‘Wolf’s Calling’ Review: The past is a weapon in Toshiaki Toyoda’s new short film

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By Michael B. Murphy

Featuring an impressive lineup of actors, traditional Japanese musical instruments, and elements of chanbara cinema, Wolf’s Calling is a captivating short film/music video hybrid about a gun, a girl and the radical act of remembering. 

In April of last year, director Toshiaki Toyoda (whose previous films include Blue Spring and 9 Souls) was arrested at his home on suspicion of possessing a firearm. Fortunately, the 51-year-old filmmaker was cleared of any wrongdoing and released from jail days later when investigators discovered his gun was actually a World War II-era family heirloom that no longer worked.

Promoted as Toyoda’s response to his arrest, the 17-minute short Wolf’s Calling is a contemplative and political tale about a girl reconnecting to her nation’s past after discovering a long-forgotten gun. It’s also a badass music video scored by the Japanese anti-modernist punk band Seppuku Pistols.

Warning: Spoilers Below

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News: Film critic Roger Ebert dead at the age of 70

Photo courtesy of www.thedailybeast.com

Famed film critic and journalist Roger Ebert succumbed to a long battle with cancer on Thursday, April 4th, 2013.

Ebert was the first film critic to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism as well as the first film critic to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Anyone who gives a damn about movies knows the importance of Ebert’s work in celebrating the art of film. It is with great sadness that his fans must say goodbye to him.

Ebert was an enthusiastic fan of all types of film and Japanese cinema was no exception. 16 Japanese films appeared on his “Great Movies” list which included Kurosawa’s samurai epic Yojimbo, Miyazaki’s animated My Neighbor Tototro, and the 2009 Academy Award winner for best foreign language film Departures.

Roger Ebert is survived by his wife Chaz Ebert and countless fans of his work.

 

‘Stoker’ Review: A near evil masterpiece

Rating: R
Length: 99 minutes
Director: Park Chan-wook

Stars:
India Stoker: Mia Wasikowska
Charlie Stoker – Matthew Goode
Evelyn Stoker – Nicole Kidman

Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut Stoker is somewhat of an odd duck. As a meditation on the inherent evil that resides in all of us – how this seed of evil can be nurtured and encouraged by another – Stoker is a beautifully macabre experience, filled with rich imagery and symbolism that make it a worthy addition to the pantheon of Chan-wook’s films (e.g. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance and I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK). Unfortunately, Stoker’s script (written by former Prison Break star Wentworth Miller) often works against the films powerful visual storytelling, undermining it with several predictable revelations and some odd characterizations that will compromise the suspension of disbelief of many of its audience.

Evil is a common theme found throughout Chan-wook’s filmography and no where is it more prevalent than in Stoker. There are multiple murders committed throughout the film and they are often ghastly. With one exception, none of the killings are done in self-defense – they are lustful executions. One female character masturbates in a shower, reliving the image of a young man’s neck being snapped with a belt. Many viewers of the film will find this too appalling and off-putting to be able to see the larger message that Chan-wook is attempting to convey about the seeds of evil that can blossom in all of us.

The story focuses on Mia Wasikowska’s character, 18-year old India Stoker, a meek and sheltered young woman with porcelain skin, who is grieving the loss of her father, Richard (played in flashbacks by Dermot Mulroney), who was just killed in a mysterious automobile accident. Richard’s death prompts a visit from his brother Charlie, an uncle India never knew existed. Very quickly the family’s world is turned upside down as Charlie moves in and begins seducing both India and her emotionally unbalanced mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman who gives an great, icy performance).

As we get to know more about Charlie – he has just returned from a lengthy European business trip, he informs the family – we can immediately sense something is not quite right about him. Early on in the film, the loyal housemaid, Mrs. McGarrick, is seen shouting at Charlie, clearly not happy to see him return and inect himself into the Stoker family dynamics. Later, Charlie’s Aunt Gina visits and attempts to warn the mother and daughter about their new housemate.

It becomes quite evident early on it’s India who Charlie is ultimately trying to seduce. He sees an evilness inside of her that resembles his own and uses his good looks and charm to bring about a sexual and murderous awakening in his niece. Charlie begins to ensnare India in his violent web, making her complicit in his murderous actions and, you know what? India seems to love every minute of it.

As mentioned earlier, the main problem with Stoker is its script. Chan-wook does a wonderful job ratcheting up the suspense at all the right moments, masterfully juggling several taut and suspenseful intercutting scenes that all build into a crazed, blood-soaked crescendo. However, the big reveals are never that shocking, most are predictable, and no matter how damn good Chan-wook is at building up to the film’s payoff scenes (and he is that damn good), they are, in effect, flaccid and lacking the punch needed in a psychological thriller like this because the script shows most of its cards to soon.

It’s because of this that Stoker works best as a symbolic visual representation of how evil is attracted to evil – how the evil in all of us can be brought to the surface by the most unlikeliest of sources. Unfortunately, because of its script, Stoker never quite reaches the heights that it should, given its exceptionally talented cast and director, but despite all this, one cannot walk away from this film and not have a visceral reaction – which is something all quality art should evoke.