"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville

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April 06 + 20, 2003

With as much suddenness as my entire web site's creation comes the first page for my Movies section, which, it occurs to me, could use a name better than "Movies section," but one issue at a time for now.

This section will likely leap off into a few different directions...assuming I keep updating it (let's hope and pray now, kids). Movie and DVD reviews plus various rants and so forth. I'll be keeping an archive of my entries that you can access on the left (when there actually is something to archive that is). Also, my Cannes Diary is up and running, so there's plenty to read right there for the enterprising soul. Jumping right into things, though...

Philadelphia Film Festival 2003

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The Phillies are finally playing (I Believe™), semester-end assignments are slowly becoming more and more intimidating, and the weather is starting to hint at warmth with aggravating irregularity...what time of year is it? Time for the Philadelphia Film Festival! There's nothing like an orgy of movies to excite the film nerd in all of us, now is there? This will be my third year attending the Festival and my tastes have remained relatively specific. The first place I turn to when I receive the guide every year is right to the back and the Danger After Dark section. One reason is that it can be difficult to find the time or patience to read up on every movie in the guide to pick between one somber foreign drama or another (many of which blend together in their existential yearning anyway). As many good films as I'm sure there are of this type, it's relatively daunting to try to pick just a few out from the rest. However, when the description includes "flesh-eating zombies," "excessive blood and gore," or "explicit sexual content," it's much easier to know exactly what you're getting. Two words: Beyond Re-Animator.

This is not at all to say, however, that long, pensive existential meditations don't have their time and place (I've certainly seen more than a few), but I figured this would be fair warning as to what to expect from my film choices. Without any further ado...

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance
South Korea 2002, Directed by Park Chan-wook
The Bridge: 04/04/03: 08:30pm
(*** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None

An unsettling, but thoroughly accomplished new film by Park Chan-wook, Sympathy mixes grim, naked brutality with a touch of macabre, black humor and a surprising sense of tenderness and emotional anguish. Park weaves his fabric of revenge and violence slowly, fleshing out characters with an acuity not seen in similar noir thrillers. Indeed, Park's major success is that he does create genuine sympathy in the viewer for his characters, making their malicious acts of violence seem not only justified, but somehow necessary. In Sympathy's world, there is no action without reaction, no strike without retribution. However, though we watch the characters craft their own downfalls, we also know that they no choice.

The film revels in its contradictions, counterpointing a moment of compassion with one of carnality or violence. Ryu is desperate for money to fund a transplant for his sister, but his search leads him to underground organ traders and child kidnapping. Ryu and his politically-radical girlfriend may kidnap a young girl, but she plays happily and contentedly with the pair. In another scene, Ryu carefully and efficiently helps a woman inject herself with heroin because her hands were shaking too much to do it alone. These innumerable contradictions play an important part in the humor of the film, but they also show the viewer that very little is clear-cut. We cannot condemn the characters brusquely because of their actions. They are too human to us, regardless of the grim world they live in. This blurring of character boundaries could leave some viewers feeling cold and distanced from the film, but it is undoubtedly a unique vision that deserves attention.

Beyond Re-Animator
USA/Spain 2003, Directed by Brian Yuzna
Ritz East 2: 04/06/03: 07:15pm
(***) of four
Time slept during: None

From the Department of "You Know Exactly What You're Getting" comes Brian Yuzna and Jeffrey Combs latest iteration of the "Re-Animator" formula and it succeeds in all of the ways it should...and doesn't in the ways it shouldn't. The latest plot development lands our favorite mad scientist in the Arkham State Prison after an experiment goes awry (surprise, surprise) and it gives screenwriter Jose Manuel Gomez excuse to fill the movie with a nice range of motley characters, from the Excitable Violent Minority to the Asshole Evil Warden. Gomez does his best to extend the Re-Animator mythology with some new psuedoscience about electrical discharges that I still don't quite understand, but the results are still the same: the same fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek gory insanity that fans have come to know and love in this series. Gallons of spilled blood, grotesque disfigurements, a pretty prominent theme of misogyny, and a general disdain for human feeling that Eric Cartman would be proud of.

It's hard to fault a movie like this because it never sets out to be overly ambitious. Even still, it is the feeling of familiarity that haunts the film that is probably it's biggest draw and its biggest flaw (the unintentional rhyme almost makes me rewrite that line...almost). Gomez tries to up the ante with the electrical-magnetic whatever thread, but it sounded a bit too "midichlorian" for me to really buy into. Regardless, you will NOT be seeing another film this year featuring a rat battling a re-animated penis, so who cares if the rest of the movie is treading down paths we've seen before. Simply put, any chance to spend more time with Herbert West is exciting simply because of that: it's a chance to spend more time with Herbert West. Enjoy!

Dark Water
Japan 2002, Directed by Hideo Nakata
Ritz East 1: 04/06/03: 10:00pm
(** and 1/2) of four
Time slept during: None

From Hideo Nakata, the director of Ringu, the film singularly responsible for launching the Japanese New Horror school into the public eye, comes Dark Water, an eerie, but ultimately unfulfilling film about a young working mother trying to protect her daughter and her sanity in an increasingly oppressive apartment building. Nakata relies on the subtlety characteristic of many new "less is more" horror films and is generally effective in drawing out true creepiness just from dripping water and stains on the ceiling. He takes his time over the film, building up the tension until there is an intense fever pitch in the final minutes as the audience tries to stay with the escalating terror. The problem, however, with the film is that the story and characters are never fleshed out quite enough and the ending remains too ambiguous to be overly effective. Reminding me of the "fantastic pick-up / tremendous let-down" of last year's Signs (though not as drastic), the mood is set rather well only to lose its momentum by not finally adding much of a conclusion. Mood and atmosphere are fantastic, but only if they add to the propulsion of the plot and its devices. Here, Nakata does a good job scaring us, but then leaves us feeling a little uncertain of what we were even scared by. Nakata is still a major presence to watch in modern Japanese cinema, but his latest effort comes up just a little too short.

Philadelphia Film Festival
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