IR HE Review: TOKYO GODFATHERS [GKIDS]

The prevalence of community and the idea of identity has always been a strong form of drama but anime sometimes cannot address certain part of these issues in a mainstream way without resorting to metaphor or mythology which is a great balance point but can affect the impact of reality. The idea with “Tokyo Godfathers” is two fold as it addresses both aspects of the LGBT+ community and homelessness. Attending the closing night of the International Film Festival Macao last December, the film “i’m livin’ it”, a piece into on the worlds of the homeless surrounding a fast food establishment in Hong Kong gave a view into this portion of that life and the stories behind it. While this anime is based in Tokyo and made in 2003, many of its themes are still prevalent today if not more main stream (though stigma is still attached in many aspects). What the film does today is that by embracing actors who can perceive the experience in one way or another, it brings an authenticity which can be very telling both in the readings and the humor. Granted the style in some scenes of anime can be over-the-top but”Tokyo Godfathers” in many ways moves between the two worlds including degrees of subtlety. A scene on a bridge as well as on a roof is undeniable in its power.

There is also a dexterity of storytelling where events are not always what they seem. Huamn foibles persist but also depth as well as lack of perception of characters as the progress on their journey. Hana (as played by trans activist Shakina Wayfack) brings a humanity to the path especially for that of a mother. Gin and Miyaki provide the chorus in her trinity. Hana won’t be brought down. She is a force of nature The dramatic essence of her theater background definitely brings a balance of light in the darkness especially when she returns to see Mother (played by gender theorist Kate Bornstein). This scene and many others definitely gives the restoration and perspective a sense of realness. Many times with new dubs it can take away certain subtleties because of political correctness. “Akira” is a good example with some of that film’s brutality maybe toned down a bit in later dubs. “Tokyo Godfathers” retains its power but also takes into fact the aesthetics, both inwardly and outwardly. It was amazing to see the sync more adequately line up and play to the emotions especially with Hana. The restoration especially with the shadows since most of the film takes place at night and in the cold gives a sereneness even in the more textured scenes.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: THE BEACH BUM [Neon/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

The trajectory of Matthew McConaughey’s career always belies a sense of adventure but also intention. However the particulars are interesting in what he is drawn to. Many are not commercial possibilities but more have to do with the nature of existence and sometimes not in a mainstream capacity. “The Beach Bum” as directed by Harmony Korine, director of “Kids”, is one of those weird amalgamations where it has a sense of style married with a stream of consciousness narrative. McConaughey plays Moondog, a poet extraordinaire who has fallen under the weight of his own ego, not by a sense of want but by a sense of wantlessness. He can do whatever he wants but chooses to live in a perpetual stupor through which to experience life in its most base or most full. With a cast of characters that includes Zac Efron, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Martin Lawrence and Jimmy Buffet, the randomness of the proceedings is decidedly excessive. The idea of hanging out at local bars, mansions on Star Island and on boats is an alluring addiction for an actor but is not the complete reason McConaughey goes on the odyssey. Korine is seemingly shooting on very small or non-intrusive camera with available light. Some of the shots of Star Island take almost shots exactly to the spot of Scarface nearly 40 years earlier but doing so with an Oscar winner on the edge of night is a pretty guerrilla approach and does give the proceedings a bit of rawness. The aspect of no guilt versus the conundrum of the true outlay of who Moondog wants to be is left up to the ether. While society tries to contain him and make him expressive of their expectation, he throws it to the wind. McConaughey’s character is weird enough to hang on both edges of society and not adhere or belong to either one. One sequences has him trashing his own mansion with a gang of homeless people (who may or may not have been actual homeless people). There are fleeting perceptions of connection and love but without reflection or barely there impact in this man’s existence. Moondog is the tweaked out uncle of earlier McConaughey stoner ideologies but one slightly but not fully formed. While most of the man, through the design of the actor, is disguised in a haze as his wearing of women’s summer fashions becomes more pronounced, there are very lucid moments (though fleeting) of enlightenment. And the final resolution though bathed in metaphor is soundly and justly arrived at. Moondog is happy in his dingy boat, drifting through the bay of Miami on his back with a PBR in hand. Originally this reviewer had heard about this film at SxSW but it quickly disappeared in terms of an actual theatrical release. It again is an interesting addition to McConaghey’s filmography but, like many not completely full formed but an interesting experiment. The question is how many more of these moderately budgeted films will he be allowed to make before he moves into current Nicolas Cage territory…which by the way Nic is perfectly happy with since it allows him to explore those notions that fascinate him, as they obviously do with McConaughey. The problem in addition also lies with the trailers, as included on the disc. They tell the whole story of the film when simply a more abstract approach would have worked better than the more mainstream perception that might have been attempted. The BUM TV spots were never seen but have that abstract nature to them of Moondog offering advice in the Psychic Friends approach but in bad VHS style. These are inspired in a weird sort of way. The locations in Miami look beautiful on the disc and some spots are off the beaten path which at times, despite the yacht purveying mentality of the shoot, is interesting because the jumping of geography has the locations ranging up and down the coast of South Florida. “The Beach Bum” in an interesting experiment but one despite its intention seem incumbently both free and restricted under its own weight.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: GRETA [Focus/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

In playing the abject plot points of a thriller, the essence of the noir and gender roles always can play a basis in the plot. By changing the dynamics, the intention can become darker in behavior and motivated by different inklings of character. Granted the idea needs to be motivated but it also has to have the right actors making the progression work. “Greta” as a movie is interesting in its set up but gets a little sloppy in terms of its irony as it moves towards its conclusion. Isabelle Huppert gives a dynamic approach to a reverse sort of Hitchcock anti-hero/villain whose focus seems idealized but slowly falls into disrepair. Chloe Grace Moretz works in the same dynamic but in reverse with a inherent bravery that shows a lack of fear and focused intention. The ideology is understood yet the choices and decisions of each show a vicious nature and naivete respectively. However the want from both sides can and is misdirected a times.

Moretz’s character is completely correct in her response but also short sighted in her impact. All the characters see through the other’s lies which is why it is harder for the less experienced protagonist to outfox an older, more cunning adversary. Maika Monroe plays an additional key role in Moretz’s roommate and while her plot intuition and points are valid, her actions can be foreseen. Director Neil Jordan, known for his movies such as “The Crying Game” and “Interview With A Vampire” knows how to approach this kind of film with uneasiness but also with a sense of the macabre which made “Interview” such a dynamic film. Jordan’s films aren’t for all viewers but do approach the essence of human behavior in an alterior way. The way he approaches little details either in the way that Isabelle Huppert orders her wine or deals with her new dog gives the characters a sense of pinpoint accuracy without pure psychological definition.

New York gets a couple of moments though the main interiors seem to have been shot mostly in Toronto. While the film keys nto almost a “Rear Window” motif on the imprint of the initial trailer, its essence becomes more of a psychological thriller in the full viewing. The dark hues of shadows that are hallmarks of Jordan’s work are very much in play within the movies in the night time scenes. The wide shots in the entrances of the subway systems in New York also relay the claustrophobic expanse of the underground world.

The deleted scenes add some small elusive details that don’t summarily affect the plot but the aspect of the firing of Moretz’s character, Huppert’s research of her protege per se and a family member’s subsequent runaround in the legal system in NY do give a greater sense of the world and the requisite plot machinations. The “Enemies & Friends” featurette shows the essence of what appealed to the actresses from different perspective, not the least being creating a psychological thriller with 3 female leads that does not need a male focal point to help drive or resolve the plot. All said, “Greta” is an effective psychological thriller with a degree of tension balanced with formulaic structure using a different construct to propel its characters.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: SERENITY [Aviron/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

When “Serenity” was released earlier in the year, the essence of the cast and what seemed to be a noir structure gave it definite want-to-see possibility. Matthew McConaughey’s choices are always divisive but he has a certain idea of almost existential progression in most of his roles. The idea for example of making “Sea of Trees” or “Free State Of Jones” perceives to this thematic structure of his work. This film is no different though its blend of high concept and locale might be too much for some viewers to take or give patience to. With a director like Steven Knight, known for “Peaky Blinders”, the blend does have possibility but this is not Christopher Nolan or “Interstellar” for that matter. The comparison obviously moves in play since Anne Hathaway is a catalyst of sorts here as well as she was in that previous movie though in a different structure. The vamp structure she employs here might be a function of not just the plot but the rules that are set forth in the narrative. This blend of what motivates characters and indeed what their ultimate goals are is an interesting quandary within the story.

The film was shot on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean off of South Africa so the locale has an otherworldly quality in that the viewer almost can’t place where it is. Many of the characters are caricatures in this way but again that is a function of the plot without giving anything away. In selling a movie, subtlety and the way a film unfolds is much more criticized than ever before which made this specific release even tougher.

What “Serenity” does have is almost an 80s genre twist while similarly on a restrictive budget but with decent or at least recognizable stars. Diane Lane plays a character that is almost a piggy bank at times for McConuaghney’s Dell. Again when it all is said and done…her character makes sense within the structure even if it is light. Dijmon Honsou who also starred with McConaughey in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” also plays a structural part in the idea. He becomes a voice of reason but also one that unbalances the motivation. Again a specific notion of the plot. Even Jason Clarke as the baddie per se, has a specific arch that is meant as a commentary on what the underlying structure of the story actually is.

Towards the end, the breakdown of exposition might have been too much for audiences to handle because, while it is an intriguing idea, the dialogue, even though it is meant to be stilted at times, overplays its idea. The exposition, in addition, tries too hard even though there are holes in motivation and plot which are too glaring to ignore. Also, some of the sequences and the imagery, especially the jump cuts and McConaughey’s venture through water, may be symbolic but mostly function flat. In terms of technical, the transfer brings out the beauty of the location but the slipshod nature of some of the visual effects takes away from some of the power certain sequences could have had. There are no additional material on the disc, so the movie simply functions on its possibilities which may in time form an idea of one of those genre movies that tried but didn’t quite connect. However it might be one that will be revisited in years to come.

C+

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: A PRIVATE WAR [Aviron/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

The interplay of energy and depression in “A Private War” is an interesting progression of sorts simply because it standardizes in a way the ideal of extreme situations. Marie Colvin, a real life journalist who was killed in Syria as she was covering the crisis there speaks to the personality of those who take on the most dangerous of jobs, not to fight but to try to understand the psychology and emotions of war…especially civil ones and why such battles are fought. The movie in its narrative leads to the progression and the realization of Marie at some point that despite wanting a family and a baby at certain junctures, those instincts were not as powerful as those leading her into war zones. And, as with most dopamine highs, the lows are reflected even more viciously. Rosamund Pike continues her portrayal of suffering yet extremely vital women who make certain choices to progress their lives further. She doesn’t seek understanding in terms of her character but does seek attention which is an interesting diametric. Of course human nature dictates a sort of deadening of the sense of regular life. Pike is never vain and shows her character in all of her realness while understanding how society changes in different modes of structure.

While most people, even her editor at the newspaper doesn’t quite understand her motivation, Jamie Dornan’s character Paul, a former soldier turned photographer does understand her travails. Dornan’s character is a thankless role per se and is quiet a lot of the time but is also an interesting choice for the actor who does take on more character based roles in comparison to his “Fifty Shades” work which undeniably follows him. The visual milieu of the story is also interesting. The director Matthew Heineman lets the story unfold in almost jump cut progression of Marie’s life as if her existence is almost *and realistically) schizophrenic. Cinematographer Robert Richardson, a genius in his own right, gives the movie an uncommon realism in its photography. While some visual effects are used, he uses Jordan in a very visceral way without betraying that it is not actually Syria or Iraq.

The eventual countdown towards Marie’s eventual loss in Syria seems inevitable but not empty. She was able to bring her perceptions to the masses even if sometimes she couldn’t fully interpret them on a personal level herself. Pike’s moments of breakdown with the character speak to this. When she is simply left alone in a shot in a hotel room with the camera resting on her does one get a full sense of the character she is portraying.

The extras on the disc are specific to the movie but don’t necessarily add any new insight. In “Becoming Marie Colvin”, Rosamund Pike’s perception of shrinking 2 cm because of the tense poise of Colvin does gives her movement credence as does Colvin’s real life photographer Paul Conroy speaking to Pike’s attention to detail as he watched her performing through a monitor. The “Women In The World Summit” Q&A makes sense but does not reveal any undeniable morsels. Finally, Annie Lennox speaking to the writing of the “Requiem” song for the end credits in the final featurette is brief but, in speaking to the opening verse, her explanation makes one realize exactly how she was capturing this woman’s journey.

“A Private War” is an intricate and perhaps overlooked element of the award’s season but speaks to Aviron Releasing approaching unique stories and mid-range pictures, which unfortunately, in the current moviemaking climate, is difficult to maintain on a theatrical level.

B+

By Tim Wassberg