CASTLE IN THE SKY
Miyazaki. Ghibli. Blu Ray. That oughta’ do it.
CERTIFIED COPY (CRITERION)
Compared favorably to L’Avventura, In the Mood for Love, and Linklater’s Before films, Abbas Kiarostami’s first drama outside of his inviting homeland is the story of the first meeting (?) of an author and an antiques dealer, and their peculiar burgeoning relationship. I’ve yet to see the film, but the usually cold Juliette Binoche has been said to exhibit a gift for comedy here, and Kiarostami’s work is of interest, so let’s check it out.
MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD
Nikkatsu is the oldest film studio in Japan. They have a sordid and crazy history of hilarious exploitation and softcore (when you think Asian Trash Cinema – they are the foremost purveyors). When they (and Toei) took over the production of “pink” films in the early ‘70s, they lent increased production values – if not legitimacy and class – to their “Roman Porno” films (PS: hey Mark Hartley, here’s the topic for the next doc…after you do the Cannon Films project I’ve dreamed of for years).
The revitalized Nikkatsu, however, has been churning out shitty Pinky Violence-style schlock for a few years now – films with “Engrish” titles, no plots, and horribly-staged gore effects have been staples for US labels like Tokyo Shock and ADV Films. The flicks are pretty much unwatchable unless you have a terminal case of yellow fever or severe brain damage, and upon closer examination…they’re probably the most insulting thing the Japanese have done to America since SANYO.
You see – almost every one of these films comes from AMERICAN MONEY.
Nikkatsu has been securing American financing to shoot intentionally inept, amateurish crappo. They slap some logic-defying title on it, and serve up what they think American Anime/Manga/Hentai nerds WANT TO SEE. The practice has worked so well that Nikkatsu has started a boutique label for the films, and are now keeping the whole thing in house – going so far as to create their own US distro entity (Switchblade Films…how edgy).
I might sound like a weird curmudgeon writing about this as if it truly offends me, but here’s why it pisses me off: there was a time when you’d see some video production or Original Video Animation or series out of Japan and flip your lid over the (maybe inept) gonzo hilarity of it. The tales were absurd, the production values often thoroughly dodgy, and the social mores utterly disturbing – and it was, in many ways, the cultural truth. Without knowing or caring if the stuff would ever make it beyond their borders, these Japanese production entities bankrolled all kinds of crazy shit that worked, if nothing else, as a window into a weirdo Nipponese subbacultcha.
Now it’s boil-in-bag, rubber-stamped, faux-edgy, catering-to-American-nerds bullshit. It’s not weird because it’s weird – it’s weird because marketing research says it needs to be just weird enough to appeal to a certain kind of consumer. The only world it’s a window into now is ours – and how predictably lame (and maybe misogynist and rapey) a very specific batch of fannerds is.
I guess it’s the wrong time to beat up on this trend, as even though the genesis of this project seems more screwy than most (three directors directed one-third of the film apiece), one of the people behind this particular film is the beloved Tak Sakaguchi – I want so much more for Prisoner KSC2-303.
I’m excited about this film because I love watching fighter planes tearing shit up and not suffering through beach volleyball sequences to do it. I’ve read that Tails is schmaltzy, melodramatic, and thin on characterization. Those critics could have saved themselves some time and typed, “Produced by George Lucas” – ‘cause, well…same thing.
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY
Another Ghibli/Miyazaki production arrives this week – an adaptation of The Borrowers directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, an animator for the studio since Mononoke, in his directorial debut.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
Throwback creeper from the recently reconstituted HAMMER films (the big comeback was the Let the Right One In remake) finds Daniel Radcliffe menaced by…um…a woman. In black. Cieran Hinds stops in to play the part they’d have given to Cushing were he still with us. The director is responsible for an unsung, rotten little hatefuck of a movie called My Little Eye – but I’ll bet this is a bit more subtle than that effort.
Best of Travel: Escape to French Polynesia
Bettie Page: Dark Angel
Castle in the Sky
Dragon Ball Z Kai: Season 1
Dragon Ball Z Kai: Season 2
The First Beautiful Thing
FMA Brotherhood: Collection One
Gamera the Brave
Grimm’s Snow White
Lethal Weapon 1-4
Mutant Girls Squad
The National Parks Project
The Secret World of Arrietty
Sherlock: Season Two
Simply Red: Montreux 2003
This Means War
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Alpha
WCW Clash of the Champions
Whisper of the Heart
The Woman in Black
JOEY RAMONE – “…YA KNOW?”
Dumb by concept, smarter than they needed to be, the Ramones were fundamental but not rootsy, utterly unprecedented but wholly inevitable, playing with Nazi imagery while simultaneously calling out Reagan and the KKK. The early comparisons to the Beatles weren’t really that far off, since underneath the jackets, jeans, and haircuts, each Ramone had his own specific place: Johnny was the right-wing hardass, Dee Dee the happy-go-lucky junkie, Tommy was… well, he was the drummer. Joey, though: he was Mick, he was Paul, he was Brian: the guy who had the complete musical vision in his head. While his bandmates were all integral to the Ramones sound, Joey’s omnivorous pop instincts urged—one could say allowed—the band to grow incrementally; as someone once said, the first Ramones album was about seeing just how much you could strip away and still have rock and roll; the rest were about seeing how much you could add back in and still have Ramones.
These late-era Joey Ramone demos (including a pair of Ramones remakes) were lovingly remastered by Joey’s brother Mickey, Ed Stasium and Jean Beauvoir, who then recruited overdubs from a bunch of folks that would probably have given up a significant body part to have been Ramones themselves, including Joan Jett, Steve Van Zandt, Bun E. Carlos, and assorted members of The Dictators, the Smithereens, and the Patti Smith Group. If the result is less organic than Joey’s own 2002 farewell Don’t Worry About Me, it’s certainly in the spirit of his love of all things rock and roll.
The opener, “Rock N Roll is the Answer,” is an example of the risk of this kind of posthumous project: AC/DC kickdrum leads into a promising Stonesy shuffle, but it builds to a chorus that feels flat and half-finished: given more time to work it out in the studio, I suspect Joey would have had it kicking in with the irresistibility of a “Blitzkrieg Bop” or “Glad To See You Go.” But from there on out, most of the album brims with ass-kicking hummability: “I Couldn’t Sleep,” “Going Nowhere Fast,” “21st Century Girl” or “New York City” would have been right at home on any post-Rocket to Russia Ramones album, and the acoustic stylings of “Waiting For That Railroad” and the re-recorded “Life’s A Gas” trace a more or less direct line back to “Questioningly” or “Don’t Come Close.” No question, since concept was fundamental to Joey’s musical vision, the album comes up short of what it would have been if that vision were still alive and kicking. But even if its pleasures rarely rise above that of nostalgia, we’re not snobs about that, are we?
GARBAGE – NOT YOUR KIND OF PEOPLE
While I won’t argue that fans of Curve, Medicine, or Pale Saints had reason to be miffed when Manson and company hit the charts, leaving their progenitors behind (and Muddy Waters never made as much money in his entire career as the Stones collect on one tour) as the dust of decades settles, it’s clear that their combined influence on modern dance pop (or “Alt Dance” as the ID3 tag reads) turned out to be bigger than all of them combined: we can leave it to history to ponder the line of descent from Toni Halliday to Lady Gaga, and marvel at the fact that imitators of Manson’s bracing multi-track harmonies are nowadays a staple of Radio Disney.
The relative failure of 2005’s Bleed Like Me was the sort of thing that breaks up bands: a tough, biting comeback from the over-slick Beautiful Garbage, highlighted by the darkly perceptive title song, and it sounds as though the rejection still stings: the opener, “Automatic System Habit,” is practically a 3-minute “Garbage’s Greatest Hits,” from swirling opener (cheekily lifted from “White Room”) to pounding riff to Manson’s pissed-off accusation of “Lies, lies, lies!“, and her refusal to be a man’s “dirty little secret“; the passage of time is marked by a bit of auto-tune and other up-to-date technology: “You’ve got a telephone girl / That you carry around / In your jeans back pocket / With her very own sound.” No one does wrath like our Shirl.
That huge, booming sound that underscored dozens of cheesy “rave” scenes in movies and TV shows continues as the band’s trademark on tracks like “Man On A Wire,” “The One,” and “I Hate Love,” and there’s also plenty of evidence that Manson has taken care of her instrument over the years, as she unloads her full bag of tricks on vocal showpieces like the eerily insistent “Control,” the slinky spy-movie-meets-Abbey Road stylings of the title song (which also features backing vocals from several of the band members’ kids, in case some of us weren’t feeling old enough already), and the kitchen-sink “Blood For Poppies,” with its soaring multi-tracking, confident pseudo-rap, and bittersweet harmony grinding against a massive guitar riff.
The lush closer “Beloved Freak” stands out as a bit of a misstep: a thematic followup to “Bleed Like Me,” as advice to the outsider, it’s a bit trite and on-the-nose (“You’re not alone” / “Thank yourself“), and its incorporation of “This Little Light of Mine” feels rather flat next to what Neko Case brought to the same tune. It’s the final track on the “regular” version of the album, but Garbage fans should plunk down the extra coin for the “Deluxe” edition, as the four additional tracks feature the skeletal snarl of “What Girls Are Made Of,” the breathy delights of “Bright Tonight,” and the snaky guitar that counterpoints Manson on “Show Me.”
OTHER NOTABLE 5/22 RELEASES:
Kris Allen, Thank You Camellia
Michael Bloomfield & Nic Gravenites, Blues at the Fillmore 1968-1969
Joe Bonamassa, Driving Towards The Daylight
The Cult, Choice of Weapon
Diablo Swing Orchestra, Pandora’s Pinata
El-P, Cancer for Cure
Gossip, A Joyful Noise
Great White, Elation
Hardline Danger Zone
David Kikoski Trio, Consequences
Kill Devil Hill, Kill Devil Hill
Sonny Landreth, Elemental Journey
John Mayer, Born and Raised
MercyMe, Hurt & The Healer
Metropole Orkest, Robert Fripp and Andrew Keeling, Wine of Silence
Luis Perdomo, The Infancia Project
Saint Vitus, Lillie: F-65
Slash, Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, Apocalyptic Love
Sonata Arctica, Stones Grow Her Name
Soulsavers, The Light The Dead See
Tedeschi Trucks Band, Everybody’s Talkin’
Undead, Six Feet Under
DRAGON’S DOGMA (PS3/360)
I can see myself loving this. I love Monster Hunter and I love western RPGs. But I also like coherent games, and my main worry is Dragon’s Dogma is trying too much at once. It’s Skyrim meets Monster Hunter, which sounds awesome on paper – but Capcom hasn’t been known for smoothly merging East and West recently. I have high hopes for any game that lets me kill giant monsters for Phat Loots, but with so many Phat Loot options out there right now I don’t know if the sixty dollar dive is worth it.
MEN IN BLACK: ALIEN CRISIS (PS3/360/Wii)
Look – a Wii game. And, whoa! It’s based on a $250 Million dollar movie. I’d make a joke about it being 2007, but since this is a Men in Black game – 1997 seems more relevant.
TOM CLANCY’S GHOST RECON: FUTURE SOLDIER (PS3/360)
Fuck Tom Clancy.
Truer words have never been typed. Church!