a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats / Fukubuku no Bukuchan / 福福荘の福ちゃん

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FukuchanOne of the pleasures of Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats is watching some of Japan’s best comic actors. Miyuki Oshima (doing a fine genderfuck as the titular character), Asato Iida, Tateto Serizawa, Toshiyuki Kitami and the great Kanji Furitachi work hard, bringing out the best from the slim material they have to work with and the flat gag fillers that give them a chance to stretch a bit, but add little to the plot. This romantic comedy seems to come to roadblock after roadblock on its way to its flabby and unfulfilling ending. The story of the fat, unrequited kid, now grown up having a second chance with the love of his life is at the heart of Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats. There’s a bit of cheap clichéd flashback psychology to describe his current state, but despite that, Oshima inhabits Fuku-chan wholly, giving him heft and heart. She’s one of a great cast of characters that give the film a bit of well-earned sentimentality and feeling – despite the obstacles from writer and director Yosuke Fujita.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2014.

As Luck Would Have It / La chispa de la vida

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la_chispa_de_la_vidaAlex de la Iglesia’s As Luck Would Have It takes the theme of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole – that of the cynical inhumanity of the media – and updates it to address the issues of modern-day Spain. In de la Iglesia’s version, long unemployed adman, Roberto Gómez (José Mota) finds himself in a rather difficult position – his head impaled on a piece of rebar in the middle of an ancient Greek amphitheater on the day that it’s being shown off to the media for its grand opening celebration. Roberto becomes the news story of the day as doctors try to figure out how to deal with his precarious situation. If he gets moved, he may die. Robert sees his predicament as a way to capitalize on his life – or maybe his death. Mota’s takes up most of the screen time with his moving performance. Selma Hayak brings huge heart to the role of his ever-loving wife. De la Iglesia keeps the story taut, engaging and bitterly funny in this parable of our darker natures.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2014.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 12, 2014 at 12:16 am

Magic Magic

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majicmagicMagic Magic plays as part of the “Fantastic Selection 2014” from the Sitges Film Festival. Chilean director Sebastián Silva’s opus brings welcome relief from the usual body horror that’s part and parcel of contemporary horror movies with a haunting film that’s closer to the psychological creepiness of Polanski’s Repulsion or Altman’s Images. In this story, 20-something Alicia (Juno Temple) comes to Chile and is whisked off to an island retreat. Her cousin, Sarah (Emily Browning) suddenly has to return to Santiago. Alone with a bunch of strangers, Alicia begins losing it. Whether its her own hold on reality, supernatural forces, or… Silva keeps the tension high and the questions coming. Magic Magic has all the conventions of traditional horror – a group of young folk going to “haunted” house, moody weather and brooding landscapes – but works on your expectations and either subverts them or ups the ante. Magic appears as the homespun party games of late night parties and as something more deep and traditional, but mostly in the masterful way Silva puts the film together.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2014.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 12, 2014 at 12:12 am

Hibi Rock / 日々ロック

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hibirockYuu Irie, of Saitama Rapper fame, once again turns his eye to a bunch of musical losers – this time, a trio of punk rockers at the bottom of the food chain. With broad comedic swipes, Irie sends up the usual rock myths. Young Takuro Hibinuma (Shuhei Nomura) makes his pilgrimage to Tokyo’s Monster GOGO, a famous punk club. Here he lives in squalor, does menial labor, is abused by dreadlocked owner, Takeshi Matsumoto (Naoto Takenaka) and does the occasional gig. Along the way he meets up – and falls in love – with J-Pop idol Saki Utagawa (Fumi Nikaido). A bass ackwards sort of rags to rags story ensues. . Irie does some great parodies of Japanese rock tropes. The band, Inu Rape, is classic! Irie sets a few too many fight scenes and random acts of violence in the testosterone-fueled arena that is the world of rock. Another problem with Hibi Rock is Nomura’s 100% over the top performance. It’s great for the onstage scenes, but maddening for 90% of his screen time.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2014.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 11, 2014 at 8:46 am

The Black Horn / Hikari no onshoku / 光の音色

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blackhornInterspersing a live in-studio performance by post-grunge rock band, the Black Horn and an allegorical tale of an old Russian man carrying his dead wife’s corpse through a war torn land to get that one last glimpse of the sea, director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s baffling conceit pretty much fails. First, the rock band, though technically proficient, runs through a set of phony “heartfelt” power ballads that will bore none but the most solid fans. I know they’ve got some sort of cache in the film community here, but they’re completely derivative of a lesser style that went out (as it rose in popularity) about the time it was born in the 1990s. The story of the old man and his wife looks like something that also went out somewhere around the late 50s when Soviet (and the Soviet block) cinema’s existential metaphorical stories were kind of cool – in some hindsight. Kumakari’s a strong visual storyteller. The Russian section is done without dialogue. It comes off as meaningless filler for the documentation of a lame rock band.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2014.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 11, 2014 at 8:42 am

0.5mm / 0.5 Miri / 0.5ミリ

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0.5miriMomoko Ando’s second feature, 0.5mm shows that she’s grown, but not a lot since her pallid debut, Kakera. She adapted her own novel, creating an overlong picaresque tale of Sawa (Sakura Ando), a young woman caught up in the inequities of life and set adrift in the sad, strange world of geriatric Japan. It starts great. Sawa, working as a nurse, is cajoled into spending the night with her barely functioning keep. He gets a little horny and accidently gets set on fire. As she tries to save him he dies. She stumbles downstairs to find his daughter, her employer, has hung herself – her son staring in disbelief. Soon Sawa is on the road on her own, crossing with and taking advantage of a series of lost old men. Her adventures come to a full circle with an unconvincing denouement that closes up a family trauma and makes some vague statement about gender roles in Japan. Ando highlights some great actors, but little character development and 3+ hours make 0.5mm a challenge at best.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2014.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 11, 2014 at 8:36 am

Pale Moon / Kami no Tsuki / 紙の月

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papermoonDirector Daihachi Yoshida’s workmanlike direction makes Pale Moon a serviceable, but somewhat dull and fairly predictable tale of crime and passion cook along without much sizzle. Even with the casting of Rie Miyazawa as Rika, the OL with an unhappy marriage who ends up swindling money from the bank she works at to shower the largess on her young hunk of a lover, the film never really sparks. Miyazawa, usually a more forthright and smoldering presence in most of her film roles, looks more caught in the headlights in the supposedly tension filled situations that make up the bulk of Pale Moon. There’s a smug morality that suffuses most of the film that ultimately damns Rika, even as Yoshida tries to make her a bit of a feminist heroine. Whether Yoshida is playing both sides of the story or just plain unsure about what he’s doing comes to a denouement that’s as dishonest and wimpy as the ending of his previous film, The Kirishima Thing. I guess maybe it’s just a Yoshida thing.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2014.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 11, 2014 at 8:33 am

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