On The Screen (3.05.09) Michel Gondry goes to ‘Tokyo!’

03.06.09 8 years ago 4 Comments

Jo Hale for Paramount Pictures

Well, here we go.

As I sit down to write this, people on the East Coast are waiting in line to get into this morning’s first screenings of “Watchmen.”  Maybe.  That’s what people hope anyway.  And on the West Coast, I would imagine the people who saw the midnight shows are just about ready to sort out what the hell they just watched.

But it’s here.  For better, for worse, no matter what happens at the box-office over the weekend and next week, someone rolled the dice on a movie version of “Watchmen.”  That is so f’ing insane.  I am living in a cartoon world when something like that is allowed to happen.

We’ve written about the film quite a bit here on the site.  I have one more piece that’s going up over the weekend.  It’s a long-form interview with Zack Snyder, and it’s really nice.  We had about a half-hour to chat, and I caught him in a very different mood than I’ve seen before.  I think a lot of what he had to say on the eve of this blatantly experimental epic is worth reading, even if you don’t end up liking the film.

[more after the jump]

In the meantime, check out our previous coverage, like these “Watchmen” profiles for the characters:

Saturday: Silk Spectre II
Sunday:  Ozymandias
Monday: Nite Owl II
Tuesday: The Comedian
Thursday: Rorschach
Friday:  Doctor Manhattan

Read Drew McWeeny’s Motion/Captured review of “Watchmen” here.

Find out more about the DVD “Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter.”
Find out more about the DVD “Watchmen: Motion Comics.”
Find out more about the “Watchmen” Movie Soundtrack.

Enter for a chance to win 3 Exclusive “Watchmen” Books here.

“Watchmen” opens nationwide and on IMAX on March 6.

And then let us know here over the weekend what you thought.  Good… bad… did you know the book… was it all new to you… did it make sense… are you confused… and above all… did you enjoy it?

I can’t believe there’s a new Jonus Akerland movie and it’s being totally dumped.  I didn’t think “Spin” was great, but it showed distinct promise in terms of creating striking visuals and atmosphere, and I’m at least curious to see what he’s up to now.  “The Horsemen” stars Dennis Quaid as a police detective who discovers a connection between the death of his wife and the suspects in a series of serial killings who call themselves The Four Horsemen.  It’s not that original sounding, sure, but Zhang Ziyi appears to be playing a bad girl in it.  I’ll repeat… Zhang Ziyi is playing a bad girl in it.  That alone makes me want to see this limited release from Lionsgate.

I quite like the anthology film “Toyko!”, and while it definitely has the same issue most anthology films have… there’s a pretty wide range of quality between the three films… each chapter has such a distinct voice that you’re bound to respond to at least one of them.  Here’s a reprint of my original review of the film from Ain’t It Cool:

TOKYO! is an anthology triptych that picked up some decidedly mixed buzz coming out of Cannes this summer, but the directors involved still managed to lure me into the theater.  Sure enough, like most anthology projects, it’s got strong points and weak points, although overall, I liked the quiet ambition of it.

The first film, “Interior Design,” was directed by Michel Gondry, and it’s easy to sort of dismiss Gondry’s solo work as a little hippy dippy nonsensical whimsical, like it’s under no obligation to add up to anything.  But when he really nails it, I think he might be capable of anything.  He’s got a poet’s sense of the medium.  He thinks in sketches, in quick bursts of playful metaphor, and here, he paints a haunting portrait of a girl who moves to the big city and loses herself.

I knew a couple when I moved to Los Angeles, a really great and sweet Midwestern couple, and the guy was super-talented.  Seriously.  Just monstrously good at what he did.  And his wife was sweet as pie.  They’re one of the few success stories I know, still married all these years later and doing really well as a musician, so all that early struggling?  Totally paid off.  But what if it hadn’t?  That’s the more common version of the story.  I’ve met any number of couples over the years here in LA who are completely out of balance, where one person is the “artist,” and the other busts ass at two jobs (or more) to make sure the artist has time to focus on what they want to do.  And time after time, I’ve watched that imbalance eat away at these couples.  It’s understandable.  One person’s got to sacrifice to push the other person into (hopefully) the spotlight.  One person’s life is wholly devoted to doing what they want to do, and the other’s is wholly devoted to doing what they have to do.  That disparity… it’s a cancer to a relationship most of the time.

That’s what Gondry gets right in his film.  A young couple move to Tokyo, and they barely have enough money to cover travel expenses. The young man’s made a movie, and he’s going to premiere it at a local theater.  Yes, it’s a porn theater most of the time.  And yes, he’s paying to use the screen.  But it’s a premiere, and he’s got a plan for how to make the movie a “happening,” a multimedia thing that he’s convinced is his big debut.  They have to stay with one of the young woman’s friends, and Gondry does a nice job of painting that fine line between a friendly favor and a merciless abuse of someone’s hospitality, that moment where someone’s stayed too long and no one knows how to make it end without it ending badly, so no one’s quite ready to do something… but they will be.  Soon.  And everyone knows it.  That, plus the dawning reality of what life’s going to be like working a dead-end and demoralizing job.  That’s what this young woman is facing.  And she feels like she’s nothing.  Like she’s invisible.  Like she’s furniture.  And, sure enough, you can expect Gondry to push things to a fairy tale sort of rubber reality.  His segment’s quite sad and sweet, and there’s a feeling of surrender to the ending that’s sort of haunting.

Leos Carax is, frankly, a madman.  A wild animal of some sort.  And “Merde” is like observing an animal let loose from its leash, raw and violent and profane.

If you’re not familiar with Carax, it’s not a shock.  He’s definitely attracted some international reputation for his earlier work.  I quite like LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE, but it’s a perfume commercial, not a movie.  POLA X is a mess, but it’s an interesting mess consistently.  And that was in 1999.  Since then, I’ve seen BOY MEETS GIRL, a film which I wish I had on DVD, a gorgeous black and white dream.  It’s interesting to me to see how few movies this guy’s made, and how all-over-the-map his output is so far.  He’s impossible to get a handle on, but obviously very talented in the actual craftsmanship of movies.  Since he’s been completely silent as a filmmaker for nine years, I really had no idea what to expect of “Merde”.  I have no sense of who he is as a filmmaker now.  The first five or six minutes of the film, scored to the actual Toho theme to GODZILLA, are sort of brilliant.  Mr. Merde is a monster who climbs up out of the sewer, then walks down the sidewalk terrorizing people.  He grabs things from people.  Smokes their cigarettes.  Basically acts like a giant asshole for a few blocks, then drops back into the sewers and disappears.  Each rampage on the surface is worse, until he stumbles across a box of grenades in an underground tunnel.  Then he really raises hell, and the police move in to find and neutralize him.  What happens as he’s arrested and processed through the legal system is heavy in metaphor and Denis Lavant deserves some sort of special mention for his performance as the bizarre Mr. Merde.  It’s a singular interpretation of what constitutes a “monster on the rampage,” and no matter how absurd his lines or his scenes, he still gives it this deep real emotion.  I don’t think the film makes its points completely, or I’m fairly sure I don’t agree with its points overall, but it’s certainly a memorable effort from a guy who should get back to features ASAP.

The final segment, “Shaking Tokyo,” was written and directed by Joon-ho Bong, best known to international audiences as the guy who made THE HOST.  As much as I like that film, I’m more partial to MEMORIES OF MURDER, his 2003 picture about a futile search for a real-life serial killer.  He’s got a wry, mordant wit in his movies and a really wonderful way of writing to theme without tipping into obvious metaphor.  With this film, he’s made the most surreal thing of his career, and possibly the sweetest as well.

An agoraphobic young man lives in an apartment in Tokyo, having reduced his life to a series of rituals that minimizes his contact with the outside world to the extent that he can handle it.  He’s not a complete recluse, but he’s close, and he never makes eye contact with anyone. He lives off deliveries from restaurants and grocery stores.  And, on the same night every week, he orders the same pizza from the same place. And every single time, it’s the same girl who delivers it.  And, yeah, it’s sort of a boy meets girl piece, but not really.  There’s more to it, and part of what drives the film is a series of earthquakes.  It’s a richly imagined, strange little film, and there are sequences in it that sort of boggle my mind.  I’m not sure what the trick is in what you’re looking at, but the realization of an empty Tokyo is quite beautiful.  I know Joon-ho Bong’s gearing up on his next movie right now, MOTHER, but I’m glad he made this one in-between features.  It’s a very different side of one of the most interesting filmmakers in the international scene right now, and seeing this and the Gondry and the Carax back to back was rewarding enough, flawed though each of them may be.

“12” is a very loose Russian-language remake of “12 Angry Men,” and director Nikita Mikhalkov is a wonderful filmmaker.  His “Burnt By The Sun” was one of my favorite imports of the ’90s.  Here, he’s updated the material to fit his particular political landscape, but if anything, doing so just points out how dramatically sound the original play was.  This is in limited release, and I may actually try to sneak out and see it on Sunday.

Elle Fanning is building a career for herself that stands apart from her sister’s, and that alone is sort of amazing.  The odds certainly weren’t in her favor to end up being able to be the second sibling in an acting family to be able to find enough work of substance to do to be pround.  “Phoebe In Wonderland” is her movie, the story of a troubled young girl who is fixated on Lewis Carroll’s classic novel.  When an eccentric new teacher stages a production of Alice in Wonderland, Phoebe decides she’s got to be involved.  That simple idea allows writer/director Daniel Barnz to explore Phoebe’s supporting cast, the character in her private Wonderland, as a way of trying to understand how a smart child can fall out of step with the world around them.  THINKFilm opens the film limited today.

And finally, the film that stole the spot of Official Entry of Sweden to the Academy Awards for 2008 from the oh-so-deserving “Let The Right One In” is finally opening in theaters today.  And having seen it at the AFI Fest here in Los Angeles last fall, I can tell you that it doesn’t surprise me at all that “Everlasting Moments” was chosen to represent its country.  It’s a beautifully-crafted, remarkably photographed film about a woman at the start of the 20th century who is given a camera.  How she uses that camera and what it does to her through the use of it… that’s the film.  And it’s quite moving and adult and thought-provoking.  It’s a long film, absorbing, with an exquisite eye for period detail.  Director Jan Troell has a distinguished filmography, and a film like this feels a bit like a summation of his work as a whole.  It’s impressive, and if you live somewhere the film opens this weekend, check it out, or keep an eye out in the next few weeks as the limited roll-out continues.

I’ll be back with an Afternoon Read a little later today, and I apologize for the lack of updates these last two days.  I’ll explain after my meeting this morning, and to make up for it, I’ve got tons of original content going up all weekend long for you.  See you guys back here in a little while.

On The Screen appears here every Thursday.  Except when it doesn’t.

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