Category Archives: Film

Busanhaeng 2: Bando

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula is the second entry in the TtBCU[1], and even though it wasn’t on the list of Korean horror films for last(?)[2] week, I did the research and confirmed for myself that it counted (same director and writer as Train to Busan, and made by South Korean companies). So, that’s what we watched!

As discussed in the tagline, the movie is set four years after the events on the train, and in that time… well, the short version is North Korea was finally useful for something besides human misery. Since South Korea is on an isolated peninsula[3], they were able to use their otherwise pointless and/or actively evil military to contain the zombies, and then everyone else just stopped letting escaping boats in without incredibly onerous health checks of the kind that I think we’ve proven would not actually occur in the real world, but. And so, South Korea is a zombie-infested wasteland, and the rest of the world is all, “Huh. I guess that happened.” And the few people who did get out are mostly disliked refugees, so at least they got that part of how we’d behave correct.

Anyway, that’s all setting for a heist-and-redemption story precipitated by an army guy and his embittered brother-in-law being roped into a shot at 50% of the take on a truck full of money just sitting there, waiting to be taken by whoever can survive. It has every trope you’d expect and then some, but you know what? I liked it. (Arguably, that’s why I liked it?)

Thanks, Korean horror community!

[1] There is no TtBCU
[2] When I started this, we were potentially only a week behind. A lot of water has passed under the bridge between then and when I finished it.
[3] Hey, I see what they did there!

The Dark Tower (2017)

With this movie knocked out so quickly, we’re back on schedule, hooray! I mean, we are if we also watch this week’s movie this week, but at least it’s mathematically possible to. Anyway, last week’s movie theme was Stephen King adaptations, which, there are certainly many I haven’t seen, no matter what you might think. However, the most glaring hole is the troubled[1] Dark Tower adaptation from a few years ago, so, we acquired that and checked it out last night.

The problem, I think, is one of expectations. Because this is clearly and obviously not an adaptation of the book or series of The Dark Tower that Stephen King wrote. It has several identical character names, some of them attached to similar characters, even. But the driving arc of the movie is not merely different from but antithetical to the driving arc of the books. So you’ve got a fantasy movie with a built-in audience who you’ve immediately alienated, and what’s left is a movie that would appear to be impenetrable to a generic audience, even though that was not especially the case.

What I could see was a humorously slapdash attempt to make this movie the linchpin of the SKCU[2], even as the series is the linchpin of his library. And I mean, it was less a successful linchpin making and more a constant game of “spot the reference”, but it was also a fun game of that. I caught a lot of them, while being pretty certain I must have missed others. And this is not enough to make a good movie, by a long shot, but I kind of think that if they’d made a more concerted effort, it could have been pretty amazing.

Anyway, long story short: There’s a boy, Jake, and he is having apocalyptic dreams about a man in black who wants to destroy a tower, and every time he attempts this in Jake’s dreams, geologically mysterious earthquakes strike all around the world. But then Jake has a dream about Roland, who is a gunslinger, and who can possibly stop the man in black from succeeding. And then Jake gets swept up in events, and there’s a movie.

I said early on that all of the characters were subtly or dramatically wrong, and I stand by that. But if I didn’t know anything about the characters or their motivations in advance, these would have been acceptable. Idris Elba played his role well and somewhere near the two-thirds mark, they finally convinced me this really was Roland Deschaines, just from an alternate universe with a wildly divergent backstory. I guess what I mean is I liked the movie for what it was, but am sad that they squandered what it could have been.

[1] ie, it was a commercial and critical flop
[2] It is important here for me to note that there is not, in fact, a Stephen King Cinematic Universe.

Miracolo a Milano

The theme for week three of the letterboxd dot com challenge was Italian Neorealism. For the uninitiated (which includes me, for example), that is a specific period in post-war Italian cinema that focuses on reality and daily life stories with no heroes. So from the list available, we picked Miracle in Milan, which is pretty much the opposite of those things? I may have done a bad job.

It is also worth noting that, wait, why is it so far past your week two review? The answer is, haha, we’ve been sick and got behind. Hoping to catch up over a few days? We’ll see!

So anyway, this movie is weird[1]. Like really weird. There’s this kid, Totò, who after experiencing a bizarre childhood punctuated by a cabbage patch adoption and multiplication tables, comes out of the orphanage as a relentlessly cheerful and giving adult who immediately finds himself in a homeless encampment[2], and proceeds to organize it into a pretty cozy and happy shantytown. (I haven’t yet gotten to where the movie is especially weird, to be clear, but saying more would go deep into spoiler towne, whose inhabitants are far less cheerful a bunch than these were.)

I guess the neorealism part is in the characters themselves rather than the plot, which shortly after I ended my synopsis above (about 15 minutes into a 90 minute movie) goes so far off the rails my metaphor is impossible to complete, but the words “wishing dove” and “timely to modern eyes class warfare” are involved, as are the words “ghostly top hat stampede”. But the characters, I was saying, the characters have a lot of daily life reality. There’s the rich family that has fallen on hard times but still has a nanny (also now homeless, natch), who spends most of their time in the shantytown trying to bilk lire from the populace. There’s the really grumpy outsider guy who keeps getting in fights with everyone else. There’s the black man and white women who arrived at the same time and are clearly mutually interested, but who keep staying away from each other because I guess Italy also had miscegenation laws?[3]

And there are more. What I guess I am impressed by, as an avowed watcher of movies that would not want to be called films, is how many of the characters in a cast of hundreds were, okay, not fully realized, but at least memorable. I’m not sure if that’s just difficult to accomplish in more plot-centric movies, or if we’ve lost something along the way, but I bet it’s some of both.

All the same, I’m glad my entry into this subgenre of film history was as plot-dense as it was, because I’m not sure how much I would have enjoyed something that was all aimless and bleak like the description of Italian neorealism reads to me. I know I said “entry”, and while I use the term advisedly, one of the other movies we contemplated, The Bicycle Thieves, is by the same writer and director, and I can’t help being a little curious. (I mean, it will not be capital-w weird, I already know that much. But still.)

[1] Also, I never saw Life is Beautiful, but I can tell you with high confidence that `the guy who made it has this movie as one of his major influences. Seriously, look it up later and prove me right.
[2] If you see the wry humor in that, trust me, so did the filmmakers.
[3] That plotline ends in a way that would be spectacularly cringey if I were to describe it, but in its own context was both progressive and earnedly hilarious.

Goodfellas

Last week on the letterboxd dot com weekly movie, the theme was Remembering Ray, as in Liotta, who died earlier this year. Since Goodfellas is a  film knowledge gap for both of us, it was a no-brainer for the week.

The movie is a mostly straightforward biography of Henry Hill[1], a mafia outsider (in that he was only half Sicilian, and therefore not eligible to be the real deal) who nevertheless lived a lavish, crime-filled life from his teens onward as (along with also not-Sicilian Robert DeNiro) a hanger-on to Paul Sorvino as a godfather type and Joe Pesci as an up and comer in the family.

Only, nobody uses the word godfather, or mafia, or even mob. “Family” comes up a fair bit, but not in the way that any of the characters are related or talked about being related, because it’s not that kind of family. All the same, comparisons to The Godfather are inevitable, because, well. What I will say is that this movie is almost certainly a better depiction of mob life in the ’60s and ’70s. I mean obviously, the guy who wrote the tell-all autobiography probably knows better than the guy who wrote a book that he basically made up from start to finish, but still, you can tell that a movie made up of a series of vignettes about life, love, laughter, and larceny is going to be more true than a movie with foreshadowing, visual themes, and a throughline about inevitability.

All of which to say, yeah, I think The Godfather tells a better story. But I’m glad I finally saw this one, because I should have had it in my repository long since. The only really sad thing is that I can’t hit up Jeff and talk about it now.

[1] In addition to Goodfellas being one of those movies that everyone has seen, Ray is also in the starring role, which made the choice even easier.

La llorona (2019)

Earlier this week, I learned that letterboxd dot com[1] has a multi-year project where each week there’s a theme, and you watch a movie which a) fits the theme (okay, obviously) and b) that you’ve never seen before. Also earlier this week: the 8th year (season?) of this project of theirs started. After a brief discussion with Mary, we decided to go for it, and thusly, here we are.

Week one, Central American Independence Week, is to watch a previously unseen film from one of the following countries: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala. La Llorona, then, is at first glance a slow moving court procedural in which an aging, arguably dying, Guatemalan general is on trial for genocide of the Mayan peoples in the early 1980s. That is, there is some time spent in court, but the majority of the first third of the film is the various members of his dead-eyed family wandering around their villa, berating the staff[2], resenting the protesters encamped outside their front door, and debating quietly among themselves whether the charges are true.

And that’s pretty much an entire movie in itself, of a certain character study ilk. Will the general’s wife learn about herself her complicity (or, if she already knows deep down, will she decide that it matters)? Will the general’s daughter make a choice to explicitly reject her parents for their unforgivable crimes (perhaps the least of which is, possibly, egregious interference in her personal life)? Will the general’s granddaughter become, by association, as dead-eyed as everyone else in the family or will she maintain her innocence? This could easily be the direction of the small slice of life that has been presented, unless, of course, you know what the llorona is.

Ultimately, the arrival of a single replacement maid to pick up the slack left to the housekeeper after the rest of the staff quit back in act one does not actually result in a different movie than the hypothetical one I described above. She just pushes the outcomes into a different groove than they otherwise would have proceeded along.

Recommended for fans of character-driven dramas that need to dip their toes into the horror genre, or for fans of horror who need to dip their toes into the character study genre.

For the curious: I chose the French poster of this movie because the version I watched was distributed by a French, um, distributor.

[1] A movie-based social media network, apparently? Like here, if people actually showed up, and also had their own review sites.
[2] Who for some reason want to quit now that their boss is on trial for the genocide of, to a first approximation, their people.

Barbarian (2022)

To get it out of the way, Barbarian is not a dark fantasy piece like I originally thought from my very vague awareness that a horror movie with that name existed. What it is, I think, is an early entry in an upcoming wave of airbnb-themed horror movies, in much the same way that Hostel kicked off a wave of vacation-themed horror movies.

I hate to say even that much, as this is a movie that pivots a lot of different ways, but so far I’ve spoiled you only for genre and the first 120 seconds of the film, so it’s not as bad as it sounds. Well, except for the part where I’ve also said it’s not a straightforward… anything, really. So go see it, if pressure cookers are your kind of thing.

If you do see it (or don’t care about impenetrable spoilers), more below the cut.

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Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

Speaking, as I was, of video game adaptations in general and the Resident Evil series of such in specific, it seems only natural that I would have remembered and thus watched the reboot. (But also I really need to finish Resident Evil 5, the video game. I’ve only been trying for years upon years.)

In a counterfactual world where a six movie series starring Milla Jovovich as Alice never existed, here is what I would have to say about Welcome to Raccoon City: It’s a pretty good mashup of Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2, the video games, which makes sense as those (and 0 and 3, not mashed up here) all cover approximately the same 72 hour period during which really a lot of things happened. There are a lot of iconic images and moments, and all in all it is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of those two games. The games are of course still better, but what else could you expect out of a game adaptation?

However, those movies do exist, and they exist as an object lesson in why, if you intend to adapt a game, you need to take the premise and go in a new direction, something that maybe surpasses or maybe doesn’t, but at the least tries to be different. With books, faithful can be amazing, but with games, you’re in control of what happens as you play, so faithful is a bit flat, you know?

Uncharted (2022)

I really like the Uncharted game series; for a while, it was probably what kept me buying new Playstations, and you can see that they have not released one lately by my lack of a PS5.

So when they made a movie based on the series, and starring Peter Parker in the role of Nathan Drake, I naturally ran right out and was skeptical, because video game movies are always bad. Always.[1] Also, for a variety of reasons it has been difficult for me to go to movie theaters of late. But Uncharted (the movie this time) landed on Netflix just a few months after release, unexpectedly, and here we are.

So, how was it? The thing about the Uncharted games is, most of gameplay is shooting (or maybe sneaking past, but it’s basically not possible) bad guys or navigating tombs and cliffs and things that involve narrow ledges and contorting jumps and indescribable upper body strength. All of the treasure hunting and decoding and knowledge and the like comes in dialogue while the game is being played or else in cutscenes. Which means that the series is in fact eminently suited to a movie adaptation.

And… they did alright, you know? It was weird seeing someone quite so young in the role[2], but all the treasures and legends and maps and weird secret keys and the like just work for me, you know? I watched National Treasure, for god’s sake, and this is maybe less over the top insane than that, but also more sincere, mostly on the (surprisingly buff!) shoulders of Tom Holland playing a young, not yet entirely jaded Drake. I had fun, and if there’s a sequel as the movie strongly, strongly implied there will be, I will make a point of watching it too. Maybe sooner, even.

[1] Not always.
[2] The movie character Nathan Drake was 25, whereas the game character has always coded as mid-30s to me.

Mohawk (2017)

I saw Mohawk close on a week ago, but what with the falling trees, collapsing fences, narrowly averted gas explosions, recurrent gut infections, work overflows, and hospital visits, I just haven’t really made the appropriate time to think about it yet, much less talk about it. Today, though, today just may be that day!

This movie feels like someone’s passion project, someone who is a lot more steeped in Mohawk[1] and to a lesser extent early American history than I am. This is perhaps what I get for never having finished Assassin’s Creed 3. So, while the movie was interested in a snapshot of the Mohawk nation in decline, and perhaps in their myths and magicks of that period, what I found most compelling was watching a wartime movie in which the Americans are the bad guys, even though, perversely, they are not the aggressors.[2]

Recommended for fans of I Spit on Your Grave if only it wasn’t about that, people who think maybe a balanced view of history should have Americans as bad guys a little more often, and people who are into nihilistic futility.

[1] I suppose this is where I should have already introduced the movie by plot. Some members of a Mohawk settlement and a British agitator, during the War of 1812, face off against revenge-bent Americans after an offscreen raid and burning of an American fort, somewhere near Mohawk territory, which, to be honest, I don’t know where that is/was, exactly. Probably upstate New York?, after some unrelated research.
[2] Blah blah blah, but what I mean is, they are not the aggressors as shown in this snapshot 24 or so hour period.

Hausu

Man. This was a ride.

You know all the stereotypes about Japanese schoolgirls you learned from anime? It turns out they also existed in 1977 in Japanese cinema. This particular set of schoolgirls, and let me see if I can get this right, consist of Fantasy (who has a vivid imagination), Mac (who likes to eat), Melody (who plays music you see), Sweet (who helps out, like with cleaning or whatever), Kung Fu (who… I mean, you can suss this one out), Professor[1] (she’s smart and wears glasses), and Gorgeous, who in addition to, one supposes, being pretty, also precipitates the main action of the film by being upset that her father has decided to remarry eight years after his wife’s death, so she refuses to take all her friends on summer vacation with him and his fiancee and instead takes them to visit her (maternal, natch) aunt’s House.

Between the melodrama of Japanese schoolgirls and the separate melodrama of the tragic tale of Gorgeous’s spinster aunt, dating back to the war[2], I really had no idea what to expect at this point, and while it perhaps would be better for the viewer to show up similarly uninformed, I gots to earn my money[3] somehow, so, stop here if you want to see the movie based on only the above description and my nod that yes, probably watch it.

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