REVIEW: ‘Before We Vanish’

“Why did you wait til now to tell me!? We’ve run out of time!”

maxresdefaultThis movie is about a monster, and perhaps a metaphor of our lost sense of self; and the ones who wish to be us or even defeat us. Are we really who we say we are?
What if the ideals we stand on, and our understanding of how life works, was stolen from us? The monster steals ideals, identities, and peels back layers of fragility we didn’t even know were there. You know what makes this monster even scarier?
This monster is actually THREE monsters, and they more or less serve as a herald..

For an incoming, alien invasion…

Here’s my review on Youtube:

Perfect Blue (20th Anniversary Screening)

Perfect-Blue-2

Twenty years later, and Perfect Blue still thrills and chills….

Tonight didn’t seem any different than usual for me, aside from the belabored trip to pickup my children from school. I’d taken a long hiatus from this blog (among other things) to focus on getting my family back in order. The wife and I prepared dinner as our two children settled in for evening. After they had gotten into bed, we headed off to pick up our friend and make our way for tonight’s screening. I opened up the door, and my wife walked on ahead toward the van. I closed it and a chill ran down my back. I peered up at the sky. It was gray, dreary and misting, cold rain. The steep drop in temperature gave me another chill. Little did I know, tonight’s film would leave me feeling icy, disturbed, and confused–all (of course) in a good way.

SPOILERALERT

This isn’t the first time I’ve brought Perfect Blue up on this blog. I’ve made it clear I’m a fan of Satoshi Kon’s work here, alongside his other heavy-hitting cinematic bouts.

I always appreciated certain themes that seemed to reoccur in Kon’s work. The fear or paranoia (uncertainty) when it comes to the world wide web is one. Second, is the fear or paranoia of those we believed to be our most trusted friends and family. Perfect Blue plays with these two phobias (so to speak) and bases them in Japan’s ‘Pop Idol Culture’. Not too mention another fear of ours Kon preys upon—being a victim of a toxic fandom. It seems silly to bring up, but when all things are considered; this film’s action is driven by the actions of fans, admirers, and people who initially were supportive of the main characters.

This isn’t a story of ‘Good Guys versus Bad Guys’. I struggle to even see this film in that light at all. Even with the enormous twist that occurs during the last half of the film; it felt more like a betrayal than it did an altogether, evil act. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘antagonist’ of this film is definitely a wrongdoer. But one could argue that they acted out their betrayal only after feeling betrayed themselves. A murderous, ‘tit-for-tat’.

I love the intriguing, yet chilling level of paranoia brought to this film. The film’s ‘hero’, a singer, is simply trying to execute a career change. She’s ultimately convinced by one adviser that being a Japanese Pop Idol isn’t a profitable way to live, no matter how much passion is there. The singer (Her name is Mima) eventually decides to become a professional actress. Coincidentally enough, another one of her managers shows her how to setup her personal computer and web browser. Why is it important? Because from this point on, Mima’s life changes dramatically. She’s switched to a difficult and competitive career, and she’s also looking to establish an online, social presence during the early stages of the internet. It may not have seemed like much back then; but we all know how much a strong, internet presence can influence someone’s career. Keep in mind celebrities now have been criticized and bullied into shutting down their social media profiles. Anyway, a fan letter tips Mima off to a fan-made web page dedicated to her.

The web page proceeds to torment her throughout the duration of the film from then on. It knows what she eats, how she sleeps, even down to what foot she steps off of the local subway with first.

The film revs up it’s intense crawl and throws in these sharp, sleek cuts throwing both Mima and the audience into this confused, hapless stupor. From there, we’re forced to confront Mima’s fading confidence in her talent as an actress, her relationships with her managers and former pop idol co-stars; and the aforementioned ‘Mima’s Room’ fan age. Not only do the fans seem to be upset with Mima’s decision to quit her Idol life, but her role on the drama series she’s been cast in has become incredibly risque’ and explicit.

Just when the pot of personal and not-so-personal horrors begins to come to a boil; someone or something has begun murdering people associated with Mima and her career. A fitting, puzzling, hair-raising twist like that thrown in makes Perfect Blue, not just one of the best, animated films of all time–but among some of the best thrillers of all time as well.

If you haven’t seen Perfect Blue, please seek it out. As a matter of fact I’ll post a link here to Amazon. There, I’ve done half of the work for you. You’re welcome.

Friday ?????: “What scares you?”

As many who have followed me over the last six years or so have learned–I don’t necessarily scare that easy. Whether it’s the absurdity or excess gore, over the top scripting, or cliched jump scares; I’m generally okay while watching these types of films.

What will generally get me kinda of nervous is horror of the psychological fare. Give me a story about my dreams running out of control. Or the man who forces me to make an incredibly difficult, “damned if I do or don’t” decision.

My question to all you readers is simple:

What is it–whether movies or in general–that SCARES you? Why?

Send me emails at:

pztroupe@gmail.com

For my NexusGen readers: You can simply reply on the facebook post.

Oh yeah—HAPPY HALLOWEEN.

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Roleplay (2012)

“I cried out endlessly!”

Words: Desmond Childs

 The main players in this one.

Jung-ho (played by Lee Dong-kyu) is a novelist willing to do whatever it takes to write a best-seller. His wife Ji-Soo is a teacher who often questions her husband’s commitment to their marriage. In fact, she begins to suspect he’s cheating on her. Is she onto something? Or can Jung-ho’s distant personality be explained by his commitment to the success of his novel? And what about the questions of infidelity? And just when it all begins to come together like a good romantic novel–it becomes an erotic-thriller.

 

This movie really sort of messed with my head at times. I understood the basic elements presented here, but for some reason the film still felt the need to backtrack. Let me explain my problem with backtracking or as I like to call it: doubling up on exposition: Whenever a movie makes the choice to backtrack to divulge more information about the story or a specific character–I think delivering that extra information in an almost completely incomprehensible, ambiguous way is unfair to the audience. Not in a “you fail at cinema” sort of way, but because as a member of the audience–I feel like I’m being teased. Like there’s an itch I can never scratch and not just because I can’t reach it–but each time I itch, it’s a different part of my body. I felt that level of confusion with Roleplay.

Jung-ho lived through a very traumatic experience. The sexual violence the movie flashes back to did not happen to him personally, but being beaten up and forced to watch it take place can be just as scarring, I get that. However, the movie wants me to believe the girl who was sexually molested was Jung-ho’s first ‘love’ where in reality she seemed more like the key to his sexual awakening. He realized she had boobs, that he liked how beautiful her legs were, and her being able to recite poetry was a plus. I understand that many first-loves double as a lot of our sexual awakenings, but for some reason Jung-ho never really showed anything more than an almost carnal desire for the young woman. In fact, it kind of creeped me out. With that being said, I was willing to run with the notion (at least) that this man lost someone he cared deeply about. So I begin to see Jung-ho, not necessarily as a depressed, middle-aged guy desperately missing his one true love. I instead saw him as a deranged, sexually charged person who got off on mistreating his wife (indifference) and having his sexual partners dress up as the first girl who ever gave him a boner. Maybe I’m coming down as a little crass, and a bit too harsh when it comes to the film’s intentions–but Jung-ho’s personality came off way more sleazy than earnest. He was detached from reality most of the time, and spent hours rolling around on the floor daydreaming about this poor girl who was raped and killed. It’s almost as if the only way Jung-ho could deal with that pain and loss–was to inflict sexual violence himself, which we do see in a scene or two with his wife, Ji-Soo. The movie also shows us that Jung-ho was simply using his mistress Hye-In (played by Han Ha-Yoo) to fulfill any sexual desire he had reserved for his long-lost first love. Hye-In apparently resembled her in looks, and although the personality didn’t match–Jung-ho demanded her to become more ‘timid’ and ‘shy’. Gross. Just gross, disturbing, and sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are some aspects of what I’ve interpreted from this picture that the filmmakers intentionally put in–but Jung-ho’s psyche was so much more interesting to me than his story. The film rattles along from his planning and plotting (in his novel and in his reality) toward a horrifying finish that didn’t necessarily stun me. Besides, one can only be ignored for so long, right?

At any rate, the three characters in this one did a solid job, and while director Baek Sang-Yeol’s hand seemed to muddle the already grainy characterization of Jung-ho–I was still entertained. And as I always say about movies–what’s the goal, if not to entertain the audience?

You can find Roleplay on Hulu.com as of July 4, 2014, watch it for free with no subscription required

 

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FULLTIME Killer (2001)

“What’s the matter? Don’t want to be a Killer’s Woman?”

Words: Desmond Childs

fulltime killer

Andy Lau (Right) and Takashi Sorimachi star in this thriller from directors Johnnie To (The Mission) and Wai Ka Fai.

There was a time when finding a job was much easier. You’d pickup a couple of newspapers and read the ads. No? Still having trouble finding work? How about if you match every third word on one newspaper ad with every fifth word on another newspaper advertising page altogether? Does that sound a bit excessive? You know, when it comes to being a full-time killer, you’ll always take work when you can get it. 

“It’s about that time?”

Full-time Killer (yes, I hyphenated the title) is about two assassins. One is the best “in the world!” while the other appears to be some hot-shot, upstart. The entire movie quickly plugs away through it’s hour and forty minute running time. And the worse part is that the cast and crew seemed to feel like it was necessary that characters speak multiple languages in this movie. It doesn’t add anything to the plot. But it does make the movie much more confusing at times. The story itself isn’t anything to write home about, it’s literally just about these two assassins. We get to see them both carry out their missions using contrasting styles. O’s (played by Takashi Sorimachi) more cold, and calculating when executing his mission; while Tok (Andy Lau) is a loose cannon. Tok parades around town wearing High Point-style president masks when carrying out his missions. He also seems to enjoy killing his targets in public and then frolicking around until the police show up. Then he disappears. O doesn’t seem to enjoy his job (thankfully) and often goes out of his way to keep civilians out-of-the-line of fire.

So what could ramp up the stakes in an already fast-paced, bullet-riddled thriller like FULLTIME KILLER? Throw in a woman. That’s right, this is what usually happens. The two killers end up scoping each other out, trying to get the drop on one another. And, inexplicably, end up dating the same boring, video store clerk. She’s not much of a character. Simply there to give reaction takes, fire a few rounds, and make love to one or both of the assassins. Yeah, I can’t stress how boring she is and really unneeded. She’s simply in this movie to be the commonality that ties O and Tok together. Once she’s sort of spent time with them both, the movie turns into this unexciting, poorly paced “story-within-a-story” where a traumatized cop begins to write a story about O and Tok. The police officer guy desperately wants to finish his book so he spends many days (months?) researching. Finally the end of the movie is the special girl who dated both O and Tok telling the cop about who emerged victorious out of their rivalry. And that’s it. I didn’t spoil anything for you guys. Seriously.

Is this a film I’d recommend to a fan of action-thrillers? No, it’s not. Why? Because of the screenplay. The action in it is pretty well done, and there are some cool set pieces that add a nice touch. But having some of the script written in a language that many of the actors and actresses were not comfortable speaking was a bad move. It takes you out of the movie. Or at least it took me out of it. Not to mention silly, stupid mistakes having to do with the execution of scenes. For example, the cops are chasing one of the assassins through a library and lose sight of him. So they proceed to scamper down the middle of the library aisle and flash their weapons at nearly everybody inside. They don’t say anything. They just start waving their guns around like a couple of idiots. There are a few more things. The notion that a romantic relationship can be sparked over a souvenir is one. The other is how the police are either portrayed as really good at their job or complete morons. But you’ll see what I’m talking about, if you watch this movie. Like I said, the action scenes were well paced and entertaining. The acting, even with this screenplay, wasn’t the worst. Andy Lau was a little off-putting, but I guess his character is supposed to be.

For some reason critics and filmmakers alike were looking to this movie as a good example that Hong-Kong cinema was “BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER BABY!”. I’m here to say that THAT is not the case. At least if you’re going to base such a statement on a sorta cool picture like FULLTIME Killer.

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