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film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for October 2013

After Lucia / Después de Lucía

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poster_despues-de-luciaMichel Franco’s sophomore directing effort, After Lucia, shows a major talent, perhaps the major talent in a generation, coming from Mexico’s rich cinematic landscape. The plot of the film revolves around the deep and troubling extensions of bullying getting way out of hand. But the whole megillah is informed and deepened by another tragedy, the death of the titular Lucia, mother of Ale (Tessa Ia), the bullied teenager, and wife of her father, Roberto (Hernán Mendoza). After Lucia opens with Roberto, visibly distraught, picking up a car from a wrecking yard. A la Kiarostami, there is a long sequence of Roberto driving and driving. He suddenly curses, get out of the car, abandoning it in the middle of the street. We will learn that this is the car that his wife died in. He ups and moves from Puerto Vallarta to Mexico City with his daughter in tow to rebuild his life and leave the locus of tragedy behind him. He embarks on opening a restaurant. In the meantime, Alejandra finds herself in a new high school. Pretty, smart, and of a certain class, she falls in with a small clique of rich kids, finding a set of new friends. At a party one night she has drunken sex with one of them, Jose (Gonzalo Vega Sisto), who captures it all on his cell phone, passing the evidence of his conquest to any of the high school gang who wants to see. This begins the slut shaming and bullying of this “easy” girl that quickly escalates into tragic consequences. Ale’s fate goes from bad to worse. Tessa Ia gives a spellbinding performance that makes the viewer understand how an otherwise intelligent and capable young woman can fall into abject submission to the humiliations and degradations that her abusers subject her to. As Ale becomes more and more abused, she shuts down and can’t communicate her torment to anyone, particularly to her father. Her father also, stuck in not dealing with his grief over the loss of his wife, fails to communicate or understand the clues of unhappiness his daughter gives. She ultimately escapes – physically – from her bullies, but the emotional damage remains. When the details of the bullying are revealed, Roberto rightly is enraged. He finds his revenge on Jose in a devastating final scene, a long-take shot that mimics the opening sequence. At this point, the harrowing personal tragedies of Roberto and Ale take on a profundity worthy of the tales the great Greek playwrights or the story of Isaac. Director Franco fills every shot with exacting detail, a multiplicity of emotional and narrative threads – and ultimately a moral depth that makes for a stunningly great movie.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2013.

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 31, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Mourning Recipe / Shijuukunichi no Reshipi / 四十九日のレシピ

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news_large_49recipe_keyIn Mourning Recipe, director Yuki Tanaka takes what in most Japanese directors would turn into a mess of sentimental tripe and turns it into a nuanced study of family relationships as they cope with loss, mourning and the twists that life takes. The story begins with Ryohei (Renji Ishibashi) very recently widowed and in the throes of depression. An impossibly kawaii young woman, Imo (Fumi Nikaido), comes to take care of him, bearing a manual of cooking and taking care of the household, lovingly illustrated and written by his dead wife. All of this is in preparation for the Buddhist 49th day commemoration for the deceased. In the meantime, Ryohei’s daughter, Yurkiko (Hiromi Nagasaku), in the middle of a bad breakup with her husband comes home to commiserate with dad. The preparations for a non-traditional memorial become the playing field for family traumas, grief and healing to come to the fore. The “happy ending” that comes is well earned. Tanaka turns what could have been a total cliché into a heartfelt celebration of life.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2013.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 31, 2013 at 1:53 am

R100

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250px-R100-p1About midway through R100, director Hitoshi Matsumoto, pulls a gag that made me laugh out loud, though it was so over the top and questionable, I’ve been questioning myself ever since. In this scene, our hero, Takafumi Katayama (Nao Omori), who’s joined this SM service where fem doms do their dirty business with him in random places, is accosted at home. Soon he’s got a hilarious blindfold on (cartoon eyes are painted on it), he’s bound and has a ball gag in his mouth. His 4-year old son suddenly appears asking what’s going on? Cut to junior hanging in the tokonoma with the same blindfold and ball gag, daddy in the foreground going through a round of being spat on. Transgressive? Silly? Exploitive? Yes, all of that more. It works. Matsumoto has over his last three films been deconstructing comedy. In R100 is seems he’s internalized his deconstructive instincts and now just let’s them work their evil magic. Not everything in R100 works, but when things do, one realizes what a comic genius Matsumoto is.

Originally published in EL Magazine, October 2013.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 3, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Sweet Whip / Amai Muchi / 甘い鞭

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250px-Sweet_Whip_-_Amai_Muchi-p1Takashi Ishii, who once shined with his baroque outré explorations of the dark side of life, seems to have finally succumbed to the sweet whip of pure exploitation. Sweet Whip, with an ostensible the raison d’être of exploring the dark psychological manifestations of a young woman’s abduction, ends up slipping and sliding through its own bloody grand guignol with no apparent end in mind. The story alternates between young Naoko (Yuki Mamiya) being abducted and physically and sexually abused and her older self (Mitsu Dan), now a gynecologist (no less!) with a serious secret BDSM fetish. The fantasies and abuse from her adult life conflate with the real abuse at the hands of a psychopath in her past. Nothing good comes from this. By the end of Sweet Whip there’s no reason to care as Ishii’s fanciful and facile misreading of the SM world serves only to up the ante on more and more dreadful abuse of his subject. Cynical, sexist and abusive may be too nice to describe this bloody mess of a movie.

Originally published in EL Magazine, October 2013.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 3, 2013 at 11:30 am

Why Don’t You Play in Hell / Jigoku de Naze Warui / 地獄でなぜ悪い

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250px-Why_Don't_You_Play_in_Hell?-p1Sono Shion seems to be getting back on track a bit, particularly after the nadir of his experiment in audience abuse with the final to parts of his “Hate Trilogy” and the misfire of Himizu. With Why Don’t You Play in Hell, he’s still nihilistic and misanthropic – and everybody dies at the end in an incredible bloodbath. What else do you expect in a Sono Shion film? But he seems to at least found a bit of his old wicked sense of humor and eschewed the cheap sick jokes that have made his recent films so awful. His new film at least takes its potshots at himself and the film profession. Why Don’t You Play in Hell follows a group of young misguided GAGAGA-esque film club innocents who get caught up in mediating a yakuza leader’s movie-making fantasy that goes horribly wrong. Along the way there are nods to Kubrick, Bresson, John Woo and more, and a host of set pieces that are funny, horrific and stunning – often all at the same time.

Originally published in EL Magazine, October 2013.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 2, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Like Father Like Son / Soshite chichi ni naru / そして父になる

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250px-Like_Father,_Like_Son-p01It’s a simple conceit. Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) workaholic father to a sweet and average 6-year old son, Keita (Keita Ninomiya) finds out that Keita was switched at birth. He’s not his biological son. Thus begins Hiokazu Koreeda’s exploration into the question of nature vs. nurture, or more precisely lack-of-nurture vs. nurturing and loving. Ryota convinces his reluctant wife, Midori (Machiko Ono) to go with it and he ends up taking his real son, Ryusei (Shogen Hwang) from happy-go-lucky Yudai (Lily Franky) and Yukari (Yoko Maki), who run a kid-friendly and nurturing household somewhere in the burbs of Tokyo. Of course, Ryota’s got a lot to learn as a father as he begins to stifle any creativity out of Ryusei. And Keita begins to come out his shell in his new digs. The story’s somewhat predictable, but the journey is simultaneously heartbreaking an uplifting. Koreeda’s canny script carefully works the motifs and ideas. His direction of kids keeps getting better. And the final shot creates a vision of what the modern Japanese family can be.

Originally published in EL Magazine, October 2013.

Tobe! Dakota / 飛べ! ダコタ

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250px-Tobe_Dakota-p01Tobe! Dakota, Seiji Aburanti’s sentimental re-enactment of a somewhat true story about a British military plane’s forced landing near a village on Sadogashima in 1946 travels a cinematically clichéd route to its forced happy ending. Luckily, the war’s over, or there would have been hell to pay. But in this movie the backward villagers lose their fear and suspicion of the namban interlopers through the work of do-gooders on both sides – Chiyoko (Manami Higa), daughter of the town’s ryokan and Captain Bradley (Mark Chinnery), who can’t seem to say thank you enough to the villagers, whom he somehow cons into building an airstrip on the beach so he and his crew can get the hell out. Conflict is provided by David (Dean Newcombe), the racist who learns to love the Japanese -he even likes sushi by the end! – and young (and lame!) Kenichi (Masataka Kubota), whose wartime grudge melts as he finally gives into the goodness of the British way. It’s a welcome sayonara when the repaired plane takes off into the CGI sunset.

Originally published in EL Magazine, October 2013.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 1, 2013 at 11:17 pm