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On Blu-ray/DVD: FIRST LOVE (2019) and DISTURBING THE PEACE (2020)

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FIRST LOVE
(UK/Japan - 2019)



With over 100 feature film credits plus some assorted TV gigs over his 30-year career, Japan's Takashi Miike is perhaps the most insanely prolific international filmmaker of the modern era. When he first gained significant notoriety with transgressive stunners like AUDITION and ICHI THE KILLER two decades ago, he was averaging anywhere from five to eight movies a year. The now-60-year-old Miike has mellowed somewhat with age, and these days he works at a relatively more relaxed pace (he only made one movie in 2018, the mystery thriller LAPLACE'S WITCH, which has yet to be released in the US). His latest film--and the first to open in the US since 2017's BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL--is FIRST LOVE, which is generally restrained, but kicks off with a comedic decapitation (complete with blinking eyes and an expression of outrage on the face of the severed head) and closes with a wild bloodbath to keep the superfans from losing their shit. The opening half hour has a significant amount of exposition to establish, but once all the pieces are in place and it gets going, FIRST LOVE is an entertaining "survive the night" scenario centering on Leo (Masataka Kubota from Miike's 13 ASSASSINS), an up-and-coming boxer who's just been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.





A despondent Leo is wandering the Shinjuku streets aimlessly into the night after being given the bad news, and he ends up literally bumping into Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a troubled, drug-addicted young woman who's being held prisoner and pimped out by low-level drug courier Yasu (Takahiro Miura) as repayment for her deadbeat, sexually-abusive father's debts to just-paroled Yakuza boss Gondo (Seiyo Uchino). Meanwhile, Kase (Shota Sometani), an ambitious Gondo underling, is conspiring with corrupt narcotics cop Otomo (Nao Omori, best known for the title role in ICHI THE KILLER) to intercept a shipment of drugs in a foolishly-planned scheme that involves kidnapping Monica and gets dumber from there. She manages to get away--that's when she bumps into Leo, though she thinks she's being chased by the ghost of her father in a recurring hallucination--but the plot goes south when Kase kills Yasu and tries to blame it on the soldiers of Chinese Triad boss One-Armed Wang (Cheng-Kuo Yen), a longstanding rival of Gondo's who earned his nickname when Gondo hacked off his arm years ago. That sets off Julie (Japanese pop star Becky), Yasu's girlfriend and a Ken Takakura superfan who knows what Kase has done and vows revenge. As the night goes on, terminally ill Leo, already feeling like he's got nothing to lose, takes it upon himself to become Monica's protector. They're pursued by various parties, all of whom eventually converge at a huge department store, where Miike really cuts loose with some inspired mayhem, including some splattery shootouts, decapitations, amputations, and disembowelings, much of which is played for laughs.




Miike's films aren't getting the global exposure they once did, but FIRST LOVE is easily the most entertaining work of his I've seen since 2010's 13 ASSASSINS. There's quite a bit of Takeshi Kitano-esque sequences of pissed-off yakuza guys yelling at each other (and Kase's phony indignation when he's told that Yasu is dead is hilariously played by Sometani), Kubota's Leo is a hero you can get behind, and everyone takes a backseat to Becky, who delivers an impressively unhinged performance as the vengeance-obsessed Julie. FIRST LOVE has no shortage of blood-soaked insanity, but it's also one of Miike's most commercially accessible films, probably why it managed to get a little more worldwide play than a lot of his recent work. If you've lost touch a bit with Miike since 13 ASSASSINS, then FIRST LOVE is a good opportunity to get reacquainted. (Unrated, 108 mins)



DISTURBING THE PEACE
(US/UK - 2020)



Is everything OK with Guy Pearce? I only ask because, even for someone who hasn't top-lined a hit movie in a few years, he's still a fine actor, and the unbelievably bad DISTURBING THE PEACE is absurdly beneath him. Maybe he did it as a favor for someone, maybe he was scammed into it...hell, I even checked to see if he was getting divorced and had to go on a "fuck it, just pay me" B-movie spree. This is a film so strangely inept and displaying such a shocking lack of polish or even basic filmmaking and editing skills that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Pearce has been unwittingly deep-faked over a Steven Seagal performance because an embarrassed Seagal needed to distance himself from it. Pearce--yes, the same Guy Pearce from L.A. CONFIDENTIAL--stars as Jim Dillon, a one-time Texas Ranger who got busted down to marshal in podunk Horse Cave, KY (playing itself in a way that certainly won't promote tourism) after paralyzing his partner from the neck down with an errant shot in a hostage standoff. That was ten years ago, and Dillon just got word that his partner has died. He blames himself, and as a result, he hasn't once picked up a gun in the ensuing decade. He doesn't really need to in quiet Horse Cave, at least not until a biker gang rides into town looking for trouble. Their leader is Diablo (Devon Sawa, also a producer), and their plan is to commandeer the local bank and wait for an armored car to pass through with the deposit from the casino in the next town over. Diablo has his goons--among them Branscombe Richmond as "Big Dog," John Lewis as "Shovelhead," others named "Pyro,""Diesel,""Jarhead,""Spider," and "Dirty Bob," and Barbie Blank (better known as wrestler Kelly Kelly) as "Amanda," who's been working at the bank as their insider--corral all the townsfolk over to the local church, where the minister is Catie (Kelly Greyson), who also owns the local diner in addition to being Dillon's love interest. Diablo seems to know a lot about Dillon, taunting him about his dead partner while dropping melodramatic bon mots like "There's a new paradigm here," and declaring himself "the prodigal son who's come back to collect his dues."





None of Diablo's floridly verbose shit-talking ever amounts to anything significant--the big reveal about him is that his dad drank himself to death after the local factory closed and as a result, he hates Horse Cave. How the fuck does stealing the deposit of a casino that's not even in Horse Cave avenge his dead dad? Director York Alec Shackleton, last seen guiding Nicolas Cage through one of the funnier fake American suburbs on a Bulgarian backlot (prominently featuring a posh art gallery called Art Gallery) in the bank robbery standoff dud 211, at least manages a more realistic-looking town in DISTURBING THE PEACE, even though he keeps things mostly confined to one intersection (drink every time you see that "Main St/Guthrie St" sign) as Diablo and the gang follow their master plan of...standing in the street and waiting for the armored car. Pearce spends most of his screen time away from the action in a way that would make Bruce Willis proud, running around town setting booby-traps and bombs that never come into play since the bad guys never leave their comfort zone of Main & Guthrie, while periodically getting on the walkie to tell his deputy Matt (Michael Sirow) to stand down. Shackleton's 211 wasn't a good movie, but it was at least competent under the circumstances. Here, he can't direct an action scene to save his life, some shots don't even look correctly framed, and he even manages to botch the final showdown between Dillon and Diablo. This is the kind of movie where a  reasonably in-shape sheriff from the neighboring county has set up a speedtrap on the outskirts of town and gets killed by the gang, then the biker who killed him--weighing around 350 and sporting a long ponytail and a madman beard down to his belly--manages to fit perfectly into his uniform, and the armored car guys on their usual route see him and don't seem to think that anything's wrong here. There has to be a story behind Pearce's involvement in this. It's got the production values of a regional faithsploitation movie, and the entire supporting cast from Sawa on down--the guy playing the mayor is visibly reading cue cards--isn't even up to the standards of a below-average community theater group. I'm trying to think of an apt comparison of leading men, but seeing Pearce in this is like watching a circa 1970 Al Adamson joint headlined by, say, James Garner. It just doesn't make sense. There's an incongruity here that defies description. He shouldn't be here. It's like a lost David Heavener movie. I expect to see current DTV regular Devon Sawa and perpetual D-list henchman Branscombe Richmond in something like this, but it's truly beyond comprehension that nearly 30 years into a generally well-managed career, Guy Pearce is starring in a grade-Z actioner as crudely janky as DISTURBING THE PEACE. (R, 91 mins)



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