Diverse films blow life into cinema

Japanese cinema has always been an influence on the cinematic conversation. “A Page of Madness” (1926) being an example of a silent Japanese movie admired for a tracking shot through a crowd in an asylum copied in countless films.

The Best Foreign Film Oscar® was started in 1956, the winner was an Italian film from Italy, “La Strada.”

Previous to that the Academy awarded what was called an Honorary Award to eight foreign films and three of them were from Japan.

This year the most talked about import is Ryûsuke Hamaguchi‘s “Drive My Car.” This surefire art house hit has been propelled by critical raves during its tour on the awards circuit.

Hamaguchi also helmed the omnibus “Tales of Fortune and Fantasy.”

“Drive My Car” is currently playing at two area theaters: At the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Brown Auditorium (February 3, 10 & 13.), and at the Alamo Drafthouse LaCenterra (starting February 3).

A couple of years ago the talk revolved around “Shoplifters” from director Hirokazu Kore-era. A new Kore-era film opens this week that’s never been released domestically.

“Air Doll” rolls out in limited United State’s cinemas along with VOD from adventurous distributor  Dekanalog starting February 4.

“Air Doll”

This 2009 film takes place in a fantasy world where a sex doll attains consciousness. 

But what kind of magical realism is this exactly? Our heroine has an actual character arc accentuated by real life events. Will we wake up at the end of the film and it’s all a dream?

Bae Doo-na (“Cloud Atlas,” “Linda Linda Linda,” “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”) plays the plastic object of desire that comes to life.

For the first 20-minutes  or so you wonder who’s dream you’re in. Her owners or hers?  Perhaps a yet to be revealed narrator? “Air Doll” hides its cards very well.

Then Air Doll walks into a video store.

Another customer comes in and says he’s looking for a type of genre film. And he describes the plot of  “Bad Lieutenant” and the clerk directs said customer over to a shelf with Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant.”

At this point Air Doll herself gets a job at the video store. This is the point in the movie where you don’t care what’s going to happen because the ride has become delightful.

“Air Doll,” like any specialty film doles out some bizarre imagery. At one point the owner of Air Doll washes his bodily fluids out of her plastic vagina.

Air Doll comes to life because of the realization of her symbiotic relation to reality. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

“Moonfall”

In what may be the ultimate Roland Emmerich film there’s disaster, there’s mayhem and there’s pure science fiction.

Emmerich doesn’t just direct doomsday movies. His filmography includes subjects like early gay activism with “Stonewall” (2015), and the period costumer “Anonymous” (2011) that asked who really wrote the plays of Shakespeare.

“Moonfall” is a return to form. It will not be unheard from viewers exiting the theater to refer to “ID4” or “2012” as “Moonfall” has elements of both.

There was a film I watched as a burgeoning teen, perhaps it was a night when my parents had hired a babysitter and I as the oldest of three brothers was content to watch the CBS Friday Night at the Movies presentation of “The First Men in the Moon.” 

A corny 1964 film about a Victorian expedition to the Moon, based on a story by H. G. Wells. It was wonderful and even at my young age I knew it was total bullshit but it created a world of mind blowing science fiction that you could embrace.

“Moonfall” is the new millennium reboot of science fiction fantasy that works its action beats to perfection. There’s a hint of  previous films like DePalma’s “Mission To Mars” and the early-50s hit “When Worlds Collide.”

But there’s also the ever-so-slightly sardonic edge that Emmerich brings to the table. The moon is hollow and contains the creators of sentient life in the Solar System. Yet the film still slips in two “fucks” in a PG-13 movie.

“Who We Are”

“Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” delivers profound documentation of historical events that have been ignored in mainstream media.

As good as this film is the structure is bracketed by lecture footage that really flatlines impact of the facts on display.

Jeffrey Robinson a former ACLU Deputy Legal Director presents a power point lecture before an audience (filmed in 2018).

America was founded as a racist nation and the wording of the constitution as well as the lyrics for the national anthem attest to that unpleasant fact.

Newsreel footage, drawings, photos and found footage of events like the Tulsa Massacre or the chronological timeline of slavery are brilliantly conceived.

Robinson confronts Confederate supporters in a peaceful manner debating the meaning of the Civil War flag and such moments along with the found footage give the film deep meaning.

It’s the lecture footage that looks like, you know, a lecture that bogs down the flow of information.

“Who We Are” opens in select theaters this weekend.

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