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last update 4.Aug.08
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Gravitation   Fateful First Encounter
Volume 1: Gravitation, Live in Soul, Stray Heart, Wave Shock
Bob Shirahata, Shinichi Watanabe
scr Maki Murakami, Bill Timoney
voices Rich McNanna, Daniel Kevin Harrison, Rome Elliot, Billy Regan, Bill Rogers, Kenneth Robert Marlo, Luke Novak, Brian Maillard, Angora Deb, Joe DiGiorgi, Jason Griffith, Georgette Reilly
shuichi and yuki
release UK 7.Jul.08 dvd
99/Japan Sony 1h44
gravitation The first four (of 13 total) episodes of this Japanese manga series are released on DVD with English dubbing. While it starts out awkwardly, the story works its way under the skin.

It centres on a new pop band called Bad Luck, with singer-songwriter Shuichi (voiced by McNanna) and guitarist Hiro (Harrison). Suffering writer's block as they prepare to record their first album, Shuichi meets the cool but ruthlessly cynical Yuki (Elliot) and becomes a bit obsessed with him. It turns that he has a link to the record label boss (Rogers). It also emerges that Shuichi's idol, pop sensation Ryuichi (Marlo), is one of Bad Luck's biggest fans. And with a new keyboardist (Novak) and Shuichi's natural instincts, they're on the verge of superstardom.

This is fairly cheap and cheerful design, with floppy-haired teens, pointy backgrounds and very bright colours. But while the script feels stilted and clunky, with strangely dull voices, the story is packed with inventive plotting, complex characters and hilarious humour. It's a fascinating mixture of comedy, drama, romance and Japanese pop music, and is so matter-of-fact about sexuality that it takes you aback: "If you love someone, what difference does it make if it's a guy or a girl? Just be happy!"

And the characters are fascinating. Shuichi is such an impulsive, optimistic, creative nutcase, that no one ever has a clue what he might do next. Meanwhile, Yuki is a harshly honest guy who hates the fact that Shuichi brings out his softer side, however briefly. Throwing these kinds of people together creates a charged sense of drama and romance that's nicely balanced by the more slapstick silliness and musical mayhem around them.

Frankly, a teenaged metrosexual pop band is such an odd premise for a manga series that we can't help but be gripped by it. It definitely proves that you don't need slick Western-style animation to tell a good story in the TV series format. And even the mediocre voice work is irrelevant when characters and script are this strong. Strangely addictive.

12 themes, violence, some language
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I Love Your Work
dir Adam Goldberg
scr Adam Goldberg, Adrian Butchart
with Giovanni Ribisi, Franka Potente, Joshua Jackson, Christina Ricci, Marisa Coughlan, Jason Lee, Jared Harris, Judy Greer, Vince Vaughn, Nicky Katt, Lake Bell, Haylie Duff
ribisi release US 4.Nov.05,
UK 30.Jun.08 dvd
03/US 1h51
i love your work Dark and interesting but virtually impenetrable, this surreal examination of the slippery mind of an unstable actor gives its cast members plenty to chew on, and offers some seriously eye-popping camera work. But what does it mean?

Gray Evans (Ribisi) is a famous actor with a glamorous wife (Potente), but his dedication to his craft has left him unable to distinguish real life from his movie roles. He's also consumed with paranoia on two fronts: that his wife is having a fling with her costar (Elvis Costello) and that a stalker, John (Jackson), is trying to kill him. But John is actually a nice-guy fan, and his girlfriend (Coughlan) isn't actually Gray's fantasy woman (Ricci). And there is a real stalker (Lee) out there. Or maybe it's all a movie.

This constant reality-shifting makes the film intriguing to watch, as scenes that constantly slip from movie set tedium to red carpet mayhem to real life confusion. We're constantly being wrong-footed, and this smarty-pants filmmaking is more than a little infuriating as director-cowriter Goldberg indulges in some actorly navel gazing while giving his pals intriguing scenes to play. At least the cast is first-rate on every level, adeptly portraying the Tinseltown's shiny surfaces and dark realities.

As a director, Goldberg playfully toys with images, dreams and film-set gimmickry, constantly undermining what we see with something else in Gray's mind. It's beautifully shot and sharply edited with a strong sense of humour, and it catches the same witty, knowing verisimilitude as Entourage. Even the dramatic or violent scenes have a layered quality to them that adds an almost Lynchian mixture of absurd comedy and underlying terror.

But the pretentious structure leaves us unsure if what we're watching is a fantasy in Gray's increasingly addled mind, a scene from a film he's making or something really happening to him. And clearly he's not so sure either. It's all seen through the barriers of film and video cameras, TV screens, paparazzi flashbulbs and actors fantasising. No one is who they seem to be. But if we can't tell who they really are, it's impossible to care.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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Psycho Beach Party
dir Robert Lee King
scr Charles Busch
with Lauren Ambrose, Thomas Gibson, Nicholas Brendon, Matt Keeslar, Charles Busch, Amy Adams, Kimberley Davies, Danni Wheeler, Nick Cornish, Andrew Levitas, Beth Broderick, Kathleen Robertson
gibson release US Sep.01,
UK 28.Jul.08
00/US Strand 1h35
psycho beach party Like Busch's earlier 2003 pastiche Die Mommie Die (also based on his play), this hysterical romp is so cheesy that you'll either love it or hate it. It may be scruffy and chaotic, but its cast of sparky characters is pure genius.

In a beachfront community, teens hang out either at the drive-in or the beach. When Florence (Ambrose) develops an interest in surfing, she seeks out the legendary daddy-o Kanaka (Gibson) for lessons. He's not interested in teaching a chick to surf, until he meets her sex-mad split personality. This drives the seductive Marvel Ann (Adams) round the bend, especially when Florence starts hanging ten with her surfer dude boyfriend Starcat (Brendon). Then people begin turning up dead one by one, and the killer could be anyone.

From the go-go girl titles to the Wizard of Oz spoof finale, this film is pure silliness, infusing two 1950s genres--beach party and scary movie--with beatnik cool and high camp. Everything is overdone, from lurid sets and costumes to corny surfing effects and the ridiculous murders. It often feels like an extended comedy sketch, but the cast and crew have just enough surprises up their sleeves to keep us laughing.

And the cast is pretty hilarious, with Ambrose going far over the top as both the doe-eyed Florence and her dominatrix alter ego. Meanwhile, the muscled surfers would rather squirt each other with tanning oil and wrestle on the beach than ogle the bikini babes. Every line and glance is infused with a double entendre. And this innuendo-o-rama approach continues into subplots involving a Swedish exchange student (Keesler), Florence's square pal (Wheeler), a local B-movie goddess (Davies) and the drag queen cop (Busch).

Meanwhile, the script plays with every genre cliche imaginable, and then some. This is a world in which anyone over 30 is perceived as a senior citizen and the smallest imperfection means death, socially and literally. Sure, the plot itself is pretty corny, as evidence piles up against everyone being the murderer, even though it's plainly obvious who it is. But we don't care; we just want the killing to stop so they can have another groovy party at the beach shack.

15 themes, language, innuendo, violence
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WTC View
dir-scr Brian Sloan
with Michael Urie, Nick Potenzieri, Liz Kapplow, Jay Gillespie, Lucas Papaelias, Jeremy Beazlie, Michael Linstroth
allen and roberts release US 1.Aug.06 dvd,
UK 21.Jul.08 dvd
05/US 1h42
wtcview A sensitive and thought-provoking look at the days following 9/11 from a uniquely involving angle, Sloan's adaptation of his own play feels rather stagey on screen but still packs a powerful punch.

In the weeks after September 11th, 2001, Eric (Urie) is trying to find a new lodger in his flat, which overlooks Ground Zero. He's just ended a relationship, and he's afraid to leave his home. But his best friend Josie (Kapplow) is helping him break out of his shell, and a stream of prospective tenants is offering him some perspective both on the terrorist attacks as well as on his own relationship. What he really needs is a bit of hope for the future, which seems unimaginable from his point of view.

The entire cast transfers from the play, with mixed results. Some of them find it difficult to tone down their acting for the cameras, and the result sometimes feels stiff and corny, although the scenes still work extremely well due to the astute script and a rock-solid central performance from Urie. After watching his terrific work as the bitchy Marc in Ugly Betty, it's intriguing to see how good he is in this earlier role, which is much more dramatic but is infused with the same casual honesty he brings to Marc. Frankly, his layered performance here shows a depth that really should be tapped by Ugly Betty writers.

And best of all is the way Sloan quietly touches on the big issues without ever grandstanding at all. The anxiety these characters feel is palpable and yet largely unspoken as they chatter about anything else as long as they can, then quietly drift into their stories of the fateful day, clearly needing to share their experiences to make sure they're not alone. And setting the story in New York's gay community adds another intriguing layer of meaning.

While the low budget and stage roots show clearly in the simple production values and limited cast, Sloan makes the most of the setting with subtle directing decisions. He also completely avoids sentimentality as he touches on serious, challenging themes with a remarkably light touch. This is one of those scruffy little movies that really works its way under your skin.

15 themes, language
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall