Hey, what the heck, I wasn't planning to do anything this week but let's do another one of these.

Linda Linda Linda (Nobuhiro Yamashita, 2005)

A lighthearted coming of age Comedy that's as charmingly simple and emotionally resonant as a three-chord Punk classic.

It's all about this High School all-girl band  in Japan. They're short one member and they pick the first girl they stumble across, and she's a Korean foreign-exchange student. With the talent show only three days away, they spend sleepless nights practicing for the show. They play the same two songs over and over. All four of them have unique personalities, from assertive to fun-loving to awkwardly shy, and the first 15 minutes or so is all kinds of confusing (I had to watch the first part twice) but you'll get to know these complex characters throughout their journey.

First off, Linda Linda Linda is distinctly Japanese. If you ever grab a hold of the DVD (and you should), take a peep at the Culture Notes on the extras before watching the movie and get familiar with concepts like the Gakuen-sai and kokuhaku. The movie is firmly rooted into Japanese pop culture, and you really get a glimpse of what it's like to live in Japan as a teenager, similar to the accuracy of the equally twee and musical Whisper Of The Heart.

An unfortunate consequence of the vacant, deadpan tone of the movie is the relatively long running time, but the style works really, really well. The director does a great job of jumping over the common trappings of movies like this, creating something that's much more charming and honest in the way it deals with universal teenage issues. It's very matter-of-fact, with no major build-up or a rah-rah climax or a dreadful boy-gets-the-girl moment, but the delightful ending is even more rewarding this way. Most teen Hollywood movies run like a man-made rollercoaster that feels obligatory and fabricated, but Linda Linda Linda is more like a meaningful road trip to somewhere unfamiliar, with absurdly cute girls who can bring the Rock. See it. 8.25

The Taste Of Tea (Katsuhito Ishii, 2004)

There's a scene in this movie that's probably one of the funniest ever: a crazy musical sequence about mountains or something, with cheesy green screen effects and the whole nine. Now, it's funny by itself, but it mostly works because it comes so out of left field that you're caught off guard by what the hell just happened. And that's what the entire experience of The Taste Of Tea is, pretty much: a wonderful series of visual and thematic curve balls that doesn't seem to mean anything, except everything.

It follows an extremely loose narrative, that's more like five separate storylines following the members of a seemingly normal Japanese family. The father is hypnotherapist. The mother is working on an animated sequence throughout the film. The son is in love with a new girl in school, and learns to play Go to win her heart. The little daughter thinks that a giant version of her is following her everywhere she does. The uncle is a record producer. The grandfather does all sorts of odd stuff around town.

Ishii melds together elements of the more conventional family drama (that actually reminds me of something like Yi-Yi, which I saw recently and also enjoyed) but smothers it with these whimsically surreal moments that are unexpected, but are ridiculously awesome. The giant version of the daughter is indeed huge and follows her everywhere (and the scene in the end with an expanding flower, a common motif in the film, is astounding), the musical sequence with the grandfather is acid-powered madness, the manga-thingy the mother comes up with is done in a strangely affecting way...all these things are extensions of the characters' (Ishii's) imaginations and they not only show impressive range and creativity, but a great sense of character development. I won't spoil the final scene, but it's a really extraordinary payoff that ties all these separate threads together with something that's uncharacteristically grounded.

Other stuff: really good cinematography and soundtrack and great acting from everyone involved. See it. 8.1

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008)

(this was i thought about it after seeing it in the theaters almost exactly a year ago)

Despite some technical issues, this was very good. Not to downplay Evan Rachel Wood's and Marisa Tomei's strong performances, but this film was all about Mickey Rourke's title character.

It's the best single performance of the year by any actor, playing a perfect balance between tragically flawed and heartwrenchingly sympathetic, a good hearted, broken down piece of meat who, after looking for love and acceptance from a stripper and his own daughter, finds that his only shelter for solace is in the squared circle.

The movie also does a great job portraying the world of wrestling behind the scenes. Yesteryear's superstars are now has-beens doing poorly attended "Legends" signings, backstage politicking is placed above actual ring talent. When a lot of these wrestling superstars go past their prime, they suddenly revert to an uncomfortably merciless reality, after the industry has sucked all the life out of them. This ugly aspect of the industry is portrayed to great effect in The Wrestler, actually much better than documentaries like Beyond The Mat.

With all that said, Darren Aronofsky should have really invested on a tripod. The camera actually goes overkill on the shakes. Also, the wrestling scenes feel very cluttered and claustrophobic, and had rapid editing that made my eyes hurt. Christopher Nolan would blush.

Wrestling fans, especially Indy wrestling fans should all see The Wrestler, but that goes without saying. Everyone else should see it for the deceivingly simple storytelling, spectacular performances, and a genuine, humanistic approach to an industry dubbed as "fake".

~!~!SPOILER ALERT~!~! UUUPPPDDDAAATTTEEE: It holds up, sorta. The problems I had before seem a little more glaring upon the second viewing. Namely, how unrealistic it is that Randy picked wrestling over Marisa Tomei. WTF man 7.25

Syndromes & A Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2007)

I feel kinda bad giving this a rating since I really think I should see it again. Not only did I watch it over the course of one week in small intervals, but I wasn't quite ready for a film with a style that was so out of the ordinary, and it totally caught me off guard.

Essentially, Syndromes & A Century is a Thai avant-garde film with a tiny speck of what resembles a narrative. It recalls the director's, we'll call him Joe from here on out, parents who were both doctors and it's two love stories told with similar dialogue and characters occurring in completely separate universes, from the lush rural countryside to the elegant plainness of what looks like a medical center.

In this film, Joe enjoys calm and distance, a mode rarely portrayed well in film particularly in cultures such as ours. Like watching a moving painting, the camera stays static and stays at a respectful distance, letting the natural dialogue flow and, in a way, keeping the audience emotionally distant from these "characters". The shots of the grassy plains of the rural area and the sterilized feel of the hospitals in the urban area are both equally stunning. An amazing consistency, beauty, and commitment to this specific tone is what made this movie worth watching to me despite being so confused. I was glad that there was no explanation to what is happening, because it doesn't really matter. 7.75

Cavite (Ian Gamazon, 2006)

I believe this movie is from a Filipino-American but well, it's worth mentioning that it's a good thing to even have a true Independent movie like this circling around. 99% of cinema that comes from the Philippines are either watered down saccharine 3rd rate ripoffs of Hollywood movies that sucked in the first place OR soft porn, and it's cool to have a movie that takes some sort of risk. Getting in touch with my roots via film without wanting to shoot myself is also a plus. With that said, Cavite falls on its own no-budget sword, resorting to tired old cliches and nauseating visuals.

So this dude Adam comes back home to the Philippines for his dad's funeral and finds out his mom and sister are being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf. The first 15 minutes or so were okay and I expected a sobering look into contemporary urban life in the Philippines, but instead it becomes an episode of Ghetto 24, a fast-paced point A to point B type Thriller that's as disorienting as it is uninteresting and unbelievably hokey in its execution. Along Adam's journey into whereeverthehell to save his family, various facets of Philippine life are conveniently presented, like a travelogue wrapped in the ludicrous plot. Have you ever wondered why we drink soda in plastic bags? What does Balut taste like (answer: contrary to what the movie says, it's delicious)? How do people live in these riverside squatter camps? What do they think of cockfighting? This movie could not have answered these questions in a more painfully obvious way. I actually liked the ending a bit, though.

Other things I did not like: some of the worst acting this side of Gran Torino, even worse dialogue, really bad camera tricks that obscure the action more than giving a documentary feel, a braindead portrayal of the (inexplicably omnipresent) terrorists. There was so much to potentially love about Cavite that it genuinely hurts me to say that this was one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time. 3.0

A History Of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005)

A personal re-examination of Cronenberg's work is in order. I believe the last thing I've seen from him was Scanners, which was awesome, about a year ago, and I've had a copy of Shivers on my shelves sitting here for about 3 years. I love the way he treats violence on screen, and this film has exactly that as its main theme.

Seems like I can't mention A History Of Violence without also referring to Haneke's Funny Games, which I've seen fairly recently. Though Haneke straight-up confronts its audience as opposed to a relatively subtle approach Cronenberg takes, both films turn the tables on the viewer, asking some questions that break the fourth wall. Why is violence the answer to all our problems? Should people who resort to murder be painted as heroes? Why do we support violence on film? Cronenberg's brand of violence is distinctly brutal, and although this might be his most mainstream film, he pulls no punches, as it is indeed as graphic as anything he's done. But it's also oddly pretty without being overstylized and too Cronenberg-y as weird as that sounds. It also has a tinge of dark humor in it, and the shock comes more from the fact that the violence is completely unexpected, like a punch in the gut. The first 20 or so minutes lulls you into a sudden barrage of violence that comes quick and hits hard, and has a lasting effect on the characters. It's violence that's beautiful and meaningfully primal, in its essence.

The great casting also brings the characters to life. Viggo is awesome as always, and Maria Bello portrays her character's down-to-earth uncertainty and paranoia perfectly. FYI: Check out that staircase scene and get a glimpse of Viggo's TAIL. Yes, he is a proud owner of one. Definitely see it. The rest of the movie is great, too I guess but seriously though. 8.3