Friday, April 9, 2010

Try just a little harder, please?

Try Just A Little Harder, Please Guys?
(HT rants a bit)

I had been toying with the idea of doing a series of reviews on animal attack movies. I've been talking about shark and crocodile movies a lot with some friends online lately, which got me thinking about this idea. So I gathered a few films that I thought may be interesting to watch and write about. I knew full well going into it that some of them would not be good, and knew that some of them would annoy me, but I thought I'd give them a shot anyway. Well... I watched several of them, and kept finding that I unable to cull enough from them to be able to write a review that would have amounted to more than a paragraph or two at most. And even then, most of those reviews would have come down to “I would almost rather stare into my cat's litter box for two hours than watch this thing again.” So instead of a big series of animal attack movie reviews (although I'm sure I'll be covering a few of them here and there), you guys get to read a rant.

Wild animal attack movies are one of my lifelong favorite genres. At the same time, it seems that ninety-five percent or more of these films suck. What's worse is that it's also one of the film genres that is hard hit by the technological achievements in film that allows us to have really bad computer generated effects. Anyone who talks films with me finds out soon enough that I really despise bad CGI. It can break a film for me as faster than anything I can think of. And a lot of cheaply made animal attack movies have gotten to the point that they don't even bother to include a real animal at any point in the film anymore. Just to clear the air, I'm not opposed to CGI if it's done well.

Syfy is particularly notorious for this. And as much as I love a good Jaws knock-off, the ones Syfy has been making are absolutely insufferable. I've seen better CGI in a video game than in some of these films. I recently sat through Malibu Shark Attack and Shark Swarm. Both of whom did not feature a single real shark as near as I could tell. Hell, Malibu Shark Attack even claimed a species of shark was extinct that wasn't. Guess what? Goblin sharks are not extinct, nor are they even known to attack people. See: So not only are they being lazy as film makers by not even bothering to dig up some stock footage of a real shark and sticking in some poorly done CGI that they probably used some poor intern hoping for a college credit to create, but they are giving out straight up misinformation besides. Yes, I am aware that this happens in other genres as well, shows like CSI give unrealistic expectations to the public of what police officers are actually capable of in the way of crime solving all the time.

Don't even get me started on snakes in movies. How many times over the years have I seen a so called poisonous snake depicted in film and have it only be a Columbian Boa, a California Banded Kingsnake, or a Ball Python? (Nerdy Film/Reptile Enthusiast Note: It's call venomous, venom is injected. There is no such thing as a “poisonous” snake.) Is it that hard to track down a non-venomous snake that isn't in 75% of pet shops in the world? I don't complain when they use a milk snake and tell me it's a coral snake, at least they tried. I've ranted on this topic before in my review of Chaw, but it still annoys me. This happens all the time in current films, and it's nothing new, but I always applaud when they at least give an effort. If you look at the original April Fool's Day there is a scene in the woods where a snake strikes at someone and it's a Cook's Tree Boa. Why don't they use those more often? At least it's an unusual looking snake. I realize that I might know a little bit more about snakes than the average viewer, simply because they interest me and I've been around them most of my life, but anyone who's ever been in a pet shop for more than fifteen minutes has seen a few Columbian Boas. All I'm really asking for is a little effort. Really. That's all.

I realize that these things shouldn't be taken seriously and that they are most likely made tongue-in-cheek hoping to appeal to the fans of the so-bad-it's-good types of films. But sometimes bad is just bad. End of story.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Survive Style 5+

Survive Style 5+ (2004)
120 Minutes. Gen Sekiguchi, Director.

A movie where love means never having to kill your wife more than five or six times...

I thought for the first real review I've done in a while, I'd cover one of my favorite films that remains horribly unseen in the US. It's going to be really hard for me not to oversell this one, I'll warn whomever reads this one now. Everyone has films that are their personal favorites, and if I were to rank my top films of the last decade, this one would be in the top ten. I am probably alone in that, partially because few have had the opportunity to watch it from what I can tell, and partially because of that abstract thing that makes a film resonate with some people more than others. One thing is for certain though, I can't think of any movie quite like it.

What is your function?

Survive Style 5+ is kind of an anthology consisting of five stories that manically overlap and interweave with each other. It was the feature film debut of Gen Sekiguchi, who's only other work listed on IMDB is two short films. If the information I've found is correct, he primarily makes his living by directing television commercials. The film seems to never slow down from start to finish, seldom giving you enough time to take in the incredible set design as you fly from one scene to the next. It's sheer unpredictability keeps you from guessing what's going on, and it's probably best to just strap in and enjoy it.

The cast is solid and made up of talent such as Tadanobu Asano (one of my favorite actors, perhaps best known for his role as Kakihara in Ichi The Killer), British actor Vinnie Jones, Hiroshi Abe, Ittoku Kishibe, Jai West (who recently starred in Love Exposure), model/actress Reika Hashimoto, as well as a cameo from the great Sonny Chiba, among others. They all play well off of each other in the film and I can't imagine that they didn't have a great time making it, particularly Asano and Hashimoto, who play a married couple.

The film opens with my favorite story, where a man who's just killed his wife discovers that she isn't dead after all. Aman, played by Tadanobu Asano, gives a brief monologue on killing, and how we wouldn't understand his wanting his wife dead. After burying his wife (Reika Hashimoto) in the woods, he returns to his utterly amazing and somewhat impractical home only to find her waiting there patiently for him to return. She serves him a huge feast, seeming to consist of every bit of food in the house, and waits for him to finish eating before she proceeds to attack him, kicking off (literally) a cycle of almost cartoonish battles between them that will repeat throughout the film. He kills her again, comes home and again she's waiting for him, and the battles continue.

A foreign hit man, played by Vinnie Jones, is brought in by special request for an extravagant, very public job by the man who subcontracted him and acts as his translator. Jones plays well into his stereotype, sneering at everyone he meets, growling the question “What is your function?” at them. He flies off on a rage anytime he doesn't receive a satisfactory answer to this question, which allows for some great moments on airplanes and saunas, while his translator does his best to keep up with the ranting and obscenity that Jones spouts off.

Other stories involves a group of teenagers who burglarize peoples homes for entertainment, one of whom is filled with unrequited love for another gang member, a family who's father is hypnotized into believing he's a bird, much to the horror of his wife and family, and finally, a commercial executive who's constantly thinking up bizarre and quirky television commercials which she explains into a decorated micro-cassette recorder.

You are killing me with the smell of armpits.

This last story thread, involving Yoko the commercial executive, is my least favorite but I can't imagine the film without it being included. Every time that Yoko, played by Ky├┤ko Koizumi, thinks of a commercial, we get to see the commercial play out in the film that she's visualized. Her commercial ideas don't exactly please her clients, nor do they impress her lover, a hypnotist. I found her character to be the least likable person in the film, even while her lover is clearly the most despicable character present, and am still unsure why exactly I feel that way.

The visuals in this film are amazing. Pure eye candy. Vibrant colors cover almost every frame of the film, much of which was done in post production, although you can't tell to look at it. The set designs are lavish and insanely detailed, from the home Aman shares with his wife, down to such small touches as the interior of the gang's car and Yoko's tape recorder. The character costumes are as outlandish and over the top as their personalities, with the beautiful Reika Hashimoto having some of the most stunning outfits of all.

The soundtrack also plays an integral part of Survive Style 5, and is as outlandish as you might expect. The majority of it provided by James Shimoji, but it also contains well known songs such as The First Noel and The William Tell Overture. Scenes that are accented with music are both appropriate and sometimes as over the top as the scenes themselves, which only adds to the roller coaster effect of the film.

While the film at first appears to be rocketing viewers through it with gleeful abandon and childlike innocence, it's actually got quite a bit of heart in the end. It covers many themes such as love and loss, resentment and acceptance, denial and regret, among others. The characters in the film must find ways to continue to survive in the lives that they are placed in, and deal with what that survival means. By the end of the film almost everyone is changed in some way.

You can see the trailer for Survive Style 5+ here:

I urge anyone who reads this blog to give this film a chance. It is one of the most fun times I've had watching a movie in a long time. If you live in the USA, it's sadly unavailable in Region 1. If you have a region free DVD player, however, it can be had quite inexpensively from, where if memory serves I paid less than 4GBP for my copy.

* Special thanks to Andrea (@forestaken on twitter) for assisting with this review and encouraging me to get over the writer's block I've been fighting with. =)

Comments are always welcome!