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Before I talk about the number 1 on this list, which I’m not sure I even want to talk about, I figured to take a quick stop at the Worst Things of the Year, things that you must avoid. In no particular order, because I just cannot decide… (I left one thing off this list because it happens to be one of my friend’s favorite movies, and I’d feel bad trashing on it… let’s say it’s a particular Tony Scott movie with a particular actress from a particular pirate movie…)

The Takashi Miike Catalogue

Well I still have yet to finish Sukiyaki Western Django, and when I do expect to see a review; I’m torn so far. I have however seen — let’s see… two halves, one third, and one whole of his movies. None were good. He had probably the weakest segment on Three… Extremes, and everything else — 13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer, and Shinjuku Triad Society, were all terrible.

There’s no filmmaker I’ve wanted to like more than Miike but simply could not — he turns me in the opposite direction every time. I look at his filmography and see titles and recognize a few of them, but they all seem to be about ultraviolent guys busting each others’ brains out. Oh right, extreme Asian cinema — I love that stuff. Chan Wook Park n shit? No.

Park may have had some violence against women in… every movie so far, I suppose, but never rape. I don’t know rape is really where I draw the line on cinema violence. Irreversible sucks (but for more reasons than that). Cinema violence for me is very important. It’s escapism if it’s gratuitous, and it can be artful if it serves a purpose. People getting shot in Paul Verhoeven movies, people getting bludgeoned in Park movies, people getting mutilated in The Thing, which I just talked about here. I love it all, but when I have to watch for even one minute a girl screaming and being chased around by some dude — even a villain — I freaking hate that shit.

It’s not fun, and is that not what the exploitation mentality is all about? I suppose I’ve never really watched any women-in-prison movies or anything like that, but even those are supposed to be arousing. Entertainment, by some degree. This is just stupid.

So while the violence is good, the other shit is always bad.

It sucks because Sukiyaki Western Django tells me definitively, and for many reasons, that Miike is the Asian Tarantino. Not only because Tarantino’s making a Django movie, or because he’s in this movie, but Sukiyaki is totally grindhouse post-modern. I’ll talk about that later, but in premise it’s a pretty good idea.

The Office: Season 8

Before we begin, let’s do a quick recap of the fall of this TV show…
Season 5: The last time The Office was genuinely good. Once Idris Elba leaves and the Michael Scott Paper Company arc is over (which seemed troubling at the time), stop watching the show.
Season 6: Super over-the-top, some funny moments. Kind of uncomfortable to watch.
Season 7: Very worrisome. No laughs, any episode. Embarassing to watch.

For a time The Office was one of my favorite shows. But they just kept making bad decisions, and the characters got really, really terrible. I never realized but Jim was an incredibly interesting character, because his sense of superiority that the sitcom straight man usually carries (acknowledged by Lindsay on Arrested Development), must be very well balanced. Jim was always kind of an asshole, but nowadays, when that assholicism isn’t balanced by wit or realism or sympathy, he’s just a plan dick.

Dwight is annoying. He’s no longer the naïve ass-kisser — he’s an aggressive weirdo. Pam is one-dimensional, she only talks about the baby, which is… less than exciting. Robert California adds nothing, Gabe is still here for some reason. Andy is the boss and he isn’t what he used to be, Erin is strange, and their relationship is the least compelling of the five or so that’ve been on this show.

The supporting characters have become caricatures of their past selves. They jockey for the camera and act out — shout, dance — one could never possibly mistake this office for a workplace. Old Office worked so well because the comedy was not only well written, but organic. The writers applied comedy to the workplace environment, and the writers now seem to do the opposite, force the workplace into your typical bad sitcom.

The decline has been steady. Each season has gotten worse, and though there are a few glimmers of hope, like the John Krasinski-directed episode which wasn’t totally terrible, and Craig Robinson and the new warehouse. But I’m rarely optimistic. Once a show goes south, it rarely gets back.

Honorable Mentions (For Good Stuff)

Well I totally forgot about Letters from Iwo Jima, so there you have it. Also good was Hobo with a Shotgun, which you should definitely check out. Better than Machete, maybe a little less awesome than Grindhouse.

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It would be helpful, or maybe just interesting, to know what goes through our friend Takashi Miike’s head before he embarks on making one of these gangster pictures. He doesn’t seem to want to say anything, or revolutionize the formulaic genre, but he makes so many of them – there’s got to be a reason. I can’t imagine spending two years making a movie like Shinjuku Triad Society and ending up with something so bland, so unspecial. Say what you will about Ichi the Killer (it sucks), at least it was different, going all the way on the perverse meter and giving us a distinct, disturbing host of images to haunt our dreams forever.

Shinjuku Triad Society on the other hand ventures to the edge, but merely peers over. Sure, there’s more man-on-man cocksucking that I’ve ever seen on film, and a cop-on-the-edge who takes to rape and brutality whenever the chips are down, but in between all the “oh my god no” moments – the movie was practically asking for me to fall asleep. To be fair, I don’t really care about the crime-drama genre, and think that out of all of them the South Central gangsters will always be the most interesting, but there are a special few non-John Woo Asian gangster movies I really dig.

Takashi Miike is a director who I really, really want to like. Glancing over his filmography we find a range of colorful titles that pull me in – Full Metal Yakuza, Sukiyaki Western Django, Happiness of the Katakuris – and the movies of his I’ve seen all have great premises. In Shinjuku Triad Society, and by extension Ichi the Killer, we have an ultraviolent picture about some messed-up gangsters and a disturbing exploration into the pyschological darkness of Japan’s worst. Sounds good, but the execution is less like a Wong Kar Wai gangster flick and more like… mean-spirited characters I hate.

A Wong Kar Wai movie like As Tears Go By is thick with melodrama and has very little violence. Absolutely no sexuality or nudity – an experience with less (or no, rather) exploitative distractions from what it’s saying. With Shinjuku Triad Society, what begins as your by-the-numbers crime-drama descends slowly and painstakingly into a shambling, stumbling farce: aggresive but empty cinema. That’s also what I got from what I saw of 13 Assassins, a movie with an amazing trailer.

A criticism I recall regarding the films of Martin Scorsese that I totally agree with was that these characters are all jerks. Why should I care about their success? That’s exactly how I felt about this movie. None of the character appealed to me; the opposite, in fact. What is it about this movie that inspired Miike to make it? Couldn’t be the characters, or the story, or the themes, so it must be the violence. The entire movie feels like a vehicle for the gruesome violence, including one actually kind of ‘cool’ instance where the cop slams a chair down on a suspect lying on the interrogation table – we cut to big Japanese title letters on impact. Very effective.

Unfortunately the quality goes downhill from there but the classic Miike misogyny only ramps up. Boy, there’s nothing that entertains me more than violence against women. Forced sex? Color me impressed!

I’ll give the guy one more chance, but if I see another movie like this, I’m hanging it up on this dude. I hate to say “too Japanese,” because Japan is awesome, right? But

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