Monday, January 02, 2006

This weekend’s movies

Breakfast on Pluto: I have been completely infatuated with Neil Jordan’s films ever since seeing The Crying Game, but I was a little worried about Breakfast on Pluto. Actually, I was ecstatic as soon as I had read about this project about a young Irish man known as kitten during the early 1970s glam era. A gender ambiguous character, played by Cillian Murphy, in London during the 1970s sounded like the best cinema experience since Velvet Goldmine. I couldn’t wait.

So I picked up the book a while back. Very strange read. I liked the voice of Patrick “Pussy” Braden, but the book was very dark. Generally, I go for dark subject matters... just look at my favorite films of the year, but I really didn’t want a tragic tale about Patrick “Pussy.” It could have been heartbreaking.

Thankfully, Neil Jordan took all of the aspects that I liked about the book and tarted it up into a wonderful fairy tale that had me beaming for the duration of the film. And I could turn around right now and watch it again. Cillian Murphy was amazing as Patty Kitten. He was very believable as a transgendered person, before there was such an identity. He conveyed her hopefulness and eternal optimism as well as her coping strategies for living in a world that doesn’t know what to make of Patrick Kitten Braden and therefore poses some very real threats.

But the part that made me smile the most: the narration provided by a couple of hungry robins, complete with Oscar Wilde quotes.

Vital: This film was a very happy accident. We picked up the DVD at the Scarecrow during a huge sale, when we mistakenly thought it was a film by director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. We both enjoyed Pulse, so we thought it was worth the gamble to pick up another of his films sight unseen. Well, we were wrong, it wasn’t a Kurosawa film. In fact, Vital isn’t even a j-horror movie. But I am very glad that I brought it home, because it is an amazing film that I am pleased to have in my collection.

Hiroshi Takagi wakes in recovery after a horrible car accident that killed his girlfriend, Ryoko. During the course of the film, Hiroshi copes with his loss by going back to medical school where he unknowingly faces Ryoko’s corpse during human anatomy lab, where she is his cadaver. With this description, I was certain Vital would be a creepy and disturbing film, but it was neither. It was beautiful and very touching watching Hiroshi slowly remember his previous life with Ryoko through the process of dissection. I was not prepared for such an emotionally raw film experience and I highly recommend it, if you can find it.

And due to finally getting a chance to watch some of the movies we recently acquired, we started to watch Tai Chi Master, only to find that they put the wrong film in the DVD case and thus, there was no Jet Li or Michelle Yeoh to be found. So we marched it back over to Scarecrow so we could get the right disc and I discovered that they finally had the edition of Three Extremes in, that includes lots of nifty bonus material including the full length film of Dumplings.

So we watched Three Extremes last night. I have been having a very strange reaction to Extreme Asian cinema. The films that are included in this genre are among the most disturbing films I have watched, but they are almost never as troubling as I expect and some of them are amazing films with fascinatingly complex writing. As soon as I see where the film is going, I come up with some of the most fucked up assumptions of what is coming that the actual events in the film pale by comparison and I feel strangely relieved. So far, Miike is the only filmmaker who has truly terrified me by his films, searing a couple of images permanently into my psyche, but despite this rather strong negative reaction to Audition I seem to very drawn to this genre.

So I had some strange and rather brutal expectations for Three Extremes. Miike’s film, "Box" was intriguing and haunting. It was the most suspenseful of the three films. The more films I see by Miike, the more brilliant I find him. I was taken by the skillful sound design and the very uneasy tension built throughout. And it didn't hurt that I have always found contortionists strangely beautiful.

But "Dumplings" was the biggest surprise. A woman desperate to regain her youth goes to Aunt Mei (Bai Ling) to get some of her youth restoring dumplings. The film slowly reveals the surprising ingredient inside this edible fountain of youth, but the fun of Dumplings isn’t in the revelation of the secret ingredient, but in the film’s delectable black humor. This is a smart and deliciously enjoyable film and I cannot wait to watch the full length version.

Chan-wook Park also directs a segment entitled “Cut,” that I found to be the weakest of the installments. “Cut” was still entertaining, but it didn’t live up to my expectations coming from the director who made Oldboy. I found the story to be not nearly as well written as the others and the conclusion disappointing, but Three Extremes is worth watching for Dumplings alone.