Da 5 Bloods
On the Record
I May Destroy You
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Alex Proyas, director of 1994's similarly moody action gloomer The Crow, brings us this bleak vision of stifling, gothic noir in a bottled city that's never seen the sun. Super stylish and visually ambitious, it's a film with a boatload of high-concept revelations and almost no sense of chill. Even the editing refuses to take breaks, with jump cuts and extreme close-ups roughly every second-and-a-half for the entire duration. That gives the whole picture a feel of frantic energy, which suits the amnesiac protagonist in his confused quest for answers, but can be exhausting for the viewer. Sometimes we just need a few beats to let the message sink in.
Then again, when you've got as much thematic ammunition as Proyas does in Dark City, maybe such intellectual force-feedings are preferable to a four-hour running time. It's a motion picture that often transcends the value of its components, succeeding in spite of its missteps and shortcomings. Many key elements take the form of guilty pleasures, far better in practice than they have any right to be, from the Nosferatu-esque pale, thin men in long black coats to the wacky, Akira-influenced psychokinetic duels near the end. That carries over to the not-quite-polished special effects, too, which occasionally show their seams and stitches but, somehow, feel more honest and appreciable for it.
There's a lot to soak in here, maybe too much for one movie, but I admire the effort and thoroughly enjoyed the end product. Would-be viewers should be ready to think and pay attention, lest they find themselves washed away by the raging torrent of ideas.
Mythic, romantic kung-fu that functions under its own peculiar set of rules. Like a storybook, Crouching Tiger is more invested in a sense of poetic philosophy than the concrete laws of physical reality. Hence, gravity is treated as little more than a passing concern and we're released to enjoy a string of smooth, balletic airborne action scenes. Needless to say, they're all fantastic. Each one a unique member of the family, having swapped weaponry, dance partners and scenery from a wide pool of spectacular options. Hard-hitting but precise, it's a stunning display of form, strategy and blink-of-the-eye counter strikes, with the occasional dance across a serene lake thrown in to cut the tension.
The underlying story is rich and meaningful, too, though it is guilty of suddenly filling in a whole lot of back-story in one long, jolting flashback scene that chews up most of the second act. It's about hidden passions, personal guilt, the conflict between what looks right and what feels right... plus a lost comb and a stolen sword. Even undisputed masters on the battlefield must deal with private regrets after they've thrown the final blow.
A resonant Eastern epic that's chock full of memorable scenes, well-crafted characters, gorgeous locations and risky personal conflicts.
UFOs of all shapes and sizes nonchalantly buzz the dirt roads and rusty mailboxes of a rural midwest town, leaving both physical and emotional marks upon its residents. Those who encounter the flying saucers are fundamentally changed, an overnight mind swap which leads to all manner of frustration among friends, coworkers and family members. For story reasons, these mental milkshakes function as a sort of inefficient cross-species ham radio, rewiring brain waves to bridge a communication gap, but they also serve as a (perhaps unintentional) indictment of how society viewed psychological health in the late 70s. In fact, it could be argued that the whole climax - spacecraft, aliens and all - is a particularly loud, ambitious hallucination, but we won't go too far down that rabbit hole.
Even on a superficial level, Close Encounters works just fine. We chase the thread of an ambiguous mystery, encounter official organized responses, see spectacular sights, soak in an expertly-matched symphonic score (hats off to John Williams, once again) and share a sense of awe-struck wonder at the sheer magnitude of it all. That last bit, in particular, is worth emphasizing. Writer/director Steven Spielberg, fresh off the monster success of Jaws, leans heavily on anticipation and a looming sense of the unknown to add oodles of atmosphere to the picture. Especially in that pivotal final thirty minutes, when the whole plot comes together under the shadow of a funny-looking Wyoming rock formation, it's an eerie, unpredictable blend that reaps great rewards.
While Tokyo swells and expands, clearing forest to accommodate its housing needs, a nearby tribe of free-spirited tanuki (Japanese raccoon-dog) hatches plans to defend its turf. That's the intention anyway, if everyone would just sit still and pay attention long enough to chart a course of action. Fortunately, they do have one ace up their sleeve: the long-fabled (and nearly forgotten) ability to shape-shift. Once unlocked and understood, this plays heavily into the tanuki's efforts to subvert construction crews - destructive pranks, mostly - but also their day-to-day appearance.
Effective animation is essential here, and Studio Ghibli is up to the task. Depending upon the critters' moods, they'll slide from super-realistic to ultra-expressive, often several times over the course of a single scene. Ghibli makes it all feel smooth and natural, enhancing the important bits with their usual assortment of small details and charming body language.
There isn't much to the story - all the fun is in the light spirit, zany transformations and oafish nature of the animals - and that's a problem as the duration grows and the climax remains elusive. It holds on for way too long, repeating the same beats three or four times too often. The first hour is a wonderful blast of unbridled creativity and innocent attitude, peaking in a wild parade scene that rivals the one in Paprika, but I was ready for it to end at least half an hour before it did.
A sweet, small-scale anime, which explores all the awkwardness and inner conflict of young love, teen social anxiety and an emergent personal identity. As late summer winds gently blow, we contentedly explore a sleepy Tokyo suburb alongside an aspiring, if apprehensive, young writer. Stumbling upon old thrift shops and secret city perspectives, we delight alongside her, mutually appreciating the sense of freedom and discovery. Little adventures can be the most satisfying, like these fleeting chances to probe and examine the private character of her home town.
That aspect of the film makes for some great, charming, slice-of-life material. And the relationship drama, after school is back in session, doesn't feel overwrought or exaggerated, either. It just... lingers and lingers, way beyond the point of watch-checking and brow-raising. Slow pacing is essential to those earlier scenes, allowing us to really understand and appreciate both character and setting, but it's not as powerful or purposeful in these later bits. Peppered with the usual Studio Ghibli joys and pleasures, it's beautifully realized and sincere, just a bit staid and long in the tooth. The playful flights of imagination so lavishly promoted on the movie poster don't last even five minutes.