Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday Movie Madness! (Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue and Michael Radford's Flawless)

OK boys and girls, men and women, dudes and dudettes (I always like saying that last one, Ninja Turtles style), this is the first of something that maybe could be a regular thing, maybe not. Certainly I would like it to be, but only time will tell. Today/tonight I'll blog about movies I've seen in a segment called "Saturday Movie Madness!"

It's fitting today as I have already seen two films, and (hopefully) intend on seeing two more. It's good to be doing something like this as, a) I have a backlog of movies at home reaching to the ceiling, and b) there are some good ones (or maybe not) that I'd like to dish about. It also helps that regularly- or as regularly as I'd like given circumstances- my friends and I get together on Saturday nights and dig into movies, usually of the "fun-bad" quality. Some are more entertaining than others. If not, some good time to talk!

So here it starts:

(director: Satoshi Kon)

On the recent passing of Satoshi Kon, director of such creative mind-benders as Paprika and Millennium Actress, it's of note, or just curiosity, to revisit the rest of his all-too-brief oeuvre.   His first film, Perfect Blue, is a wild ride.  It starts off as something understandable, then, not right away but eventually like slipping into a deep dream it turns into something else entirely.  It is a precise example of how a director in the anime style can take a story and turn it into unadulterated surrealism.  There is a set-up that seems so straightforward as to seem like a story out of a light manga: a pop star, Mima, grows tired of doing the same songs in her pop group and leaves to become an actress, only to land small roles with a scant few lines (or as it becomes more "I'll do anything" a rape scene), only to find she has a stalker, on her website and in real life, with freaky eyes and a sinister complexion.

It's where Kon leaps off from with this premise, how he takes the state of mind of this pop star and goes to places so unexpected that make it something of an underrated classic.  Mima has a grasp on what she's doing and is happy with the direction she's taking her career in, even if it's small parts she's glad to have while her manager/friend Rumi frowns upon certain choices (i.e. a rape scene).  When she loses this grip it starts with the man staring at her on set with the bug-eyes, like a fly, and holding a camera, and then later leaving messages on her website written *as* her.  It's bound to make anyone's skin crawl, but with Mima it's different: she loses a grip on her reality, if she even is a an actress, or a pop star, or ever was.

Dreams fold into the filmmaking process, as Mima wakes up from what appears to be a rather weird, horrifying dream, such as being run over by a car.  But then she is still in a dream, or on the movie set where the movie takes on the reality.  Mima also sees a double of herself dog her around, floating like a sprite and claiming to be the "real" her.  Kon animates this so as to always keep the audience off guard.  Is Mima actually Mima?  Is she a doing horrible things like, say, killing certain people on the production she's on?  And what about that weird guy who has posters of Mima on his wall who talk all at the same time to her?  As she goes deeper into this delirium, of seeing her movie shoot as reality, her photo-shoot where she poses naked as nightmare, and scenes in her apartment folding upon themselves, we lose our sense of reality too.

This is a good thing if we know we're in good hands that can be trusted.  For all intents and purposes, Kon has his audience, if they're willing to be taken to some dark and twisted and, to be sure, violent and explicit places (though not as violent or explicit as you've seen if you're a die-hard anime fan), it's worth the misdirection.  It's like a pop nightmare out of one of David Lynch's wormhole movies (Inland Empire, made years after this one, comes to mind), and it's important to note how Kon, like Lynch, deals in the unexplained like it's the most natural thing imaginable (or unimaginable).  There's a visceral reaction to scenes and events to what the directors show, in this case one of those the rape scene I mentioned before (it really is so graphic as to inspire Darren Aronofsky for the "dildo" scene in Requiem for a Dream), and even scenes of violence such as a stabbing of a character.  It's interesting to note this was intended as a live-action film at first; when violence occurs, particularly this precisely long and brutal scene (if only a little bloody) and at the climactic chase, it tricks the viewer watching it.  How "real" can a split reality be?

If the film has any faults its only in small aspects that should be forgiven, such as some chintzy pop songs (albeit fun enough to get by), it dates itself by the "newness" of something called the "internet", and a resolution with the freaky stalker character that is a little underwhelming (not enough to fault it, just enough to notice something like, say, the obviousness of his voice).  But where Kon strikes hardest is where his film endures the most.  Perfect Blue is a small 80-minute treasure for those who like to get lost in the dream-state of a movie, where we go along with the insanity the character experiences.  That it also involves in the story film production and celebrity popularity gives it that extra ingredient of real interest.  One of the real-deals in 90's anime.


(dir: Michael Radford)

Is there any better British actor working right now than Michael Caine?  Still working at the rip age of 77- he was in his mid-70's when this film was made, Flawless- he has a quality to his presence, authority, strength, but also vulnerability, that makes him so appealing as a figure in movies.  Even when he plays villains, or has been in bad movies (and for Pete's sake he's been in a lot of them too), we can see ourselves in him, and his understanding of the character always comes at the emotional level, which is why he can go from playing a character such as Mr. Hobbs, a lowly janitor widower who plots to heist the diamonds from the vault where he works, to Harry Brown this past year.

That Caine is also in a good 'heist' movie is a nice bonus.  I say 'good' as it's far reaching from greatness.  Director Radford is content to let its story be about good people who get themselves into a rather extraordinary circumstance, without making it soar into a place too far off the ground cinematically.  It's about how Mr. Hobbs, who has been without his wife for fifteen years and working at the London Diamond Corporation, which houses many of the diamonds that go all-around the world circa 1960, plots to rob this corporation of its millions and millions of dollars worth of diamonds, and enlists the unlikely help of the one career woman around the place, Laura Quinn (Demi Moore in a decent British accent though still an American).  She's on her way out, by way of being let go due to some issue involving a deal with the Russians.  As she's about to be fired, she doesn't mind taking something along with her, hence Mr. Hobbs plan to just stroll on in the middle of the night as he's all alone and get in the safe.

As happens in heist films, conventionally, things don't go quite as planned.  There's cameras placed (a new innovation!) and Hobbs takes with him much, much more than Laura ever could fathom, which also puts the corporation into a tizzy as a ransom comes along.  There are other things too like ulterior motives, a very charming but very suspicious and (really) spot-on inspector who knows something's fishy about Laura, and of course the location of the diamonds themselves.  Radford lets some competent but sometimes flashy-by-way-of-editing direction get by, and it mostly works for the material.  It's a slick movie, more in tune with heist movies of the 70's (sadly not Melville, but you can't always have it all), and there's a nice sequence showing the heist where, save for some music, there's barely a word spoken as Hobbs does his surprisingly adept work at the safe and diamonds.

In the last fifteen minutes or so one gets the revelations, and they're not bad but somewhat predictable (if you pay attention to the word 'widowed'), as is the final "twist" that old-age Laura gives to a reporter.  Moore, I shouldn't neglect to mention, is better than her average as of late - certainly better than her thankless role in Mr. Brooks though not as good as in The Joneses - but as the real technical "lead" she's eclipsed by the subtlety and the attention to inflection of voice and every line like Caine is.  Her character's best trait is to be calm under pressure, and to this end Moore does do an admirable job.  However there's always the feeling of wanting to get back to the quiet scene-stealer, particularly when the two characters meet in a sewer late in the story.

Radford's Flawless is an enjoyable if not altogether memorable time with crusty British blokes in 1960-era, anchored by its two stars and with a heist scene that should keep some at attention.  What might have made it better, maybe greater, is if Radford trusted his audience a little more.  Everything, and I mean everything, about what happened or what the motivations are, are explained quite dutifully, and not with the kind of verve that Soderbergh brought to his final-act revelations in the Oceans movies.

More to come in part 2 (?)...


  1. Good review! The film is definitely a real eye opener into an idol switching careers in the entertainment industry and how some people can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

    Would you also mind reading my take on the film and commenting? There are some things I am confused about and need answers too! Plus to me, it seems like a reflection of the industry!

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