Smile Politely

The Fall and Bashing DVDs Released to Little Fanfare

Bigger releases (i.e. films that you remember being in the theaters) this week include Tina Fey’s venture into movie stardom, Baby Mama, and Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s collaboration The Forbidden Kingdom. The consistently disappointing and yet never-ending Smallville sees its seventh season come out today, along with David Caruso’s latest operatic television masterpiece CSI: Miami, which has also somehow made it to a seventh season and beyond.

Assuming you’re not into CSI (and all apologies if you are), this week offers a couple choices for the discerning video renter. First up is The Fall, directed by Tarsem Singh, one of the many people with only one name who seem to be drawn to the arts. As Tarsem explains in the rather terrible making-of feature on the disc, he doesn’t care if his movie is “the biggest piece of shit you’ve ever seen,” as long as he and his crew have fun making it. Whether or not this is a healthy attitude for a filmmaker to have doesn’t seem to have bothered directors David Fincher or Spike Jonze, who “present” The Fall which assumedly means they footed a lot of the bill for it.

It’s lucky for Tarsem — and, based on his philosophy, perhaps nothing but lucky — that his film is not the worst piece of shit I’ve ever seen. In fact, it was quite interesting, even well worth watching. Filmed in the most beautiful regions of 15 different countries, it would be hard for The Fall to avoid being breathtaking, but Tarsem is obviously someone with an eye for the composition of the frame. He stuffs his interesting visual ideas into a plot about a young girl with a vivid imagination in a hospital that, like many of the recent real-world-fantasy films, tends to drag. The Fall is pure style-over-substance, a perfectly acceptable form until your film breaches the 90 minute mark and its pretensions to substance start to seem like just that: tedious pretensions.

Still, The Fall is engaging on a visual level for most of its run time, and should not be avoided…if you have nothing better to do this week but watch movies.

Requiring more shelf-hunting is the Japanese film Bashing, a film that made the festival circuits a couple years ago and saw its first U.S. DVD release this week. The film is loosely based on a true story of Japanese aid work volunteers who were captured in Iraq and eventually released only to face ostracism and resentment when they returned home. Japanese society blamed them, it seems, for bringing shame on Japan, who is part of the “Coalition of the Willing” in Iraq. Not only was their traumatic experience as hostages ignored, but the problem of “bashing” the released captives went unaddressed in the Japanese media and Japanese society at large.

Without this context, it may be impossible to understand the subversive nature of a quiet film like Bashing, which was meant not only to tell the tragic (fictionalized) story of a young woman who returns from Iraq to find herself blamed for her own pain, but also to publicly expose the unfair treatment of the hostages by Japanese society which had been hitherto roundly ignored. Not much of a brash political rallying cry, Bashing goes for the heart with its somber portrayal of the personal effect of this societal unjustness.

Though this is not a new release, I also recommend tracking down a copy of the original Thai version of Bangkok Dangerous. With Nicholas Cage on a quest, begun with Wicker Man, to see how many cult films he can ruin with terrible remakes, it behooves you to rent the original so that you can tell your friends how much better the Asian version was. I call this “The Departed/Infernal Affairs” Argument.

And if McG ever gets around to his proposed Americaized version of the classic British sitcom Spaced, I can teach you the the office/The Office Theory of British Comedic Superiority.

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