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GOZU Ever since the 2001 American release of “Audition,” Japanese director Takashi Miike has rapidly found a cult following in the U.S. Oddly enough, that’s the only Miike film to receive much of a theatrical release. His audience seems to follow him mostly on video: one local store carries 20 Miike DVDs, half of them bootlegs or imports. The Sundance Channel plays his films frequently. Unfortunately, “Gozu” is unlikely to attract any new converts. Rather than breaking fresh ground, it’s a lazy, tedious retread of ideas and images from Miike’s earlier films. Minami (Hideki Sone) is an underling to yakuza Ozaki (Sho Aikawa). Ozaki seems to be going crazy. Convinced that a tiny Chihuahua, which he sees outside a restaurant, is an attack dog trained to kill gangsters, he kills it. The gang boss decides that Ozaki has become a security risk and Minami is ordered to kill him. Reluctant to do so, he manages to get the job done accidentally, when Ozaki breaks his neck in a car accident. The opening and closing reels of “Gozu” are pretty solid, but its 129 minutes are a rough ride. Although there’s some violence, it’s hardly a conventional gangster film. Nor is it simply an exercise aimed at exploring the bizarre. As the film progresses, it looks increasingly like a love story between Minami and Ozaki. At its most ambitious, it plays around with identity in a manner akin to David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Drive,” but this comes as too little, too late. One wonders why Pathfinder was attracted to this film when better work, like “Graveyard of Honor,” goes undistributed. Still, there’s always something to look forward to when you’re a Miike fan. Since “Gozu” premiered at Cannes last year, he’s already made five films, two of them for television. None have yet played in New York. Hopefully, for all the flaws in “Gozu,” there’s a Miike gem on the way. Cinema Village. (S. Erickson)

LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF The best piece of film criticism I’ve encountered lately isn’t from a book, newspaper or magazine article. It’s a film—“Los Angeles Plays Itself,” a 169-minute documentary about how Los Angeles, “the most photographed city in the world,” has been depicted in cinema. The kind of masterpiece that expands one’s notions of what film can do, its closest peer is Jean-Luc Godard’s “Histoire(s) du Cinema,” a densely poetic and allusive work that’s often been compared to James Joyce. Unlike Godard’s film, “Los Angeles” is quite accessible and even better paced than the vast majority of action films. Early on, Andersen’s narration, delivered by Encke King, takes a swipe at the abbreviation of Los Angeles to L.A. which he finds implicitly contemptuous. Cynical New Yorkers may scoff or find this concern petty, but such caveats are crucial to the film’s ethos. “Los Angeles Plays Itself” takes the unfashionable stance that cinema should have a direct, accurate relationship to reality. For Andersen, this is both an aesthetic and moral position. One of his lessons is simple—the link between film and reality undoubtedly exists. If documentaries are increasingly praised for their dramatic skill, Andersen wonders, why can’t fiction be appreciated as accidental documentary? He depicts the evolution and eventual destruction of the Bunker Hill neighborhood through a series of fictional clips. In the 1940s, it was a respectable, working-class area. It grew seedier in 1950s film noir. By the early 1970s, it could be used as a backdrop for post-apocalyptic science fiction, and one 1990s film used it as a computer-created “virtual” city. “Los Angeles Plays Itself” is as sprawling and multifaceted as the city it revolves around. Film Forum. (S. Erickson)

SHE HATE ME There is a certain skill, I suppose, in presenting a film that, while crammed with lesbian characters, revolves wholly around the fantasy fulfillment of the main male character. The adult film industry has mastered this technique, as has Spike Lee in his new release “She Hate Me.” Lee might as well be Sidney Poitier coming to dinner, so much does Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) represent the ideal of the upwardly mobile urban black male, the junior vice president of Progeia, a pharmaceutical company seeking approval for an HIV cure. Life is good for Jack, until the doctor working with him on the project tosses himself out a 50th floor window in a showy suicide. Encountering a spate of late-night paper shredding, Jack turns whistle blower, and before you can say Securities and Exchange Commission, the golden boy is drummed out of the company, his assets frozen and his reputation discredited. So when his former girlfriend Fatima (Kerry Washington) comes knocking on the door of his tastefully-furnished Brooklyn brownstone with her sexy lesbian lover in tow, offering a wad of cash in exchange for impregnating them, Armstrong is easily persuaded. Before you can say “man milk,” Fatima has Jack dropping his shorts and pounding home. Her sexy Dominican girlfriend, Alex (Dania Ramirez), balks at the idea of making babies the old-fashioned way—imagine, a lesbian who doesn’t like having sex with men—and splits. But it ends up that Jack’s juice has what it takes; Fatima is knocked up, and soon comes knocking again—this time with a half-dozen lesbian friends, all with ticking biological clocks and $10,000 cash in hand. Some comic relief is had in watching Jack pop Viagra and down energy drinks in order to keep it up for the ensuing rounds of banging lesbian mommies-to-be. And the lesbian characters themselves are comic, each one a perfect stereotype, each round progressively more dyke-like. Where the first six women were beautiful femmes like Fatima, the next are clearly more corporate types, while the third group seems comprised entirely of WNBA point guards. None seem to have heard of the scientific breakthrough that is the turkey baster. The film soon switches back to the matters of Progeia, and their dealings with the SEC. Matters are complicated when Jack bestows a mercy fuck of sorts to beautiful latecomer (Monica Bellucci), a Mafioso’s lesbian daughter. When the henchmen of the liberal don (played by John Turturro) scoop up Jack to visit grandpa, the police are there to photograph the momentous occasion. A black cop collars Jack, raining down racist invectives about “another nigger dropping babies all over the place.” Many in the audience felt as though the lesbian insemination subplot was a simple matter of capitalism—an exchange of cash for goods and services rendered. But Lee makes much of the fact that Jack is “going to hell for this,” answering this reporter’s follow-up question at a press screening on June 8 with, “A black man with 19 kids—come on!” Playing citywide. (W. McCroy)

TRANSFIXED The hypnotic Belgian film, “Transfixed” is notable not just for featuring a transgendered heroine named Bo (Robinson Stévenin), but for being an above-average thriller. Director Francis Girod takes all of the standard crime conventions—a serial killer, red herrings, and obsessive love— and turns them on their head to create an absorbing story. “Everyone had a secret,” says one character, and this line is particularly apt as no one is quite sure who or what they seem to be. In fact, the filmmaker’s dark humor suggests that Bo is the most well adjusted character. “Transfixed” opens with Bo’s father being carried off by the police after being charged with molesting young boys, and a detective, Paul Huysmans (Richard Bohringer), pressing Bo to testify in the case. Bo is uncomfortable drudging up painful childhood memories, but since Bo is also a suspect in the murders of her transsexual prostitute friends, she cooperates with the cops. Bo also encounters trouble in the form of her sexy neighbor Johnny (Stéphane Metzger), who is attracted to Bo—note his erection when he waits on her at a restaurant—but he hates her for turning him on. Bo, however, is smitten, and will go to great lengths for her man, even if this means accepting abuse from him. Their unique “romance”––if that’s what it can be called–– charged with erotic tension, and just one of the provocative elements in this audacious story. The mystery element of “Transfixed” does not disappoint either. The film contains a few sequences—such as one where Bo breaks into a friend’s apartment—that generate real suspense. And while astute viewers may identify the killer early on, knowing “whodunnit” does not detract from the suspense. What is more, the victims are all endearing characters, making the impact of their deaths on Bo more affecting. It should be noted that the body count in “Transfixed” is quite high, and there is considerable bloodshed. Quad Cinema (L. Kramer)

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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