A few years ago, one the most exciting places to buy movies in New York City was the JAS Mart on St. Mark’s. A subterranean Japanese market beneath the far end of the East Village’s most embarrassing street, the store had a mediocre DVD selection and prices that were hardly any better. But it’s a hard to compete with a place where you could buy the complete works of Hayao Miyazaki alongside a jug of Pocari Sweat and a shrink-wrapped squid.
The taxonomy of JAS Mart’s DVDs was difficult to pin down. Packed in flimsy cases that boasted reliably coherent translations of the film descriptions, the discs seemed less like cut-rate studio exports or top-notch bootlegs than a strange hybrid of the two that shouldn’t be questioned. While all of these commercially unclassifiable releases were region-free, only about half included English subtitles, and the teletext options seemed to have been doled out at random. (Air Doll: yes! 20th Century Boys: nope!) The DVDs, whatever their legitimacy, were clearly intended for the same Japanese viewers who relied on JAS Mart to help sustain a cultural connection with their home country. The errant non-Japanese cinephile who happened to wander in and buy one might leave with the lingering sense that they’d stolen something. Fittingly, the holy grail of JAS Mart’s library was a film that doubles as a feature-length manifestation of what it felt like to shop there.
From a distance, the cover photo of four people sharing a bottle of red wine at a picnic suggests a DVD of Alexander Payne’s Sideways. That impression is seemingly confirmed by a glance at the title, Saidoweizu, which—because of how Japanese accommodates words borrowed from other languages—literally translates as “Something called Sideways.” Only once you hold the box in front of your face does it become clear that everyone on the cover has been translated as well.
WATCH THIS: NICOLAS ROEG’S BAD TIMING
It’s a miracle that Art Garfunkel’s performance in Bad Timing didn’t immediately and forever extinguish all sexual desire on Earth.
The singer’s turn as Alex Linden, a horny, repressed, and dangerously uncool university lecturer in post-Cold War Vienna, strips the male psyche to its core with such violent aplomb that the character resolves as less of a man than a gangly and weaponized rebuttal to romance. Like everyone who agreed to appear in a Nicolas Roeg film, Garfunkel deserves credit for his lack of vanity, but perhaps it’s not entirely coincidental that the film was released in the first year of the period that his Wikipedia pagerefers to as “Depression and disappearance.”
REVIEW: FOR NO GOOD REASON
In a recent interview, artist Ralph Steadman, the subject of the documentary For No Good Reason, was asked what the film gets right about him. His immediate reply: “I thought it was all wrong, actually; the whole film from beginning to end was completely wrong. You could probably sue them for all the mistakes they made.” Director Charlie Paul was sitting right next to him. The conversation was then overwhelmed by a story about a mutant sheep named Zeno, and Paul began to tear up with laughter. “This is our next film.”
An affably morbid Brit whose sense of humor is better ascribed to the guillotine than the gallows, Steadman almost certainly intended his critical assessment of the film to be taken with a shot of gin and a smile; with a man like that, there’s a fine line between taking a shot and taking the piss. Nevertheless, Steadman’s mirthfully harsh response is as perceptive a review as a documentary subject has ever offered—For No Good Reason is an absolute mess from start to finish, a portrait of an artist that’s almost rendered redundant by his art. And yet, for all its failings, the film is engagingly in tune with the man who inspired it. As Steadman reflects at one point, “Life always was a bit on the meaningless side.” If nothing else, For No Good Reason takes him at his word.
WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?
in life, there is before you see Sion Sono’s WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL?, and there is after you see Sion Sono’s WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? and once you cross that great divide, this fucking jingle for a fake toothpaste will haunt you for the rest of your days.
Drafthouse Films is going to release the movie in US theaters on Halloween, 2014. expect them to have some fun with this in the process.
An admirably diverse update of West Side Story that’s varnished with all the charm, budget, and formal elegance of Gossip Girl, the irresistibly dopey Make Your Move drops the spectacle endemic to most dance films in favor of a forward-thinking sweetness. While this international coproduction between Robert Cort Productions and Korea’s CJ Entertainment bends over backwards to communicate that it’s Step Up: Bushwick, it moves with the kind of corporate vibe that Brooklyn’s least gentrified hipster hotspot is struggling to resist. What the film lacks in authenticity, however, it makes up for in good intentions and simple pleasures.
Sensitive where Step Up is sweaty, Make Your Move feels simultaneously regressive and ahead of its time. Written and directed by Duane Adler, a dance-community fixture who used the project to marry the sentiment of his Save The Last Dance script with the carnal “choreography conquers all” attitude that anchored his Step Up script, Make Your Move is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. By cleaving close to the Romeo And Juliet template, the film’s plot introduces a degree of simmering violence that feels foreign to this type of fare, but this most wide-eyed take on star-crossed lovers is probably the first riff on the classic tale that ends with Mercutio and Tybalt shaking hands and saying “We good?”
Ghost In The Shell (1995)
The title card that introduces Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost In The Shell is split into two sentences. The first reads like boilerplate pretext for a techno-thriller: “In the near future—corporate networks reach out to the stars, electrons and light flow throughout the universe.” The second is perhaps the most quietly upsetting foreword in film history: “The advance of computerization, however, has not yet wiped out nations and ethnic groups.”
On first blush, it seems reassuring, as nations and ethnic groups are things that people typically prefer not to be eradicated off the face of the earth. But there’s something unnervingly nonchalant about the wording of that opening scrawl. It may not be palpable at first (particularly in the dubbed and graphically retouched version of the film available on Hulu, which doesn’t bother to subtitle the Japanese text), but the bleak implications of the preamble poke through as the film’s resigned worldview begins to take shape. A philosophical treatise masquerading as cybernetic noir, Ghost In The Shell immediately looks beyond human civilization as we’ve known it, and does so with a confidence that steals the story away from the speculative and locates it firmly in the inevitable.
APATOW / GODARD
SPRINGTIME FOR JARMUSCH NEAR BOWERY
LE SIGNE DU LION (Eric Rohmer) 1959
Godard is the life of the party.
REVIEW: “THE RAILWAY MAN” (1.5 / 5)
If Eric Lomax hadn’t existed, Harvey Weinstein would have had to invent him. As it stands, Weinstein merely had to distribute his biopic.
The life of the Scottish World War II vet—an avid train enthusiast whose post-war years were tortured by repressed memories of his time spent building Burma’s “Death Railway” as a Japanese POW—provides perfect fodder for the sort of polite, severely compromised period melodramas that Weinstein has churned into a self-sustaining genre of its own with films like Il Postino, The Cider House Rules, and The King’s Speech. But the indignities Lomax survived are just table-setting for his story’s ultimate human and commercial appeal. While any chronicle of the fall of Singapore and its scattered aftermath is a valuable addition to the canon of WWII narratives, Lomax’s saga emerged as a defining account not because of his traumatic experiences, so much as the way he revisited Burma several decades later, in a desperate bid to make peace with them.
Lomax’s journey has already been the subject of an award-winning autobiography and a 1995 TV movie (Prisoners In Time, starring John Hurt), but Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man contends that a man’s life story is never really told until he’s played by Colin Firth. And while history may indeed prove that to be true, the genteel gravitas Firth brings to the latest and presumably last screen depiction of Eric Lomax is typical of this handsome film’s insurmountable softness. The Railway Man is such a safe, respectful portrait of true-life catharsis that it feels afraid to reopen the same old wounds it exalts Lomax for confronting.