Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Adrift in Tokyo

Satoshi Miki | 2007 | 101 mins | Japan

Takemura (Jô Odagiri) is a wild-haired slacker, drifting aimlessly through life, without plans, ambitions, and seemingly without even family or friends. He also owes 800,000 yen (that's about 10 grand Canadian, for the local readers), an unfortunate fact that brings a burly debt collector named Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura) to his door. The debt collector wrestles him to the ground, stuffs a sock into his mouth and gives him a three day deadline.

Things look pretty bleak for Takemura until the debt collector returns two days later with an unusual proposition. All the young man has to do is take a walk with him, and he'll pay him enough money to erase the debt. The catch is, he's got to walk through Tokyo wherever and for as long as Fukuhara demands. Takemura is understandably leery, but really, even a too-good-to-be-true proposition is better than the unpleasant alternative (uh, more socks in the face?).

The rest of the story unfolds as a subtle love letter to Tokyo as the two men embark upon their long and fateful walk. Slowly, Fukuhara's motivations for the journey are revealed as the two men visit places in the city that hold memories and meanings for him. The unusual adventure slowly transforms the adversaries into friends as they literally drift through the busy city streets.

By placing his two quirky and compelling leads into unusual circumstances peppered with hilariously cliché movie moments (riding a rollercoaster like a teenage couple on a date, for example) and goofy digressions (a psychedelic jam on the sidewalk), Satoshi Miki gives Takemura and Fukuhara the breathing room they need to bloom as characters and deliver the emotional payload the film promises.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Punisher: Warzone

Lexi Alexander | 2008 | 103 min | US

The latest incarnation of the Punisher franchise is absolutely shocking in the frequency and severity of its headsploding violence. From the opening scene on we are treated to blood spraying fountain-like from necks, stumps, et cetera. This is either the best or worst feature of this movie depending on how awesome you are.

And by "best or worst feature" I really mean the only feature. The story is kept paper thin due to it already having been hashed out in two prior films and countless comics. Even for those who missed all of those, things are easy enough to understand: Frank "Punisher" Castle's family was killed by bad men, so now he kills bad men. Punisher: Warzone is thankfully thin on exposition. The only background we are handed in Warzone comes by way of a little clumsy dialogue and a couple brief scenes were the Punisher gets all reflective and misty. In lieu of voice-overs about missing his family, we get right into watching the Punisher kick a chair leg into a dude's eye within the first five minutes of screen time (and about twenty kills in).

The heavy concentration on action scenes was a wise decision, but there is a strange pacing about them. The choreography often goes from frenetic to glacial within the same scene and several battles involve the villians waiting patiently and silently for the Punisher to go about his business rather than, you know, freaking out or shooting his face off. Obviously its silly to expect realism in a film like this, though it is still strange to see the director hop back and forth between gritty, violent drama and comic hero zaniness. Punisher has long been the most grounded of pop comics, so it is odd to see this film approach a Dick Tracy-level of stylization, complete with the same primary colour scheme.

Still, in embracing its trashy essence and doing away with the previous films' origin-heavy veneer of heroism, Punisher: Warzone is easily the best of the three Punisher films. Ray Stevenson deserves a lot of the credit for keeping his teeth clenched and growl-method acting the shit out of this one. No one would accuse Warzone of being a great film, but it is fun as hell and, considering the title's history, is probably better than anyone could have hoped for, let alone expected. But again, be warned: the gore in this movie is has more in common with extreme horror than any action movie outside of Rambo. If that's not for you, stay away.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Lawrence Dobkin | 1973 | 96 mins | USA

When I stumbled upon the poster and trailer for this film, I truly thought it would be a hilarious wild ride through the backwoods, featuring a Clampett-esque family's attempt to keep their sexy adolescent daughter in check as she comes to terms with her budding sexuality. I expected something between a trashy sex romp and a low budget coming of age drama. In reality, the short shorts and lush landscape are just a backdrop for a much stranger morality tale in which sex is secondary [and intrinsically linked] to a heavy-handed lesson about the dangerous influence of money.

"The modern world" is infringing on the Irtley family's rural southern idyll in the form of a highway that is slated to cross their land. The family resigns itself to this grim new reality and is paid handsomely by the developers, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3,000. Ma Irtley (Mercedes McCambridge, who you might know as Linda Blair's demon voice in The Exorcist) understands immediately that this astronomically high sum will have a corrosive effect and bring nothing but trouble for the family. She tries to stem the tide of misfortune by burying the money in the yard, but alas, when innocence is taken away, it can never be regained again.

The Irtley family consists of Ma, Pa and three kids - a young boy and two teens - Simone Griffeth as the titular sixteen-year-old Naomi and John Lozier (a local who never acted before or after this film) as her older brother, Bruvver. They live a life of such extreme naiveté that it borders on the disturbing. Their simple, childlike relationship is set up as potentially incestuous during a skinny dipping scene early on in the film, but both seem so wide eyed that it's a bit like watching two five-year-olds unselfconsciously play naked in newfound teenage bodies. In other words: creepy.

Even though they're more than a little wary of the corruption money will bring, Ma and Pa decide to let loose a bit by taking the entire family to the State Fair, where their teenage children come face to face with the greed and opportunism of the 'real world' - Naomi falling prey to a sleazy stunt motorcyclist while Bruvver is snared in the golddigging web of a trashy exotic dancer. The night of sin and seduction threatens to tear the family apart, naturally, and they're forced to come to terms with the ways in which they've been irrevocably changed - not just by their own recent wealth, but by rapidly encroaching modernity.

Though I didn't recognize her at all in the film, I discovered later that Simone Griffeth went on to play navigator Annie Smith in Death Race 2000 just two years later. It's unfortunate that she went on to toil in television obscurity for years after such an auspicious start.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Peter Carter | 1978 | 97 mins | Canada / USA

I feel like I've been on a film review hiatus for a long time - it's not that I haven't been watching movies, it's just that I haven't been watching any that I really wanted to put up on the site. I mean, does anyone care to read yet another missive about Dr. Manhattan's dong?

I broke out of my rut last night when I popped in High-Ballin', a US-Canadian co-production from the late '70s about a group of big-rig highjackers terrorizing the highways of what looks like southern Ontario, and the plucky pair of truckers who try to put an end to their reign of terror.

Peter Fonda and Jerry Reed play Rane and Duke, the American imports in a cast otherwise comprised of mostly Canadian faces, including Helen Shaver as Fonda's tough-chick love interest (her name is Pickup, how adorable), Videodrome's Les Carlson, and Chris Wiggins, among many others. The trucker lingo is near-incomprehensible at times but it's fun to watch Shaver and Fonda flirt via CB radio nonetheless.

Filmed somewhere between the desolate landscapes of Milton and the snowy tundra of Toronto's waterfront, High-Ballin' starts out as a buddy movie, reuniting family man Duke with his roaming old pal Rane, a former trucker who's given up the life for a motorcycle and the open road. By the final third however, it becomes a sort of Canadian Convoy (which also came out in '78) with Fonda and Shaver in the Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw roles, uniting the truckers against a corrupt threat to their independence and way of life (though Shaver is undeniably tougher than McGraw). Some terrific chase sequences and highway shootouts ensue.

Incidentally, director Peter Carter was also responsible for the Canadian classic The Rowdyman, which was written by and stars a young Gordon Pinsent. A beautiful example of what was quite a popular genre in '60s-70s English Canadian cinema: the story of an outsider from the east coast trying to come to terms with his environment.