Monday, October 13, 2008

The Cure


Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

"The Cure" is a truly outstanding thriller/horror film from a truly outstanding director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, whose film credits include such gems as "Bright Future" and the recent "Tokyo Sonata." "The Cure" is, in my opinion, probably Kuroawa's most fully realized work, as it displays all of his strengths as a filmmaker in stunning display, resulting in a pitch perfect, deeply intelligent film that blurs the boundaries between thriller and psycho-horror.

Director Kenichi Takabe, a detective in Tokyo, is investigating a string of seemingly related murders commited by unrelated perpetrators for no apparent reasons. The only common element linking the murders are brief conversations they had with a mysterious young man, a fact discovered by Takabe which puts him in dangerous proximity to forces he may not be ready to deal with...or even comprehend. (Sorry, I had to.)

Any more hashing out of the plot details would probably ruin all of part of the film so I'll just skip right ahead to praising it instead. Like most Kurosawa movies, "The Cure" is extremely obligue in the way it tells its story, requiring that the viewer figure out the ending on their own or, as I did, via the help of IMDB's message boards. When you finally do figure out what's going on in "The Cure," the revelation is satisfying and powerful all at once, the rarest of feelings when it comes to film endings. Kurosawa is an extremely talented filmmaker and script writer and his ability to weave together an intriguing story that still makes sense and delivers the goods in its third act is basically unparralled by his contemporaries, simply because he possesses the unique ability to construct stories which can only be resolved through not only actively paying attention to the film itself but also reflecting on it for hours, maybe even days, afterwards. In this respect, a film like "The Cure" is a puzzle that is far more enjoyable than films like "Memento," which presents a puzzle that, although enjoyable is a bit too easy to figure out, and "Mullhollnd Drive," which seems to be complicated just for the sake of it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Right Stuff


Directed by Philip Kaufmann

Philip Kaufmann's under appreciated box office bomb stands as one of the most entertaining and expansive American films of 1980's and is one of the very few examples of a film that is markedly better than the book that inspired it (Oh yeah, Tom Wolfe fans...I went there). I massive failure upon its release in theaters, "The Right Stuff" just goes to prove that American filmgoers have no idea what the hell a good movie actually is.

Based loosely off of Tom Wolfe's book of the same name, "The Right Stuff" opens with badass Chuck Yeager trying to break the sound barrier which, obviously he does, even though he is hounded by a broken risk and piloting an aircraft that looks like a giant dart. Following his feat, a number of high profile test pilots begin converging on Muroc Army Air Field, attempting to break the next big piloting barrier.

At the same time, in a far away land, the evil Soviets launch the first sattelite into space. American officials are rightfully pissed and decide to kick the Space Race into full gear, sending a couple of their men down to Muroc to recruit test pilots with "The Right Stuff" for the job. The rest of the film follows the training and eventual missions of such space luminaries as John Glenn, Virgil Grissom and Alan Shepard in their quest to show the Soviets who was boss.

The film makes a number of rather controversial claims, including that Virgil Grissom panicked in his capsule upon splashdown and blew open the capsule's hatch, effectively sinking it and almost drowning him when his spacesuit filled with water. This version of the facts is certainly debatable and makes Grissom appear fairly yellow in hindsight. On the flip side, the film makes Chuck Yeager look like the biggest badass to ever walk the face of the earth, basically implying that had Yeager not flatly refused NASA's offer to take part in their plans he would have been the first American in space. When considering Yeager's track record, it certainly does seem difficult to deny this, but again, it's all quite debatable. The point here isn't to attack the accuracy of "The Right Stuff" but simply to point out that along with being visually stunning and boasting an array of great performances, "The Right Stuff" is also enthralling and gripping in the way good historical epics are, and make no mistake, "The Right Stuff" certainly is an epic and still stands as probably the finest film on the Space Age ever made.

It is a shame that Kaufman's film wasn't more succesful at the box office because "The Right Stuff" is one of the rare films that is at once entertaining, intelligent, and perceptive, kind of like a Tom Wolfe book, really.



Directed by Daniel Junge

The sport documentary/social commentary film is a well worn cinematic standard which often produces satisfactory results. The biggest problem with this type of documentary, however, is that any such film, regardless of the sport, will invariably be compared to "Hoop Dreams" which was not only one of the finest American documentaries ever produced but probably one of the best American films period of the last two decades (yet the Academy felt fit to bypass it in favor of some piece of crap no one remembers anymore. Way to go, Hollywood!) Indeed, "Hoop Dreams" looms large in the world of sports documentaries and even moreso Hoops documentaries which leaves many viewers, myself included, watching a rather good little film like Chiefs waiting for the heartbreaking moment when we see the main characters father play a few minutes of pickup ball with his son before heading off to buy a crack rock in plain sight. Call it a case of chronic unrealistic expectations.

"Chiefs" follows two seasons of ball on a small native reservation in Wyoming. The documentary follows a number of players, all of whom have different personalities, different playing styles, and different views about life on the reservation. The film is a fairly straightforward sports documentary and follows the well trodden path of sports documentaries which mix sports and social issues and their impact on one another. This almost always make for some interestingg viewing and this is certainly the case in "Chiefs" insofar as we can palpably see the importance of basketball in keeping alot of kids motivated, focused, and ultimately sane on a reservation which holds rather bleak prospects for many of these young men. The most gratifying aspect of "Chiefs," however, is the filmmakers ability to present life on the reservation simply as it is, in all its complexity and with all its problems, without overreaching and delving into preachiness on the plight of America's native population. Ultimately, "Chiefs" is very hopeful about the potential for Native youths to pull themselves out of poverty and succeed in life, something that is quite refreshing indeed.