• American Pie 2

    American Pie 2

    ★★★

    I don’t really have anything too interesting to say about this. It’s reasonably diverting, less vulgar than I remember, boasts a very solid early-00s soundtrack, and has a couple of laugh-out-loud sequences (most everything with Jim’s Dad, the superglue shenanigans, lessons with Michelle, etc.). It’s also overlong and reeks of studio meddling, particularly in regards to fan service, maximizing of Stifler, and the sluggish, arbitrary House Painting/Amber & Danielle tangent — if it didn’t play like an homage to the webcam…

  • Loser

    Loser

    ★½

    Today on “Forgotten Cinema”, an Amy Heckerling washout that is best remembered — when it’s remembered at all — as, quoth booksaboutUFOs, "the Teenage Dirtbag movie." Heckerling’s sunny earnestness is occasionally winning, but her attempt to keep the 90s-teen film alive in the New Millennium came off as lame at 12 and even lamer at 31. What happened to the observant chronicler of teenaged life who could see past the types and find the shades of gray? What happened to…

  • Minding the Gap

    Minding the Gap

    ★★★★

    Viscerally moving and surprisingly protean, Bing Liu conjures a captivating emotional logic as he alternates between various subjects, dilemmas, and feelings, weaving 10 years of footage into a rich tapestry of lower-class American lives struggling to overcome personal and socio-economic obstacles in search of a purpose and place in the world. Because Liu’s an insider, the skater world takes on an almost mythic quality, a sphere that operates dually as a surrogate family and real-world escapist fantasy for those whose…

  • Harmful Insect

    Harmful Insect

    ★★★★½

    This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

    Haunting earworm cinema, I can’t get it out of my head. An attentive and clear-eyed consideration of adolescent emotional neglect and depression that uses form to approximate the feeling of dislocation instead of relying on narrative signifiers as the sole means of conveyance. Shiota retains his trademark ambivalence, observing Sachiko through a lens of removed empathy which suitably mirrors her own detachment, all the better to give her situation deserved intimacy while seeing it as symptomatic of far-reaching social ills…

  • The Day I Became a Woman

    The Day I Became a Woman

    ★★★★

    Seeking/enacting agency and liberation within repressive spaces. Replete with transportation devices (bikes, rafts, carts, etc.) that reinforce the unbridled urge to surmount the strictures and escape; the omnipresent seaside at once encloses and serves as a reminder of greater possibility past the horizon. Meshkini's film becomes increasingly symbol-laden yet the emblems never stunt the poetry, and the gradual shift from social realism to poetic allegory is so fluidly handled it’ll likely take a second viewing to fully appreciate the subtlety with which she pulls it off.

  • Onibi: The Fire Within

    Onibi: The Fire Within

    ★★★½

    Straightforward and effective “yakuza-attempts-to-go-straight” plot gets distinguished by an emphasis on grand emotions, character/pathology, and pervasive melancholy. Hardly original as narrative, faithfully repurposing yakuza mechanics and borrowing heavily from Michael Mann’s Thief, but Mochizuki’s disquieting understatement effectively intimates both the protagonist’s suppressed rage and childlike worldview and he has a good feel for the seedier side of the city. A bit drunk on sentimentalized machismo, but that also finds a curious futility in the fact that the post-bubble yakuza world seems to be moving past moral codes and into shrewder business tactics. Wish I looked as cool as Show Aikawa.

  • Summer Vacation 1999

    Summer Vacation 1999

    ★★★

    Very strange. A nostalgic coming-of-age queer teen romance with cross-gender casting, retro-futurist contraptions, and an Edenic backdrop. Set in the (then-)future (1999), told like a past remembrance, coated in dream-haze, dewy-eyed and fragmented, emotionally stunted and filled with pining, longing for an age when love and death were equally poetic and time seemed to stand still. In a way, a ghost story wherein adolescence itself is the ghost. More peculiar than good, too abstract and studied to work on the emotions, but lush and dreamy enough to cast a spell. Maybe a revisit will yield more.

  • Josie and the Pussycats

    Josie and the Pussycats

    ★★★★★

    Inordinately, hopelessly in love with this poppy, snarky cartoon-satire opus and its harmonizing of Saturday-morning camp and lite dystopian paranoia. At once and altogether, an overstuffed potpourri of fin-de-millennia pop-culture detritus and anti-capitalist sentiment, a kaleidoscopic glitter bomb of distorted visions and defaced frames, and an infectiously buoyant alligator grin to the entertainment industry and the film’s target audience. Totally pulls off the trick of using a cynical springboard to launch a joyous parade of acerbic optimism and irreverent wit…

  • Moonlight Whispers

    Moonlight Whispers

    ★★★★

    One of Akihiko Shiota’s haunting studies of adolescents navigating the minefield of encroaching adulthood whilst unable to fully grasp the meaning of it all. Here, the focus is sexual awakening and discovery, played out as a BDSM anti-romance between two high-schoolers. Shiota’s sidestepping of exploitation and titillation does more to enhance viewer discomfort than relieve it, as he refuses to pinpoint the why and, instead, offers the kind of nonjudgmental, frank consideration of sub/dom power games that will leave most…

  • Promising Young Woman

    Promising Young Woman

    ★★½

    Longed to be thrilled or shaken up by this, but came out thinking Fennell’s candy-coated arsenic pill mistook attitude for insight and wound up conceited as opposed to challenging. Her critique is on the money (if self-evident), but she rests it on hackneyed caricatures of Awful Men, clunky edification, and a cipher protagonist who functions more as a symbol than a human being — if Cassie’s meant to represent all women, then she represents no individual woman, therefore deflating the…

  • Train to Busan

    Train to Busan

    ★★★

    Diverting and zestful, but I didn’t sense much beyond the robust craftsmanship and workable cheap thrills. Basically, a series of tightly-wound chase and siege scenarios with the undead menace serving as a perfunctory harbinger of civilization's end — more Diet Snyder than Diet Romero. Zombie films tend to land best for me when the undead (and sometimes humankind) constitute some kind of metaphor. Sure, there's lip-service paid to the stifling effects of capitalism and bureaucracy, a rote thread about learning…

  • Event Horizon

    Event Horizon

    ★★★

    Third viewing. I appreciate this more now for what it does than for what it lacks. As a teenager, I snottily wrote it off as Stanislaw Lem For Dummies, which was uncharitable albeit not totally inaccurate. In fact, it mines as much, if not more, inspiration from The Shining, Alien, Hellraiser, Bosch (iconography), and Bruegel (composition). But the production design work here is what really commits it to memory. It’s as atmospherically inclined as it is diegetically impractical. Baroque and…