Art, Music, & Film: March 2005 Archives



As I had guessed when I reviewed The Grudge some days back, Ju-On is infinitely creepier and infinitely less lucid. The conventions of Japanese Cinema, rather like the convention of the Noh play, are not familiar to the Western mind. As a result, things that may make perfect sense to a Japanese audience and may be perfectly clear, are less that clear here.

However, the story in the Japanese version is much, much less straightforward, and much more indirect. In fact, it seems without the structure offered by the American version to be an absolute muddle of a film. We don't know why what is happening is happening. There are subtle hints given about midway through the film, but no explicit treatment as there is in the American film. In a sense this increases greatly the disturbing influence and undercurrents of the film. That what is happening is obscure--that people meet terrible fates for no discernable reason, gives a deeper sense of chaos and darkness to the world-view.

Ju-On is instructive in that it lets us into the extremes of the modern mindset. This is nihilism spelled out. Life is meaningless and ruled by powers and influences that we don't even begin to understand and there is no hope. Those are the disturbing and pervasive elements of Ju-On and The Grudge. The good of this is that it lays bare the pernicious lie that is the subtext of so much that happens in our society--from the pathetic tragedy and blindness that surround the Terri Schiavo case, to our constant desire for longer life distilled from death. A film like this one, while no masterpiece, makes clear what we live out, and the wise amongst us fight against, in our modern absurdist/nihilist world.

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The Grudge

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Horror films from Japan are wonderful because they tend not to head straight for the gross-out splatter effect but for the atmosphere. The Grudge is an American-sponsored remake of a Japanese film. This remake was directed by the director of the original and keeps its original Japanese location. I suppose the effort was directed at making the film accessible to wider audiences by avoiding the double whammy of "Read-the-film" and bad dubbing.

What I like best about Japanese Horror films, which include the film Ringu from which The Ring was derived, is that they are surreal, atmospheric, and never quite complete. While The Grudge makes better sense than The Ring at the end, you still get the sense of things not quite wrapped up. You don't really know the full back-story, nor do you find out what really happened to precipitate the curse that seems to march on so relentlessly. There is so much that is still vague and mysterious, while not seeming incomplete, and that is what makes this film so satisfying. Unlike The Ring that seemed to end with an end to the curse that some revives itself a la Freddy or Jason, this film makes no pretense of an end and you are given a reasonable explanation of why.

The Japanese sensibility, when relatively untrampled by western influences, will seem rather naturally surreal to a western audience. The Japanese way of thinking and even perhaps perceiving is such that while we can appreciate it, we can have no deep understanding of what all of the currents. Thus, it comes off as disjointed and surreal. Add to that the very complex time-scheme of this movie with its in medias res beginning and multiple cuts forward and back to gradually peel back layers of the story and reveal all of the nuances. There must be seven or eight chronological jumps and juxtapositions through the film creating even a greater sense of disorientation (no pun intended).

Well worthwhile for adults and older teens, much too intense for younger members of the audience. If you want to spend an evening with creeping unease, this is the movie for you.


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If you can handle the underlying message (which is not laid on too thick) Robots is an utterly delightful and super-fast-paced film that children will enjoy and adults will appreciate. The gags come a mile a minute and include everything from slapstick to verbal and visual humor. It moves much too fast to take in everything the first time you see it.

The plot is slight, but amusing. A young robot grows up to be an inventor. He goes to the big city to meet Big Weld, the benevolent patriarch of the largest inventing firm in the world, his motto You can shine whatever you are made of, representative of his entire approach to business. Of course something has happened and Big Weld has vanished, and nasty, greedy corporate types have take over and instituted a new motto Why be you when you can be new? The film centers around the conflict.

The animation is superior. Done by the team that gave us Ice Age, this is a vastly superior work; however, the trailer and lead-in from a new ice-age film is extremely amusing and functioned as a introductory cartoon as well as a trailer.

If you have kids, go and see it, they will love it. If you do not, go and see it, you will enjoy it. A wonderful, light entertainment.

Highly recommended.

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Clean Films

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Y'all may or may not be aware of a little organization called Clean Films, which takes popular Hollywood movies and reedits them to remove offensive content.

I'm of several minds about this service. First, how do they get away with it? I suppose Hollywood favors anything that makes more money, but I'd be surprised at the director who would release his or her film to be cut by someone else according to their standards. Does anyone have any idea how this arrangement is done?

But on the other hand, what a pleasure it would be to be able to bring a film into the house and know that the whole family could watch it without having to worry about language or nudity or any number of other things that can crop up in films as "mild" as PG.

It does seem an infringement on artist's rights, on the other hand, it is such a fine service to families with young children. A dilemma.

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Bright Young Things


I don't know quite what to make of this film. Having heard of its advent, I read Waugh's Vile Bodies and while reading wondered how in the world one would make a movie of it. Like A Handful of Dust the episodic quirkiness of Waugh's writing seemed not to lend itself to filming.

While this is marginally better than A Handful of Dust as a film, I'm not certain it is successful for a variety of reasons. Although there is the hint of the inferno implicit in the introductory scenes, much of Waugh's sharper material has been left out of the movie. The ultimate fate of Agatha, for instance, is completely glossed over. We don't see enough of Mrs. Ape to see what a fraud and a sham she is. And finally, Stephen Fry has somehow crafted from Waugh's rather bleak book a "happy ending," which is in no way really happy for anyone.

I would have to watch the film again. And fortunately, it is extremely watchable--the cinematography is quite fine and there is much too much going on at any moment in the film for me to be certain I have captured it all. But overall, I would say that it was a good attempt at capturing the essence of the book, but it is ultimately subversive of Waugh's intent--a devastating criticism of modernism and of the shallow, empty life of between-the-wars England.

Worth seeing with the caveat that you shouldn't expect to see Waugh here.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Art, Music, & Film category from March 2005.

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