About Me

Ikawa-cho Miyoshi-shi, Tokushima-ken, Japan
I was recently accepted by the JET program as an assistant English teacher in Japan for one year.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Triple Movie Review: Japanese Theaters Edition

While I was in Japan, which is where I am for the next three and a half weeks, I saw a few movies in the theaters. A Japanese movie ticket is around 1800 yen, which is expensive compared to American theaters, but this weekend I got a discounted ticket for 1000 yen, and I actually felt like I was saving money. So what we are going to do here is talk about three movies that I saw, discuss how they are related to one another and what they can teach us about eachother and about movies as a whole. I will review them in the order that I saw them.

Here is the first movie I saw. It is called Green Zone. The movie is about Matt Damon knowing how bad the Iraq war is and deciding to do something about it. He gets caught in a struggle between the CIA and the special forces, who just want to kill this guy, the jack of clubs in the most wanted deck of cards of former Baath party members. The CIA thinks maybe they can get him to flip. Once this is set up, Matt Damon runs around for a half hour and the camera people have to try to keep him in the frame. Now, Paul Greengrass directed this movie, and he also directed the two Bourne Identity sequels, which also had Matt Damon playing himself, running around. Those movies were based on books, I think, and so was Green Zone, but Green Zone was based on a book called "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" which I think is just about journalists chilling at the secure international compound in Baghdad while the rest of the country is irradiated and burnt up and destroyed all around them. I want to read that book, maybe, but the plot from this movie is pretty original, I think. Spoiler alert, the good-intentioned Baghdad native who gives Matt Damon the random tip that the jack of clubs is hanging out nearby also runs for the last half hour of the movie, behind the cameraman, and caps the Baathist general in the head, before delivering this line, in arabic: "This is our country. You do not decide what happens here". It's tacky and brilliant, and then I realized that my eyes were so over stimulated and that suddently the storyboards went from shaking and fast cuts, back to darkness and the stability of tripods. So Green Zone was an exercise in keeping your eyes focused on a specific point. while people run around and shoot bullets at eachother. The timing of this movie is pathetic. It's as if the entire cast and crew took the 2005 premise that Bush lied us into a war of choice and pretended this was controversial or new or interesting, when it is really just depressing that Matt Damon as a lonely, free-spirited soldier, doesn't have enough resources to punch Donald Rumsfeld in the face, which would have been a worthy finale.

The Walker is not a very colorful movie, but it is also about looking at a moving picture for two hours. You may know it by it's American, and extremely inferior title, "The Book of Eli", which I luckily was not aware of, since "Za Wookaa" is vague and gets the general premise across pretty fast, while "The Book of Eli" simply reveals the entire plot. It's a dystopian, post-apocalyptic barren earth, and Denzel Washington has to walk West, because he just has to. On his way he meets Mila Kunis, who belongs in every movie, and Gary Oldman as the bad guy, which also belongs in every movie. We start out with Denzel at the very center of the Denzel Washington Hat, Glasses, Facial Hair Trifecta and gradually move outwards. Now my own personal theory is that Denzel Washington saw Children of Men, and said to himself, "Wow, I wish I was in that movie, but what could I do for it that would make it better? It had everything...washed out totally gray scenery, futuristic devastation, digitally reconstructed action scenes that are meant to look like single takes..." And then it dawned on him, probably around the time that someone e-mailed him the same Venn diagram I just linked to. "Ah, yes! I can give Children of Men an ending, because it really didn't have one, right? They just kind of sat on that boat and that was it". Well, this is what some people think made Children of Men so cool, was the fact that they wound up rootless, floating, with an uncertain future. But Denzel, who is also credited as the producer, had this exact same situation happen, followed by a cut where I told myself "movie could just end right now and it would be Children of Men". But Spoiler Alert, it goes a little further, just far enough to get hatless, sans-glasses, clean shaven Denzel Washington onto the screen for a few moments. And that was what made this movie special and interesting; One man's cosmetic journey outward from the Venn diagram that once captured every facet of his appearance. The Walker also was emotionally moving, at one part, exactly half way through the film, where I actually cared about the characters, which Green Zone and Predators did not have. The Walker spends all of its emotional energy in this one beautiful shot, which was probably the only way to do so.

you are going to have to fogive me but after a half hour of searching around I have not been able to find the Japanese poster for the movie Predators. It looks just like this one but with Japanese writing. Okay so here we are, our third movie about look at a screen and focusing your eyeballs to discern an image. What do I mean? The first 45 minutes of Predators take place in a beautiful jungle. It's soft green and very wonderful and easy to look at. The characters all walk around and get to know eachother and try to figure out what is going on. But then around half way through the movie someone says "uh oh we need Laurence Fishburne to be in this movie now" so he finds them and brings them back to his very dark, ugly space ship, and we go from lush exteriors to lightless, cramped interiors. Just as your eyes are about to readjust to this new less enjoyable setting, Topher Grace starts to light an unnecessary number of bright blue white road flares directly in front of the camera, so that total darkness goes to blinding light in one second, and make the entire audience squint and recoil. Really it was awful. He lit up like five flares for no reason! after that is a calming sword fight in a night time grass place, but then the characters go back to the predators' little nighttime village of gore and trophies, where fires are constantly burning and it is less easy to look at. The original Predator, with Arnold Sschwarzenegger, took place exclusively in the jungle and it didn't get dark until much later. One interesting part was that the previews are misleading, maybe intentionally. This never happens in the movie! There are only three predators, not a bunch. In the original Alien, there was one alien, and in Aliens, the sequel, there were hundreds, right!? Well in the original Predator there was 1, and in this official sequel, there are about 4, not more like this picture implies. At the end if a slight twist, a little bigger than Green Zone's twist but nowhere near as big as The Walker's, which had the biggest twist ever that everyone should have seen coming. There is a predator versus predator fight and Adrien Brody does his best Arnold impression and decapitates the biggest one, and then says "Let's get off this f***king planet". What happens after this moment is not so much a twist as a hilarious homage to the series, and a stunning revelation that action movies are, in fact, comedies, since everything works out at the end, according to the classical Greek definition of comedy. The good guys always win what meaningless victories they can eke out, and the movie knows this, and it knows that we as the audience will never be able to.
All of these movies get three stars (***) for being full of violence, hard to look at, and comedies.

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