WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
The Americanization of Anime. This long-awaited (and long-on-the-shelf) live-action rendition of the popular Japanese graphic novel series by Akira Toriyama is a spectacularly silly laugh-out-loud abomination that begs borrows and steals from a wide variety of sci-fi and fantasy predecessors in telling the “epic” (ha!) story of Goku (Justin Chatwin) a young warrior destined to do battle with the forces of evil in pursuit of seven mystical “Dragon Balls” that entitle the bearer to absolute superiority over the universe. Or something like that. It really doesn’t matter although all the talk about the power of the “Dragon Balls” does yield some hearty laughs — for all the wrong reasons.
WHO'S IN IT?
A lot of actors who probably wish they weren’t. Chief among them is Chow Yun-Fat continuing his unlucky streak in American films. Wearing a perennial smile and a loud Hawaiian shirt he acts as the de-facto mentor for our hero dispensing words of wisdom (in some universe undoubtedly) and occasionally executing some fancy martial-arts moves. Even for Chow’s most ardent admirers it’s not enough. Emmy Rossum (who perhaps should have known better) and Jamie Chung provide some eye candy alongside Chatwin as fellow female warriors while a green-skinned James Marsters growls and snarls as the film’s resident villain the megalomaniacal Piccolo (now there’s a name that’s sure to make audiences shudder). Ernie Hudson’s in it too — and even manages to hold onto his dignity. This is not a film that many if any of the participants are going to be touting on their resumes anytime soon — if at all.
Extremely little. To its (dis)credit Dragonball Evolution does murder time. You’ll never get those 90 minutes back again. If it comes down to seeing this or seeing your dentist keep the latter appointment.
Where to begin? The script … the acting … the direction … the editing. Several scenes have been cut with such frenzied abandon that it’s nearly impossible to ascertain precisely what’s going on. Fans of the original Dragonball series may have a head start — and this rendition may well disappoint or infuriate them — but neophytes and newcomers will have a hard time determining precisely what’s going on. Not that it matters much. Even by the campiest of comic-books standards this is a shoddy effort. The brief running time (under 90 minutes) is a dead giveaway that the studio’s shears were put to work and the timing of its release by Fox indicates that the studio was perhaps trying to make some quick pre-summer coin in advance of Wolverine especially given Chatwin’s Wolv-like coif.
LINES TO REMEMBER:
“The first rule is: There are no rules.”
“Somebody stole my Prometheum Orb.”
“Prepare to eat dirt.”
“Teach me how to be normal.”
“The Dragon Balls are in my grasp!”
LINES TO FORGET:
IT'S NEVER A GOOD IDEA TO ...
Make a movie with “ball” or “balls” in the title — especially if it’s a bad movie.
If you absolutely have to see this movie see it with friends. And please make one of them the designated driver.
Cooked up in the head of Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) comes the movie in which he makes his directorial debut. Without Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze sifting through the maze this time Kaufman himself weaves this crazy quilt with consummate skill. In other words Synecdoche New York is just as successfully quirky humane and head scratching as all the others in the Kaufman ouerve. To sum up the plot succinctly is impossible but it centers on a stage director and hypochondriac Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who trades in his suburban life with wife Adele (Catherine Keener) daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein) and regional theatrical work in Schenectady for a chance at Broadway. He puts together a cast (resembling those in his own dream world) and brings them to a Manhattan warehouse being designed as a replica of the city outside. As the world he is creating inside these walls expands so does the focus of his own life and relationships. As the years literally fly by he gets deeper into his theatrical self which soon starts to merge with his own increasingly pathetic reality. Whatever you make of the tale Kaufman is telling here the casting could not be better or more suited to the quirky material. Philip Seymour Hoffman offers up a tour-de-force and is simply superb playing all the tics and foibles of the deeply disturbed Caden. His early scenes in his “normal” home are wonderfully alive with all his phobias and hypochondria in view. Later we literally watch this man disintegrate as his master creation overwhelms him. Hoffman seems to fully understand the mental trauma of a man running as far from his own realities as he possibly can. Catherine Keener as always is right on target as his wife Adele. She has a knack for taking what seems like tiny moments and making them define exactly who this woman is. Jennifer Jason Leigh as a mentor to Caden’s daughter is always fascinating to watch and plays Maria with an ounce of irony. Tom Noonan playing the actor portraying Caden in the play is the perfect doppelganger and delightfully adds to Caden’s confused state. The all-pro trio of Michelle Williams as Caden’s new wife Claire; Samantha Morton as the irresistible assistant Hazel; and Hope Davis as Caden’s self-absorbed therapist add greatly to the merry mix. It’s nice to watch Charlie Kaufman seize control of his own work. In this instance he’s really the only one who can deliver us his Fellini-esque vision. Centering it all on the theatrical director’s weird universe Synecdoche does seem like it might be Kaufman’s own take on Fellini’s 8 ½ or even Woody Allen’s paean to that film Stardust Memories. Let’s just say we know most of it must exist somewhere inside Kaufman. Early domestic scenes could have been played flat but the novice director moves the camera around skillfully enough to make us immediately engaged in Caden’s world. Second half of the film set in the phantasmagoric warehouse is a stunning tapestry of scenes from Kaufman’s singularly fertile imagination. It’s nice to note he’s well equipped with the basic tools a director needs for this type of challenging material. Overall his film is a surprising confounding visual feast -- a dream/nightmare come to life and then spinning out of control.
The Chinese proverb that all emotions are intertwined and so are people is depicted in The Air I Breathe using four very diverse characters from very diverse worlds known only by the emotions they represent. The story starts off with Happiness (Forest Whitaker) a lonely banker who realizes he has let life pass him by until he decides to take chances much like his mysterious client Pleasure (Brendan Fraser). What Happiness doesn't know is that Pleasure is the lead henchman to a gangster named Fingers (Andy Garcia). Happiness overhears co-workers talk about a sure bet at a horse race and decides to bet more than he has and so ends up owing Fingers. Meanwhile Fingers wins a contract to represent popular pop singer Sorrow (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and she turns suicidal when she finds out he is her new manager. Then she takes an interest in Pleasure. And in another story Love (Kevin Bacon) is frantically searching for a rare blood type to save his old girlfriend (Julie Delpy) from a snake bite. It just so happens Sorrow has the type Love is looking for. Finally Fingers' self-absorbed nephew Tony (Emile Hirsch) is flying into town and he just wants to have fun; Fingers assigns a reluctant Pleasure to the task. Sure you could say that Gellar is just playing herself as she deals with rude journalists and overzealous fans but she plays a range of emotion and pathos she hasn't tapped into since the end of her popular TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fraser is equally surprising. He's not played someone so stiff and unpleasant since he made a splash with indie film Gods and Monsters. Fraser also shows a strong range as Pleasure who ends up becoming surprisingly sympathetic. Bacon and Whitaker are in rather low-key roles that don't seem to push their talents and Hirsch is simply irritating in his one-note role. Garcia is famous for playing gangsters (Godfather Part III anyone?) and Fingers is just as brutal and deadly named for his preference to cut off people’s fingers. His presence is chilling every time he walks into a room. He embodies fear the emotion which seems to linger over or tamp down the emotions of the others. First-time director/co-writer Jieho Lee makes a superb debut with an A-list cast and a compelling story. Even though it has the feel of an ancient Chinese proverb The Air I Breathe is set in a Western city (in actuality it was shot in Mexico City) and is reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz: Sorrow as Dorothy blithely seeking her career; Love as the Scarecrow; Pleasure as the heartless Tin Man; and Happiness as the Cowardly Lion. Fingers' role is not only both the good and bad witches he is also the Great and Powerful Oz as well who manipulates their lives but ultimately has no power at all. Lee tosses in subtle filmic references to his movie influences but the over-the-top third act takes away from the fine subtleties he sets up early in the film.