The end

Seems like a good idea to start with an ending. Yesterday I signed off on my last movie reviews for the Asahi Shimbun/International Herald Tribune, for which I’d written since 1996. This, in fact, is the second time I’ve been dropped by the newspaper. The first time was April 2008. Exactly one year later they asked me to do it again–and for a higher fee. It was a good gig while it lasted, though for the past 18 months I was told to write exclusively about English-language films, and the pickings are getting slimmer by the month, owing not just to the sclerotic nature of Hollywood commercial fare but also to the fact that foreign film distributors in Japan are either going out of business or becoming more conservative in their preferences (thus the higher percentage of horror films in my output). Anyway, these are the last three. It’s probably a bit unethical to publish them here before the street date of the newspaper (Oct. 29), but who’s gonna read it?

Movies for Oct. 29

Despicable Me

Universal Pictures

In this animated children’s comedy, a professional villain named Gru needs to pull off a big caper in order to take back his title of the Evilest Man in the World from a younger upstart.

Gru aims to steal the moon, but his complicated plan requires the use of three adorable orphans with whom he bonds despite his crusty nature. Though there’s much to like here, including the capsule-shaped “minions” that labor for Gru and his quaint suburban milieu, everything is thrown together carelessly in the hope that it will all cohere somehow. It doesn’t, even though the imaginations of directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud work overtime designing microscopic robots and other elaborate inventions.

Occasionally, the humor rises above the pedestrian plot. Gru’s efforts to secure financing for his project suggests that crime really does pay as long as one’s credit history is in order.

When You’re Strange

Rhino Records

Tom Dicillo’s documentary about The Doors is a very personal film and doesn’t reveal much about the group that you won’t find on their Wikipedia page. It also fails to offer any original analysis or criticism that might provide genuine insight into the band’s popularity and significance.

Dicillo’s methodology is simple. He assembles an impressive array of images and then has Johnny Depp speak over them. We don’t hear much of Jim Morrison‘s own voice except in song, and the repeated claim that he was some kind of dangerous, idiosyncratic poet carries no resonance. The self-styled Lizard King comes across as a prima donna who happened to sing in front of a trio of rock musicians who were more talented and imaginative than most of their peers at the time.

In that regard, Dicillo might have been better off concentrating on the music, but Morrison was charismatic and he did play an important role in the late 60s counterculture, a point Dicillo botches by repeatedly emphasizing the same trite assertions about the rise of the “youth movement.”

Stone

Stoneburgh Pictures

As Jack Mabry, a prison parole officer who is about to retire, Robert De Niro revives the sour misanthropy that defined some of his most indelible roles. Trapped in a stalemate marriage with a woman (Frances Conroy) whose emotional instability he counters with cold hatred, Mabry takes his disappointment to work.

His last case, an arsonist who calls himself Stone (Edward Norton), senses Mabry’s simmering guilt and manipulates it in order to win himself parole. He gets his free-spirited wife, Lucetta (Milla Jovovich), to plead his situation to Mabry outside the prison walls. Mabry resists, but Lucetta is the kind of person who won’t take no for an answer, and eventually they fall into a purely sexual affair.

Scriptwriter Angus MacLachlan doesn’t clarify the motives of the three main characters, and Norton has said in interviews that it took him a long time to understand Stone. Constructed as a thriller, the movie gives the impression that the other shoe will drop any minute, but the story remains fluid and open-ended, its outcome impossible to predict and thus all the more compelling.

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3 Responses to The end

  1. Miko says:

    “It was a good gig while it lasted” – yes, that pretty much applies to my whole working life in Japan (and perhaps a good portion of yours, too). You’ve done well! The average person does not get paid to write for the IHA, or for any major newspaper for that matter, and especially not to have fun watching movies. My hat’s off to you, Philip!

  2. joe walker says:

    Have you also noticed the disappearance of English language books from smaller books stores, even the smaller chain stores?

    In addition to the economic turn down, there seems to be a tendency to turn inward and eastward on the part of Japanese society.

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