Friday, October 31, 2014

Top Ten Movies Made to Frighten and Discomfort You

I've been harping on and on about how we need to reconsider what the word "genre" really means, and how we should redefine the word based not on what a movie has, but what a movie intends to do to the audience. So, even the movie Shaun of the Dead may be considered a "horror movie" in the traditional sense, it really has a completely different effect on the audience than a movie like Jaws, which is not usually considered a "horror movie" but succeeds far better at horrifying the audience than Shaun of the Dead ever will.

I sat down to make a "Top Ten Horror Movie" list for Halloween, but realized that I was going all over the place. I had Paranorman and Nightmare Before Christmas on the list, alongside Pan's Labyrinth. Not only was the list all over the place, but there were too many good movies under that traditional "horror movie" designation, so I decided to narrow it down to movies that produce an uncomfortable or scary effect on their audiences.

10) The Flowers of War
Right off the bat, my theory about the difference between horror movies and horrifying movies is put to the test. Flowers of War is a movie set in war zone, directed by someone known for martial arts movies, but it had a profoundly disturbing effect on me. It involves people being trapped in a situation that they cannot escape from, which has no way to escape unharmed, made all the worse by the fact that it was based on World War II, and that this same story has likely repeated itself countless times throughout history.

9) Session 9
Session 9 was a great little surprise for me. Before I started really liking horror movies or even really liking movies in general, I used to just get together with my friends and watch B-movies to make fun of. We picked up Session 9 expecting it to be cheap, which it was, and expecting it to be hilariously bad, which it most certainly was not. Again, this movie is shot almost entirely in one location (like many movies on this list) which succeeds in slowly wearing down the audience's defenses.

8) Perfect Blue
Perfect Blue succeeds to make the audience question what is real and what isn't, and even then, sometimes what is real is often more terrifying and uncomfortable than what's imagined. It captures the psychological damage of someone under extreme stress with the nebulous nature of the film industry.

7) Se7en
I swear to god, I didn't make Se7en number 7 on this list on purpose.
Se7evn does what I think every good movie should do: It breathes life into an entire city. There are constant references to "the city" throughout this movie, and how awful it is. You begin to feel that the city is another character in this movie, and that adds to the almost stifling feeling that you're watching one crime among many unfold before you.

6) Akira
Akira is uncomfortable because it should be a cool-ass anime about fighting robot monsters, but instead you get body horror and a distopian future. One aspect that I think is crucial to a horror movie is when you, the audience, have no idea how a character in the movie may escape or succeed in a situation. If you can watch a slasher movie, and think to yourself, "Why doesn't she just go out the front door and get the police?" then your screenplay fucked up. If you go, "Oh shit, he turned into a giant monster and can't control his body and just smooshed his girlfriend into jelly how the fuck do you even" then you're on the right track.

5) Poltergeist
Are you catching one of the themes here yet? This movie is again set almost entirely in one location, which makes the audience feel like the entire world of the movie is horrific. Thanks to a couple key scenes in this movie, it scared the crap out of me the first time I watched it. CLOWN.

4) [REC]
Hey, guess what? This movie takes place entirely in one location as well. It also has some of the best makeup effects and stage-setting in a movie I've ever seen. Not only am I captivated throughout the entire film every time I watch this, but I will never, ever, ever get used to the final scene.

3) The Thing
This movie doubles-down on the psychological trauma in Perfect Blue, coupled with the unsettling effect of being locked in one location for the entire film. This movie is set in a dreary, cold world, where anyone you know may be a shapeshifting alien out to murder the fuck out of you. You can't stay in that place for over 90 minutes and not feel disquieted by it.

2) Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari
Fuck you if you think a silent film can't be scary. This film is arguably the first horror movie ever made, and it can still make me feel uncomfortable while watching it. The story goes that the studio ran out of money to pay for electricity, and so had to paint shadows onto all the sets. Whether they were incompetent at painting shadows or just geniuses I'll never know, but the lines in this movie shoot off in all different directions, so you never know how big or or how far away something is. It's en effect I've yet to see reproduce in any movie since then.

1) Alien
Check out the themes throughout this list: Single location, psychological dread, inescapable situation, body horror, body violations...all of it present in this perfect horror movie.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Please Explain This to Me

I will never understand the impulse to defend or make excuses for somebody being racist.

An actual Korean blackface group

Living in Korea, I see a lot of benign and not-so-benign racism leveled against everyone, but most often black people. Just recently, one of my friends described an instance on Facebook where she was out having dinner with her friends, and a Korean guy in blackface came up to the group and asked where everyone was from. When a white South African responded that she was from Africa, he got confused, motioned to a black American, and said, "Africa, Africa".

This is not anything special, neither for Korea nor the rest of the world. We all have our racists, we all have our assholes, and we all have our racist assholes. This happens. What I will never understand is the Korean impulse to either excuse this or claim that it's actually the foreigner who is being strange.

After posting this on Facebook, one of her Korean friends immediately jumped to excuse that, "Korea is a homogeneous country" as if that made it ok. Not only does this not make any sense, I can't even understand how someone thinks that this even could make sense. It basically amounts to: "I've never met a black person before, so it's ok to be an asshole to them." Or "I've never met a black person before, so I didn't know they were people."

I don't want to criticize this too sharply, but I wonder if we take the wrong approach towards teaching multiculturalism and diversity and...non-racism? Is that a word? I always just assumed that "non-racism" was just "being a human", so I'm not sure what the special word for this is, but whatever it is, that.

Coming from the states, we focus a lot on the "every culture is special" angle. I don't know if this gets to the core of it. Really, racism is just a lack of empathy, for whatever reason. If you're dressing up in blackface, it's because you can't or won't consider how someone with actual dark skin might feel when you do that. Sometimes this is because you're convinced that this is because that person doesn't have the same feelings as you do, like they're sub-human. I think most racism does not fall under this category, and more often than that, like most assholish behavior, people are just lacking in empathy or understanding for someone else.

Yeah, it's true that there's not really a lot of black people in Korea, but that doesn't mean that you can't teach empathy. It took one lesson for me as a kid, when my mom would ask me, "How would you like it if someone did that to you?" and I learned empathy. You don't need an actual black person in front of you, sharing their culture and their entire lifestyle to know that you shouldn't make a joke about someone's skin color. It's not ignorance, it's just being fucking awful.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Peeping Tom

Don't get too excited. That's the title of this horror movie.

This movie is great, and it's great for two distinct reasons. One is that I think it best exemplifies (and perhaps even had a hand in creating) the "Serial Killer Genre". I would argue that widely, this genre includes films such as Se7en, Silence of the Lambs. Psycho, Halloween  and American Psycho. Unlike most of these films however, instead of following the exploits of the killer's victims or the cop/detective/psychiatrist charged with stopping them, like American Psycho, this film follows the killer himself. Unlike American Psycho however, we get a good sense of who this man is and arguably, come to understand him and maybe even like him.

He, like many of the killers from this specific genre, comes from a troubled childhood background, where his father used him to conduct informal experiments on the nature of fear in children for his psychology career. He has a crippling social anxiety disorder and connects more with film and cameras than he does with humans. He is never creepy though, and his shyness comes off as being adorably charming more than anything. When he befriends and becomes involved with one of the neighbor girls, I actually found myself rooting for them to make it, rather than feeling like I should warn her to run away screaming. "I'd like to offer you a drink, but...I don't have anything to drink. Do you want some milk?" It's cute, and it endears you to the character, whereas I will never connect with Hannibal Lector, John Doe, Michael Myers or Patrick Bateman.

The second reason this movie is great is the number of themes touched upon while never becoming too preachy about any of them. The viewer is left to decide what kind of message this sends based on his or her personal opinions. For example, the women that the killer (Mark) decides to murder are all in either the business of acting or modelling, usually to a scintillating effect, and the woman he falls in love with is meek and even prudish. What does that say about how we treat women when viewing them with a virgin/whore lens? When conducting his murders, he keeps the camera trained on their faces at all times. What does that say about horror movies and those that watch them? Further, the title, Peeping Tom, suggests that viewing death is a kind of voyeuristic act. Perhaps we are the peeping toms, watching a movie where women take off their clothes and are then stabbed. It is significant that Mark harbors resentment towards his father not only for the whole "informal fear experiments" all the time, but also for remarrying shortly after his mother dies. There is a connection here between the disposable nature of his wives and the disposable nature of the sexy models and actresses that Mark interacts with and murders.

It's interesting and as I said, it refuses to come down on any side of the argument. There was very little in terms of overarching messages or morals to be taught, and instead focuses on the character of Mark, who again, while reprehensible, is able to gather some sympathy from the audience. What is even more amazing is that this movie seems to have been ahead of the "serial killer" curve, coming out in 1960 long before this genre became mainstream

1) Well made? - Delicately crafted, this movie made me interested in the director's, Michael Powell, other works
2) Contributed?  - This stands out in the serial killer genre and may have been the forerunner of it
3) Good time? - The movie makes you uncomfortable watching people die from the vantage point of the camera held in the killer's hands, but your attachment to the character of Mark makes the movie as a whole more palatable
4) Watch again? - For sure. I suspect upon rewatching this I will notice things I didn't the first time around
5) Worth it?  - Absolutely, a necessary element of the horror genre
6) Who should watch this? - Fans of psychological horror or serial killer horror

Monday, October 27, 2014

Just a Little Reminder

Talking about movies and comics is my hobby; it is definitely not my work. This is meant to serve both as apology for sucking so bad at it, and to point you in the direction of what is actually my work: Madiba Children's Outreach.

MCO is a neat little organization that sponsors children in Ethiopia to go to school and eat (not at the same exact time.) When I say "small", I mean small. It is me and two other (less attractive) guys taking care of 5 kids. Regardless, it still means a lot to me and occupies a lot of my time and thoughts. Further, since I'm this close to finishing my master's degree, I'd like to move into this field permanently, so this small little organization is going to grow.

Regardless, we recently had a bit of a hiccup in regards to our website vis a vie the whole thing getting erased. That sounds like it might suck, but it turns out this hiccup is actually a blessing hiccup in disguise. (Those are called sneezes.) We now have the opportunity to update our website and revamp it both with new information, a new design, and pieces of constantly evolving thoughts on charity work. Considering that the website and the organization are over three years old at this point, it certainly could use an reboot.

In addition to all this, we're also working on building up our web presence. The three of us do quite a bit of reading and researching -- in our academic lives, our professional lives and our personal lives -- and we would like to start sharing this information. We do this personally all the time on our Facebook pages and twitter, but now we're working on consolidating this onto one account on each social media platform -- The MCO Facebook Page, and the MCO International Twitter Account.

The advantage to this is that it's an all-encompassing (so we hope) look at charity in Ethiopia and around the world. We all stem from different backgrounds with wildly varying opinions on things, and are prone to disagreement, no matter how right I may be.

So, if you take any interest at all in Ethiopia, charity work, international law, economic development and poverty reduction, I hope you check out any of our pages, not only just to support the work we do, but also just as a chance to learn about more about these fields. Also, when the website is rebooted, I hope you check out that as well. It'll be

Friday, October 24, 2014

My Favorite Superheroes - Daredevil

Daredevil has absolutely no business being a superhero, and that's what makes him so great.

There's really no advantage to being Daredevil. He lost all of his sight, but gained a superhuman sensitivity in his other senses, which is of absolutely zero use to crime-fighting. He has super hearing, but this doesn't really help him fight, except for maybe hearing someone sneak up on him or attack him from behind or something. Most of the time, this serves more as a disadvantage that anything else. Being super sensitive to sound means that he can be defeated by a subwoofer.

Daredevil also has super taste ability. Super taste ability! He can taste shit real good. There does absolutely nothing in a fight.

He has a super sense of touch, which means he can read books from feeling the ink on the page. Have you ever been losing a fight and thought, "Damn, if I could only read I could win this." No. No you haven't, because neither reading nor a super sense of touch is very useful.

Daredevil has a super sense of smell. Not only does this not help in a fight at all, but because his sense of smell is so acute, this means he can be defeated by a fart.

Yes, Daredevil is operating at a complete disadvantage when it comes to fight. It's not even that his super senses supercede or even cancel out his blindness; they are actually a disadvantage on top of the difficulty of fighting blind.

On top of all this, there is also the mental pressure of taking in all of these sense to an extreme degree all the time. Imagine trying to sleep in the same room as a mosquito. Just that quiet buzzing is enough to drive you nuts. Now imagine trying to sleep, except now you can hear every insect and person in large radius around you. Having super hearing is not cool.

And yet, Daredevil still fights.

Like Chamber, part of the reason why I like Daredevil is thanks to a certain writer having built up the character extremely well. A lot of people in this situation would point to Kevin Smith and Frank Miller as being the exceptional Daredevil writers, but I submit that Mark Waid is superior to them both. Waid focuses on two things in his writing: the relationships between characters and overcoming adversity. Whenever something is happening in a Waid-penned book, it is either two characters being forced to talk to each other, or a character experiencing the worst thing imaginable, and these two things happen over and over again. Seeing Daredevil face seemingly-impossible odds all the time makes for an interesting story. (Compare to current issues of Uncanny X-Men, where they seem to never be in any real danger or experience any character development.)

One thing that sets Daredevil apart from other superheroes is the relationship with his father, which is largely a positive one. Putting aside the relationships between certain X-Men and Charles Xavier -- who serves as a father figure -- there are not many positive paternal relationships in the Marvel universe, so Daredevil and his dad are unique. His father told him to concentrate on studying so that he didn't turn out to be an idiot like he did, and he did. He became a lawyer, which is hard enough for anyone, but he did that on top of being blind, which makes it harder, and on top of that mental stress from super senses mentioned earlier. That's a pretty awesome thing, and I always liked that Daredevil's first costume was made from his father's boxing garbs.

But the key to Daredevil is really that he has no business being a superhero. You became a lawyer, dude. Take a break. There's no need for you to fight crime.

He is walking around, disabled, and yet can still fight crime better than any of us could, simply because he set his mind to it. Plus, he's not all dark and brooding like Batman. The Daredevil comics are largely upbeat, positive and the character of Daredevil himself actually seems like the type of guy you would want to hang out with.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Favorite Superheroes - Chamber

There are a few personal reasons why Chamber of the X-Men is one of my favorite superheroes to do this day, and I want to get those out of the way before I talk about what Chamber stands for as a character.

To begin with, Generation X was a great comic from the 90s written by the pretty-much-always amazing Scott Lobdell. (Bachelo deserves a lot of credit for his artwork, and I don't want to leave him out, but for our purposes, Lobdell is the important one.) Lobdell's work was perfect for a book like this, because it never built on any overarching story throughout the entire series. There were small vignettes revolving around occurrences with the team, but mainly, each incident was an excuse to get the know the characters better. At this book's very best, roughly 2 years go by without any real action happening, but tons of character development.

Not only is this a character-centric book, it was also a book about a team of teenaged superheroes, and in that situation, you need someone to identify with. Arguably, this role was filled by Banshee, team leader and headmaster, and Chamber. So right off the bat, a reader of Generation X was drawn to this character.

Personally, Chamber resonated with me for a few more reasons. One, because he was openly into rock metal music and wasn't shy about it, wearing leather jackets and all black pretty much every time he's drawn, even to this day. Two, he played a "grumpy outsider" type of role and didn't fit in with the rest of the teenagers on the team. I think we felt like we were outsiders when we were teenagers, but Chamber was an outsider twice removed -- Not only did he not fit in with society, but he didn't even fit in with the other teenaged mutants. It was hard not to sympathize and empathize with him.

More importantly, and the reason why Chamber still stands out in my mind as a great superhero today is that his mutant power exemplifies loss.

The X-Men teams as a whole are about not only forgiving someone who has wronged you, but working for their benefit. They are shunned and hated by the world at large, and yet still make every effort to ensure its safety. (Imagine for a second you run into someone who has wronged you, and they ask you if they can have a dollar for a coke. Would you give it to them?) Not only are the X-Men fighting for the sake of people who hate them, but they often suffer deep physical and emotional scars because of their mutations. This is where I think Chamber stands out the most.

For one, Chamber's mutation didn't manifest itself until he was well into his teens. This is crucial because whereas some mutations are born with their physical mutations and the rest acquire them around puberty, Chamber had the chance to become pretty much a fully formed human being before his powers appeared. The kid lost a lot more time than most mutants.

Also, similar to Rogue, the manifestation of Chamber's powers hurt someone he cared about. His chest explodes in a ball of fire, and he cripples his girlfriend for life. They never reconcile or get back together.

Similar to Nightcrawler, his mutation is somewhat terrifying and arguably grotesque. It depends on the artist, but sometimes (like the image above) you can see that he has flaps of burnt skin hanging off of his face. But what makes him most unique is that his mutant powers emphasize the extreme loss that has received.

Nightcrawler's mutation appears as a tail, elf ears, blue fur and weird hands and feet. Angel's physical mutation is wings on his back. Marrow has bones popping out of her skin. Anole takes the form of a...lizard thing. Rockslide is a giant rock monster. Out of all the mutants with physical mutations, Chamber is the only one who is just missing something, and the thing that he is missing is half his face and the entire core of his body. Even his superhero code name is just "empty room". This is an avalanche of symbolism.

In terms of the mutant lottery, it seems that Chamber is absolute dead last, losing all his personal relationships that he built up in his teenage years, losing his face, voice and chest, and having just a big empty hole inside of himself. And yet.

And yet Chamber, like all the X-Men, works though his mutation to fight for people that hate him. Not only that, he is currently a teacher at the X-Men school, giving back to teenagers who need his help the most. Again, this appeals me to personally as well. Being a teacher and knowing a lot of teachers, I can attest to the fact that the best teachers were usually the worst students. I like to think that Chamber is the best teacher in that school.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Favorite Superheroes - Intro

I've said this before, but it bears repeating and going into further detail: The world needs fictional heroes.

To begin with, the world needs heroes in general. We need people and ideas to hold us up to a higher standard. Seeing or hearing about a hero take on a monumental task and succeeding makes going through our day-to-day bullshit so much easier. It all becomes easier when you know that someone just like you is held up to a higher standard and can still succeed. Without great men and women in history doing big, incredible things, there would be no reason to suspect that big or incredible things are even possible. Ideally, if you're ever faced with a situation to hold a grudge against someone, you should say to yourself, "Well, Mandela was locked up for decades and he didn't hold a grudge, maybe I could such-and-such slide." Or maybe you're ready to fix a problem by punching it, and you say, "Well Gandhi didn't et cetera, et cetera." You can be a little better when you have something much better to compare yourself to.

 You're free to disagree with me here, but I would argue that this effect only intensifies when the hero in question is fictional. Our real-life heroes are great, don't get me wrong, but what if they were perfect? What if they perfectly embodied some attribute that we find desirable or served as a paradigm of some sort of trait? If comparing ourselves to great people makes us better, what happens when we compare ourselves to perfect people?

A lot of people agree with me that we first learn through stories. The fairytales we heard as children are how we first learned to not be fucking assholes all the time. You can't always figure out life lessons from real life people because sometimes the truth is much more complicated that a story (Mandela, while not holding a grudge in his later years, was pretty much a terrorist in his younger years) or you never get the opportunity to see first-hand how to be a good person (your parents might sacrifice themselves to save your life, but you probably will never get a chance to see this. The idea that it's a good thing to sacrifice yourself in defense of your child would be a lesson that you never learned without a story.)

I really do feel that I learned more from fictional characters than I have from the real-world people I know. This is definitely not to say that the real-world people that I know aren't amazing, because they are, but a fictional story is easier to digest, more easily accessible, and more plentiful. Moreover, these lessons can help you appreciate the real-world heroes more. I'm convinced that I learned how to be a man from Jacob Barnes first, and that made me realize how great my grandfather is.

To tie a bow on this, there's something unique about the serial and thus-far perpetual nature of superheroes and comic books. Spider-Man, for example, as been around for over 50 years with many, many writers handling his character through their own personal lenses. Even in my lifetime, since I've started reading Spider-Man comics, I've seen numerous different "types of Spider-Man". Superheroes are stories with many authors.

That "many authorship" attribute is what makes them valuable as inspiration, because you can pick and choose which incarnation of the superhero in his or her 50-year history you like the most. There's a lot there to be inspired by, and the stories can make themselves.

With that in mind, I want to write a few blog entries in a piecemeal fashion about my favorite superheroes and what they stand for to me. My thoughts are definitely subjective here, and might mean something completely different to somebody else. (If you want to see something funny, ask a dozen comic book nerds what Batman is all about. You will get 12 different answer and 6 different sissy slapfights.) But, there are stories and lessons here that I think we can all learn.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Are Horror Movies Finished?

The title is a little...alarmist, but I swear, I'm genuinely asking a real question here.

I don't think I'm making a debatable statement when I say that I think movie culture comes in waves. For a while, a certain kind of movie will be popular and then ebb, and then something else will come along. Oftentimes there's no capital R Reason for this; it's just the way that culture works. So, when I ask "Are horror movies finished?" I don't mean to imply they're finished forever, and I would like to point out that horror movies have been "finished" before.

In 1931, Frankenstein hit theaters and although not the first horror movie or even the first popular mainstream horror movie, it was certainly noteworthy and had a big impact on culture. A scant 17 years later, the Frankenstein monster was turned into a punchline in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein coming out in 1948. Around this time, Universal wasn't producing any serious or good monster movies anymore, and the road was paved for sci-fi movies of the 50s to sort of "fill the role" that monster movies previously occupied. But horror movies in general and monster movies specifically had something of a "boom/bust" period.

Looking at today's horror movies, there are a lot of similarities. For one, there are not very many good horror movies being made these days. This is definitely a loaded statement and I will admit to such, as the horror movie genre for a long time has been intentionally saturated with cheap crap, and I don't want to suggest that there haven't been any good horror movies made lately. The Conjuring has gotten great reviews, for instance, and that came out just last year. The problem though is that besides a smattering of one or two great movies, there are barely any good horror movies and an awful lot of bad horror movies that are being shown in theaters. Look at 2014, besides an Australian horror movie you've never heard of, there have been no good horror movies this year, and in fact, an awful lot of shit ones.

Yes, I mean you.

The other side to this is the number of great movies that have come out as a parody of or satire of the horror movie genre. I just watched Cabin in the Woods last night and I will admit to liking it (which takes a lot of effort for me because Whedon's stupid name is on it). Another great movie, maybe even better than Cabin is Tucker and Dale Versus Evil. Both of these movies take horror movie premises and play with their formulas to great success, and despite the fact that neither of them are scary, like at all, are much, much better than 99% of the "real" horror movies coming out lately.

All this makes me wonder if instead of audiences wanting to get scared, they're seeking something different from the horror movie genre. Another way to approach this is from the Twilight angle. We're starting to take horror motifs, such as vampires and zombies and apply romance movie tropes to them. Either way the result is the same: there are plenty of "horror" movies, but not many Horror movies.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Flowers of War

I can't say that Flowers of War is really great, but it did succeed in keeping me awake the night that I watched it.

In it, Christian Bale plays an alcoholic mortician charged with burying the dead priest of a girl's Catholic school. In a wacky twist, it turns out that the Catholic school is located in 1930s Nanking, when the Japanese were, and I'm using the most culturally sensitive term that I can, getting f-ed the fuck up.

Bale walks into this cathedral, which is relatively safe, in possession of a lot of a wine and a big soft bed, and decides he'll just wait out the war there. After over a dozen prostitutes start hiding out in the same cathedral, he decides that he'll definitely wait out the war there.

It's hard to say exactly what the faults are in Flowers of War, and it's almost equally hard to identify the good parts are in this movie. A lot of the dialogue is kinda stilted and awkward, and frequently overdramatic, but then a lot of dialogue is very straight-to-the-point and/or chaotic enough to represent the reality of trying to communicate with someone in a foreign language. There are a few scenes (too many) where Bale is trying to make a rousing or sentimental speech, and it's awkward as hell. However, I imagine what would be going through someone's head in an actual situation like that, speaking English to a group of people expecting you to take and not fully understanding the words you're saying, let alone the nuance of it all. So when he starts rambling on, it is certainly unbearably awkward, but realistic in a sense.

The plot itself becomes sadly predictable after a certain point, which is a shame because maybe the whole first half of it left me guessing as to who would survive, and also because the movie is over two and a half hours long. Oh, this drunken, selfish American ends up in a situation where young students are in danger. He's probably never going to change and just keep drinking for the rest of the movie. Yep.

If I were to nitpick, it's also a movie a bit patronizing in the way it treats its women. We have a man who can't speak Chinese or Japanese, who is put in charge of a group of grown women who can speak Chinese just fine. He also spends at least a third of the time in the cathedral acting like a total asshole, so even if he was fluent in both languages, he's still not the go-to guy for being responsible for everything. Why are we following this alcoholic foreigner again?

However, despite all the problems that I can find with it, it kept me awake at night. Some of the scenes are quite horrifying, and there was more than once when I was grinding my teeth just thinking, "no no no please no no no". At one point I questioned whether this movie had more in common with the zombie genre than it did the war genre. (I think looking at how the survivors are stuck inside one location for the entire film, fighting to keep certain elements out, and having to also learn to deal with each other at the same time definitely gave this a "zombie" feel to it. It also doesn't help that this film was not super-duper kind in its portrayal of the Japanese.)

This film had a strong effect on me, and I wonder if that's ultimately not the most important thing when discussing a film's quality. There is a lot of clunky scenes, pointless scenes, and boring scenes, but there was enough tense scenes that I didn't mind watching it at all.

1) Well made? - This is from director Zhang Yimou, who made Hero and House of Flying Daggers. There is craft and care here, but I'm not sure it all came together properly.
2) Contributed?  - This is a low point in Zhang's career, not necessarily a great war movie or a great zombie movie.
3) Good time? - A few really, really tense scenes are in this movie. I'm not sure if that's your definition of a good time.
4) Watch again? - I don't think I ever will. The disturbing scenes disturbed me too much, and the boring scenes will be impossible to sit through again.
5) Worth it?  - Yeah, I suppose. I wouldn't strongly recommend it, but I can't say it was bad either.
6) Who should watch this? - If you haven't seen Zhang Yimou's better, more famous works, you should not watch this. If you're very, very interested in the zombie genre, I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on this movie. Does it satisfy the criteria for being a zombie movie like I might think it does, or am I way off base and shut up, Kevin?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dracula Untold

I really did bust out laughing in the theater. This movie is absolutely a hot mess, and there was so much nonsense floating around in it that it was actually hilariously bad. I don't even know where to begin.

Alright, so the plot of the movie is that to prevent his son from being conscripted into the Turkish army, Vlad the Impaler makes a deal with a vampire that he can have super vampire powers as long as he can avoid drinking blood for three days, after which he'll revert back to regular stupid human Vlad.

As I was watching this movie, I keep thinking about ways the plot could be fixed to have the movie make sense. There was so much illogical nonsense and outright cringeworthy scenes in the plot that I think it was beyond repair. (By the way, if you ever find yourself with super vampire powers and fighting a land war against a Turkish general, you fly your ass to his house in the middle of the night, stab him rel gud, and that's it. Land war over.)

There's so much shit in this movie that doesn't even make sense, I don't know where to begin...One of the most hilarious bad scenes in this movie is when the Turkish soldiers get wind of Vlad's wacky voodoo and start getting scared of him. So, for the next battle, the general blindfolds all of the soldiers before sending them into the next battle. Because yeah, that'll put their minds at ease.

In the same battle, the general places a decoy wearing his armor in the ranks, while the actual general is...wearing a foot soldier's armor and marching in the vanguard. What? That is the least safe spot dude. Seriously, look at this in the trailer and tell me that being a foot soldier is a good idea: Just stay home, bro.

Ok, last one: At the end of the movie, when Dracula is 600 years old, his wife reincarnates in modern-day Romania and he runs into her on the street. He quotes their wedding vows to her and she says, "That's my favorite poem." I really did burst out laughing. Your favorite poem is somebody's weddings vows from 15th century Transylvania? How many PhDs in Romanian poetry do you have to have to be able to recognize that while hearing it randomly on the street? Congrats on reincarnating as a fucking genius, I guess.

Alright, so the events in the plot don't make any goddamn sense and are laughably stupid, but a movie can still be saved if it attempts to make a thematic statement. The movie dips its toe into many a thematic bathtub, but fails to step into any of them. He does make a pretty big sacrifice for the sake of his son, at the expense of bringing his country to war and turning into mecha-Dracula, but these ideas don't go anywhere. So...what the fuck, movie?

As I was sitting in the theater watching this and trying to think of an easy way to fix it, I realize that it really only needed one thing: to be cooler. Hear me out. The plot failings just keep piling on, and the movie doesn't even know what it wants to say, but maybe, just maybe, it were a good enough "mindless action" movie, it could be at least redeemable. There are hints of it, actually. You can see in the trailer where he controls a bunch of bats and uses them to slam into the ground so hard that they blow up the enemy army. And yeah, ok, bats are mostly just meat and bone, and can't really do that no matter how many of them they are and how hard you chuck them at the ground, but that's still pretty cool.

A good example of how this movie gets close to being cool enough is with Vlad's ability to turn into bats a moment's notice. There's a fight scene somewhat early on where he's moving around a battlefield really fast, changing into bats as he comes up behind people for stabbing. This scene should have been, first of all, shot much better, because I couldn't tell what the fuck was going on most of the time, and they use this trick where we see Vlad fighting in the reflection of a soldier's sword as he's dying and I don't even know what the actual fuck.

This scene should have been one guy wrecking face ala Dynasty Warriors ( and it should have just been the entire movie. Dracula Untold is actually kinda good if you want something to laugh at while drunk with your friends when you're bored, but besides that, please do not pay money to see this in the theaters.

1) Well made? - The acting is not the worst, everything else is.
2) Contributed?  - Someday this will contribute to a bundle package sold at Wal-Mart for $5 along with Van Helsing and I, Frankenstein
3) Good time? - During, like, 30 seconds of bat murder
4) Watch again? - Not without a lot of booze
5) Worth it?  - Not even
6) Who should watch this? - People trying to win a bet?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spider-Man in the Marvel Film Universe

There is a recent rumor floating around that Sony and Marvel are working together to get Spider-Man to be part of the Marvel Universe, and why people are excited about this I have no idea.

For one, this is an actual problem in the comics that appears to be stretching over into the movies, where the Avengers is not a team of super-powered world-savers, but instead is just the most popular or the highest-selling characters. I think perhaps the worst example of this, from both the comics and the movies, is the Hulk. The core concept behind the Hulk (again, both the comics and the movies) is that when Bruce Banner gets angry, he turns into an unstoppable, uncontrollable monster. That just does not translate into "team player". At the beginning of The Avengers, Bruce Banner is hiding out in...India or someplace, because he's afraid of getting angry and hurting people. This is what the Hulk is all about. But then, at the end of the movie, we see Hulk standing around, taking orders from Captain America, and apparently Bruce Banner is able to control when and how he transforms for the sake of the plot ("plot"). Instead of trying to work Banner/Hulk into the Avengers as a team player, just leave him out of it. That's not his place.

(If you absolutely had to have The Hulk in The Avengers, how about bringing him in as an adversary? He is either being mind-controlled by Loki, or Loki brings Banner into the middle of a fight, knowing that he'll take collateral damage somehow, get angry, and fuck everything up. The Avengers can't take on the Hulk individually, so they have to work together as a team to overcome this challenge, which adds to their character development, and the Hulk is still just a rampaging monster, which maintains the character that has been developing for the past decade.)

The Hulk is the worst offender, but sadly not the only one. There was one time when Storm and Wolverine were both on the Avengers, and while I'm sure they care about saving the world, I think their characters have been developed more to the point of taking care of the Xavier/Jean Grey schools, and working on human/mutant relations. Now, Wolverine, Havok, Rogue, Sunfire and Scarlet Witch are part of an Avengers team with Thor, Simon, and the Wasp, working to improve human/mutant relations. This makes a lot of sense to me, especially since none of those mutants are really the "big damn hero" type.

Spider-Man, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Hawkeye and a few other "street level" heroes are also of this nature. In any narrative, the threat to the heroes should be commensurate with their abilities. One of the best Spider-Man stories ever told was about Spider-Man trying to take on the Juggernaut. This was a really interesting story because Juggernaut is just outside of Spider-Man's strength level to make it a great challenge, but if it were the Hulk going in there, or Thor, than there would be no challenge and hence zero interest from the reader. The same works in the other direction too, if the challenge is too big to possibly overcome for the hero, you begin to ask, "Wait, why are you even here?" Again, for examples of this stupid idea put into play, look to The Avengers again. You have Thor blowing everything up with lightning bolts, Hulk is punching through giant monsters, Iron Man is flying around shooting everything with lasers, and then Black Widow is somewhere on the ground kicking people occasionally. In the comics, they had a story arc last year with a huge galactic space war, and wisely, Daredevil did not come along.

But I get it, people are not thinking about these sorts of things when they here that Spider-Man is going to be in an Avengers movie someday. They want to see these characters all together in a movie. I'm going to be totally honest here: I am so confused as to why people think this is something to get excited over. I think it's dumb.

This baffles me so much I have trouble wrapping my mind around it, much less trying to explain it even in a semi articulate manner. Aside from the reasons I just listed, I suppose this reeks of over-indulgence, to the point of being insulting. It's like the studios are shaking me by the shoulders saying, "You like X-Men right? You like Fantastic Four right? What if they were on the screen at the same time? Isn't that amazing!?" No. No it is not amazing. You just took two things that I liked and put them together awkwardly. I promise you that the Batman/Superman movie is going to stink of this principle. "Hey, look it's Wonder Woman! She's on the screen! I have seen her!" This doesn't make for a good movie, it's just images. The moment where The Avengers lost me was when they had Thor and Iron Man fighting for no stinking reason. They just put that scene in there not because it made sense in the context of the plot, but because the filmmakers thought that idiots like me would like to see a fight, which is not necessarily false, but I'd rather something make sense first and be cool second.

Of course, if you feel this to an absurd conclusion, you might eventually get how dumb this is. What if we had a movie with Darth Vader fighting Goku? You love Star Wars and anime right? Let's put them together! With Baywatch too. These are things people like, so let's mash them together and people will like it.

No. We just want a good story.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In Bruges

Two guys go to Bruges. This movie is difficult to review because I can't say a single thing, not one thing about the plot or where it leads, but it is also quite easy to review because it has so many other good things to discuss.

There is no doubt that Colin Farrell just acts the hell out of this movie. He is, all the same movie, tough, touching, romantic and hilarious. He covers a wide range of emotions and does them all so well that I can easily say that he elevated the source material. If you read some of writing about movies, you'll know that I don't put much stock in the ability of actors as per their contribution to the movie as a whole. 90% of the time, an actor just does good enough to get the job done. The rest of the time, the acting is so bad it's distracting, or so good it adds to the script. I would say Colin Farrell's performance here is easily the latter.

I really can't and don't want to say much about the script. Not to say that there are spoilers, necessarily, but more like every action is built upon the action preceding it. You know exactly what a character's motivation is, and what he or she is going to do if x happens. Really bad movies make a habit of having things just happen to the characters, but a good movie builds upon everything to where the next thing that happens was exactly what you knew was going to happen. It sounds boring, because that means that as soon as you realize the core conflict in the film, you know how everything is going to play out. (The film makes excellent use of "Chekhov's Gun", where things introduced throughout the story are called back to later.) However, the plot moves fast enough and smart enough that you never actually get a chance to sit back and think, "Ok, so if he does that, then he does that, and that means...oh."

In all, it is the type of film that we don't have a word for the in the English language yet. A film that doesn't do anything special, doesn't win major awards, doesn't think outside the box in any real sense, and yet was just well made. It plays upon similarly-themed movies (maybe somewhere in the Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels type of movie) without acting deviating from the formula too much, but does a damn good job regardless. I can easily say that this is one of the best made, most tightly scripted movies I've ever seen, and prefer it to similar movies in the same vein.

1) Well made? - The perfect combination of good scripting and good acting
2) Contributed?  - Only in the sense that it stands out as a superb example of the same type of irreverent gangster movie we've seen before. That's not to say that the content is derivative, but rather it is elevating
3) Good time? - Laugh out loud, edge of seat, etc. etc.
4) Watch again? - I cannot wait to do so.
5) Worth it?  - For sure.
6) Who should watch this? - Anyone who has ever seen a typical "gangster style" movie and enjoyed it. Anyone who likes to see good acting. Anyone who's into offensive comedy. Actually, the only people that I wouldn't really recommend it to are those who might have a problem with some of the raunchier and more violent elements to the story.

새로운 학교

오늘은 새로운 학교에서 2번째 날이고 여기가 잔짜 마음에 듣다. 처음이라 우리 학교 학생들이 착한가 보다. 당연히, 모든 학교들에는 좋은 학생 있고 문제 학생 있는데 여기는 보통 예의바르다. 내 말을 잘 듣고 지금까지 수업도 재미있다.

그리고 직장동료들이 친절한다. 친절하고 시끄럽지 않다. 전 학교에는 직장동료들이 하루 종일 일 안 하고 그냥 시끄럽게 놀았다. 이 동료들이 일을 열심히 하고 있어서 우리 사무소는 조용하다.

여기는 창원 중심에 있는 학교라서 애들이 공부를 잘 할것 같다. 수업을 아직 5차시밖에 하지 않았는데도, 회화를 연습해보면 아이들이 정말 잘 한다.

마지막으로 학교가 내 집이랑 가까워서 출퇴근 하는데 5분밖에 안 걸린다. 1시간 정도 버스를 타야 했던 저번과 비교하면 지금은 정말 여유롭다.

Monday, October 6, 2014

I Knew It

A little over a month ago, I wrote this:

One thing that I require to maintain my sanity is consistency. I like having the same schedule every week, for all the weeks, until I die. This doesn’t work, and so last month when I had a two-break from work, a two-week break from school, and a two-week period of writing a research paper, my consistency got fucked up and as a result so did I. I’m only now coming around back to being a real boy again, which sucks, because I’m moving in three weeks, taking a vacation for a week, and starting a new job in the month. None of that shit is consistent with any fucking thing, so it’s going to be hard to maintain the blog until mid-October. Your patience is appreciated.

Which is pretty much exactly how everything went down during September. Moving sucks, starting a new job is stressful, taking a vacation makes it hard to write your blog that nobody except your mother reads, and yep, I didn't write anything in September.

Thankfully, consistency appears to be on the upswing in the life of ole' K Dubs. I am more or less finished getting settled into a new apartment, and the process of getting settled into a new job shouldn't be taxing, even to my reptilian-like brain. I think I might, I don't know, write some stuff?

 There's good news and bad news on the movie. The bad news it that I've seen a lot of things in the past...two or three months that I really wanted to talk about: Wadjda, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Diplomacy, 47 Ronin and why it didn't work, The Fisher Kind and why it does, Man of Steel and the "essence" of a superhero, the Korean film "The Good, the Bad and the Weird" and adapting another culture's style of film to your own, and In Bruges. This is bad just because I know myself, and that I imagine the statue of limitations on being able to talk about these films is past. I'll probably end of writing about the next thing I see...

...which brings me to the good news: I have just moved to a city where there are a lot of movie theaters, and some DVD rooms. (DVD rooms are a Korean thing. You rent out a private room with a couch and a home theater system and watch a DVD for like, 15 bucks. They are amazing and also sometimes used for boning.) I have already planned on and wrote it down in my schedule to see a movie once a week. Not only that, but I finally have Netflix and can start watching some good shit on there too.

Finally, I really would like to get some basic primers written in easy language going about world events and countries. I've done two papers on Syria for grad school thus far, and I think this qualifies me to spend 500 words and at least 7 dick jokes explaining it to people. I'm really looking forward to that. I've had these dick jokes saved up for months.