Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Okay. First things first. Fair warning. If you got linked here from some POWERPUFF GIRLS website, looking for a review of only that film, let me tell you now... I’m going to be talking about two movies in this review, and the other one is about as far from a Cartoon Network production as is possible. I’ll try and give you a signal before I shift into my comments on the second film, and when I do... run. Don’t walk. And don’t look back.
Anyone who still has trouble understanding why Harry and I spend time setting a review in context need only look at a day like Saturday to understand how important that is to understand how a reviewer reacts to something. My movie viewing day started the night before, in a way, when I got a mysterious call. “Hello... is this Moriarty?”
I’m used to mysterious calls. It’s to be expected at this point, quite frankly. “Yes. It is. Can I help you?”
”How would you like tickets for tomorrow morning to the POWERPUFF GIRLS premiere?” I looked at the clock. It was about 3:30 in the morning. Again, I’m somewhat used to this, considering the bizarre office hours I keep.
”What time is it?”
”11:00. I’ll drop the tickets off tomorrow morning. Just tell me where.”
I described the location of the Labs to the mysterious caller, telling him where to turn north from Franklin and explaining where the secret entrance to the Labs is, right there on the street under Kevin Smith’s new house. It was more fun to spy when it was Affleck’s party house. Smith’s such a family man. But I digress. The next morning, when I woke up, the tickets were waiting in an envelope, and I headed out for Century City.
The red carpet outside the premiere was surreal. It’s a good thing I’m too old to do any drugs harder than Metamucil, because I would have had a full-on Hunter S. Thompson moment at the sight of the hundreds of little kids running in every direction and the giant full-size Powerpuff Girls costumed characters wandering around and posing for photos with the kids. I sort of ricocheted off Tom Kinney, who does the voices of The Mayor and The Narrator for the show and the movie, and all I could think was, “Holy cow, that’s Binky The Clown!” Binky Fever... catch it! Then a giant costumed Mojo Jojo almost knocked me down, and I realized that I was like Godzilla in downtown Tokyo, hopelessly out of scale, a hazard to most of the people on the carpet. I ducked through the metal detectors, grabbed one of the drinks (mmmm... watered-down small Sprites for everyone!), and found a seat. They were giving away swag everywhere you turned, but it was all kid-oriented... little hats and bags with toys and cookies shaped like the characters. There was a host onstage in the front of the theater, teaching the kids dances and songs and doing contests to give away even more swag, and I swear I don’t think that guy took a breath once the entire morning. It was hard not to smile at the sheer manic energy of the whole thing. The kids were genuinely excited to be seeing this particular film, and I couldn’t help but flash on the crowd at the Chinese two weeks earlier for the SCOOBY-DOO premiere. Same company, AOL/Time-Warner, also a big kid’s premiere, with tons of kids in attendance. The energy was totally different, though. The kids at SCOOBY weren’t interested in the film. There was a group of girls in front of us who couldn’t have been older than nine, all of them already bored and cynical about the entire premiere experience, more worried about what “Freddy and Sarah” were wearing than about the film itself. It was funny and sad in equal measure. I didn’t detect even a bit of that in the pre-POWERPUFF audience, though. Those kids were there to have a good time.
And, once the lights went down, they did. There’s a special new DEXTER’S LABORATORY cartoon in front of the feature, and it’s a pleasant enough little short. I like Genndy Tartakovsky a lot (saw him settling into a seat a few rows in front of mine just before the lights went down), and I think he’s one of the best guys out there at pure cartoons right now. Still, I’m not familiar with DEXTER, really, and it seemed to be a long way to go for a fairly benign payoff at the end.
No worries, though. As soon as the short was over, the Warner Bros. logo came up, followed by the new Cartoon Network movies logo (as sweet and specific in its own way as the new Marvel Films logo I love so much), and then we’re off. It’s an 87 minute movie, and it never stops to take a breath. The opening credits show Professor Utonium (voiced by Tom Kane) in his lab, at work, while a monkey rampages around the lab. Anyone familiar with the show knows what’s coming, but if you don’t, you can just sit back and let director Craig McCracken do his job. This is, in its own way, a superhero movie, and it knows the form quite well. It’s an origin story, but it’s also an arch-enemy story. The first half of the film details the creation of the Powerpuff Girls and their gradual acclimation to their superpowers. The second half of the film sees them go head to head with Mojo Jojo (voiced by Roger L. Jackson), their greatest enemy.
It’s pretty much just that simple. The girls are created, and they’re each given names appropriate to their personalities: Blossom (Catherine Cavadini), “because she is so open, so curious, so ready to ask questions”; Bubbles (Tara Strong), “because of her bubbly laugh”; and the appealingly grouchy Buttercup (E.G. Daily), “because that name ALSO starts with a B.” Professor Utonium is prepared to raise them as his own, as normal little girls, never realizing what Chemical X has done to them. The film’s biggest and best sequence involves an innocent game of tag on the playground of their elementary school that turns into a full-blown discovery of their powers that almost levels Townsville. There’s a real joy of animation and storytelling in this sequence, and it’s beautiful in a hyper-stylized way. The girls are outcasts because of the innocent destruction they wreak upon the city, and the Professor is arrested. Just when things are at their worst, a mysterious friend shows up, a familiar monkey with an enormous exposed brain. What the girls don’t realize is that they’re being used for a plan that will see every human being in Townsville under the control of a race of super-intelligent monkeys, all of them under the command of Mojo Jojo, also created in the explosion that made them who they are.
And, yes, all of this is just as silly onscreen as it sounds here. That’s part of the appeal.
There are moments of glorious, sublime silliness here. Personally, I love it when Mojo Jojo uses Chemical X and a machine built by the Powerpuff Girls (see the film for the explanation) to transform all the monkeys and apes in Townsville into super-intelligent apes like himself, intent on commanding them as an army, only to have each of them declare themselves the leader, with wars breaking out between each maniacal monkey despot and no one paying even the slightest hint of attention to Mojo Jojo. Many of the monkeys build robots for themselves, and one of them that made me laugh out loud actually drops little pellet bomb turds into its hand and throws them at people. Someone must have been laughing so hard they had trouble holding a pencil while they drew that. It’s inventive, sweet as can be, and doesn’t overstay its welcome by even a moment. If you have a POWERPUFF fan in your house or you are one yourself, you will be enormously pleased by the film, andif you’re not, this is as good a time as any to check and see if the particular charms of the cartoon might work on you.
And now, if you just came for the POWERPUFF GIRLS review, it’s time for you to go. I drove across town later in the afternoon to the Egyptian, where I went to a 5:00 screening, part of the Japanese Outlaw Masters series that I mentioned a few weeks ago.
This is your last warning.
I’m going to talk about ICHI THE KILLER.
I’m not kidding.
Takashi Miike must be Japanese for “cum and blood,” because I have never seen anyone so fixated on painting a screen with bodily fluids. There is a gleeful malevolence to the work that Miike does that is unequalled in film right now. If there is anyone who has taken up the mantle of “most trangressive filmmaker working” long since abandoned by cinematic institutions like David Cronenberg and John Waters, it is Miike. The man is like a tumor, a diseased organ pumping out films that are unhealthy, infected, sure to do damage.
And, god help me, I like what he’s up to.
Here’s a review I got in earlier today from “Izzy The Killer,” a reader who was at the same event at the Egyptian. He does a good job of setting up the plot:
First time writing in and fresh from the American Cinematheque (at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood). I just finished up a weekend of Seijun Suzuki's "Pistol Opera" and Takeshi Miike's "Ichi the Killer" as part of the Revenge of the Japanese Outlaw Masters 4 film series. Both shows were packed, although moreso for the latter. I suspect that anticipation would be built up by Miike's growing cache as he consistently resets the bar for disturbing films deemed too violent for audience members under 18. The last Outlaw Masters film series was the debut of "Audition" and better video rental shops carry "Visitor Q", each more horrifying than the last. Next up "Ichi the Killer"...
Ichi is a hitman of sorts, who is mentally abused and brainwashed to believe that his hits are bullies and bad guys who must be killed in the name of the little guy. Ichi's mentor / boss had taken Ichi in as a small child who killed his parents. The benefactor forces false memories into Ichi - memories of torture, abuse, rape, bullying, and helplessness at the hands of children and class mates. Years later the result is a crying, unstable and unstoppable killing machine that disembowels, beheads, saws asunder, chops and slashes his hits - all the while dressed like a super hero.
Ichi is hired to kill off the Anjo clan as rival syndicate members take over the video porn industry with Anjo's demise. The killing alarms Anjo clan who go about searching for Ichi and a bag of money stolen by Ichi and his clean-up crew. Make no mistake, the clean-up crew is literally a clean-up crew who is tasked with mopping up after Ichi. Yakuza torture methods to shake down info on Ichi include piercing, burning with tempura oil, cutting off tongues, cutting off nipples, breaking off arms, etc. etc. All violence is graphic and bloody bloody bloody.
Remarkably this film is a yakuza revenge thriller comedy, and is extremely funny albeit horrifying. Somehow Miike has found a way to make a wholly unreasonable film that is both entertaining and hugely successful in Japan. Miike has completely perverted the genre of said yakuza revenge thrillers, and just in time! See this film if you are a fan of Asian cinema or gangster films, but I recommend keeping at least one hand free to cover your eyes.
As long as that’s all you’re using that one hand for, Izzy. I will admit to being a little disturbed by just how hard some of the people around me were laughing at certain things, but I guess that’s a natural reaction. You have to do something when confronted with these images. Just sitting there in silence seems impossible. Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) is a bleached-blonde masochist who becomes the main rival to Ichi (Nao Omari) over the course of the film. No one actually knows who Ichi is. He’s a mystery, and everyone imagines a total monster, which is one of the things that Miike totally screws with. His “hero” is a snivelling, crybaby, impotent mess who kills with razor lined heels while dressed in a hysterically silly sculpted rubber costume. If you can ever watch one of the Warner Bros. BATMAN films again with a straight face after seeing Ichi in action, I admire your ability to compartmentalize. Me? I’m ruined. This movie is just so persuasively silly. Of course, it’s hard to dismiss a film as “silly” when it features nipples being cut off on screen, some insane tricks with needles, tongues being severed, opening titles written in semen, rape, and the graphic onscreen death of children. It’s hard to justify to someone who wants to be offended. If you're looking to get outraged, this film will do the trick. And I'm not saying you're wrong, either. I can’t say that ICHI THE KILLER is making some important moral point or reaching for some sort of higher meaning with the use of these images, and I’m sure Miike would openly laugh at anyone who tried. This is a film that exists simply to sandblast your eyes and your sensibilities, a movie that assaults you with a sort of genial charm. It is fouler than Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE. Even Miike’s earlier films like AUDITION and DEAD OR ALIVE and VISITOR Q are like mere warm-ups for the almost orchestral perversion of this film. And, oddly, it’s thematically very similar to POWERPUFF GIRLS THE MOVIE. They’re both knowing riffs on the superhero story, with the origin material turned inside out.
Both films also place innocents in roles where they are turned into weapons by people with shadowy motives, tricking them by appealing to their sense of what’s right. The Powerpuff Girls help Mojo Jojo because they believe that he is going to help them do something so wonderful that all of Townsville will have no choice but to accept them. Ichi is convinced that he was bullied and beaten down as a child, and he doesn’t want that to happen to anyone else. There’s a moment where he karate kicks a 12 year old bully, practically crushing his chest, and he does it because he’s standing up for a boy who is in the exact position he was brainwashed to believe he was always in. Ichi is a child, emotionally speaking, looking for some way to harness these horrible powers of his and find acceptance and peace.
Also, laying out the plots of these two films is hardly fair. These aren’t films about plot. These are films about details, and both films deliver exactly what they promise. POWERPUFF GIRLS is filled with the same sly character humor as the television show, and ICHI THE KILLER is filled with the exact sort of extreme imagery that Miike fans have come to demand. Both films are extreme exercises in tone and style, and both are so extreme as to be nearly abstract.
Dear God... if not for the chronological proximity of the two screenings, would I really be comparing the films right now? And would they be making sense like that? In any case, it’s extremes like this that keep me dizzy in love with what the movies can do. How else could I have had experiences this divergent in one day? I guess I could have volunteered at a daycare center and gone on a killing spree in Koreatown later that night, but there are any number of problems with that scenario.
Instead, I’m just pleased that these two films have become jumbled now in my memory, entangled. It’s just the way I like it, sweet and sour thoroughly mixed, and whatever your taste, seek out the appropriate picture. You’ll be glad you did.