. This movie isn’t deserving of excess praise, but it’s done nothing to earn derision.

 

Cowboys & Aliens is basically stunningly competent; never impressing, occasionally confusing, and sometimes raising racial quandaries, it gets the job done, and done okay.

The Guard

One of the best films of the last few years is In Bruges, a melancholy comedy about a pair of Irish hit men who found themselves in Bruges. I was delighted then, to see Brendan Gleeson in a film so thoroughly unlike In Bruges while being simultaneously reminiscent of it. It wasn’t until the day after that the penny dropped: The Guard is the brother of In Bruges, just as its writer/director John Michael McDonagh is the brother of In Bruges’ writer/director Martin McDonagh. Funny, that.

 

The Guard, of course, hits an entirely different emotional key: that of endless and shameless laughter. It’s the sort of film that will suddenly attack you a couple of days later while you’re washing your hands and you’ll audibly crack up. It’s a haunting film, but not in the traditional sense of the word: it’s good enough to lodge itself into your brain, to store itself up for inopportune moments of hilarity.

 

Jane Eyre (2011)

While Jane Eyre does not have the distinction of a Kate Bush song dedicated to it, Charlotte Brontë’s story is perennial, with at least 24 adaptations having been produced to date. The 2011 effort, shot on the wild and windy moors of northern England, is a welcome addition to a crowded canon. Gloomy but not relentlessly so is this tale of an intelligent young woman of indomitable spirit.

 

Friends With Benefits

 

Much has been made of the fact that Friends With Benefits has the same concept as No Strings Attached, which came out much earlier in the year, and that each of these movies featured a key member of the Black Swan cast.

This is irrelevant: Justin Timberlake is objectively better than Ashton Kutcher. That’s as far as this needs to go.

 

Friends With Benefits is another movie about people disillusioned with love as it is represented in romantic comedies. By being incredibly self aware it tries to suggest that it’s above romantic comedies, but really it’s fooling no one: Friends With Benefits is a romantic comedy, albeit one that only has a couple of moments to be ashamed of.

Green Lantern

 

Given the two month release delay and the awful trailers, I always knew that Green Lantern was not going to be a good movie. Periodically I see movies that feel more than anything like I’m sitting in a darkened room, staring at a screen, and Green Lantern falls precisely into that elite circle.

 

Green Lantern is a special kind of bad movie. It’s not dull, but it is singularly unengaging. It has a relatively good cast who either don’t bother or founder in its roles. Its action is stupid and the CG is unforgivably bad for a 2011 production. There is very little indeed to like about a film that is more toyetic than anything else; this is the first comic book film since the 21st century “renaissance” that is blatantly geared towards children and the sale of toys.