Be Glad We Even Came This Far: The Isle (2000)

My continued romp with Korean cinema has produce a rewarding set of films the continually challenge my expectations of narrative and cinematic composition.  The Isle, despite its gritty low-fidelity nature somehow manages to be incredibly poetic and despairingly profound.  It is independent foreign cinema realized to its fullest, and despite its clearly Korean nature manages to be universal in its appeal.  As I continue through more of the Korean films mentioned in the books I am reading, it is becoming apparent that they share many similarities to American cinema, however, when it comes to their studies of individual's psychological nature Korean films seem to excel in a way far more dark than any other country in the world.  The Isle is absolutely a film concerned with the inner desires and nightmares of people, and how such manifestations inevitably affect the world around them, sometimes in a very physical manner.  Like my previous review of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, The Isle finds itself tied to notions of revenge in a way that seems inherently entrenched within all Korean films, respective of a unique culture that finds an uncomfortable relationship with their past that proves a cause for chaotic rebellion that is viscerally depicted in their films.

The Isle focuses on a set of floating houses at some unnamed river in Korea that is run by a mute prostitute named Hee-jin (Seo Jung).  She seems content to drift from house to house, providing foods, and services, to the residents, until she is provoked by one customers degrading behavior.  In retaliation she kills the man while he is relieving himself and finds little qualm in doing so.  Things change though with the emergence of a new resident, one Hyun-shik (Kim Yu-seok), a criminal evading the law after what viewers assume is a murder in a jealous rage.  While Hee-jin seems disinterested in Hyun-sik at first, his clearly disturbed past becomes a point of interest and Hee-jin begins to long for him, becoming jealous of his relations with the other prostitutes that frequent the house.  This jealousy is exacerbated by Hee-jin becoming close with Hyun-shik as she finds herself saving him from multiple suicide attempts, one particularly gruesome one involving fish hooks.  Disinterested in Hee-jin, Hyun-shik attempts to escape the resort only to be denied by Hee-jin, who possesses the only boat that can leave the isle.  Yet again, fishhooks serve as a means to try and escape from the area, this time in a much more gruesome manner, however, after a spat, Hyun-shik finds himself saving Hee-jin.  The two continue their troubled relationship, and when divers come to rescue a lost rolex they discover the dead bodies of a prostitute and her pimp, which leads the couple to escape from the area, by attaching to the motor of the boat to Hyun-shik's floating house.  The two are now living together in their house, as they float into uncertainty on a river to nowhere.

The Isle, similar to the Japanese experimental film The Woman in the Dunes, has a purgatorial nature about it, particularly given the dreary and lonely nature of the film.  The characters, despite their interactions, seem to just drift throughout the film uncertain about their future or what direction to engage.  They are stuck between something great and something awful and it is never certain what place they will ultimately reside.  The characters, as evident of ones stuck in purgatory, boarder between the definitions of good and evil, and it is ultimately their choices at the isle that decide their fate.  Hyun-shik, is guilty of murder, however, it is made clear that his actions were at the very least not evil as he was doing so in a fit of jealous rage.  He must reside in the purgatory of the isle until he acts in the name of good, which occurs when he saves the live of Hee-jin.  Similarly, Hee-jin is engaged in a questionable position ethically as she is a prostitute and uses her body in a clearly degrading manner, furthermore, she is guilty of murder, yet the people she has killed are certainly bad and in need of punishment.  Again, like Hyun-shik, it is not until she acts in a morally positive manner that she is allowed to escape her situation and give up the job as the ferry person of the purgatorial isle.  At this point, the couple leave the isle and head into nothingness, but we as viewers can only hope that it is into a heavenly place.

The Isle is a hidden gem of Korean cinema, a lesser known marvel amidst a rather stellar decade of films.  Thankfully, it is available streaming on Netflix and well worth watching.


If We're Seen, We Have To Leave: The Secret World of Arriety (2010)

Studio Ghibli is essentially a flawless company that has only gained a larger global acclaim with the help of Disney and the douchy shirt wearing John Lasseter.  While the handful of anime films released by this Disney subsidiary certainly have their father company to thank it is clear that most of the credit for their success should be directed to Hayao Miyazaki, the now aging director of anime classics such as Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away.  While Miyazaki has stepped down from the directors seat he was present as a writer, and, undoubtedly, as an advisor on Studio Ghibli's most recent offering, The Secret World of Arrietty which is based off the British novel The Borrowers written by Mary Norton some sixty years earlier.  While The Secret World of Arrietty is nowhere close to Miyazaki's masterpiece Howl's Moving Castle it is a clear work of art and a solid example of the cinematic possibilities of animation, a fact that many film critics still seem hesitant to embrace.  Like many of Studio Ghibli's other offerings, The Secret World of Arrietty is both accessible, yet quite broad in its commentary and philosophical pondering, and with the exception of the work of Satoshi Kon, I have trouble thinking of another anime director who is as concerned with the simplest of details in their work.  A key animator, under the tutelage of Miyazaki, it is clear that the films director Hiromasa Yonebayashi is prepared to take the reigns for the now well-respected Studio Ghibli and I know for one that I am excited at the future prospects.

As is the case with many works tied to Miyazaki, the film concerns itself with the experiences of particularly young individuals, however, these youth are rarely offered world situations that are remotely possible in the physical realm and often rely on worlds of magic and make believe for their existence.  The Secret World of Arrietty one such film as it focuses on the life of the title character Arrietty who is, along with her mother Homily and father Pod, a Borrower.  Borrowers are miniature versions of human beings that borrow small items from humans that they can live without missing, such as thread, needles, sugar and tissue.  It is their belief that they must remain out of the sight of humans because to be spotted by humans would assure their destruction, because as Pod make clear, their curiosity would lead them to ruin the Borrower lifestyle.  Arrietty seems set to abide by these rules and looks forward to her time as Borrower, until she is spotted accidentally by a human named Shawn.  Shawn despite being very calm in his approaches, given an life-threatening heart disease, is dismissed by Arrietty who assures him that no good can come of their interactions.  Arrietty's reservations are assured when Shawn's aunt becomes obsessed with catching the Borrowers, because she has been living in seclusion for years after public mocking for her previous claims of spotting such creatures.  As such, she hires exterminators to catch the Borrowers, much to the dismay of Shawn.  Realizing the impossibilities of unity, Shawn sets out to help Arrietty and her family move from the house to a new location and luckily, the task is made considerably easier by Arrietty's father running into another borrower, who provides guidance to a new location in a more urban area of Japan.  Both Arrietty and Shawn part with sorrow in their heart, yet they realize that their summer will represent a lasting memory in their lives of something magical and sentimental.  It is heartbreaking, but in a way that reminds viewers of the possibility of good in humanity.

When I reviewed Paprika awhile back I made note of the problems technology presented to women's relationship in society.  I argued that through objectification and disconnect women were oppressed on at least a theoretical level.  When referencing this, it is interesting to discover that the worlds of not only this film, but most other Studio Ghibli films place women in a rather progressive place.  Arrietty is an independent girl who desperately desires to carve her own path in the world and clearly dismisses the notions of domesticity pushed forcefully by her mother.  This is a theme that manifests itself in other Ghibli works, most notably in Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away.  Even the males within these works diverge from gender norms, Pod is a masculine in his demeanor, but is clearly an affectionate and loving father, while Shawn is in tune with his emotional side and promotes unity over the possibility of oppressive power.  In fact, it is clear that this film, as well as others from the studio, suggest that such traditions of gender are problematic and often only reside in the minds of an older generation.  With this in mind, a character like the aunt within the film are more understandable as villains, not only does she represent someone out to destroy the Borrowers, but she also wishes to maintain traditional gender norms as well.  It is interesting as well to compare this character to say the work of Ozu, in which gender mores were propagated by an aging male figure, in many Miyazaki films the paternal oppressor is not only not present, but rarely acknowledged.  All is not perfect in these films though, as they often end with the suggestion that the characters have found some sort of heteronormative relationship to engage in, this is certainly the case in The Secret World of Arrietty, as Arrietty is shown in the closing credits accepting a gift from Spiller, a male Borrower who has shown interest in her.  Problematic for sure these images must be criticized, however, as a whole the film does question gender roles and their apparent concreteness.  It suggests a possibility for fluidity and the evolution from an older ignorant tradition.

While The Secret World of Arrietty has been out in Japan for nearly two years, it is only now completing its U.S. theatrical run and it is certainly worth checking out in theaters.  It was my first anime theatrical viewing and the fully realized world of Arriety pours off the screen beautifully.  Also, I have to agree with my girlfriend on how awesome Arriety's room is in the film.


Experiments In Film: She Puppet (2001)

When it comes to experimental narratives, some ideas sound so terrible that it could by no means work, yet upon delivery and full realization it is something magical.  This is the case with Peggy Ahwesh's She Puppet which is merely a compilation of video footage from Tomb Raider video games spliced together in a non-linear way with voice overs from various feminist literature and poems.  Yet simplicity by no means encapsulates what She Puppet becomes, Ahwesh's work is profoundly reflective on the nature of humanity and the person hood of woman in relation to an existential existence and an indifferent world.  It realizes the cinematic possibilities of video games by exploiting the glitches and hidden corners of the game in a way that transcends its initial purpose, without completely detaching the game from its original meaning.  Furthermore, Ahwesh revises the entire nature of Tomb Raider by removing most of the sound and music from the film, a notable psychological element to video games.  As I have noted many times prior, I adore found footage filmmaking and it is clear that She Puppet is one such film, yet its method of finding footage is uniquely its own and as such serves as a brilliant piece of extremely unconventional filmmaking.

In a theoretical sense, She Puppet is brilliant.  It is clearly feminist in its composition, given the multiple narrators questioning of what role women play in a world that clearly oppresses them.  Such a commentary is furthered by choosing images of the video games protagonist Lara Croft being attacked by a multitude of enemies some being men and the other being natures predators.  It realizes the problems of female oppression in a grand way that is both clear, yet not so on the nose to lose its genius.  Furthermore, Ahwesh uses the previously mentioned glitches within the game to cause Croft to blend in with her scenery and float in the rivers as though she were part of the nature itself, this is done while commentaries about the narrator/Croft's ties to the world as a woman invoking a Gaia ideal.  Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, the film questions the relationship between the game and its player, invoking game theory, as well as what it means for the existential self to control another humanoid object in a godlike manner, especially when said object is a woman.  It not only delves into an even deeper level of oppression in terms of male/female relationships, but what possibility for feminist realization can come when a woman relates herself to the woman character she plays in a video game.  Ahwesh's film is quite ahead of its time, particularly given the increasing interactivity of video games in the recent years; her film is simply a prophetic study of all that such technological advances imply.

For more information on Peggy Ahwesh or to watch She Puppet click on the images below:


no look inthe eyes: Film Socialisme (2010)

Upon finishing Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard by author and film critic Richard Brody I came away with two clear notions.  The first is that Godard has left an indelible mark on the history and construction of cinema since his initial feature film Breathless.  Second, I realized that he has become one of the most divisive and belligerent filmmakers of the past two decades.  While I constantly sing his praises for his earlier work, it is clear that his desire to be a political dissident and destroy the structure that is video have done nothing but ruin his artistic output.  Film Socialisme, could well have been one of the best films of this decade were Godard to have reigned in his animosity for the rest of the world, given its clearly cinematic nature and experimental narrative.  Tragically, his desire to distance viewers, particularly those not speaking French, with incoherent subtitles, like the one that titles this blog entry and his spiraling into ungrounded political attacks cause the film to quickly become unwatchable.  It was only a matter of time before I found myself guessing when Godard would throw in an image of Hitler, and to no surprise, he did so in some of the films closing scenes.  Not to dismiss the work completely, Film Socialism does indeed offer a few moments of cinematic expression rare in contemporary art house cinema, yet as a whole the film is clearly a failed attempt at creating works similar to the early works of Dziga Vertov, or anything by Dusan Makavejev, and ends up lacking the one thing that Godard always had going for him...hipness.  Film Socialisme is a film that attempts to mix political commentary with the exploration of human relationships, however, the concoction lacks far too many ingredients to prove successful, the most apparent being a sane and accessible director.

While Film Socialisme plays out as a series of vignettes, it is possible to glean some basic narrative from the various characters presented throughout the film.  The initial setting of Godard's work is on a cruise ship, as the images cut between glossy shots of the ships deck and the ocean to shots of passengers dancing in a nightclub which are captured in terrible quality by what appears to be a cellphone camera.  In the midst of this entire structure, we are introduced to various members of the cruise, including an aged war criminal, a former official for the United Nations and what appears to be a Soviet detective.  The characters interact to some extent, but without a complete understanding of the multiple languages throughout the film, it is impossible to verify with any certainty their conversations or the seeming ties between each character.  Even when American viewers are offered a familiar language in that of musician Patti Smith she only rambles incoherently about a variety of things.  With little explanation the film then cuts to the interactions of two children as they cope with coming to age and realizing the frivolity of their young lives and as such they begin to question there parents on a variety of issues, including notions of political justice and global equality.  Their conversations are being recorded, for apparently no reason by a film crew who possess clearly revolutionary ties.  These moments while completely absurd reflect Godard's traditional styling; it is when the film reaches the third act that everything falls apart.  The film falls into a slew of still images, news reels and even the title menu for a film, with sections that represent major world locations, including but not limited to Barcelona, Egypt and Odessa.  What connection Godard is attempting to make is quite unclear, but he obviously associates many of the images to fascist rule and violence is shown throughout, particularly as it relates to the Middle Eastern countries depicted.  At one point earlier in the film, Godard even inserts this popular YouTube video again for no apparent reason.  The film closes with the words no comment, implying that Godard desires no confrontation about the images he has depicted, despite their clearly agitating intent and fallacious nature.  Furthermore, in a bizarre twist, Godard filmed the cruise scenes on the recently ill-fated Costa Concordia making the disparate nature of the film almost prophetic.

To dismiss the political and critical commentary of Film Socialisme would be unfair, despite the clear disinterests of Godard to his viewers and society in general.  Film Socialisme is primarily concerned to great detail with what role the movie image plays in societal change.  As the film's tagline suggests, "Freedom is Expensive," making Godard's choice to stage an early portion of the film on a cruise ship pertinent.  The individuals on this ship are attempting to escape their problematic pasts and their large amounts of wealth provide them such an opportunity, yet any attempts to capture their escapes are ruined either by the lack of proper technology, which is best seen in the grainy footage of a party on the ship or inability to capture images properly as occurs with shots of individuals talk to people off camera who are never shown, or the scene later in the film in which one of the revolutionary filmmakers is killed off screen, but the stagnant camera is unable to follow the action.  Godard desperately wants his viewers to understand that the power of video as a means of social justice is impossible and the third act of his film attempts to drive this notion home by suggesting that we as a society have seen atrocities in the past via video and have done little to affect change as a result.  Film Socialisme, as such is a manifesto on the fading power of video in an evolving technocracy that allows those in power to escape media condemnation.  It very much had the possibility of revolutionizing our current cinema standards, yet in the hands of an aging Godard, Film Socialisme is nothing more than a preachy old man shaking his fists with rage and fury so as to ruin any validity to his argument.

Film Socialisme is a unique viewing experience, without a doubt, however, to purchase the film would be illogical unless you are a die hard Godard supporter.  The director has lost his touch and seems incapable of ever gaining it back.  Rent the film if you find yourself intrigued by its controversy.


Thank God For The Rain To Wash The Trash Off The Sidewalk: Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver is unequivocally one of my favorite movies, and next to The Last Temptation of Christ it is one of Scorsese's finest films.  It is what one looks for in a perfect piece of cinema: quotability, cinematic grandiosity and an enigmatic yet accessible narrative that causes viewers to debate its meaning and argue over its social commentary well past its initial release.  There are a slew of excellent films from the seventies, mostly from the hands of Francis Ford Coppola, however, Taxi Driver, as well as Robert Altman's Nashville, reflect the essence of the seventies, particularly the political disillusionment and sexual abjection.  However, as pertinent to the time of release as Scorsese's film may be it has a clearly timeless element about it that makes it so damn enjoyable some thirty-five years later and its brilliance cannot be denied.  The accessibility of the film is not an easy thing to locate, because it is clearly a challenging film that does not offer its viewers quick answers and certainly procures more answers than solutions.  It is art house cinema meets traditional Hollywood in something so unique and lasting that it has undeniably influenced cinema in a lasting way.

Taxi Driver focuses on the rather unusual experiences of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) a New York taxi driver with a clear disdain for the citizens of what he believes to be a lost city.  Travis, suffering from a severe case of insomnia, decides to roam the streets of New York finding meaning for the malaise that is his inconsequential life  During one of his day time routes he discovers the headquarters of political candidate Charles Palentine (Leonard Harris) and one of its employees Betsy (Cybil Shepard), to who Travis takes an instant liking.  While initially successful with his approaches to Betsy, he fails to woo her after taking her to see a pornographic film and is left alone yet again.  As a result, Travis begins to wonder the streets yet again and encounters an extremely young prostitute named Iris (Jodi Foster) who also goes by the unfortunate name of Easy.  Travis makes it a goal of his to remove Iris from her unfortunate situation, given his own definition of an ethical world, which defines that Iris is stuck in a terrible situation and must be extracted from it, despite her own personal opinion of her lifestyle.  Travis attempts to simply ask Iris to leave, but her inextricable ties with her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) who clearly has his own feeling for Iris.  As a result, Travis accrues a large amount of fire power and raids the house in which Iris stays only to receive opposition from Sport and his various lackeys.  Left wounded, Travis is able to fend off the various attackers and save Iris from her situation only to become the praise of local newspapers.  The film then cuts to Travis returning to his job as a taxi driver, escorting Betsy to a random event.  Travis then looks into his mirror and the film ends in the same pace of disparity as when the film began.

There are three interpretations that I have come across when looking at analysis for Taxi Driver, two that are clearly incorrect when approaching such a complex film.  The first is simply to claim that the film is a reflection of the dire state of New York during the seventies, this interpretation is obvious.  The second is to read the film as an attempt to affect political change in a world of indifference, this reading is possible, however, the film only deals with this concept in portions of the film and even then it is in a very passive manner.  Instead, in my opinion, the most pertinent reading of the film is to call it a dreamscape relating to the mind of Travis Bickle.  If one is to look at this film as such it is easy to read the film as a subconscious romp into ones darkest desires.  Travis continually claims his loathsome relationship with New York throughout the film and it helps to explain how in his own mind that he could kill a large amount of criminals with little trouble from the judicial system.  Furthermore, if one looks closely at the film instances that occur throughout the film are clearly tied throughout the film, whether it be Travis's presence during every conversation at the Palentine headquarters, or what could be clearly his imagination creating a scenario between Sport and Iris.  However, what cements the film as a possible dream narrative is the bookends of the film which have Travis looking into the rear view mirror of his taxi car, implying that he is lost in his own personal thoughts throughout the film, thoughts which become the surreal, absurd landscape for almost two hours of cinematic brilliance.

Taxi Driver is magical in its existence and the recent bluray transfer is phenomenal, getting a copy is mandatory for even the most minimal of film libraries.


Don’t Go Chasing Shadows: The Woman In Black (2012)

A time long ago in cinema history known as the 1970’s witnessed a particularly offering of horror films from the illustrious company known as Hammer Films.  This company become popular quite quickly given their keen understanding of Gothic horror and a substantial use of corn syrup blood.  Tragically, as technology advanced it appeared as though the magnificent company lacked the relevance to continue successfully franchising their films when competing with films with larger production scales.  However, the recent release of the surprisingly enjoyable The Woman In Black proved a success for the newly revived company and offers the promise of a good future for Gothic horror.  Perhaps it is just the right mix of Daniel Radcliffe, jumpy scares and rotting children’s toys that makes the film so damn creepy, but while watching the film I could not help but find myself reminded of the eerie nature of The Wicker Man, as well as the dreary desperation of contemporary Asian films.  It is not necessarily a new offering to the genre of horror, but it is certainly refreshing to see the genre done right, because it is becoming more difficult to find consistently good horror offerings in the past few years.  Essentially, The Woman In Black is your textbook horror film and as such it is a welcome viewing experience that respects its absurdity without losing any of its suspenseful elements.

The Woman in Black focuses on Arthur (Daniel Radcliffe) a wraithlike young man who is coping with the untimely death of his wife after the birth of their son.  He is scraping by attempting to provide care for his child while also making a name for himself as an up and coming lawyer.  Despite his best efforts, he is threatened with his job unless he agrees to take on some clerical work in a desolate village that is a lengthy travel by train.  Upon arrival to the town, Arthur is dismissed given his foreign nature and clear attachment to technologies and his clearly urban leanings, attempting to find help from the various townsfolk with no success, Arthur is eventually befriended by Daily (Ciarin Hinds)  the only man in the village who owns a car.  Oblivious to the eerie nature of the town, Arthur demands a ride to the manor of Eel Marsh, which belonged to the late Alice Drabow.  It is once he ventures into this house that he realizes the village is not quite as simple as it initially let on.  After viewing a mysterious woman walking through the cemetery outside the manner, Arthur begins to ask questions about what actually happened at Eel Marsh.  Despite the attempts by the villagers, including Daily, to extract himself from the situation, Arthur continues to dig and discovers that Drabow actually lost her own child after it was removed from her custody given her instable mental state.  If this were not bad enough, Drabow was forced to watch her child die in the lake in front of her unable to provide assistance as she was locked away in a cellar.  As a result, Drabow’s ghost takes vengeance on the village causing the town’s children to kill themselves inexplicably.  Arthur, both adamant about keeping his job and realizing his otherness allows him access to hidden parts of the village, takes it upon himself to fix the situation.  With the help of Daily he discovers the location of Drabow’s dead child and returns it to her room, hoping that by reuniting the two the curse will forever end.  However, as Arthur awaits the arrival of his son to the village, the film cuts to the now empty house as the voice of Drabow yells her refusal to provide forgiveness, this is followed by Arthur’s son walking onto the tracks of an oncoming train, only to cause Arthur to dive to his rescue.  The film then cuts to the two walking in a darker version of the train station to discover Arthur’s dead wife, the scene implies that the family is reunited with the death of Arthur and his son and the three walk off into the darkness of the tunnel ahead.  In the closing image, the camera pans to a statue of Drabow in the corner as the head moves to make direct eye contact with viewers, suggesting that her curse is transferred off the screen and into reality.

While horror films are often relegated to a lesser film genre given their usually schlocky nature, it is important to note that they, perhaps more than any other genre, allow for possibilities of alternative narratives and previously unseen characters.  Take the original Night of the Living Dead for example.  In this work, the main character is a black male, which prior to this film was something considerably unusual, particularly in such a popular film.  This happens to some extent in The Woman in Black, as Arthur is certainly not your traditional hero.  He is a young widowed dad who is not entirely masculine and is undoubtedly not mentally stable.  Arthur clearly suffers from some level of crippling depression, which affects his behaviors and allows him to become in touch with the spiritual world.  In another setting, the hero would have been a stalwart character of social power, perhaps a police officer or a soldier.  Another notable feature of this particular horror film is its dealings with unjust seclusion to a person with mental illness.  To some extent, the character of Drabow nicely reflects that character of the crazy woman in the attic from Jane Eyre who would be given her own narrative in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea.  The reflection exists in the fact that a person is placed in solitary confinement for no apparent reason and is not allowed access to the world she created.  It is only suggested that Drabow had a child and that the child’s father is completely out of the picture.  Similar to the woman in the attic who burns down the Rochester house in revolt, Drabow is doing so out of vengeance, as well as lack of acknowledgement.  It could be argued that if Drabow were simply allowed access to her child then none of the terrible instance would have occurred.  Unfortunately, this is not the case and the result is gruesome to say the least.  Horror predicates itself on the absurd, however, it also reminds viewers that in  many of these instances the vengeful ghosts are doing so for a clear social injustice done to them in the past, and as such it is a call to end such irrational behavior in contemporary settings.

The Woman in Black is still making its way through theaters and is incredibly cinematic.  Take some friends with you, as it is certainly an edge of the seat viewing experience.  As for the eventually release, it is certainly a bluray grab for horror fans.


It's Like A Crippled Tree Reaching For Heaven: Cyrus (2010)

When I engage with independent films that use handheld camera work and mumble dialogue, I become weary.  Usually, it is a sign of a mumblecorp film that will either deliver something brilliantly profound, as is the case with Tiny Furniture, or miss the mark completely and come off as distantly pretentious, as is the case with Dance Party, U.S.A.  Cyrus, while possessing far more notable actors than either of the previously mentioned films provides an air of mumblecorp that makes seeing Jonah Hill and Marisa Tomei seem humanly close.  It is a film about interactions done so minimally and believably that it is hard not to mistake the work for something of a documentary.  Directors and writers Mark and Jay Duplass provide a heartfelt piece of film that is clearly made with some distant memory in mind, suggesting that those viewing are being allowed a glimpse into a persons dearest thoughts, without effectively invading the narrative with judgment.  Cyrus is so well scripted, filmed and directed that you are lost when it ends, because as a viewer you attach yourself to its characters and follow them through their spells of failure and success, as one man learns to grow up while another learns to be young.

Cyrus follows John, played with clear ease by John C. Reilly, as he deals with the rather shitty state of his life.  John is a professional film editor, whose best friend is his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) and latches on to his comfort with her despite the clear disdain of Jamie's new fiance Tim (Matt Walsh).  As a gesture of both kindness and desperation, Tim and Jamie force John to tag along to a party with the hopes that he will meet someone new there and his irregular attachment with Jamie will end.  It appears as though the part will be as bust as John quickly becomes intoxicated off Red Bull and Vodka and finds himself peeing in the bushes outside the party.  It is at this point that he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) a sultry woman who displays clear interest in John.  After a night of intimacy, John is infatuated with Molly, but despite her clear interest in him, she is incredibly evasive.  Desiring to make things work with Molly, John follows her home one evening only to pass out across the street.  When he awakes, it is the morning and he approaches the house with the hopes of talking to her.  Instead, John is approached by Cyrus (Jonah Hill) the unusually old son of Molly.  Cyrus is incredibly welcoming to John and shares his house and music with John and things seem to be going well until Molly returns and is incredibly distraught to discover John waiting.  The relationship between Cyrus and Molly becomes awkward quite quickly as it is apparent that there is an unhealthy attachment between the mother and son.  John attempts to play it cool to the entire situation, but Cyrus plots to separate him from his mother and for most of the remaining narrative, he is successful at causing the two to end their relationship, only after John has attacked Cyrus and ruined his former wife's wedding.  However, in a moment of recognition to his own mother's sadness, Cyrus returns to apologize to John and the two end their disputes.  Cyrus removes himself as a divisive force and John and Molly finally engage in their clearly promising future.

I find one of the best features of the mumblecorp genre to be its honest approach to unusual narratives.  Having read my fair share of commentaries on suppressed narratives, it is great to see a film like Cyrus.  While it is clearly concerned with only well to do white individuals they are nonetheless a divergent narrative.  Cyrus is a young man with obvious mental problems that are overlooked by current psychiatric means.  John is a divorced male who is struggling to approach life, despite being clearly out of the loop.  He has an ex-wife that he is still close with, which posits a rather unusual and unconventional commentary on the status of marriage, and while it is clear that Tim is uncomfortable with their interactions, he realizes it would be selfish and oppressive to ask them to cease.  It is seemingly irrelevant and simply a means to add characters to the plot, but it is likely that the directors realized their social statement upon release.  The film also portrays a single mother in an unusual light.  Molly is clearly a woman struggling with little to no success to deal with her trouble son.  While it is obvious that she takes her duty very seriously and champions her cause quite respectably the film makes not intentions to glorify her.  In fact, the film approaches Molly in a very critical manner making it quite clear that she is oblivious to many of the events occurring in her own life.  In a sense, Cyrus is a film that concerns itself with highlighting unusual situations and drawing viewers into accepting that such possibilities occur, however, it is careful not to over idolize the quirky situation and instead approaches it quite honestly and with much criticism, hearkening back to my previous statement of the film existing as more of a documentary than actual narrative piece.  A rare outcome in contemporary filmmaking.

Cyrus is a solid film that is well worth viewing.  However, unless you are particularly keen on independent cinema it is a rental only.


Coffee's For Closers: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

If I were ever in a situation to lecture on effective narrative cinema, I would certainly push the necessity of dialogue.  Now dialogue can be minimal but still manage to be effective as is the case in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or the recent film Drive.  However, other films flourish with a presence of seemingly unending dialogue.  This is clearly the case with Glengarry Glen Ross, a film directed by James Foley based on an adaptation of prolific playwright David Mamet.  The words uttered in this film are masterfully precise and poetic, only to be made all the more miraculous by the ensemble cast, which includes a combination of veteran Hollywood actors, and young actors who were only beginning to make names for themselves as Hollywood icons.  It is not particularly cinematic in its portrayal, but the way each actor possesses his space, particularly Jack Lemmon, causes the movie to seem brilliantly shot, despite it being rather stagnant in its composition.  In fact, the only clear problem within the film is the heavy male centric composition of the film.  It is no surprise that the film is completely void of a single female actress, but the reality of Glengarry Glen Ross is that the world portrayed is that of male power and presence, and it possesses an underlying commentary of the frail state of such social structures.

Glengarry Glen Ross focuses on a group of aging salesmen who are attempting to maintain relevance in a business that no longer welcomes their antiquated methods.  The group includes a variety of men, the endearingly friendly, yet sharkishly sly Shelley Levine (Jack Lemmon), the parrot-like follower George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), the angsty rebel Dave Moss (Ed Harris), and the suave yet troubled Ricky Roma (Al Pacino).  The crew seems fine to drift through their jobs making just enough to get by, until they are approached by a young, acidic salesmen named Blake (Alec Baldwin) who berates the crew and dismisses their old ways explaining that they must get their act together or become unemployed.  The only beneficial outcome is that whoever in the group claims the most sales will receive a Corvette.  This announcement, solidified by their manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) leads the group into a flurry of misappropriated attempts at sales and emerging dishonesty between a previously close group of friends.  The only individual who seems to be fairing well in the entire deal is Ricky who assures deals by taken advantage of drunken men willing to make risky business deals.  Shelley becomes completely baffled by the process and attempts to use his old bag of tricks to little success.  Dave and George react differently and hatch a robbery plot, which will assure them access to the much coveted lead cards which will almost assure their victory and subsequent employment.  After a single night of attempted sales, Shelley returns to an office, which is full of detectives and an angry John who becomes the point of degradation for the crew who hold him responsible for the robbery.  While it is clear that George is to blame, he acts innocent, while Shelley brags about a miracle sale he made the night prior.  In a moment of pride, he foolishly takes blame for the robbery only to have John explain that his sale was null and void, as it was enacted with two clinically insane individuals.  John mocks and derides Shelley and takes pride in putting him in police custody for actions he was not guilty.  Befuddled and enraged Shelley is left at a worse place than the films opening, while Ricky scrambles to save his most recent sale.  George confused by his stroke of luck simply returns to his job as though the entire nights events never occurred.  In the simplest sense, it is a film about individual desires and how such actions completely destroy the possibility of societal cohabitation.

As mentioned in the introduction, the films is entirely male.  With the exception of an occasional woman's voice over the phone it is all male actors concerned about things only existing within the male world.  The characters only desire to engage with other men and make it quite clear that anything involving women is tragically irrelevant.  With just this description alone, it is easy to read the film as a misogynist text that relegates women to the private sphere and as an object without a voice.  However, the film is something far greater than this and actually focuses with great detail on the problems of unrestrained patriarchy.  The characters begin on and slow decline and only crash into a more tragic end, because their power has never been question in a sense of masculinity.  While the characters are clearly degraded from a class and age perspective this seems to affect them very little.  It is only when Blake yells at them and questions their masculinity that they seem to become bothered.  It is at this point that the entire crew, but George and Dave particularly, become adamant on assuring Blake that he cannot treat people in such a manner.  Their rebellion is of course illogical given that the desire to steal a stack of cards to sell for quick cash, when it is apparent that if they were to earn them in a respective manner their profits would increase considerably.  Even the award is masculine, as opposed to a raise or honorary praise, the group is offered a muscle car, which has little value aside from bragging rights.  Mamet's work is clearly about the problems of male competition becoming horrifically unchecked.  The film reflects this ideology and drives it to its most extreme, and the excellent cast solidifies it with each look of despair and confusion as their lives fall into complete chaos.

Glengarry Glen Ross is a contemporary classic and an excellent narrative film.  It is well worth watching for each monologue and diatribe and is a perfect example of how one should transfer theater to film.  It is a must own, although a regular DVD will do just fine.


Have You Ever Done Anything To Provoke Anyone?: Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance (2002)

As I continue to venture through my book on New Korean Cinema, I am becoming completely enthralled with the complexities of their national cinema, as well as being enamored with the films release in the country within the last decade.  The work of Chan-wook Park certainly stands far above not only many of his Korean contemporaries, but well above other working directors as well.  Park, most well known for Old Boy, is a director who completely understands how to merge artistic expression with viewer demands into films that excel both in their message and delivery, never at any point sacrificing either side to assure the fluidity of the other.  His film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a lesser known film within Park's trilogy that includes Old Boy is something to cherish.  It is a film that makes no amends to assuring understandability to foreign viewers, yet the philosophical issues raised within the film are so universal that whispered dialogue and absurdist endings do little to delineate its commentary.  Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is a poetic study of anger, violence and retribution that is done so with a soft palette, experimental angles and just enough cohesion to provide a unique and lasting viewing experience.  I am starting to understand why Korean cinema is becoming more viewed and studied on a global scale, because it is clearly the source for some of the most profound cinema of the past decade.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is, like the previously discussed Tell Me Something, a film about crime, deceit and the psychological effects of such engagements.  However, unlike the latter, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance approaches desires for revenge as they manifest themselves through a handful of characters.  The first, and perhaps most notable character within the film is the deaf factory worker named Ryu (Ha-kyun Shin) who is simply trying to accrue enough money to kidney transplant for his dying sister.  In a twist of bad luck, Ryu is laid off from work and left without a reliable source to pay for his sister's operation.  Discovering an advertisement for organ selling, the deaf Ryu makes plans to swap his kidney for that of a positive match to his sister.  Despite the disagreements of his lover, and faux-revolutionary, Yeong-Mi (Doona Bae) Ryu decides to go through with the operation.  Meeting at a sleasy abandoned parking garage, Ryu in part confusion and part lack of hearing is taken advantage of and left naked and lacking one kidney on the top floor of the garage.  Enraged and embarrassed, Ryu returns to Yeong-Mi and the two hash a plan to kidnap the daughter of one of the CEO's of Ryu's former company.  Agreeing to be kind to the girl, the two enact the murder and plan to use the money earned to solidify that Ryu's sister receives her operation.  However, as is usually the case, the kidnapping goes awry and Ryu fails to hear the kidnapped girl drowning behind him.  Furthermore, Ryu's sister discovers a sheet explaining his plans to abduct a child in the name of saving her, which leads her to commit suicide in shame.  At this point in the story, the now dead girl's father and Ryu become bent on revenge.  Ryu angry at the people who took his kidney and the CEO upset at Ryu for what he assumes to be an intentional murder.  After killing the organ theives, Ryu's path crosses with the CEO who has already killed Yeong-Mi in an attempt to find Ryu.  The CEO then takes Ryu to the place where his daughter died and slits his achilles tendons leaving the deaf Ryu to die an agonizing death.  When the films seems all but over a group of thugs drive up in a car and kill the CEO claiming that they are doing so to avenge the death of Yeong-Mi who was the leader of the revolutionary organization which had up until this point seemed to be fake.  All acts of revenge settled, the film closes with nobody victorious and a larger amount of bloodshed than any person had imagined.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, like the other works of Park delves heavily into the questioning of the validity and rationality of revenge.  The character of Ryu throughout most of the film is simply attempting to assure the comfort of his sister, and even when being unjustifiably removed from work lacks a desire to act violently against those who did wrong by him.  It is clearly suggested that Ryu should find most of his rage through his termination from the steel company, yet he fails to do so and instead acts illogically and attempts to make a deal with shady criminals.  Even after the initial robbery of his kidney, Ryu fails to feel vengeful against the group and instead attempts to act irrationally to save his sister.  It is not until his sister takes her own life that he becomes enraged and finally lashes out against the criminals, killing them all with little compassion or emotional cognizance.  His act of vengeance proves to be his downfall as he is eventually killed by the CEO, who believes him to be a ruthless murderer, a fact that was not true for most of the film.  Similarly, the CEO finds his anger directed at Ryu and enacts much of it upon Yeong-Mi who is arguably innocent in the death of his daughter.  Again, it is his unrestrained murder of multiple individuals that lead to his death despite it being clear that he is acting vengeful for nothing more than an unfortunate accident.  The film drives the CEO's place in the entire affair home by suggesting that he was foolish enough to believe that he had no enemies, despite being inextricably tied to a company that laid individuals off with little thought for their futures.  The film ultimately ties a group of people together who assume themselves to be living separate lives of little concern with the world, but as it becomes clear within the narrative, an act of wrongdoing often has many culprits and always has many victims.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a stunning film that is cinematically sound.  Although I have yet to view Lady Vengeance, I am sure it is a great film making the Park's bluray boxset of The Vengeance Trilogy a must own.  Although Park has not made a film in a few years, I strongly suggest keeping an eye out for his name, because his next work is sure to amaze.


It Will Be 9/11 Times 2356: Team America: World Police (2004)

I saw this film a few years after its initial release and rewatched it recently per the request of a friend who is about to ship off to OCS training.  Upon my initial viewing of the film, I enjoyed all the blatant humor within the film that I had already come to adore from the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone.  This second time around, however, I was able to pick up on many of the slighted social critiques and clever political diatribes that were initially less apparent.  I make no qualms about my love of the work of Parker and Stone and while they may receive flack for their bawdy antics and complete disregard for moral decency, the two clearly understand the problems of the world far better than most politicians could even begin to imagine.  As such, Team America is something profoundly larger than a musical about puppets fighting the war on terrorism, as it is more than appropriate to say that South Park is about much more than a group of kids growing up in rural Colorado.  Team America is instead a scathingly accurate commentary on our world post-911, particularly how we dealt with the cultural appropriation of patriotism, terrorism and national unity in a time when all seemed dire.  Team America amidst its explosions, toilet humor and knowingly terrible acting reminds viewers that comedy is the best medicine to despair, as well as the most accessible route to astute social commentary.

Team America: World Police follows a group of trained soldiers whose soul purpose appears to be the assurance of freedom globally and the cessation of all things terrorist.  The group is led by a man named Carson whose sauve ways and leadership assure that the group will fight terrorism with little trouble, however, after a cowardly attack by a dying terrorist Carson is killed and Team America is left without a vital organ to their entire process.  Confused and desperate, the groups leader Spottswoode, recruits a respected Broadway actor named Gary to fill the void, believing that his excellent acting skills will prove useful in the infiltration of terrorist cells and the discovery of any hidden WMD's.  Reluctant, Gary attempts to sequester himself into a life of solitude that finds him constantly beating himself up over the death of his family by zoo guerillas.  It is not until Gary reflects on his own place in assuring freedom that he decides to join Team America and fight terrorism.  His addition to the group is received with mixed feelings, some finding him absolutely appalling and unfit to replace Carson, while others find him to be a perfect replacement.  Agreeing to help, Team America, along with Gary, plunge themselves into dealing with the removal of WMD's from Cairo only to discover too late that a far bigger player controls the terrorist movement, that of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, whose own self-deprecating loneliness has led him to desire the complete destruction of the world.  Oblivious to the true problems of the world, Jong-Il is helped by American actors who see Team America as conservative blowhards.  The group known collectively as the Film Actors Guild is led by Alec Baldwin and agrees to do a benefit in North Korea.  This benefit, as Jong-Il knows, will allow him a moment of global distraction long enough to bomb the world.  While the group has trouble unifying to fend of Jong-Il in a last sprint of unity the group is able to deter his actions and Gary is finally able to discover his true acting talents.  The film closes on a frozen frame of Team America celebrating their victory as they await their next mission to assure freedom, because as the film reminds us, it is not free, but actually costs "a buck'o'five."

As I said earlier, Team America is clearly a commentary on our own cultural discourse following 9/11.  As always, Parker and Stone are careful to critique the illogical nature of both sides.  Conservatives are critiqued through the scenes in which over zealous patriotism receives unquestioned praises, as is evidenced by the "What Would You Do For Freedom?" song which eerily parallels most every song Toby Keith has made since the terrorist attacks in 2001.  Similarly, the "American" things defended within the film are all clearly emerging from a white perspective, which is humorously done through making a member of Team America a white male from Nebraska, who is a natural born leader.  This moment clearly mocks the rise of a return to an older America that emerged after 9/11, which obviously meant the relegation of persons of color.  The film is also clever enough to dismiss the zealous counters of the liberal media, which automatically disregards freedom fighting groups like Team America as flag waivers.  The liberals, realized through the Film Actors Guild in the film, unknowingly agree to engage in terrorist activities, because to them anything that contradicts conservative values is inherently good, despite knowing that the other side in the film is obviously Kim Jong-Il.  Similarly, the film criticizes our own government's commentary on a post-PATRIOT ACT world that justifies invasions of privacy simply in the name of freedom fighting.  It is no coincidence that the computer used in the film is titled as I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. as it is used as a justification for clearly illegal acts on Americans; this is particularly poignant within the film as we are never provided with the words that fit into the acronym.  The government within the film attempts to mask problems with huge phrases and catchy titles, while the conservatives and liberals feud over ideology that would clearly benefit from simply acknowledging a middle ground.  As you can see amidst images of vomit, elementary gay jokes and an absurdly funny puppet sex scene, Team America offers a fully realized vision of our failings in a post-terrorist world.

Team America screams rental, but is not bad by any means.  It really is a group viewing experience that will be greatly helped by the inclusion of PBR.


Hobo Stops Begging, Demands Change: Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)

Since the emergence of Tod Browning's 1932 film Freaks, a large group of directors have made it a goal of theirs to great the grotesque in moving imagery and continually push the boundaries on the unfilmable.  While much of this push towards more controversial filmmaking is spearheaded by autuer leaders like Takishi Miike, Lars Von Trier and Harmony Korine, independent cinema continues to provide its own slew of hyper-violent, bizarre and extremely watchable films. Jason Eisenger's recent offering of Hobo With A Shotgun is certainly no exception to this and is only made all the more entertaining by the always welcome presence of Rutger Hauer.  Hobo With A Shotgun is not a particularly profound movie and is far too on the nose to be a poignant social critique, but what a film like this does is allow for serious discussions on post-apocalyptic fears to become popular.  Like many zombie films, Eisenger's work really does beg the question of the values of morals when signifier of social order have become irrelevant.  The film is certainly exaggerated, but is clearly intended as a genre piece, yet if one can get through the seemingly unending stream of red corn syrup and the glossy help of technicolor, Hobo With A Shotgun is a thrill ride that will undoubtedly provide viewers with angst about the slow decay of Western civilization.

I could simply say that the title explains the entire film, because the film is more or less about a hobo ennacting justice with a shotgun.  Yet, there is a much larger plot that is well worth discussing.  The film begins with an unnamed hobo (Rutger Hauer) riding into a town on the rails of a train.  The town, once called Hope Town, is the center for all things depraved.  The hobo is aghast by the pure amounts of degradation occurring in the city, whether it be a filmmaker using his wealth to exploit the poor into demeaning themselves on film or the countless acts of rebellion enacted in the name of nothing.  The state of the town seems to be tied directly to the unchecked power of the wealthy Drake (Brian Downey) who along with this two sons Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith), act in a violent manner simply because they are without challenge.  While Drake is clearly in power, he outsources his actions to both Ivan and Slick, placing a heavy emphasis on his pride in Ivan.  The hobo has a run in with Slick at an arcade, in which Slick attempts to rape a young prostitute named Abby (Molly Dunsworth).  Enraged the hobo knocks over Slick and saves the girl completely ignorant to the status and power of Slick.  Grateful for the help Abby befriends the hobo, and with her help he is able to purchase a shotgun that provides him with power to counter the corrupt city.  The hobo is surprisingly successful in his actions making a name for himself as a super hero of sorts, while cleaning the city of scum.  Drake and his sons, however, loathe the actions of the hobo and make it a point to turn the city against him.   The hobo, despite overwhelming odds, confronts Drake and his cohorts known as The Plague in one final showdown, and when it appears as though he is to die, he is aided by Abby.  The hobo is given an opportunity to kill Drake only to be stopped at gunpoint by a group of police officers, who have to this point in the film been rather non-existent.  Realizing his death is inevitable he shoots Drake in the head, only to die in a storm of police gunfire.  The film then closes with Abby being invited to join The Plague as she is the only person to have successfully survived their onslaught.  The town is still in despair, but it appears as though the cleansing of the streets from the hands of Drake can assure some sort of decency in the future.

Hobo With A Shotgun mirrors a film like The Toxic Avenger rather nicely, in that it deals with a serious social problem in a very ridiculous way and makes no qualms about beating viewers over the head with its message.  The message is simple, those with power can exploit those without, and unless the powerless can unify together, the powerful will continue to rule with oppressive force.  Drake can control the city simply because he has the money, and those who are not easily persuaded by money can succumb to drugs.  This is clear when Slick uses cocaine to overpower a rival kid of relative wealth, causing the young man to become addicted and subsequently dependent on Slick as a source.  It also notes the problems of abject poverty and how nearly impossible it is to climb out of such a state.  The hobo simply desires to purchase a used lawnmower to begin his own business and survive.  Right as he is in the process of doing so he becomes stuck in the middle of a robbery which leads him to come into possession of a shotgun to stop the robber in his tracks.  Such a scene, amidst its violent nature, suggests that those in terrible situations often attempt to extradite themselves; however, those around them invariably influence them in negative ways.  Finally, the film posits the illogical nature of single person sacrifice.  The hobo tries desperately to avenge those who were degraded within Scum Town, but he never makes it clear that he is doing so for the entirity of humanity, in fact, in the epic scene in which he talks to a nursery full of babies, he makes it clear that the world will never change and that one must simply accept their task with a positive outlook, even if it means being a hobo who happens to wield a shotgun.  Though not sacrificial, it is clear that the hobo's death was not in vain, for he allowed other to realize that change is possible, but must be done so on a unified scale, for one man cannot perform the work of many.

Hobo With A Shotgun is a fun bit of film and a great piece of cinema to come from Canada.  It is exploitation filmmaking at its finest and well worth watching.  At the moment, it is on Netflix Watch Instantly and a quick flick that clocks in just under an hour and a half.


I Don't Remember The Past: Tell Me Something (1999)

Korean cinema has been coming into it's own in the past decade or so and is evidenced most clearly by their horror films.  This came to me as I am currently halfway through an excellent book on New Korean Cinema and will certainly review it upon completion, but in the meantime, I will discuss the handful of films I view as mentioned in the book.  The first of these films is the excellent crime thriller/ psychological horror excursion titled Tell Me Something, which does not have the reputation of the works of Joon-Ho Bong or Chan-wook Park, yet still manages to be something remarkable.  Tell Me Something, directed by Yoon-hyung Chang is a visceral study of deceit, revenge and degradation unlike anything before, combining a grating soundtrack, meta-cinematic dread and meticulous acting to provide a thrill ride that clearly borrows from predecessors like Basic Instinct while managing to be completely fresh in its vision.  In a historic sense, Tell Me Something is one of the harbingers of what would become a globally recognized nation of cinema.  Sure, it is not the best film to come out of Korea by any means, but is a fine piece of cinema that is masterful in its existence alone.

Tell Me Something, is a convoluted and multifaceted crime film of grand proportions.  The film follows one Detective Oh (Suk-kyu Han) who is returning to work after the recent death of his mother.  His return is shadowed by the fact that he borrowed money from a notorious gang leader to assure a surgery for his now deceased mother.  It is only moments into his new return that he is assigned to a case involving a serial killer.  As with most serial killers, his subject has their own modus operandi, which consists of killing respectable mails and severing their body parts, often leaving one part attached to another dead body, however, in each instance at least one body part is left missing.  Befuddled but determined to regain the respect of his colleagues Oh sets out to find the killer.  His search leads him very quickly to one Chae (Eun-ha Shim) who is the daughter of a famous Korean painter.  As the film's pace picks up it becomes clear that Chae is a very troubled individual between her past sexual abuses on the part of her father and her trouble relationships with past guys, who incidentally end up being the victims in the still unknown serial killers crimes.  Despite her obvious problems, Oh grows fond of Chae and pursues her while continually defending her place in the crimes.  As he remains oblivious to her actions, other lovers from Chae's past become victims and in no time Oh's colleagues begin to die.  In one final confrontation, which pits Oh blaming the murders on a jealous female friend of Chae, he denounces Chae's guilt and is almost killed by the psychotic friend.  After the dust clears, Oh and Chae share a discussion in which he turns down her invitations to live with him in Paris.  In the closing scenes, Chae is shown boarding a plane, while Oh enters her apartment one last time.  He turns on the light to reveal one her art projects, a morbid hodgepodge of the body parts remaining from the killers victims.  It becomes clear that she was the murderer the entire time, yet frozen in fear Oh is unable to stop her from leaving on the plane.  The film then closes with Chae talking to another man on the flight, suggesting that her killing is far from completion.

As noted earlier, I am currently reading a fascinating book on New Korean Cinema that discusses this film briefly while defending that the horror genre can serve as social critique.  Ignoring the debate surrounding horror as critique (although I am in favor of it's possibility) I instead what to elaborate on another point made about the film.  In the piece, the author, Kyu-hyun Kim, discusses the foolish claims that the film just furthers notions of women as hysterical and that their otherness and subsequent violent behavior adhere to conservative fears.  Instead, Kim suggests that the film promotes the problems of patriarchy and that rebellion is necessary in dismantling such occurrences.  While the film certainly counters male power in a violent manner, it does raise very serious questions concerning sexual abuse, the voice of women in Korea and the problem of male desires and their interference in the world of criminal justice.  Chae is certainly a mentally unstable character in need of help, yet it is also apparent that most of her problems stem from her father's sexual abuse and violent degradation.  She is at many points paralleled to Ophelia of Shakespeare's Hamlet, who has grown to become one of the most problematic women in the history of the written word, save for the Virgin Mary.  Chae throughout the film continues in her violent ways, but with the exception of the few cops trying to do their jobs, her violent acts are reactionary to previous injustices enacted by men, whether it is her father's violence or one of her lovers who engaged in scopophilic voyeurism with Chae while dating.  It is no coincidence then that Oh, the only one to claim her innocence, is spared her violent wrath.  Not only does he not act violently towards her, when he does discover that she is indeed guilty he does nothing to punish her for her actions.  While part of this failure to report her comes from paralysis, it is always possible that he realizes that at a very basic level her revenge was more than justified.

If you fancy yourself at all concerned with the current world of Asian cinema, Tell Me Something is a must see.  If you like crime thrillers Tell Me Something is a must see.  Hell, if you even remotely enjoy movies Tell Me Something is a must see.  Go get a copy. You will not be disappointed.


Death Is But A Moment, Cowardice Is A Lifetime Afflcition: The Trip (2010)

The Trip is one of those rare occasions in which the film's poster completely counters what the film ends up being.  In the image on the advertisements, we are provided with an image of Steve Coogan looking distressed as Rob Brydon laughs unabashedly.  With this picture it is easy to assume that the film is to be an uproarious comedy that will deliver constant laughs and little in the way of profound character study.  The Trip, however, is not a normal comedy, but a very sobering look at one mans attempt to deal with his fading into obscurity and increasingly distancing behavior to the world around him.  At first this discovery bothered me given that I wanted to laugh and enjoy myself, yet despite its incredibly dark undertones the movie was quite hilarious and incredibly profound.  It is an excellent independent film, which has just enough of a spark to flow for two hours and while the film relies heavily on the same set of jokes it manages to remain consistently funny and endearingly honest.  It is traditional in its film style and linear narrative, but beyond that it is something quite unique and watchable.  The Trip is a reminder that English film is still alive and while their comedy is certainly not the popular American style it is hilarious in its own right.

The Trip follows Steve Coogan, playing a slightly more pretentious version of himself, as he agrees to take up a job as a food critic for a national newspaper with the hopes of re-winning the heart of his American girlfriend Mischa (Margo Stilley).  It is apparent, however, that Steve also desires to advance himself out of a failed attempt to rehash his fading comedy career.  Mischa, distancing herself from Steve, decides not to partake in the trip with him leading him to invite his old friend Rob Brydon, played by himself in a much more ignorant manner.  The two then take it upon themselves to travel across London eating at various restaurants and attempting to rekindle their clearly broken relationship.  Instead of simply discussing their lives and activities the two attempt to outdo each others' comedic form, leaning heavily on impersonations, particularly that of Michael Caine.  Their argument over who provides a better impersonation of the aging actor becomes a center for the two's attempts to outshine each other in regards to their careers.  Rob is clearly more successful than Steve, given his popularity on a popular British sketch comedy show, while Steve is known for his work in independent films.  Furthermore, Rob has become a family man, content with having a wife and child, while Steve continues to sleep with different women every night and fails to earn legitimate work at any point during film.  The two continue to travel together, despite a clearly growing resentment on the part of Steve, who finds Rob's continual use of impressions and puns irritating.  After confrontations and Rob's eventual realization that he is a point of envy for Steve, the two resolve their issues and depart humbly, but without great fondness for one another.  Rob returns to his happy family life and clearly finds it rewarding, while Steve is shown alone in his apartment drinking and slouching in despair.  The two have changed in no form from their trip, except for having eaten foie gras crackers.

The Trip is a film about studying the values of human desires, particularly finding a happy medium between qualitative and quantitative desires.  Steve desperately wants his life to take a financial boost, particularly his global career as a comedian.  He desires this far more than he does ensuring a relationship with his girlfriend, or anybody else around him for that matter.  Throughout the film, Steve struggles with constant nightmares about people hating him or encountering far more successful actors and awaking to realize that these fears and desires are actually not occurring.  Even after ridiculing Rob for one of his characters on his sketch show, Steve is shown fighting off tears in a hotel mirror as he fails to recreate the popular character.  It is clear that he is at one point willing to sell out in order to gain global recognition.  This occurs when he is offered a spot as a villain on a television series in the United States.  On the other hand, Rob simply desires to please the people around him, mostly by making them laugh at groan-worthy jokes.  He is clearly elated with his wife and child and the money he makes seems secondary.  Rob's desires for quality allow him to gain quantifiable rewards, at one point he admits that he was surprised by his success, particularly given that it is rooted in a rather idiotic character.  Steve by the end of the film realizes that Rob's success is not to be envied given that he earned it earnestly and without corruption.  Steve appears as though he will change his life and approach things from Rob's perspective, however, the film closes before he can do so and as such we as viewers are uncertain that Steve will indeed change.

The Trip is a solid piece of film that is incredibly viewable.  However, it is not worth owning so a rental will do just fine.