The Great Happiness Space
(Mongrel, 2006) D: Jake Clennell. Rating:NNNN
Young, handsome and trashy, stylish Issei owns a male host bar in Osaka's neon-light district where he and his 20 boys make up to $50,000 a month by selling as much overpriced booze as they can to their all-female clientele. They do this by getting the women to fall in love with them.
On one level, everybody knows it's a scam. On another, everyone believes the lies. All of them imagine they're healing the others the boys think they're emotionally untouched, the women think they've got a shot at real romance. Both sides are articulate and full of insight into their own folly. Yet they continue to pursue it.
Cinematographer-turned-director Jake Clennell structures this fascinating documentary like a drama, dropping revelations that change the social drama radically at strategic points. He presents the story through the men's and women's own voices, in interviews with remarkable moments when the subjects seem to see themselves for the first time. In the extensive club scenes he captures moments of great intimacy and blatant exploitation.
People in the exploitation business are often very closed and hypersensitive to prying. In that light, the level of rapport Clennell builds is truly amazing. Sadly, there's no commentary track or making-of doc to tell us how he did it.
Extras Wide-screen. Japanese soundtrack, English subtitles.
(TLA, 2002) D: Alex de la Iglesia, w/ Sancho Gracia, Carmen Maura. Rating: NNN
Alex De La Iglesia (Perdita Du Rango) uses this deceptively sentimental tale of a small boy and the ex-stuntman grandfather he's never known (a happily histrionic Sancho Gracia, a spaghetti western veteran) to revel in near non-stop stuntwork and deliberate anachronisms that pit the genre's characters, setting and action against modern police and corporate scum, headed by a splendidly icy Carmen Maura.
The plot engine is simple and effective: Laura (Maura) is Julián's (Gracia's) daughter-in-law. She hates him and intends to tear down the ramshackle Wild West show where he and his pals are mouldering away in their declining years. They respond as any decent spaghetti western characters would guns a-blazin' and farce crumbles to tragedy.
It's clear that Iglesias loves the genre, and he dishes up its elements in all their grotesque glory, with fights, falls, shootouts and Morricone-inspired music. It's equally clear that he takes the underlying themes seriously.
Extras Making-of doc. Wide-screen, Spanish soundtrack, English subtitles.
Snakes On A Plane
(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: David R. Ellis w/ Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies. Rating: NN
My inner moron wanted me to give this movie a better rating. It liked being able to predict every plot point - right down to the twist in the seriously lame finale - and every gag, including and especially the snake-bites-cock one.
What can I tell you? My inner moron is a moron.
So he wasn't bothered by the fact that the movie really only has one gag (snake jumps out and bites someone) and some gore shots, neither of which reach any peak of shock value. Nor was he bothered by the claustrophobic shooting style, which makes the action choppy and unexciting, or by the substitution of cliché for character, or by the overstated, almost Airplane-style acting that undercuts the thrills.
Samuel L. Jackson and Julianna Margulies fare a bit better than the rest of the cast, but he's the hero and she's the heroic stewardess, so they have a little more to work with. The rest are just fang fodder, and they know it.
Jackson is a serious fan of this kind of movie, and on the commentary is as articulate and insightful about his reasons as you could want. The rest of the commentary is given over to empty jokiness. The moron liked that
The extras are as empty, except for a very informative 12-minute documentary on the movie's real snakes. Of course, the key snakes were all CGI, some quite obviously so. The moron didn't like that. Neither will you.
Extras Director/producers/Jackson commentary, making-of docs, gag reel, deleted and extended scenes, music video, blog doc. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French subtitles.
(Sony, 2002) D: Cess Silvera, w/ Ky-Mani Marley, Spragga Benz. Rating: NN
People who know a lot about Jamaican culture say this is a fairly accurate representation of gangster life there. That's probably why the film has gained cult status, with an estimated 2 million bootleg copies worldwide.
This is the official and slightly recut edition. The presence of reggae stars Ky-Mani Marley and Spragga Benz in leading roles and a lively soundtrack by superstar producer Wyclef Jean probably help.
Sadly, none of it makes for a good movie. First-time writer/director Cess Silvera claims he wrote the script in three days, and it shows. The story meanders badly after a strong start in which a couple of 10-year-olds from Kingston's Waterhouse slum turn to armed robbery. We think we're set up for a look at slum life, but we're only given a glimpse.
Silvera jumps 20 years to the same kids grown up. Wayne (Benz), a successful extortionist, teams up again with Biggs (Marley), recently deported from the U.S after a prison term. The film could have explored the mutual exploitation among gangsters, cops and politicians, but the characters are sent back to the U.S. for some routine robbery, gang rivalry and a climactic bloodbath that carries a faint echo of De Palma's Scarface. Silvera's not a man to hide his influences.
On his deludedly self-congratulatory commentary, the director says the movie's about friendship, but he doesn't know how to put emotion on the screen or make story points, and the leads, while undeniably charismatic, are not actors. As a result, Silvera relies on song lyrics to carry the feeling, which doesn't work because what's on the screen a lot of stereotypical gangster bravado and emotionless killing hasn't earned what the lyrics are selling.
American English subtitles that gut the Jamaican idiom ("bloodklaat" becomes "fucking") are provided for the Jamaican English dialogue. A glossary in the extras helps toward Silvera's stated goal of widening awareness of Jamaican culture. But you'll learn more about Watertown life and Jamaican gangster life in the commentaries and making-of docs.
Extras Disc one: director and director/cast commentaries. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French subtitles. Disc two: making-of docs, dedication, memorial film about Silvera's brother. No subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, January 9
Crank (Maple, 2006) Gloriously berserk and stylish hard action with Jason Statham as a drug-fuelled thug hell-bent on avenging his own murder.
The Illusionist (Alliance Atlantis, 2006) Strong, suspenseful drama with Edward Norton as a magician who uses his skills to attack the aristocracy when the noblewoman he loves is slated to marry a prince.
Van Gogh (Sony, 1991) Maurice Pialat's sumptuous, intimate, long (158-minute) study of the final days of the painter focuses on his needy and bitter relationship with his brother.
Bandidas (Fox, 2006) Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek as crusading bank robbers in 1900s Mexico. The script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen promises good brainless fun.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb