This is funny.

This is funnier.


The Answer Was Underground

First of all, I promise this is not another review of a Japanese softcore, despite what the poster might suggest.

Marebito is Grudge/Ju-On director Takashi Shimizu’s foray into horror that is more psychological than material. Or, it at least seems like that was his intention. The film--about a Tokyo cameraman named Masuoka (played by director/actor Shinya Tsukamoto) so obsessed with primal human fear, he embarks on a mini-journey to feel it himself--doesn’t succeed on many levels at all.

The film is peppered with Lovecraftian atmosphere, heavy philosophical angles, and a nod to a Richard Shaver story (his fictional underground creatures, called Deros, are featured). It even manages some bristling kinetic energy via the gimmicky use of Masuoka’s camera as a portal to things the human eye may not always see. But instead of holding onto the elements that would make the movie memorable, Shimizu ditches them in favor of nonsensical oddness leading up to a half-baked “revelation.”

And Shimizu isn’t the only one to blame. With all due respect to Tsukamoto (who, I must say, really belongs behind the camera), Masuoka proves to be a protagonist so cold and distant, it’s near-impossible to remotely care about anything he does. Which is unfortunate, since what he does do--travels underground, finds a strange young woman/creature, cares for her no matter what gruesome rituals that entails, etc--could have made for ultra-compelling viewing.

Then there’s the appearance of the Deros themselves. Slightly eerie, but a little too reminiscent of the little blue boy or the crawling, white-skinned mommy for anyone who’s even seen a Grudge trailer.

So, is there anything redeeming in Marebito? It’s never a particularly good idea to lose focus with the story, or mislead the audience so much that they’re disappointed by what is revealed. Shimizu, with his previous work as evidence, is accustomed to doing just that. His sometimes unsteady hand manages to derail Marebito’s fascinating first act, with his Ju-On “sensibilities” snatching the wheel alarmingly fast. The first ten minutes, admittedly, are the kind of stuff that would suck any viewer in, and then some. Shimizu deserves props for that. But, y’know, it’s kinda nice when the rest of the movie doesn’t completely underwhelm itself.

Though speaking of good endings, Marebito’s isn’t too shabby.


I Know It's Over

Seven great closing scenes.

City Lights This is where we start, of course. Chaplin's reaction to the approving first glance from his waifish, formerly blind flower girl is the single greatest shot in movie history. Indelible. Poignant. Joyous. Perfect.

Eyes Wide Shut "I do love you, and you know...there is something very important we need to do as soon as possible." "What's that?" (Beat.) "Fuck." Flawlessly executed, and set in an FAO Schwartz, of all places. It's as ambiguous a statement on Kubrick's part as the iconic "star child" that closes 2001, stripped of mysticism but not mystery. For one of cinema's most troublingly thoughtful meditations on fidelity, it's also a remarkably common sensical touch.

Au hasard Balthazar I've written a lot about Bresson's masterpiece here recently--it's my favorite movie--but that devastating final moment (of the film, and of the titular animal's life) demands mention here. The Passion of the Christ didn't move me much. This one floors me every time I watch it.

Fallen Angels I wrote at some length about this one, while reviewing another Wong Kar-wai movie. Really beautiful stuff.

Olivier Assayas's best film to date bothered me for weeks after seeing it, and it was largely due to its audience-implicating final scene. Like Jia's The World and the final third of Hou's Three Times, it's above all a meditation on communication in the 21st Century. Assayas focuses on the World Wide Web, opening on some double-dealing white collar types and closing in your little brother's bedroom. It's a vicious cycle.

Days of Heaven
Because Malick's movie is finally about young Linda. Richard Gere gets his ass shot, and the farm goes up in flames. Linda's just looking out for a pal--"she was a good friend of mine."

Before Sunset
The first film was a uniquely perceptive romantic comedy, but very much of its prototype, to be sure. Jesse and Celine meet cute, flirt, kiss, bicker a little, and then kiss some more. And it's sublime. In the nine-years-removed follow-up, the "you're still here" hug and Jesse playfully pulling Celine onto his lap on that park bench are the extent of physical contact between the two. Both films are talkfests, in the best sense, with exquisitely natural-sounding banter on politics, sex, and spirituality. But Sunset's tone is decidedly more wistful, more urgent, at times, cynical, reflecting the experiences and disappointments of Linklater's older protagonists. The final scene, in Celine's apartment, is a deep, if only temporary, sigh of relief, as genuinely romantic as anything in movies. Right, he's "gonna miss that plane," but where do we go from there?
Speaking of birthdays, today is Josh's. He probably wanted to let it pass by quietly, but what am I here for if not to embarrass him?

And no, this new design was not a B-day "gift" I forced on him. He requested it, I swear!
So, no more complaining that this blog looks "boring." Nearing its third birthday, JLT/JLT needed a new look. Huge thanks to Teresa for the gorgeous redesign (hit "refresh").

Hit her up, kids. Money talks.


Can't Stop, Etc.

Gnarls Barkley St. Elsewhere I'm with Sasha that the "slow" version of the hit manages to improve upon what's already a pretty damned good song. But I also prefer the title track and "Just a Thought," where Cee-Lo turns in his best Solomon Burke impression in the service of the most unsettling suicide track since Biggie's closer on Ready to Die, to either take on England's favorite song. Wait, Dangermouse? He did The Grey Album and that stupid cartoon thing? But, but this is really good?

Bubba Sparxxx The Charm
"Bubba's international, but still he kept it regional." That one was key, people, as was the fact that its source song sounded almost as dynamic as Timbo's God's-hand Deliverance highlights. Teresa can have "booty booty booty booty booty booty booty." "As the Rim Spins," the one with Petey Pablo, and "girl, looky here, I feel sensational!" are my keepers. Oh, and the Timbo. Naturally.

Juvenile Reality Check Yes, it's better than Fishscale or the T.I., but let's not get too carried away with the His Post-Katrina N.O. Record line. I believe Juve cares a lot about the fate of the Crescent City, but the good news here is that he's still the best ass-rapper this side of Sir Mix-a-Lot, Bubba's booty paean notwithstanding. That said: Video of the Year, no question.


ESPN's gurus drop wisdom on 714.


Happy Friday!

Sun is in the sky. Oh why, oh why would I wanna be anywhere else? Okay, so there are a few other places I'd rather be, and it's not actually sunny here at the moment. But nonetheless, my day has been almost as delightful as this. In honor of that, I tear a page out of Josh's (and a lot of other people's) book. A playlist:

"What You Know"--T.I.
"Cheryl Tweedy"--Lily Allen
"I and I Survive"--Bad Brains
"Love & Communication"--Cat Power
"The Boogie Monster"--Gnarls Barkley
"Mr. Q"--Jolin
"I'm Only Sleeping"--The Beatles
"Want Me, Want Me"--Namie Amuro
"Trem Fantasma"--Os Mutantes
"The Mighty O"--Outkast
"Stay Fly (Diplo Mad Decent remix)"--Three 6 Mafia
"Passion (New York remix)"--Lee Jung Hyun
"Margaret vs. Pauline"--Neko Case
"Barracuda"--Miho Hatori
"The Crush"--Annie
"Danca de Ventuinha"--Bonde do Role
"Appears (Jonathan Peters Sound Factory remix)"--Ayumi Hamasaki
"Trapeze"--Lou Christie
Access Denied

I stumbled across this on ILM.

The bad news: London rapper M.I.A. has been denied a visa to visit or work in the USA by immigration officials.

The good news: She is hoping to get back to the USA as soon as US immigration will allow for a collaboration with producer Timbaland on her next album.

Oh, shit!


Ahem: My review of My First Mixtape is up at Stylus.


Darts of Pleasure

It's Spring. Flowers are blooming. Birds are doing stuff. Love is in the air. And music is real good sometimes.

Bitter Tea, for starters, is about seven times better than I initially suspected. Weird for the sake of being weird, yes, but good-weird, like those split-flavor milkshakes at Steak n' Shake or Michael Almereyda brainfarting on Shakespeare and the Interweb. I like it even more after reading M. Friedberger's explanation (via, of all places, CNN): "It's a clever young person's fantasy of being satisfied with life."

Not that records need to be, you know, about something per se (or, for that matter, esplained), but it's kinda nice, once in a while. "Waiting to Know You" is their sweetest track since "Bright Blue Tie," and "forget the dogs and forget the sheep / it's only you who affects me" is considerably more (ahem) affecting as delivered by the cowboy-booted Friedberger sib than it reads on Your Computer Monitor.

Oh, and while we're at it: "Pop" is short for "popular" (or "poptimism," depending on where your allegiances lie); the "democratization of music" bit, however nifty in theory, doesn't necessarily mean the kids making my shoes have the same shot to cop the Lupe joint; blogs will never break artists; Arular didn't move units; and even with Shawn Carter et. al in her corner (?), Lady Sov might not either--on this side of the Atlantic anyway, where football means Donovan McNabb's mom selling you soup.

All that said: I'm loving the shit out of Lily Allen. If all that means is that I'm a twentysomething blogger all too willing to buy into Next Big Thing hype hook, line, and sinker, well, that's fine, too. Seasons become different seasons, and "LDN" sounds like the sort of Spring I'm having, maybe minus the part about "crack whores" or whatever. She gets the joke, too, dropping "Fix Up, Look Sharp"--Dizzee, remember him? It's been a while, I know--right after the single and before she lets John Fogerty take over on the delicious My First Mixtape. Maybe she'll get lucky and lolplzthx it all the way to the bank. Either way, I'll be hitting repeat well into September.


Some Serious Thoughts On An Important Film

Now, I don’t often go out of my way to watch softcores (or, as this breed of cinema is known in Japan: “Pinku” movies). Really, I don’t. But a softcore about a call girl who hones hyper-intelligent, super-human abilities from a gunshot wound to the brain--and ends up finding a cloned version of George Bush’s finger (yes, current US president George Bush)? That’s too good to pass up. Coupled with the fact that it made many film festival rounds and received fairly positive buzz--The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai is as tempting as its heroine. So, is it actually worth seeking out?

The movie opens with the cute, if absent-minded Sachiko having a typical day at work: tutoring/gettin’ down with a random lad (she specializes in teacher-student role play, it seems). It takes a few frantic, squeaky, messy sex scenes before things really get interesting. As soon as “class” is over, Sachiko heads out for a meeting of some sort, at a cafĂ©. While there, she winds up in the middle of a heated tussle between two shady characters (a North Korean man and his foreign business partner). Soon enough--Sachiko is shot in the head, and wanders off (nearly unscathed) with the mysterious small metal cylinder the North Korean dude was willing to kill for. (Yeah, it contains George Bush’s cloned finger.)

Most of the fun in Sachiko is had by the overly amorous men she encounters in her day-to-day life. Wait. What I meant to say was: Most of the fun in Sachiko (the movie) is had when it aims for humor, rather than sex or titillation. It’s hard not to get a kick out of the previously-none-too-bright girl speed-reading through French literature, spouting Noam Chomsky’s philosophy, becoming so enraptured with a book’s contents that she eats one of the pages, or scrawling complex math equations onto the walls of urban Tokyo.

While the film is largely more harmless than it may sound--there are some audacious scenes that proudly further the “Boy, Japanese people sure are wacky!” stereotype. Most notably: a scene where George Bush’s finger has its way with Sachiko, while Mr. President (or rather, a Japanese actor in a Bush mask) watches and narrates from a TV screen. He says something akin to “That’s the Bush technique! I found the g-spot!” I guess it’s pretty evident that certain Americans aren’t the only ones who refuse to take the man seriously. Things only get more and more delightfully absurd from here on out. Is it a good movie? Not really, no. Is it entertaining? Well, bring your sense of humor along (leaving behind your “good taste”), and it might be.

All in all, Sachiko is curious and bizarre enough to be a marginally rewarding 90 minutes. The ending is a bit of a let down--but after everything that comes before, you’ll probably just be relieved to see the credits roll. The fact that they roll to an extremely strange version of the Star Spangled Banner, is just an added bonus.


God Is A Concept By Which We Measure Our Pain

What's on now:

The Fiery Furnaces - "Waiting to Know You"
Bubba Sparxxx - "Wonderful"
Teddy Robin & the Playboys - "Magic Colors"
Juvenile - "Get Ya Hustle On"
John Lennon - "God"
Prince - "The Word"
Van Morrison - "The Way Young Lovers Do" (unplugged)
Bad Brains - "Sacred Love"
The Smiths - "I Know It's Over"
Solomon Burke - "Fast Train"
Namie Amuro - "The Speed Star"
Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Deja Vu"
The Mountain Goats - "Home Again Garden Grove"
Ayumi Hamasaki - "Real Me"
Cat Power - "Top Expert"
Kanye West - "Touch the Sky"
Shiina Ringo - "La Salle De Bain"
The Cardigans - "And Then You Kissed Me II"
Mirah - "Look Up!"
Panjabi MC - "Sweeter"
Ramones - "Can't Seem to Make You Mine"
T.I. - "You Know Who"
Os Mutantes - "Panis Et Circences"
John Vanderslice - "Exodus Damage"
Hitomi Shimatani - "Perseus"
Quasi - "The Curse of Having It All"



I heard a lot about this album (M83's Before the Dawn Heals Us), and how great it is, prior to actually hearing it. Another case of hype being damaging to something I otherwise, probably would have marginally liked. I don't know. It really is a lovely disc for the first listen. Then the overall mood (read: repetitiveness) just becomes draining. It's like something Vangelis's hypothetical teenage son/daughter would lock themselves in their bedroom with a keyboard and make. "Teen Angst" and "Slight Night Shiver" are the only songs that managed to stick with me. Am I missing something here?


A Day in the Life

I don't know how to write about United 93.

Gavin Smith did a good job. So did Kevin Worrall.

I'm at a loss. Do I go the anecdotal route, discussing where I was on that day five years ago, or confessing that this film really shook me in a way that few theatre-going experiences ever have? Should I talk about Paul Greengrass's mastery of the quotidian? The film's uncommon sense of empathy, or its haunting matter-of-factness? I really don't know how to approach this, which, come to think of it, is effectively how most of us felt on September 11, 2001--a stunned helplessness that Greengrass manages to capture perfectly.

This is history--and it isn't, at least yet. Whether in the form of ethnic profiling, newspaper headlines, or the "God Bless America" yard signs and bumper stickers that remain ubiquitious (and weren't nearly so on 9/10/01), we're reminded daily of the events of that fateful Tuesday. Has it really been five years?

Incidentally, as I type this, I'm listening to Jay-Z's The Blueprint, which hit record stores on the same day the Twin Towers collapsed. On his follow-up/sequel, released in 2003, Jay sampled Biggie's "Juicy," but tastefully edited the "blow up like the World Trade" line. Why? Because there's some shit you just can't say anymore.

Greengrass admirably eschews comfy mythologization in favor of painful minutiae. As Scott Foundas puts it, "Greengrass’ whole point is that there’s nothing special about the victims of flight 93...they are simply ordinary people trying to get from one place to another. Husbands and wives. Parents and children. They could just as soon be us." Right. This is precisely why United 93 is a masterpiece, and why it's an extremely difficult film to sit through. Less than its pervading sense of inevitability, what finally gets you is how it would actually feel to have to call your closest relations, informing them that you're soon going to die, reminding them of how much you love them. Or, perhaps worse yet, to receive such a call.

Nearing September 11, 2006, the fate of the world, free or otherwise, hardly looks any brighter, and I sure as hell haven't got any answers for you. All I know is that I'm going to wrap my arms around my sweetie--and never let go.