The Social Network (2010, David Fincher)

I avoided this because I don’t much care about Facebook, but after it started winning every major year-end award I thought again. Besides, I’ve seen every other David Fincher movie in theaters, so why stop now? And I kinda loved it. What’s strange is that the stylistic flourishes I love in Fincher’s films (didn’t love so much in The Benjamin Buttons) were missing from this one – except in the great scene of the Winklevoss brothers’ big race, a wordless high-energy montage scored to a Reznor version of In the Hall of the Mountain King (better known by me as the Tetris song). Otherwise, Fincher’s style seems to disappear, simply supporting the brilliant writing (Aaron Sorkin, Charlie Wilson’s War) and acting (Jesse Eisenberg of Zombieland, Andrew Garfield of Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Justin Timberlake of Southland Tales and Armie Hammer, who recently played Harrison Bergeron).

Timberlake:

Inland Empire… and More Things That Happened (2006, David Lynch)

Didn’t stick with me very well the first time, maybe because it didn’t make enough narrative sense for my brain to properly hold on to, like a wacked dream that I remember clearly when I wake up but is already gone by the time I hit the shower, not related enough to reality to survive my beginning to ponder my work day. Should have watched it a couple times originally. But now I see I should watch more than a couple times, maybe annually from now on. Lynch’s most free, most trippy and loose movie, existing almost entirely in dream state, but also his most dirty and real looking because the DV photography feels like a home movie. Completely inexplicable and entirely worthwhile.

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Hard to watch at home. The three hour runtime, the almost entirely black scenes, and the very dynamic audio levels (quiet whispers turn into sudden shock sound effects and screams) work best when I’m home alone and wide awake on a winter’s night. I think it freaked out my birds more than anything else I’ve watched. Next time I’ll watch on my laptop, in accordance with Lynch’s dreams of an all-digital cinema.

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The plot, thanks to Cinema Scope:

Dern’s first incarnation, Nikki Grace, is an actress who lives in a cavernous Hollywood mansion and lands a coveted role in a Southern melodrama titled On High in Blue Tomorrows opposite suave ladies’ man Devon (Justin Theroux). She soon learns that the film is a remake and that the original Polish production was aborted when both leads were murdered.

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Nikki begins to merge with her character, Sue, and the script’s adulterous affair spills over into real life. But what’s real, and who’s dreaming whom? The boundary between the film and the film-within-the-film — indeed between all levels of reality — vanishes completely. Besides Nikki and Sue, Dern plays at least two other overlapping variations on the character: One lives in a shabby suburban house, sometimes with a harem of gum-chewing, finger-snapping young women. The other, a tough-talking Southern dame, is spilling her guts out in a dank room, telling floridly vulgar tales of sexual violence and terrible revenge. Interspersed throughout are scenes from a Beckettian sitcom with a rabbit-headed cast. Certain phrases, often pertaining to identity confusion (“I’m not who you think I am,” “Look at me and tell me if you’ve known me before”), repeat in varying contexts and start to acquire talismanic power. (The key to transcendental meditation, which Lynch has practiced for over three decades now, is the repetition of a personal mantra.) Meanwhile, the film we are watching is beamed to a TV in a hotel room, and a mystery brunette watches along with us, silently weeping.

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Did I write this weeks ago, or was I quoting from a website?: “Dern changes identities and locations, each with only a faint memory of the others, giving her a constant sense of unease.”

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The neighbor who visits her is awfully good in a Twin Peaks sort of way. A choreographed dance to “The Locomotion” manages to be one of the spookiest parts. Seeing father Rabbit leave his locked-down living room set is thrilling. Cameo by the girls from Darkened Room (actually only Jordan Ladd is strictly from Darkened Room, but I like to think they’re the same characters). William H. Macy in a big cheesy cameo as a radio reporter and Harry Dean Stanton as Irons’ sad assistant, always bumming money off people.

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Bright Lights:
“It sounds complicated, but it makes clear emotional sense, just as Mulholland Drive did.”

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House Next Door calls the ending hopeful, and I guess you could say that. Dern escapes from at least one of the films she’s trapped within, wakes from the dead and goes back home where, per HND, “Lynch returns to the face of Grace Zabriskie’s Neighbor and, before our jaundiced eyes, this formerly intimidating and ugly figure becomes suddenly beautiful and ethereal. Moreso than Dern’s final close-up (a stunner in its own right) I think the answers to the film’s many mysteries, for those who need them, are contained in Zabriskie’s sideways glance and virtuous smile.”

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Extras on the UK DVD are all interview-style. One is by The Guardian, one is by Mike Figgis at a hotel in Poland.
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Interviewer: “If T.M. creates positiveness… some people might ask: what about all the darkness that’s in the films?”
Lynch: “Exactly.”

On the inclusion of Rabbits in Inland Empire: “Sometimes we start something and we think it is that, and later… it sprouts and becomes a bigger thing.” Okay it’s not a great quote.

“Really the only difference [between IE and the earlier films] is Inland Empire was shot with DV… and it was a low-grade, bad DV.”
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“It is true that the 50’s gave birth to rock and roll and that early rock and roll holds a very special power, I think. It started the whole thing rolling, but in my mind it drifted away a little too quickly. And I think there’s more gold to mine from that feel of the first rock and roll.”

Repeats the same information over and over, not saying much for long periods, interviewers asking stupidly general questions hoping Lynch will tell them a nice story. He does tell a couple light ones, but three times each. So the final segment, The Air Is On Fire, comes as a happy surprise. It’s a biographer (who knows enough about Lynch not to ask pedestrian questions) viewing and discussing Lynch’s paintings and sound installations.
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“We’re cooking quinoa.”
“This pan is unbelievable.”
The U.S. DVD is already better than the U.K., with a b/w video of Lynch in his kitchen and a nice stills gallery, and that’s before I even get to the meat of the disc. Hey, he times his cooking the same way I do, by yelling out numbers from the clock instead of setting a proper timer.
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More Things That Happened is outtakes from IE. First 20 minutes are scenes with Dern’s circus husband. He comes home late. He sells a girl a watch.
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Dern continues talking to the man at top of the stairs. She has a crossed out “LB” tattoo on her hand. A girl with earrings talks to Dern about meeting Billy at a bar. Mostly people telling each other stories.
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Ballerina
A ballerina performs behind cloudy overlays and blobby digital soft focus to ambient music. Some neat effects in there but too long by half.
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Lynch (one) is a full-length documentary by BLACKandWHITE, whatever that is, company or person, on the making of Inland Empire. Lots of behind-the-scenes dealings, set construction, some talk with the actors, Lynch in every scene. Lynch 2 on the IE disc is presumably deleted scenes from that doc, another half hour of material. Not tremendously eye-opening, just gives you the impression that IE is completely Lynch’s artistic vision, if you couldn’t have figured that out before, down to the smallest detail. He yells at his crew on set then praises them up and down in interviews. We hear a lot about the improv nature of the film and script, but we see careful planning and scheduling of shots and scenes. Watching David choreograph the closing credits musical number, telling the lumberjack not to cut all the way through the log because “we’ve only got one log,” you realize that all the backstage footage in the world might be fun to see, but still wouldn’t explain a thing.
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“It’ll be more than a mouthful, which will look real, and it looks great. And you can throw up a lot of blood. Two times you’ll throw up.”

“There was a thought for a long time that you had to suffer in order to create, and this is just about opposite of the truth. If you’re suffering, even a little bit of suffering cuts into your creativity. In fact, the happier you are, and the more wide awake and rested you are, the better it goes… then the ideas can flow way better, way smoother and faster, and more of them.”

Stories is Lynch talking for 40 minutes, maybe excerpts from the website Q&A segments, about IE and digital and meditation, the usual topics. This is where the famous quote about watching a film on a fucking phone is from. His hatred extends to computers as well, but I think if he was here and took a look at my television setup and laptop setup, he’d have to grudgingly admit that I’m getting better picture and sound off the laptop.
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On a separate disc, Room To Dream: David Lynch and the Independent Filmmaker is mostly Lynch talking about himself and his working methods, and partly an advertisement for Avid systems. Best of all, it includes an extra scene related to Inland Empire. Windowboxed and interlaced, unfortunately – nice going, Avid.
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Sur la route de Mulholland Drive is a half-hour behind the scenes, interviewing all the principals and watching the filming. More interesting than most backstage press-kits if only because I’m unusually interested in the film. Following that is a cutdown of the film’s Cannes press conference.
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Le Son de David Lynch, another doc, from French television in 2007, interviews Lynch and a bunch of people I didn’t understand. Hmm, Wild at Heart was called Sailor et Lula over there. He and Badalamenti (below) recorded music for Twin Peaks and Lost Highway before shooting, and he’d play the music on set… wonderful.
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On the Lime Green box set, Out Yonder is a three-actor stilted-humor throwback to The Cowboy and the Frenchman, only Lynch is one of the actors this time. Not really interesting at all, a conversation where all forms of the verb “to be” are replaced by “bees bein'”, with fart jokes, tooth pulling and a distant cavalry. In the next episode, a girl with gonorrhea seeks her missing chickens.
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Scissors is a Cannes short previously known (to me) as Absurda. A Flash-looking dream-cinema piece incorporating bits of the ballerina footage.
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A couple of greetings for film festivals, both in b/w, filmed in reverse, starring Lynch himself and just awesome.
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Fictitious Anacin Commercial is exactly that, a half-minute gag commercial. A Real Indication is an amateur music video (if amateurs had a crane). And Early Experiments is 16mm footage from the Grandmother/Alphabet/Six Figures era set to overdramatic string music, with some cool motion paintings and lots of mirror symmetry.
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Then there’s Dynamic 01: The Best of Davidlynch.com
David answers member questions about favorite pieces of music, how to write a screenplay, his box full of ideas on scraps of paper, Marilyn Manson, coffee vs. cappucino, and meditating with Roy Orbison.

Intervalometer Experiments:
Ambient videos with slow, rumbling music. The first consists of trees and a distant mountain at sunset, the video grain threatening to destroy everything. The second is a spooky set of stairs molested by an encroaching shadow. The third is the corner of a sunroom in time-lapse, with scary trees and a dormant alarm system.
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Industrial Soundscape is a lock-groove computer animation three times as long as it needs to be. Maybe we were supposed to use it for meditative purposes. Bug Crawls is animation of a bug climbing a mad science house in slow-motion as a blimp passes by. Lamp is a half-hour doc of David making a lamp, which isn’t as funny as when he makes quinoa. And there’s another episode of Out Yonder, which I think I’m gonna skip. No, I guess I’ll watch it. “You bees bein’ barkin’ right up the tree which bees bein’ the wrong one!”

Darkened Room
A Japanese girl dances with the camera, talks to us about bananas before introducing her crying fried (must be Jordan Ladd of Death Proof) in the other room. I think I hear the Rabbits music. Third girl (Ladd’s Cabin Fever co-star Cerina Vincent) comes out to torment the crying girl. Hmmm, my note three years ago said this is six minutes long, but now it’s ten. Maybe last time I lacked the intro with the bananas. A few visual cues and mention of a mysterious watch purchase tie this in with Inland Empire and More Things. Little did I know the first time I watched it. Little did Lynch know, probably.
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Boat / “When things go wrong, it gets like this.”
David takes his boat (the “Little Indian”) out for a spin, takes low-grade blown-out video then adds a woman-in-trouble descriptive voiceover. He goes fast enough to go into the night.
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Rage (2009, Sally Potter)

Loyally following the director’s intent, I watched this on an iPod. Seven episodes, supposedly released over seven days, but I started on day eight and watched at my own pace. Supposedly a fat young boy “blogger” is backstage at a fashion show watching events unfold over seven days, editing together segments from single-take interviews with participants backstage. Some of the performances are very fun to watch – especially Jude Law as a diva cross-dressing model who keeps dropping his fake accent. I’m happy to play along, expecting, if not a new favorite film along the lines of Yes and Orlando, at least a smart, good time. In the first place it seems a bad sign that she’s written a takedown of the fashion industry. I’ve seen enough Project Runway to know there’s no need.

J. Kipp:

The movie is supposedly being made on an intern’s camera phone and these actors embody characters eager to share their experiences about the bitter, hypocritical world of fashion. Does that sound remotely interesting to you? Not at all, I’ll bet, because you’re already way ahead of the movie—we know inherently that the fashion world is superficial, and having a gallery of famous personalities line up and preach to the art house converted is nobody’s idea of a good time.

Sorry, Kipp, but halfway through I realized the movie isn’t a fashion attack at all. It’s something worse – a woman my mom’s age coming to terms with the power of the internet. The fun performances start getting watered down by hysterical ones. Increasingly ludicrous plot developments undermine the movie’s believability, and it devolves into the kind of camp I’d feared it would be when I first heard the premise.

Potter:

Funnily enough, I never thought of it as a film about the fashion industry. I thought of it as a film about people who happen to be in that setting. But as a filmmaker, what’s interesting about it is that it’s a world dedicated to appearances. But what the story’s about is what lies behind appearances, the tension between what you see and the reality underneath. It’s not really about fashion so much as about industry in crisis and individuals becoming unmasked … and finally, the gradual dawning realization that the person in the room with power is the youngest one, because he understands this new age of information on the Internet.

So our blogger Michelangelo (never seen or heard) watches as fabulous designer Merlin (Simon Abkarian: “He” in Yes) launches his new fashion line with models Jude Law, Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus), and at least two others unseen. Also at the company are serious Bob Balaban (Christopher Guest regular, the film critic in Lady in the Water), “invisible” hispanic worker Adriana Barraza (the medium in Drag Me To Hell), and Dianne Wiest (recently of Synecdoche New York but I remember her best from Edward Scissorhands) as a manager who yearns for the old times when everyone knew everyone and all manufacturing wasn’t done in China.

Highlights of the movie are the interviews with jaded critic Judi Dench, wiry war photographer Steve Buscemi, fashion mogul Eddie Izzard, and his nervous caffeine-addicted bodyguard John Leguizamo. Lily Cole and pizza delivery-man-turned-fashion runway motorcyclist Riz Ahmed (of Dead Set) have the only semi-interesting character developments (Cole flees the scene and stays at Michelangelo’s house – a sweet ending, and the only non-bluescreen shot)

Not faring too well: Swedish Ben Affleck-lookalike Jakob Cedergren and Last King of Scotland vet David Oyelowo as an ineffectual Shakespeare-quoting cop, both of whom act angry at Michelangelo towards the end yelling at him to stop filming, while they stand in front of his bluescreen and look into the camera.

A model dies in the runway, her long scarf caught in Riz’s motorcycle wheel and the company decides to hold another show two days later, in which another model is shot to death. By that time the movie’s plot has already become way suspect, and the themes of fame and success, image and the power of the internet have reared their ugly heads. Apparently guns were handed to all the models as part of the show, and the audience was overrun with kids attracted by Michelangelo’s blog videos and I’m not sure what happened then, but people start yelling into his camera that Mich is the one with all the power here because he controls their images’ distribution over the rabble-rousing internet. Adriana cries that she is no longer invisible, D. Wiest joins the protesters against her own company, and nobody thinks to slap Mich upside the head, take away his camera and remove him from the premises. Maybe it’s more of an interesting concept and performance piece than a finished product, but it got my strict attention and I’m still very interested in Potter and whatever’s on her mind, so I went quote-hunting.

NY Press:

Potter defies the digital era’s fascination with new technology by emphasizing its limitations. … Her video technique doesn’t substitute for cinematic variety or photochemical richness. Instead, strict adherence to the basic things that digital media record (a face, place, moment) helps to appreciate the difference between video and film. Eschewing the lazy carelessness of so many misguided digital enthusiasts, Potter’s rigor becomes a refreshing reminder of true cinematic values.

J. Romney:

The novelty turn is Jude Law cross-dressing as supermodel Minx, sporting a series of preposterous wigs and an intermittent Russian accent (is Minx from Minsk?). All flirty grandeur (“Are you shy because I am celebrity, yes?”), it’s Law’s most theatrical screen performance yet, but it’s perfect here, both a larky send-up of his own beauty and a comment on the catwalk model as imaginary woman. But the people most redolent of the flesh-and-blood humanity that fashion operates to obscure are Steve Buscemi and British model Lily Cole. … As a purely plastic creation, an unusually sensuous essay in cinema povera, Rage is oddly compelling, a genuine one-off.

Slant:

The sketch-like focus on dialogue and characterization, as opposed to plot or mise-en-scene, is clearly the most logical direction for the burgeoning online/mobile entertainment movement, where grandiose visual concepts are dwarfed into 3.5 horizontal inches and uninspired set pieces are scrubbed ahead with the flick of a pinky. The advantage of Rage is its stylistic redundancy and still-life portraiture feel; one could pause the film at any time to check their email and return without having severed the narrative flow. The disadvantage is that the movie’s serenely glabrous surface lacks dynamism: Aside from the colored backgrounds that match each respective character’s eyes, garments, and/or hair, there are no visual indicators of plot development or tension, which lends itself to 98 minutes of occasionally soporific sameness. … While the stark visual formalism of the experiment is ideal for shrunken PDA and laptop screens, the monochromatic backgrounds and crystalline digital sheen seem borrowed from online commercials. Mute the sound, and you’ve got an adequately produced Apple ad.

M. Atkinson:

Rage has made itself noteworthy as the latest effort of a name filmmaker to address … the fact that cinema, as it’s traditionally made and consumed, is being starved by digital culture. Everyone knows the drill – movies, TV, music, newspapers, publishing, etc. are all dying pig-stuck deaths because of the internet, although no one dares to say that the internet is, in fact, the problem, and increases its dominance at a very real and looming set of costs to us all. … The film’s proud artifice rubs the mock-doc set-up the wrong way if you’re keeping score, except that “fashion” is all about the dishonesty of surfaces, and Potter’s film seems to be less about its subject and story than about how to make movies with as little as possible (another Warhol principle) and conform them to the new digital world. (In an interview in the latest Sight & Sound, she calls it “survivalist filmmaking, a no-waste aesthetic.”)

Potter again:

I think there is a deeper feel of rage, a kind of quiet rage on a mass scale and not knowing where to focus this rage which is the negative end of globalization. The positive end is the internet in my view, but the negative end which is about greater and greater ownership by anonymous corporate entities and less and less about freedom for the individual.

About women filmmakers:

It is making some headway because when I first started there were no women in the context where I was working. And that was a very lonely place, and I’ve watched that shift gradually. People used to come up to me in all parts of the world and said oh I loved The Piano and I said no that was Jane (Campion). And she and I would meet up now and then at festivals and she would say that people keep telling me they love Orlando and I’d say yes, sorry. So it was as if there were two of us in a sort of vaguely conspicuous, visible place in the pantheon of directors and that’s changed surely.

Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005, Sion Sono)

I’d heard this was a sequel to Suicide Circle, so I assumed it was a horror movie. A natural assumption, since Suicide Circle is very much a horror movie. But by no means is this a horror movie, nor is it any good at all, and it is almost three hours long, which means I could have watched two short, good horror movies instead of this one. Tragedy!

Lots of steadicam, with the low-budget video look of MPD Psycho. First hour is a bunch of teen girl crap, with Noriko getting tired of her family and wishing she was as accepted in real life as she is online, where her screen name is Mitsuko. The online community is related to the Suicide Circle cult (it’s the website with the colored dots), but besides a couple flashbacks to the intro train scene of that movie, some “Desert” posters on a wall and some dodgy explanations at the end by a group member, there’s no real mention of the events of the other movie. Instead, we are presented with a wholly different view on Sion Sono’s ideas of group and individual identity, life and death, and the social problems of modern Japan. Maybe it’s deep if you think about it long enough, but it doesn’t make for a very interesting movie, with its amateurish cinematography, excessive length and dull repetitive voiceovers about the boring family problems of teen girls.

Happier times. But WERE they really happy? Are the kids smiling? ARE THEY?
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So, right, Noriko/Mitsuko runs away and meets her online buddy Ueno Station 54 (named after a locker full of junk she found). That’s #54, as in the 54 kids who jumped from the train station… you can look for explanations all day long, but it’s not gonna solve anything. Noriko’s sister Yuka runs away a few months later, changes her name to Yoko, and the sisters meet up in the city. With US54 they work for a family-rental business pretending to be family members of lonely people for an hourly fee. Meanwhile, their real parents are crazy with grief over their disappeared daughters, and after a year the mother kills herself so the father (Ken Mitsuishi of The Pillow Book, Chaos, Eureka, Audition, Invisible Waves) starts combing their rooms for clues and finally comes to the city to find them.

Death is no big thing in Japan
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All is well in the family rental business. Sometimes a client kills a “family member”, as above, but there’s Kumiko/US54 on the left taking his money as if nothing special has happened. The dad gets a friend to help, moves all his stuff from the old house and sets up a new place just like it, then gets the three girls to come over, climactically bursts out of a closet and… stands there like a damned fool. Um, some cult dudes show up and pummel the friend, but dad kills ‘em all with a knife. Finally the girls somewhat snap out of it, and go oh yeah it’s our dad. I think Noriko runs away again at the end. I’m probably forgetting something, but whatever.

Separated by sun
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Hints:
– the suicides kept going after the last movie ended… they did not stop with Dessert’s final performance.
– “What about the suicide club – it’s the result of Kumiko’s grudge, right?”
– “The world is the suicide club, with far more suicides than our circle.”
– “Being close to death gives living value”
– Dad is told by a club dude at a diner: “Feel the desert. Survive the desert. That’s your role.” Get it – Desert? Dessert? Get it?? Phthhhht!

What, no floss?
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If this was better lit you’d see “Kiyoshi Kurosawa wuz here” on the windowframe
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Suicide Circle (2002, Sion Sono)

“Are you connected to yourself?”

Watching for the second time (and reviewing the plot on wikipedia), I abandoned the thought that the plot would make any sense or come together in the end (the writer/director is apparently a poet, so that explains that) and enjoyed it for what it is, a bloody and effective horror movie. Movie features high-school kids dying en masse as a muddled critique of society, which I guess is why it gets compared to Battle Royale. What with the unexplainable deaths around the country, mysterious websites and themes of interconnection, I’d say it’s more similar to Pulse.

The wiki does a good job on plot, so I’ll make this quick. Pop group Dessert (aka Dessart, Desert) has annoying hit song. Backstage at their concerts, fans who are connected to themselves have patches of skin shaved off and mailed to the police, then a few days later the fans kill themselves. Female internet informant The Bat is kidnapped by flamboyant male “suicide club” leader Genesis, but I’m not sure that either of them have anything to do with anything. The cops fail to figure anything out, but a girl named Mitsuko does. At the end, instead of throwing herself under a train, she enigmatically steps aboard it, smiling at a cop, as Des(s)aert announces their final performance.

left: Ryo Ishibashi, star of Miike’s Audition, also in Big Bang Love, Kitano’s Brother, and that Masters of Horror called Dream Cruise. right: Kimiko Yo of Hou’s Café Lumière
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Akaji Maro’s distinctive face has appeared in movies by Miike, Beat Takeshi and Seijun Suzuki, as well as the Maiku Hama trilogy and he is Ichi the Killer’s (the actor’s) dad.
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Masatoshi Nagase is Mike Hama, also in The Hidden Blade, Pistol Opera and Mystery Train.
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skinbag:
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sega genesis:
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Hard Candy (2005, David Slade)

Music video director Slade does a fine job here. He should be One To Look Out For in the future. Actually-18-yr-old Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde in X-men 3!) stars with Patrick Wilson (in his second movie featuring pedophilia and castration in a single year, jeez louise), and Sandra Oh has a single scene as a nosy neighbor.

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Great looking movie, candy-bright and colorful, lots of close-ups and private-ryan framing. About a predatory 14-yr-old girl who lets herself get picked up by an obvious pedophile online only to turn the tables, tie him up, torture him, and lead him to kill himself. The spoiler twist is that she’s done this before, and that he and another guy once kidnapped and killed another girl, who may have been our heroine’s friend.

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That’s pretty much the whole thing. A great first half gives way to a not-as-great second half. The ending doesn’t exactly kill the whole movie, but it comes close. I’ll blame the writer. Straightforward. She always seems to be in control, there’s never any question that he’s a pedophile, and he is never sympathetic. The girl calling his ex-girlfriend and pretending to be a cop is the only part that doesn’t quite fit – she’s a little too thorough in her psychological profiling for a 14-yr-old.

Next up for this director, writer and cinematographer: a Josh Hartnett vampire movie set in Alaska! Can’t wait.

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