Star Treatment

When it comes to issues of tabloid snoops and superstar nudity, the movie suddenly takes an all too serious tone, one befitting its female star's attempt to poke fun without, you know, making fun or having fun. At one point, the tabloids get hold of nude pictures Anna sat for early in her career. Even worse, Anna complains to William, someone filmed the photo shoot so that it now looks as though she made a porn film. Pardon? Exactly what kind of a photo shoot was this? Inquiring minds want to know -- well, every inquiring mind except William, who seems utterly oblivious to the whole star thing, the good, the bad and the ugly side of fame (and the irony blows straight out the window). Never mind that during the first part of the film, the jokes stem from his close-knit set of friends "discovering" that he's dating a celebrity. Hey, William simply likes Anna for who she is. OK. Fine. But the question forever remains: Why?

The big romance here isn't between William and Anna; they're almost unnecessary, pretty people in a pretty movie about pretty much nothing. Rather, the love affair's between Hollywood and itself: Notting Hill offers another example of moviemakers consoling themselves about how tough it is to be famous while congratulating themselves on how down-to-earth they really are. The audience ends up acting just like William's friends, wanting the two star-crossed lovers to get together, but only because that's the way the fairytale goes.

You want irony, try this on: The biggest scene-stealing laughs don't even belong to Grant or Roberts; they have nothing at all to do with the romantic part of this romantic comedy. Rather, they're the handiwork of William's flatmate Spike (played by Rhys Ifans), who's a hygienically crippled "masturbating Welshman" who doesn't even belong in this film -- and happens to spend an inordinate amount of screen time in his dirty, teeny-weeny skivvies. Apparently, he didn't have a no-nudity clause. That, also, is unfortunate.

Opens May 28.
-- Scott Kelton Jones

Junk Food
Written and directed by Masashi Yamamoto

A brutal, hiply violent mix of lowlife drama, quasi-documentary street scenes and poetic imagery, Masashi Yamamoto's Junk Food tells a Tokyo story of a radically different sort than Ozu's quiet drama of generational change. The film frames its multiple narratives -- which occur within a 24-hour period -- with videotaped slice-of-life vignettes of a blind woman's morning routine. Yamamoto refers to these brief scenes of the quotidian (waking up, listening to radio traffic reports, walking to the store) as Acts 1 and 4; Acts 2 and 3 are considerably more lurid -- full of rough sex, hard drugs and offhand cruelty -- and are intended to disturb the seemingly placid surface of "normal" Tokyo life by plunging us into its murky lower depths. And because they're shot on film, these stories feel more vivid than the mundane events that bookend them: Junk Food implies that, like the woman, most of us fail to see harsh reality; intended as an eye-opener, the film shines an intense, revealing light on the creatures scuffling and dying in Tokyo's shadows.

Filmic kin to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express -- which also share its fondness for gunplay, formal experimentation and subcultural hijinks -- Junk Food plays structural games, introducing and then entirely abandoning major characters, crosscutting between subplots that are only tenuously related. Act 2 focuses on Miyuki (Miyuki Ijima), a junkie whom we first encounter incontinued on next pagecontinued from previous pagea fetid room where she smokes crack, stares languidly at her surroundings, vomits, and then binds her sleeping companion for what appears to be S&M sex but turns into a deliberate suffocation. Given the sordid milieu, most will assume that Miyuki is a prostitute, but Yamamoto confounds our expectations -- and adds disquieting resonance -- by first revealing her as a professional woman in a high-tech firm and then, after a day of abusive sex, hysterical confrontations and frantic scrabbling for drugs, as a wife to a seemingly benign and solicitous spouse. At this revelatory moment, Miyuki disappears from the film, Act 3 begins, and Yamamoto picks up the threads of five new characters whose stories he loosely interweaves: a cold-eyed gang member cruising the streets for trouble, a female wrestler longing for her Latin American home, a troubled Pakistani on a murderous spree, and an exuberant American prostitute and her likable young john out on a date. Like Miyuki, who cannot integrate the two sides of her life, these five live in Tokyo but somehow remain apart from it; they're forever outsiders, a condition underlined by the alien status of three of the quintet.

By refusing to fill in backgrounds, by joining plots in media res and then avoiding any definitive resolutions, Junk Food will frustrate and occasionally madden viewers who want clean, sharp narrative borders, and its alternation of longueurs and scenes of hyped-up violence eventually grows tiresome and all too predictable. But Yamamoto consistently finds arresting ways of presenting his upsetting material, and the film's penultimate sequence -- about a man who dies unnoticed while riding the Tokyo subway, traveling the city's length and breadth, continuing in pointless motion -- serves as a beautifully apt, chilling metaphor for its characters' wayward lives.

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