The Royal Tailor

A lot of the Korean pop culture I’ve witnessed so far eschews context, even before exportation to America. There’s a propulsive energy to movies like Parasite and The Handmaiden, like “Wowzer, where did that come from?” and you’ll see highly-paid and highly-respected Korean celebrities doing absurd things in the name of cinema (or variety shows). A film like The Royal Tailor doesn’t stop to observe its absurdity, doesn’t replicate the audience to lie prostrate before it and be judged, and this allows the earnest deliveries of lines like “I’ll make sure your clothes never see the light of day!” The magic trick, then, is that this line is a gut punch. … More The Royal Tailor

#Alive

Zombie movies stopped being weird a long, long time ago. And I don’t mean “millions of Milla Jovovich clones” weird — though before I fall into this visible trap for genre snobbery, is that any better or worse than Return of the Living Dead III’s zombie power loaders? To my mind, still, there’s a difference between Paul W.S. Anderson and Brian Yuzna. There’s a difference between in-groups and out-groups, the names made in the heyday — teeth cut, conventions defined, practical effects — who attach to a classic like Re-Animator, itself apiece with Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive and the original Return of the Living Dead — the good ones. Whenever a zombie movie passes before my eyes — or I watch a zombie movie, whatever — all of this history trots out again for parade, all this embittered narrative and stolen history, borderline appropriation / vandalism of our darkest realms, us — genre champions — for coercion into the mainstream. What you call perhaps the last bastion against genre monopoly by superheroes I call… the rape of the natural world! … More #Alive

Zeiram 2

With genre storytelling especially, there’s a useful distinction between episodes of a film series and those of a television show. The production gap is certainly greater in film, even over television seasons, but with it comes a broader sense of returning. When tuned right, this feeling can be profound, even melancholy or nostalgic: a reflection of life itself, ever churning forward in episodes of our own. So it is, too — profound — with Zeiram 2, a movie where sometimes characters teleport, and sometimes they don’t. This 1994 follow-up to our first Terminator-style alien mash captures the joy of sequels, being as excited in its presentation as I am watching it. It’s been three years since Iria, Teppei, Kamiya, and Bob escaped the Zone, and our reacclimation to their lives brings gentle revelations. Ever the aliens themselves, Teppei and Kamiya have not been ranting and raving about outer dimensions, discredited as quacks like Dr. Ian Malcolm between Jurassic Park and The Lost World. However, their friendship is feeling the slight strain of age, and this is first among the subtle departures Zeiram 2 takes from the original. I suppose what they have is indeed a friendship, and that also extends to Iria. With so much of their character left undefined as a result of their habitual strangeness, I never thought to apply a term like that. As soon as it materializes, it’s at stake. … More Zeiram 2

Zeiram

Zeiram is a film of details. Necessarily so; the big picture is murky, with its strange plot and stranger circumstances. The mystery of Iria: Zeiram the Animation, or at least, the mystery of its awkward title, terminates here, in a live-action Japanese science-fiction film from 1991. It’s directed by Keita Amemiya, and I’ve long wondered the how and why of this man. What market granted passage to the wellspring of his imagination? It remains a mystery to me even after watching the film, which offers no clear rationale for its existence and yet exists so loudly. All of its details, whether protagonist Iria’s braids which have cultural meaning or every gun and piece of armor that’s associated with a proper noun, seem to be shouting a franchise into being. On closer inspection however, these details are also shouting in a strange, wonderful language, and this might be its downfall. In total, there are two Zeiram features, a six-episode OVA (the Animation), and a PlayStation video game. As soon as it arrived, it was gone, and all follow-up questions went with the solar wind. … More Zeiram

The Villainess

You ever go on a date with someone fun and you’re, like, a 95% match, but then they say something that grinds the conversation to a halt, and it throws the integrity of the match into question and also possibly the premise of matchmaking itself, that there are no true matches, only fish in an endless sea broiling with riptide and Bermuda Triangles? Well, I didn’t actually go on a date with director Jung Byung-gil, but him and I are that 95% match, and his 2017 film The Villainess is my Bermuda Triangle. It is a siren’s song; it is my doom. … More The Villainess

Furie

Furie was a mega-hit in Vietnam and became a crossover success; I watched it on Netflix. It’s tempting to ascribe a Thailand/Indonesia breakout narrative here, as the film’s aesthetics recall Ong-Bak Muay: Thai Warrior and Merantau, and the passion behind its making suggests national pride. It broke box office records across the country and provided Vietnam its Oscar submission for 2019. However, this is not an actual debut. The cinema of Vietnam is older and more storied than I realized, and that lack of awareness is partly why I hope Furie indicates the path forward. Gorgeous and confident, graced by moody color and a free-flowing camera, there’s no mistaking it for the unrefined opening statement of a burgeoning industry, as in Ong-Bak and Merantau, but without those rough edges, it comes up short on character. … More Furie

A Note on Star Ratings

I decided to go with star ratings for this third or fourth movie blog of mine, after a lifetime of deriving mild joy from them but insisting they’re the death of media criticism. Or at least, silently agreeing as media critics insisted so. I’m swiping the awkward four star system from Roger Ebert, yes, but also from the TV Guide magazine of my youth. One summer, ABC was airing its summer of James Bond, and I went next-door to my best bud’s house and watched The Man with the Golden Gun with his family. To date, my favorite 007. I discovered the TV Guide in a heap of the Sunday paper and went looking for the next airing, which was supposed to be Diamonds are Forever, but something was substituted out. I guess the lesson should’ve been, “Trust don’t the TV Guide,” but I was too fascinated by its shorthand for evaluation. It was only in comparing their giving Robocop a 3/4 and The Matrix a 3.5/4 that I could begin to decipher the language and understand the critic behind the printed ink. … More A Note on Star Ratings

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

What has long been said of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, from her early days of horror through her trading insular indies with strange blockbusters, is that she’s the best part. Sometimes this comes from her starring in genre trash like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or a remake of The Thing, but regardless the prestige, she always gives a commanding performance. She speaks with that deep voice and you listen — lest you think I toss off an idiom like “commanding performance,” without charming self-consciousness. The slow arrival of Mary Elizabeth Winstead has made me anxious since I first saw her in Death Proof circa 2011. Not only that she’s too talented to play in genre garbage like The Thing remake, too beautiful to remain overlooked by conventional wisdom, but more broadly, her perpetual square peg to Hollywood’s round hole illustrates one of Hollywood’s woman problems. And it begins with The Thing. … More Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)