You'd Do Well To Heed My, I'm Still On Speakerphone, Aren't I?: Cabin In The Woods (2012)

A horror movie is rarely something that receives widespread critical acclaim, often these films fall heavily into genre stereotypes and often become rediscovered years later after being relegated to multiple movie DVD packs and what not, this is particularly the case with films like Carnival of Souls and Island of Lost Souls.  However, what then happens if a horror film comes along and messes with the entire concept and fabrication of a genre.  Well, the recent release of Cabin in the Woods answers this question for us…it results in widespread critical acclaim and what has proved most certainly to be the most fun and funniest movie going experience since seeing Inglorious Basterds.  This pastiche of various horror films is quickly realized as you can easily pick out the influences of Haneke, Hitchcock and Miike with little trouble, yet it is the overarching commentary on creating a false reality for individuals to exist in, only furthered by the fact that their world is anything but welcoming.  Ultimately, Cabin in the Woods lies near perfectly between being an absolutely dread inducing movie and something that is hilariously scathing in its social criticism.  I am quite certain that when I compile my favorite movies of this year come December that this is likely to make the cut…for a Hollywood horror film it is something quite spectacular.

Cabin in the Woods focuses on a group of what appear to be scientists engineering a horrorscape for a set of unsuspecting teens travelling to none other than a cabin in some woods.  The group includes all the necessary characters for the film, a brutish jock who demands respect by his actions alone, and his promiscuous girlfriend who spends most of her time scantily clad.  There is also the pothead whose humor is his sole saving grace and is clearly kept around to mock.  Finally the group also includes the intellectual guy who continually questions the validity of terrible actions, as well as the vestal virgin who agrees with the intellectual on how terrible the bad decisions end up being.  This group is placed under the watchful eyes of the various scientists through cameras microphones and what not and continually place pheromones and other chemicals in the air to affect the decisions of the teens.  The scientist, having a bit of fun, even agree to bet on which form of monster the teens will choose, which is decided once they enter a den full of various items ranging from film reels to music boxes.  It is in the reading or commenting on one of these items that a nightmare is brought to life and begins attacking the teens.  The teens are in a losing situation, because the scientist have the power to control every aspect of the forest, including blocking exits and causing the group to unwillingly split up.  All of this is done, as we come to realize, to satiate some ancient demons living in the depths of the earth, who will destroy the world should their bloodlust not be met.  However, the stoner catches on and realizes it is a puppet show of sorts, after the death of a handful of other characters, and begins to fight against the machine.  This results in their entering into the science facility and causing the other nightmarish monsters to be realeased wreaking havoc on the entire facility.  Viewers are provided with a literal pandemonium of creatures ranging from rather silly giant insects to very disturbing faceless murderers.  Ultimately, the releasing of the creatures causes the sacrifice to fail and the ancient demons rebel.  We are left to assume that everything is ended and are not quite sure what to make of the film as viewers.  I know this description seems like a lot, however, it is a profoundly complex movie that masks itself as something fun and simple.

Something like Cabin in the Woods can be appreciated solely for its post-modern approach to the genre in that it is more of a hodgepodge of a directors favorite films than anything else, however, to simply call it this would be to seriously undervalue it as a social statement.  While the terms in the film are grandiose, as is clearly the case with the notion of ancient demons, they nonetheless help to analyze our societies obsession with reality television in its various forms.  It is important to note that the first year of Real World was severely underviewed because people were disinterested in seeing daily life simply existing.  However, once the show began depicting fights and confrontations more frequently it became one of MTV’s most viewed programs for well over a decade.  We as viewers desire visceral fights and violence and it is better liked if we are under that false belief that it is real.  As most people know though, reality television is incredibly staged and often ruins the lives of those involved with such programs.  Cabin in the Woods, is blatantly a criticism of such a notion and asks viewers to reflect on their own involvement in such activities.  If one reads the film in such a way it becomes something much larger than a cool horror movie, it is instead a mirror to society, one that says our near bloodlust could very well be the death of us all.  It is only a matter of time before our constant desire to see demons destroy others will result in our own pandemonium, one that could have very fatal results.  However, Cabin in the Woods could just be a genius bit of comedic horror, but were would the fun be in that?

Watch Cabin in the Woods while it is still in theaters and bring as many friends as possible, it is mandatory that you see it in a movie theater and has a great cameo at the end…trust me.


I'm Not A Psy-cho: I'm A Cyborg But That's Ok (2006)

The continued study of Korean film still amazes me, something I should just start assuming until I see a truly terrible Korean film.  However, my most recent discovery with Chan-wook Park's I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK is certainly the most cinematically enthralling film to date.  The director, more globally known for Oldboy, brings something so vibrant and energetic that I was finding myself thinking the film more of a live action version of Paprika than a piece of dramatic film.  However, despite being rather unusual narratively speaking, Park's film is a serious and captivating love story that unfolds in a bizarre and haphazard fashion pushing my own understanding of what constitutes the genre of romance.  I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK, is, despite its rather sci-fi leaning title is about as real a film as one can ask for, of course it is set within the experiences of a mentally insane individual so our understanding of reality as viewers is somewhat off-kilter.  Park manages to take a very confusing and disorienting state of mind and not only make it approachable, but almost normal.  Simply put, I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK completely undermines everything it can within two solid hours of a visual feast that will lodge itself inextricably within your mind.

As mentioned above, I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK focuses on the experiences of an individual who is mentally unstable, one Young-goon (Su-jeong Lim) a factory worker who believes herself to be a cyborg that requires electricity in order to function.  Her irrational ideology causes her to jam wires into her wrists that result in her being electrocuted.  Baffled by her actions, her mother places her in a mental ward, claiming that she is probably acting in relation to her grandmother who believed herself to be a rabbit.  Her belief, like Young-goon's resulted in her being hospitalized.  While at the mental institute Young-goon meets a bizarre cast of patients that include a man who witnessed an accident he believed to be his fault, which resulted in him being obnoxiously kind, a young woman who believes herself to be training for a Swiss choir despite not possessing the traditional looks of a Swiss girl and one woman who has a penchant for lying incessantly.  Young-goon seems content to ignore the group as a whole until she meets a kleptomaniac named Park Il-sun (Rain) who has the ability to steal other patients' disorders amongst other things.   Although the two have a rocky start, it becomes clear that feelings emerge between the two and they seem destined to unite, until Young-goon stops eating, as she believes she only needs electricity to survive.  Troubled by his inability to help Park panics and acts aggressively, until he comes to the realization that he can convince Young-goon to eat by claiming to have created a device that converts rice into electric energy, a fake device that he cleverly tricks Young-soon into believing has been planted inside by her heart.  Assuming this to be the truth, Young-goon begins eating again and feels revitalized, although she ignorantly believes it is from electricity.  Park, the other patients and the hospitals doctor gladly play along in this ruse, as it assures her well-being and the blossoming of  a relationship between Young-goon and Park.

The love story element of I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK is not necessarily a love story at first sight.  For a better portion of the film, we are led to believe that Young-goon will simply be battling her own decaying sanity in a cinematic color palate to make Almodovar jealous.  However, it changes as one begins to make note of the subtle interactions between Young-goon and Park from the onset.  Park, donning various masks throughout the film, continually makes glances at Young-goon and goes so far as to constantly hover over her in observation, even playing along with her illness to assure her happiness.  In this sense, it is very much a love story in the vein of something like Lars And The Real Girl, in which individuals acknowledge the mental difficulties of another and adhere to their eccentricities with gusto and  care.  However, if one looks at just these elements it would appear as though the film is preoccupied with Park's longing for Young-goon, and as such, it would be a one sided love story.  Yet, Young-goon is not passive in her burgeoning relationship with Park, in fact, clearly taking a pride in him stealing her panties and even beginning to stalk him, although she fails miserably.  Though she pursues him constantly, it is perhaps her willingness to simply listen to Park, who is clearly the rebel of the institution, an act with which seems incredibly unfamiliar.  Director Park does not simply stop here though and makes masterful work of the narrative to assure a slow build to their eventual kiss which is done with sweet care while still adhering to the mental insanity elements of the film world.  In the composition of scenes, I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK is a superior love story and is easily one of my new favorite works in the romance genre and quite possibly one of my favorite Korean films in general.

Netflix has this cerebral gem available via watch instantly, although I plan to obtain a copy on bluray, because it is something visually stellar, although I will have to wait for its price to become a bit more pleasing.


Whatever God Wills Is For The Best: Pather Panchali (1955)

As I dig through the last few movies on the TIFF essential 100 list, I am having trouble obtaining copies of some of the more elusive titles, particularly Region 1 DVD copies.  This was the case with Pather Panchali, until I obtained a surprisingly cheap copy on Amazon a few weeks ago.  I found out quite quickly into watching the film why the copy was so cheap.  It was clearly a rip from a television recording that was of rather bad quality and displayed a bug in the right corner of the film the entire time.  Furthermore, the subtitling for the film was terrible and often would simply remain on the screen until the next piece of dialogue occurred.  You would assume that this combination of issues would make the film all but unwatchable, but the sheer magnitude of the film, combined with Satyajit Ray's honest filmmaking allowed me to become mesmerized by the film regardless.  While it certainly helps to see the acclaimed Bengalese director's films in high-definition (The Music Room).  Viewing this film recently verified that it is equally important that his films be seen in general, for he is perhaps the most overlooked director to ever live, if only second to Jean Vigo.

Pather Panchali, in contrast to The Music Room, focuses on a poverty stricken family attempting to exist in a rural portion of the Bengalese countryside sometime in the 1920's.  Although he does not arrive for the first portion of the film, much of the narratives focus is no that of the family's youngest Child Apu, who very much in the form of Truffaut, would become the subject of a trilogy of films for Ray.  Apu, along with his rather precocious sister, Durga exist as a sort of other within their own town, living off little to no food as their preacher father wastes their money on extravagances and alcohol.  As such, the burden of the family rest uncomfortably on Apu's mother who is rarely shown in a moment of happiness and is instead forced to punish her children for constant theft while also pushing away a leeching aunt-in-law who constantly whines and consumes the families resources.  Most of the film centers on the mothers struggles, while Apu and Durga look on with confusion and a lack of understanding as to why they have so little and their neighbors seem to have so much.  At one point, it appears as though Apu's dad has finally found steady employment only to disappear for months while their residence falls to shambles.  Apu's mother has all but given up hope, until she receives a letter from her husband explaining that he will return home with a large amount of money, which will assuredly fix their strife.  Tragically, his return is a day too late as a terrible monsoon destroys their house and kills his only daughter in the process.  There is a considerable amount of mourning before the family agrees to move into the city, Apu finds a necklace that belonged to Durga as they are leaving, one which he clearly intends to keep in his possession as a memory of her, it is to be assumed that the family is moving into prosperity, if only in a technological sense.

This excellent bit of cinema won the "Best Human Document" award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.  While this may seem like a rather unusual award for a low-budget narrative film, it is fair to note that it is the only film in the festivals history to receive such an award.  Through his inclusion in this festival, Ray managed to become a name amongst the film world and create an acknowledgement for Indian filmmaking on a global scale.  However, it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what about the film would have led juries to create such a category for the film.  I would be so bold to suggest that it is quite possible that Pather Panchali is one of, if not, the best documents of human existence ever.  While the film is certainly narrative in its composition, it depicts a reality so earnestly and intimately that you have trouble remembering that it is fictional.  So much of the film is mundane, whether it be Apu's brief moments at school, or the way the camera lingers on the mother's chores indefinitely.  If the film were just this it may not have been received so well, but what Pather Panchali does is to take the mundane moments in life while also sprinkling in those moments of enlightenment that hit us throughout our lives, particularly evident in the moment when the children see a train for the first time, or when they are caught a storm under a tree (probably one of the most beautiful moments i have ever seen in cinema).  Like The Music Room, Ray's debut work reminds viewers that life is about existing and eventually dying and our interactions on each occasion matter more than we care to believe.  It is learning to hear and acknowledge those around you that assures your brief existence is somewhat enjoyable.  Perhaps, Pather Panchali then is not so much a Human Document, but a guideline to society about how to exist in a meaningful harmony with those around us. 

I want to tell you so desperately to purchase this film, but tragically few good copies exist.  Should you be fortunate enough to own a laser disc player, then maybe you can get a decent looking copy.  If not just wait patiently for a rerelese in HD...I hear Criterion has one deep in the works.


It’s Hard To Tell If The World We Live In Is Dream Or Reality: 3-Iron (2004)

One of the initial assumptions I had when beginning my film viewing is that the independent film was a venue that existed only with American cinema.  However, this absurd notion was quickly shattered with the discovery of world cinema that also finds an attachment to low budget arthouse filmmaking that is equally concerned with its cinematic substance as it is with its social commentary.  Furthermore, as I delve deeper into the crevices of individual countries cinema I am surprised to find stellar indie films right below the surface, as is certainly the case with Ki-duk Kim’s 3-Iron.  Like so many indie films, the plot borders on impossibility and is exceptionally quirky, yet it what is becoming nearly assumed Korean theme, darkness, violence and revenge all exist in the narrative as well.  3-Iron still seems to have a bit more than it’s competitors and I will use a phrase I have used in the past when describing various indie films on my blog and say that the film has a heartbeat, in that it touches deeply onto something integral to human existence and does so in a matter of 80 some odd minutes.  It is an earnest and rewarding film to those who watch it, and a deeply ponderous film on the nature of human interactions.

The narrative in absurdist fashion follows the life of a young rebellious male who spends his days and nights breaking into and borrowing from houses that are briefly unoccupied by their residents who are away on vacations or business trips.  He discovers his places by cleverly placing food advertisements on the individual house doors, stopping at the places hours later choosing those locations that have yet to remove the advertisement.  While staying in these places he often eats the food available and takes pictures of himself in front of the various photos within the house.  In each house the young man is also careful to wash the clothing for the absent persons and always alters at least one items within the house, whether it be a clock or scale.  He seems set to engage in his behavior for years to come, until he is discovered by a wife who spends her days lackadaisically wandering around her house.  Initially alarmed by the intruder, the wife says nothing and simply observes the man steadily growing fond of his actions and methodologies.  Eventually she becomes enamored with him and engages with him, until her husband returns home enraged.  Realizing the tragedy of her situation, the young man attacks the husband and takes the wife with him to move from house to house.  The husband begins tracking the couple down and eventually finds them after the two call about a dead body discovered in one house.  The young man is jailed and the wife is forced to return to husband who now makes it is goal to be “better” for her, although he clearly has no desire to do so forever.  Meanwhile, the young man practices escaping from the prison and is eventually successful after learning to move and exist as a ghost.  He returns to the couples house and exists in the shadow of the husband, becoming a lover to the wife right under the husbands gaze.  It should also be noted that this film exists with little dialogue between the husband and wife and absolutely no dialogue whatsoever between the young man and the wife, it is truly a feat.

What then can be made of such a sparse, yet critically dense film.  There is certainly the possibility that the entire narrative is related to issues of guilt and the ghosts that exist in such a state of mind.  Perhaps the young man only represents the lingering problems of the past as he passes between each household, in some instances causing a child to act violently towards his mother or in others for an artist to become exceptionally paranoid.  However, this reading is a bit to vague and really not likely.  It is also possible that it is simply intended to display the various states of living within Korea as it struggles through the 21st century, whether it be those in abject poverty, or those with considerable wealth and privacy.  The film does do this with great efficiency, as it displays a diverse population that is both old and young, however, it is unlikely that it should be read as the sole commentary within the film.  Instead, I would suggest that this film is very much about the crumbling of a marriage between a misogynist and powerful husband and his submissive yet depressed wife.  Her inability to speak is simply a reflection of her lack of power and her husbands irate nature and continual threats are his actions to reassert his masculinity.  It is not until the wife is allowed an opportunity to extract herself from her situation that she seems to become more enlivened, considering that she essentially discovers a new reason to exist.  More interesting, however, is that that wife continues to remain silent in her new endeavors, not because she is unallowed to speak, but because she has found a partnership with a person who is also lacking a voice, but manages to express himself in the world regardless.  The wife is clearly inspired by this and engages in a world where she has a voice and a form of expression, most evident when she rearranges and rethinks a picture of herself that is hanging in one visited apartment.  Not only does she control the expression, she also controls how her body is being used and depicted in a very literal manner.  Finally, she comes to create a bond with another individual so great that it can go unspoken and she returns to her husband empowered and separated from his violent hand.  She has reached a freedom and enlightenment within the film that to some degree reflects her escape from a troubled marriage.  While we are left to ponder the future of those involved, it is clear that the past of problems, are likely to stay far in fading horizon.

3-Iron is an exceptionally good film and well worth watching.  However, owning a copy is only necessary for the diehard Korean cinema fans.


I Won't Say A Word: The Artist (2011)

A friend of mine described The Artist as being as beautifully simple as a well-drawn straight line, and while this synopsis is an appropriate way to describe such a stellar piece of filmmaking, I do believe that beneath the films rather simple plot and earnest composition is something grand, complex and intense. The best picture winner at last years Oscars, The Artist is a friendly movie, one that is accessible to a wide array of people, despite entrenching itself in a narrative format that is well over a century old.  Between the peppering in of some rather notable actors and a heavy dose of spectacular experimental cinematography, The Artist formulates into something so watchable that it almost seems as though the film was curtailed specifically for each viewer sitting in the audience.  With this being said, I am not quite sure it is deserved of the accolade of last year's best picture.  Simply put, it is far to minimal in its complexity to be so praiseworthy.  The Artist is by no means bad, and while it is certainly not as heady as a film like Tree of Life, it is not as socially realized as something like Moneyball.  This is purely an aside on my part though, because The Attist is genuinely quite good and easily one of the best films of last year, just not the absolute best.  Furthermore, everything in this film was much more captivating when it was done in Singin' In The Rain.

The Artist focuses on the career of veteran silent film actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who is basking in his relative power as a big Hollywood name.  It would appears as though George is assuredly a staple within Hollywood, considering his incredible wealth and loyal fan base, and despite a rather tumultuous relationship with his wife, George is clearly on his way to making much more money.  However, things change drastically with the introduction of sound to cinemas.  At first, George dismisses the innovation as nothing more than a fad and continues to make his movies, at one point aiding an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) in the process.  While it is clear that he has feelings for the young girl, George is too tied down with work and a frustrating marital life to pursue a relationship.  As time passes, George begins to fade from the spotlight, due almost entirely to his refusal to step into the world of sound acting and he slowly falls into a realm of crippling debt.  In the mean time, Peppy excels as an actress receiving part after part within film until she finally gains a leading role, one which plays off of a fake birthmark on her lip, and idea originally posited by George.  George's despair continues to grow as he loses money and becomes disillusioned by the changing Hollywood system that no longer favors his presence.  As the sadness becomes too much, George attempts suicide, only to be saved at the very last moment by Peppy, who admits to having a fondness for him ever since their initial encounter behind stage.  Realizing a way to twist the advancement of sound in their favor George and Peppy become dance partners using their movement and the subtle sound of tap to bring George's career back and we has viewers can easily imagine that the end result is the couples happiness.

The question remains then as to why a silent film with a rather conventional plot did indeed win Best Picture at this years Academy Awards.  A handful of people will jump to the notion that the Academy only picks feel good movies for winners.  While this does happen quite often with the Oscar winner, films like No Country For Old Men and American Beauty stand as contradictions to this notion.  Another argument posited is that a political commentary overrules the logic for a decision, while this certainly rules the decisions of categories like Best Foreign Film or Best Documentary, it seems a bit unlikely for Best Picture winners as the past decade has seen a considerably diverse set of films win.  If anything, I would be more inclined to argue that the winners have been decided on their global appeal.  This is at least the case for the past three winners.  Slumdog Millionaire is certainly global, with its British director and Indian subject matter.  The King's Speech is less global, but nonetheless manages to encapsulate a global theme in discussing the emergence of World War II.  In this case, The Artist is even more widespread than the previous two considering that it involves a French director and actors from France, England and The United States amongst others.  Furthermore, it manages to finds its setting in Hollywood, in some way validating the entire existence that is The Academy of Motion Pictures.  Now there is always the possibility that the film won simply because it is quite good, but that would be giving the frivolity that is The Oscars far too much credit.

If you are lucky, The Artist may still be floating around a theater near you.  If so, watch it there, because it makes a world of difference.


Damngoddit: Zazie Dans Le Metro (1960)

If one were to look at the collective works of Louis Malle it would be quite impossible to pinpoint a specific genre or thematic element between his works.  Sure some of the films deal with the issues of childhood loss of innocence, while others are clear studies of the dissipation of a flailing relationship.  However, each films within the directors oeuvre is so unique and fully realized that it is impossible to say with any certainty the directors ultimate concern as a filmmaker.  This is perhaps no more true than with his 1960 offering Zazie Dans Le Metro, which is about….well I am not exactly sure, but I know it involves an androgynous girl and her somewhat dandy of an Uncle’s traipse through Paris.  With that being said it is one of the most genius things I have seen on film in quite sometime and possibly my favorite viewing experience of the year, next only to my recent watching of Secret Sunshine.  Zazie Dans Le Metro is the textbook definition of a zany film and is clearly something that affected the work of directors like Terry Gilliam and Steven Soderbergh with its experimental composition and dialogical diversions.  Malle’s vision leaks off of the screen in Technicolor and is just as eye-popping as any 3D movie to date.  Quite simply, the movie is something to be viewed for explanations are only so helpful.

Zazie Dans Le Metro focuses on the experiences of Zazie (Catherine Demongeot) a wiley young girl who is unwillingly placed in the care of her “hesserosesual” Uncle Gabriel (Philippe Noiret) for a few days in Paris.  Desiring only to visit the city metro, Zazie is flabbergasted to discover that the railways have been shut down due to a strike amongst union members.  Enraged, Zazie acts out against the adults around her often calling them names and cursing in their presence, in some instances the adults ignore the young girl while in other moments they go out of their way to chastise her for breaking from social norms.  Disillusioned by the experience, Zazie is further baffled upon realizing that she is being pawned off on her Uncle Gabriel, simply because her mother desires to spend a torrid day with her lover, whom Zazie runs into multiple times throughout the film.  As such, Zazie begins to evade the watchful eye of her Uncle and wanders around Parisian locales that include stores, cafes and one of the most beautifully shot sequences of the Eiffel Tower in the history of cinema, hands down.  By the end of the film, Zazie has encountered a multitude of French citizens, each representing a problematic existence within the bustling metropolis that is Paris, and, instead of growing greatly from the experience, Zazie simply leaves still desiring to visit the metro.  

Malle’s film is about as satirical as a film can get, considering that the film uses irony, ridicule and about every other form of the comedic style to gets is point across.  No character within Zazie Dans Le Metro is treated in an optimistic manner, including the title character who is clearly a self-concerned brat that seeks her own needs above others throughout the film.  This is understandable though considering that Zazie’s mother too seeks her own carnal desires above the safety of her mother, something that is reinforced by their continual encounters with one another throughout the film, many of which find Zazie in dangerous situations whilst her mother ignores her for the sweet nothings of her rather sleazy lover.  Even Uncle Gabriel is chastised, considering that he is intended to be a gay character, Malle’s adapation plays up on all the stereotypes of homosexuals at the time only to have his actions overlooked by everyone in the narrative.  The film also steals from Tati with a heavy dose of slapstick to help make the characters that much more absurd to the viewer.  The greatest feat, however, is the cinematography which is incredibly varied and mesmerizing, because, despite being exceptionally well done, it manages to cast the characters in a ridiculous existence by causing the world around them to figuratively consume them.  This overpowering only adds to the satirical nature of the brilliant film.  Finally, like the best satire, Zazie Dans Le Metro has viewers laughing hysterically from beginning to end, despite making rather dark and disparaging comments about French society as it moved into the sixties.

Zazie Dans Le Metro is easily one of the best releases from Criterion in 2011 and is certainly worth picking up on bluray.


Your Silver Bullets Crying: Pistol Opera (2001)

There are a set of films that are so enigmatic that they almost defy analysis or explanation.  In this grouping are Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and David Lynch’s Lost Highway, as well as a more recent Japanese film called Pistol Opera which was directed by the perplexing studio outsider Seijun Suzuki.  Well into his seventies by the time he directed this film, Suzuki’s work is something to be witnessed.  A narrative exists within an incredibly complex experimental film that is something between absurist nihilism and magical realism.  A clear influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Pistol Opera is clearly a response to America’s beloved director and to be honest I found his work to be far more rewarding than almost any of Tarantino’s work.  Pistol Opera has a large cast of characters that are all seemingly interconnected, yet uniquely their own characters.  Each moment of the film serves as its own segment, all of which seem to work as a series of experimental shorts were it not for the tying together of the protagonist to each scene.  An incredibly cinematic film, laden with every possible editing method, Pistol Opera is quotable memorable and a down right fun viewing experience, even if you are not quite sure what the film is ultimately about.

Pistol Opera, is to some extent a sequel to Suzuki’s 1967 film Branded To Kill, in that it focuses on the advancement of a assassin from the rank of No. 3 to No. 1, however, the character in this film is not the male of the original, but instead a woman named Miyuki Minazuki (Makiko Esumi) who goes by the code name Stray Cat.  Throughout the film she is attempting to overtake the highest ranking assassin who goes by the name of Hundred Eyes given his various spies throughout the city, many of which are other spies.  While Stray Cat wanders the city looking for Hundred Eyes she is forced into bouts with other assassins, including some rather hilarious encounters, most notably the wheelchair bound Champ (Mikijiro Hira), who has been given an honorary ranking of No. 0, despite believing that he is still an expert assassin.  Similarly, Stray Cat must fight an assassin who goes by the name of Painless Surgeon (Jan Woudstra), a white man donning a trench coat who seems immune to being in physical pain.  While engaging in these various bouts, Stray Cat must also deal with her own personal issues, which include an unusual relationship with what appears to be an estranged daughter, as well as a rather intensely sexual relationship with her female manager.  Ultimately, Stray Cat encounters Hundred Eyes in a climactic and psychedelic bout, one that Stray Cat eventually wins placing her in the place of No. 1 assassin, but as the film makes terribly clear her status in such a position can disappear at the briefest of moments.

Pistol Opera is open for a variety of interpretations, whether they be theoretical or formalist in their approach it is incredibly difficult to single out a right answer to what the film is about.  While this is not necessarily a problem as mystery is one of the greatest parts of cinema, I would be remised not to attempt to tackle at least one of the clear themes within the film.  To me Pistol Opera is very much a film about feminist advancement in a Japan that is continually evolving away from a world of tradition and conservative Western influence.  Stray Cat is a stoic and independent woman who could very well be engaged in a lesbian relationship.  If a viewer reads this as such, she is clearly promoting women’s empowerment in the greatest way possible, one that completely separates men from the equation.  Similarly, she helps a young girl in her attempts to become an assassin, a clear continuation of keeping women involved in a profession that the film, and the broader scope of assassin cinema history, suggests to be male dominated.  Furthermore, when considering the assassins that Stray Cat meets throughout the film it is clear that they are to be mocked and ridiculed as helpless and weak.  The Champ is likely a representation of an archaic tradition of male dominance in Japan that has now lost its grounding, literally depicted in the film with the placement of a wheelchair.  Similarly, Painless Surgeon, played by what we can assume to be a Western-born actor, could imply that Japan has finally overcome the oppressive forces of the post-WW2 oppression of The United States.  Suzuki who has always been one for the off-handed social critique, blows the top off with Pistol Opera and completely deconstructs notions of power in contemporary Japan and in doing so makes a completely bizarre, yet absolutely watchable film.

Pistol Opera is an experiential film and while I intend to obtain my own copy in the future, you can easily rent this film for a much more reasonable price than trying to purchase a copy.  However, if you really love Japanese films this is certainly worth buying.


We’ve Both Spent Our Lives Looking For The Weaknesses In One Another: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was one of the films that I knew I had missed out on by not seeing it in theaters.  Fortunately, for me, the advances in home entertainment have allowed for theater like experiences to exist outside of actual theaters, and this, combined with a Redbox coupon allowed me to view the spy thriller in a setting that replicated the big screen.  The grandiosity of such a film is only helped by viewing it in an encompassing manner, particularly considering that the film is both incredibly cinematic and narratively dense.  Viewing the film is no passive activity and between the brilliant screen adaptation of the seventies miniseries and a veritable onslaught of Academy Award deserving performances, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is everything one could desire in a thriller.  It is becoming rarer and rarer to find a thriller that is not easily predictable or repetitive and despite knowing the plot to this film prior to engaging with it, I still found myself on the edge of my sofa wondering what would happen next and at what point each character would meet their demise.  The release of this film, along with The King’s Speech a year earlier is quickly restoring my faith in the presence of British filmmaking, something that for so long seemed to  be carried solely by Danny Boyle.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a giant achievement in reminding moviegoers of how complex and magical a piece of cinema can be when executed correctly.

The plot for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a long, drawn out piece of narrative that is to be experience and would suffer from the slightest of spoilers.  However, I will attempt to give a cursory explanation as to the workings of the film in order to allow readers some semblance of what the workings of the film.  The narrative places those watching within the aftermath of a recent assassination of a British spy, one Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) who was sent by a higher up with the intent of ratting out a Russian spy within their own forces.  His assassination is unexpected and the result of an overreaction by persons within the Russian infiltrate.  Realizing the emerging danger within such actions, British intelligence brings their best spy George Smiley (Gary Oldman) out of retirement in hopes of finding the rat within their organization.  Armed only with his wits and the help of a younger agent, Smiley delves into an investigation that leads him to the realization that every individual within British Intelligence is suspect to odd behavior, including himself.  Smiley quickly becomes a point of contempt by members of the agency and is watched as closely as those he is investigating.  Travelling between Britain, Hungary and France Smiley unfolds a trail of deceit and paranoia that also forces him to reflect on his own past, one that is full of loss, despair and disillusionment.  Ultimately, the film ends with an explosive climax of realizations on both national and personal scales fading out with what will perhaps prove to be the best use of Julio Iglesias music ever.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an incredibly nostalgic film.  It would seem odd to call a spy film about the divisive effects of The Cold War to be such, but the signs are all there.  The characters exist in a world very similar to that of the television series Mad Men, when unspoken rules of etiquette and social mores outweighed individuals desires to prove a point or rise in the world.  This notion is only double when placed within a British society that highly values manners and formalities.  The characters in the film clearly exist to provoke viewers into reflecting on a past when spies could get drunk at parties and bureaucracy could be overturned simply by knowing the right individuals.  Despite reflecting fondly on the past, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is also fairly critical of the era, making note of the incredibly misogynist existence of the agency, manifested quite clearly in the dismissal of the suspicions of one female spy within the film.  Furthermore, the other women within the film are either relegated to the corners of the scenes or completely non-existant, as is the case with Smiley’s wife Ann, who never makes an appearance, despite the film existing in multiple time periods.  Furthermore, when characters engage in behaviors seen as socially unacceptable behavior they do so behind close doors, because their being spies only exacerbates their possibility for exploitation.  To some extent, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy plays out like an old school James Bond film in that it seems cool on a surface level, yet is clearly problematic when one looks at each of the pieces individually.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is profound.  It is well worth owning and in this case bluray is the only way to go.