Your Name Is Rose (Rosebud)

This one had a lot of different titles. It showed up as Rosebud at the theater but I think I saw it as “My Name is Rose” and “Her Name is Rose”. When I translated the characters online, Your Name Is Rose is what finally came out.

It's cute.
Kids dressing up like their parents.

It’s about a girl named “Rose”, duh. It’s 1978 and a chance cancellation leads to this poor factory girl singing in a local dive. She gets spotted by a talent agent, but also wins the heart of a young medical student when the police crash the place because…well, because it’s Korea in the ’70s and that was a thing.

She has a shot at glory but a chance rainstorm leads to sex…presumably—this isn’t a western movie where you’re going to see things (pace Handmaiden)—and her career is ruined when she refuses to have an abortion. Her doctor boyfriend has already gone to America at the insistence of his father who doesn’t want him involved with a factory girl, and he’s not even aware she’s pregnant. Meanwhile, Rose struggles by as a single mother, constantly dedicating and re-dedicating her life to her daughter.

It reminded me of Mildred Pierce. It’s a sort of melodramatic soaper that relies on class distinction as well as an unexplained and inexplicable pride. Rose is very proud. She always does what she wants, at least until her daughter comes along. And even then, it takes a big scare to lure her away from her dreams of music. When the doctor re-emerges and discovers he has a daughter, Rose is recalcitrant and refuses to admit that even is her father.

They were...I think.
Korean movie captures are hard to get so enjoy pictures of people who were probably in this.

Meanwhile, through this journey, there’s a guitarist and songwriter who fell in love with her when she showed up to her talent agent, and tags along for the rest of her life, unrequited. The story is actually told in flashback as he shows up at her…beach music school?…with a bunch of kids. I feel like much was cut from this movie (which is over two hours) because when we open, the jilted lover has an album the two of them on it, and there isn’t any point in the movie where they actually had any success to make a record. There are a few other things that feel “missing” but it didn’t bother us much.

Interestingly—I’ve never seen this in an American movie—one set of actors is used for the  ’70s and ’80s segments of the film, and then in the ’90s, when the characters are middle-aged, a different set of actors fulfill the main roles. Usually, Hollywood movies try to use makeup to go one way or the other, and not very successfully.

Another thing which was kind of nice was that the movie teases a Mildred Pierce-type sad ending but has a last minute redemption with an almost lightly comic stinger. It’s like melodrama without being so…melodramatic. “These things happen”, it says, “and if you’re not careful, they’ll happen again.”

We both felt it dragged a little in the middle. The characters and events are always interesting, which keeps you from getting bored, but the movie (like Rose) feels unfocused at times. We groaned when we saw Rose take a promising job in the finance sector because we just saw Default and we knew that wouldn’t end well. We had no idea how badly it would end for her.

It’s not a super driven, highly focused narrative but it was still quite enjoyable. We followed it up with the patriotic Mal-Mo-E.

Maybe.
A wacky misunderstanding about to be cleared up?

Extreme Job

A down-and-out bunch of cops sets up a stakeout in a restaurant across the street from a drug-lord’s HQ, only to find the restaurant is shutting down. In a panic, the desperate detectives buy out the restaurant only to find that its surprising success greatly interferes with their ability to conduct their investigation.

Waitaminute.

That’s the plot of last year’s Lobster Cop, a Chinese film.

They do this ALL the time.
Caught you!

This is a completely different thing. It’s Korean. And they’re making fried chicken.

Actually, the kind of funny thing about this movie is that, yes, it is completely different and that is because it’s Korean. (The fried chicken vs. lobster distinction seems to be a minor consideration.) We also enjoyed it a fair amount more than the Chinese film, and perhaps the most of the day’s Koreatown triple-feature. It is interesting to note, when similar movies are released, why one favors one over the other. It’s not just “Korean” over “Chinese”, as we mostly enjoyed the Chinese Detective Chinatown 2 more than The Accidental Detective 2: In Action, but in this case I feel like the Korean POV played a big factor.

When we open, our heroes are trying to bust a small-time drug user/dealer in an illegal poker game by doing the fancy “rappelling in through the skyscraper’s windows” but instead of smashing through the windows, they just hang there outside, due to their new policy of minimizing property damage. This unfortunately allows their perp to escape. As four of them are chasing him through the streets, their fifth member glides by on his scooter and easily takes the perp down.

But it's a big Asian thing, I guess.
You have to be pretty cocky to gloat with THAT haircut.

While he’s gloating at his frustrated team members, the perp tazes him and gets away again.

Ultimately, the perp runs through the street causing a 15- (or 16-, there’s a lot of debate on this topic) car pileup, when he gets hit by a bus, and they finally nab him.

Cut to scene with angry chief and a last ditch attempt to nail a big fish, and pretty soon you’re running a fried chicken restaurant. Far more than the Chinese film, Extreme Job plays up the comedy inherent in trying to run a restaurant while being a cop. (It’s not really possible.) In the second act of Lobster Cop, the movie goes full-bore hard-boiled detective story in a way that’s not unusual Asian cinema but not entirely successful (although said scenes are themselves very effective).

At the end of the second act of Extreme Job, not only is our team suspended from the force, but their restaurant’s good name has been tarnished by a muckraking TV producer who felt jilted because they didn’t want to be on his show, and when the Captain’s wife is comforting him, she says while it will be hard, they can start over with his retirement money—which she doesn’t know he’s spent to buy the restaurant.

It’s dark, but not like people-getting-murdered dark.

The third act turnaround is a thing of wonder: Fully investing themselves in the fried chicken business (seeing no other alternative), they end up being franchised, but that franchise is just a front for the very drug lords they were trying to catch. When investigating the various poorly-performing franchises, they use all their police skills and finally piece together what’s going on.

There’s a climactic action scene which is fairly epic and fascinating because it explains how the team came to be in the first place, which was sort of the real mystery.

They're good at...things.
Our…heroes?

It’s fun. You like the characters. You’re not really sure till the very end whether they’re going to stay cops or just give it up and sell chicken. There’s more honor in the former, of course, but it wasn’t as unthinkable here as it was in Lobster Cop. (Though the chief’s wife was rather reticent: “We’ll do anything. Except run a chicken shop.”

There’s a bad-ass chick, which happens in Asian movies—was probably invented in that land—but Jang Hee-Jin is very convincing, martial arts wise. Lee Ha-nee (A Heart Blackened) is somewhat less so but she does a great job of being a kind of unappealing shrew…that you still like. (The same character appears in Lobster Cop and has the same kind of character arc, too.)

It was a good start to the day, and would be followed up with the soaper Your Name Is Rose and the historical drama Mal-mo-e.

She looks vicious, though, doesn't she?
I think that: a) Jang Hee-Jin is the bad-ass chick; b) This is Jang Hee-Jin. Korean movies are hard to research.

Groundhog Day (1993)

“Okay, campers, rise and shine and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cold out there today!”

“It’s cold out there every day. What is this, Miami Beach?”

Name another. We'll wait.
Most iconic clock since Harold Llyod in “Safety Last”.

We had just re-viewed The Wizard of Oz and John Carpenter’s The Thing which, by themselves, speak to different (and often more effective eras of special effects), and which also reflect intense care in every shot, scene or sequence, and when Groundhog Day rolled around this Thursday, The Boy and I were interested—but not really excited—to go see it. (Around here, Groundhog Day is considered to be part of a trilogy with Edge of Tomorrow and Happy Death Day.)

Modestly received in 1993, with a box office sandwiched between Grumpy Old Men and Free Willy, this story of a weatherman forced to relive the same day over and over has grown in stature over time. Sometimes, of course, this happens from mere nostalgia but a close re-view shows that, like, The Thing and The Wizard of Oz, the moment-by-moment attention to detail that makes a good movie great.

This could’ve been a hacky rip-off of It’s A Wonderful Life, but two plot points elevate it: one by its absence and one by its presence. The absent plot point was a detail in the original script where Phil’s curse is revealed to have been placed on him by an embittered ex-girlfriend. Without that, we are left to see it as a punishment/gift from God—a chance for redemption. In fact, when Phil has his first sincere night with Rita, he tells her that he fell in love with her at first sight, and in that moment realized that who he was was not good enough for her. The “curse” can seen to be self-inflicted from that point.

As seen in these outtakes.
In Stephen King’s novelization, Phil slowly turns into an actual groundhog.

The second point happens right after that scene, when after finding true love and sincerity, Phil wakes up on the exact same day. In other words, love—not even “true love”—is not enough to redeem him. He needs to extend this love out to the world. He needs to be that person he wants to be, and have that be enough.

Huge points to Harold Ramis (who has a cameo as a doctor, just like Jon Favreau in Elf, making me wonder if this is some kind of bone thrown to Jewish mothers of actors) for cutting the curse scene, and for recognizing something a little more divine in the overall arc.

Obviously, though, this movie is powered by Bill Murray’s performance. After a disastrous plunge into serious drama—The Razor’s Edge, which he negotiated by agreeing to be in Ghostbusters—Murray began to put more dramatic depth into comedic roles. For a while, his signature role was “The Jerk Who Gets Redeemed”, beginning with Scrooged and sorta wearing out its welcome with Larger Than Life (one of two elephant-based films of the year), but finding something akin to perfection here.

Ned! Ned The Head! Needlenose Ned!
Murray and Tobolowsky, of course.

Phil Connors is deeply unlikable when we meet him. At his worst, Murray’s smarminess can seep into what should be sincere moments—in my opinion, a weakness of the original Ghostbusters—but here, he’s in full command of it. When he first sees Rita, he falls in love with her, but his way of dealing with people is by being a jerk, which is not a tactic that’s going to work with her. His arrogance is so severe, that he cannot accept the smallest kindness gracefully, as when Rita puts him up in the B&B instead of the “fleabag hotel”. (This isolation from the rest of his crew, Rita and Larry, is a good dramatic move as well.)

By turns, we see Phil go from arrogance to fear to a maniacal kind of anger to sly manipulation which, when it fails in his approaches to Rita, leads to despair, apathy and repeated suicides. (As The Boy noted, “Feel good movies can get really dark!”). At no point, though, do we get any sense from Murray-the-actor that he feels like he’s above the material, or see the kind of compulsive clowning and defusing of potentially strong drama. In fact, after Phil’s first near-miss with Rita, his desperate attempts to “be fun” feel almost like Murray self-parody.

Freed of any distractions, Phil begins to discover the world—and other people. And, while he pines for Rita, he’s ultimately happy in serving others in his never-ending series of “now”s. Again, Murray’s sincerity wins out and, by the end, even some of his signature smarmy moves come across as genuine, which is a hell of a feat. In fact, I don’t wonder if the fact that he is less identified with a certain style of comedy today than he was 30 years ago is part of what makes the movie better with time (cf. Edward G. Robinson’s performance in The 10 Commandments).

She makes noises like a chipmunk when she gets excited.
French poetry? Should’ve stuck with Nancy.

Beyond Murray, the supporting cast is perfect. I have noted in the past that Rita is the weak link—I mean, she majored in 19th century French Poetry and visibly disapproves of Phil because she always drinks to World Peace—but whatever limitations Andie MacDowell has an actress, she manages to make some insufferable characteristics charming. The World Peace thing, for example, looks to be less about disapproving of Phil for drinking to the groundhog, and more about his

insincerity.

Chris Elliott as Larry is, I think, kind of a reminder that even if we’re not all as bad as Phil, we all have our own kinds of arrogance and interest in having others love us more than we wish to love them in return. Stephen Tobolowsky’s Ned Ryerson—whose performance Ramis struggled mightily to rein in—is also one of those characters that would challenge the best of us to be generous and gracious, but in the context of the movie, that makes him more than just comic relief.

The movie never tries to tell us people are perfect, overly good or smart, but that they are worthy of being treated well nonetheless—and we are all served by doing so. And it does this without losing sight of the need to be funny and entertaining, and not preachy.

This, from the guy who directed Caddyshack and Vacation. It’s definitely worth a re-watch.

They'll never make another decent Ghostbusters.
R.I.P., buddy.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I bought tickets for this TCM-sponsored screening of The Wizard of Oz on the Thursday before the Sunday showing, and only the front row was open. It was a matinee and there were a mixture of old farts and youngsters, which makes for a noisy crowd. And then Judy Garland sang “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and theater went quiet.

Stupid dog, you make me look bad.
“Toto, stop looking at the camera. Toto. TOTO!”

I claim no objectivity (if there is such a thing) about this film, as a long time lover of Judy Garland: Pre-kids, we would rent every Judy Garland movie we could find, Meet Me In St. Louis, Easter ParadeIn The Good Old Summertime, the Andy Hardy flicks with Mickey Rooney, and we loved them all, just like we loved the Decca years of “Zing! Went The String Of My Heart” and “Embraceable You” and so on.

What was interesting to me, however, is that much like our recent screening of John Carpenter’s The Thing, I found so much to admire in the technical aspects of the film. Before I get into that, though, I have to say that as corny and comic as the characters are, by the end of the 102 minutes, you feel like you know them and care about them. They tend to be unforgettable even if they’re on the screen for just a few seconds.

They tend to be unforgettable, even if after several decades of not seeing it, you haven’t thought of them. Like, when you think of the movie, you may not think of the cranky apple trees pelting the scarecrow with apples after he insults them, but you can probably picture it near perfectly now. (If you were a kid in the past 60 years, you may have watched it every year when it aired on TV, too.)

I said it.
Trees are jerks.

This is a movie that, for all its troubled production, never wastes your time. When the Tin Man (Jack Haley) does “If I Only Had A Heart”, he gets to do his (kind of amazing) dance number while Dorothy and The Scarecrow talk about inviting him along. But The Scarecrow also had a great dance number, less than three minutes long and chock full of special effects—cut. The only scene I’ve ever felt was (sorta) gratuitous was Bert Lahr’s “If I Were King Of The Forest,” but on viewing it anew, I think it gives us space for the Wizard’s minion to come back to tell them they weren’t going to be able to get in to see him, and to make their disappointment (however temporary) more stark.

Technically, this is a beautiful film. This is the last great gasp of Art Deco in cinema, and it’s perfect for the rounded towers of Oz. Every matte is lovingly detailed, and sold with utter conviction. (There are many times, in a modern high-def theater, you think they’re going to smack right into the wall.) Hundreds of hand-made flowers—never mind the field of poppies, there are flowers the camera pans past in Munchkinland that are amazingly detailed and on screen for literally two seconds.

Or am I reading too much into it?
Sleek and stylish but also sorta reminiscent of Kansan grain silos?

As I always say the test for special effects is not if they’re “realistic”, but whether they read. Do they communicate what you want them to, and nothing else, and do they fit the aesthetic of the film? But even 80 years later, the makeup on Dorothy’s three companions amazes. Not so much the plain silver of the Tin Man—though his costume conveys “metal” than I feel it should—but it’s hard to tell where the makeup starts and ends on the Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow.

I hazily recall being able to see the string for the Lion’s tail, though I could not detect it at any point here. I’d suspect digital trickery but there seemed to be no serious indication that the copy we were viewing had been cleaned up in any way. (The sound was actually a little muddy and muted; AMC dropped the ball, I think.)

The witch flying out of her tower is a little comical, but the flying monkeys? Still freaky close up with some damn clever marketing. And definitely one of the all-time great scares in a kiddie movie. I think The Barbarienne remarked that there was a lot more murder in this kid’s movie than she expected (but it’s only two wicked witches, and they don’t count).

It's one of the millions of great quotes.
Fly, monkeys!

Of course the songs are literally iconic, not iconic in the way everyone throws the I-word around these days. But I bet you can also remember the Wicked Witch’s theme, and the guard’s chant (Oh-lee-oh, Lee-OH-oh!).

The performances, of course. Our four heroes were all veterans of Vaudeville. They say Vaudeville stank, and they’re not wrong: But the best of it survived to give us some of the best and most memorable moments in film and television. I mean, you could just look at virtually everyone’s feet and be amazed by the choreography, then crank that up to 11 as you realize Lahr’s costume weighed 100 pounds.

Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West is arguably the most imitated and referenced performance in history. The famously sweet lady was so frequently accosted by children asking her why she was so mean to Dorothy that she went on Mr. Rogers to explain that WWW was just a character.

No more brains than you.
Nor was it without biting satire. This whole scene is emblematic of “The Establishment” of any era.

I know that like It’s A Wonderful Life, a lot of people don’t like this movie and, well, de gustibus and all that. But it’s a hard film not to admire just on a technical and aesthetic level.

But, as I said, I am biased.

The Thing (1982)

I have a theory that nobody really wants effective horror movies. Or effective horror anything, really, because to be horrified is to be repulsed, to be made smaller, if you will. To paraphrase Mrs. Radcliffe (the mother of the Gothic Horror novel), terror expands the soul and horror contracts it. I think about this whenever I think about the reaction to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, The Thing.

Heh, I wish I had this guy's hairline.
Portrait of the author, thinking.

Because at the time, in what is sometimes seen as a right-wing cultural backlash in the wake of Regan’s election (history, like Star Wars prequels, rhymes—and sucks), The Thing was labeled a kind of “pornography”. (I’m going off memory now so I can’t tell you who labeled it such, but my memory matches John Carpenter’s.) It didn’t do well, generated bad press, and basically ended Carpenter’s career. Yes, he went on to make many more movies but his confidence was shaken and he was never really given a budget again. (Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, came out the very same weekend, and also disappointed at the box office.) Nowadays, The Thing is generally regarded as his finest film, and a masterpiece of horror.

Not for nothing, but the theater held this showing in its largest auditorium and it was sold out. Had more people pre-bought tickets, they would’ve opened a second screen.

Carpenter always wanted to do Westerns, but he came of age as a writer/director when the Western’s decade-long dominance came to an end and, of course, came to prominence as the director of Halloween. But you don’t have to look hard at a Carpenter’s film to see the Western influence, and the ghost of Howard Hawks.  (Assault on Precinct 13 is basically a low-budget, urban remake of Rio Bravo. The original Thing From Another World was produced by Hawks, and some have argued directed by him, but that’s a story in itself.) When he’s on his game, this non-sentimental Western style—tough people in tough circumstances—throws the supernatural elements of the story into sharp contrast in a way that few other directors can pull off.

Frontier justice!
Here, the townsfolk are going to lynch an innocent space alien.

I don’t think I’ve actually seen this movie since it came out. I own the DVD and started listening to the commentary but I didn’t get past the first 5-10 minutes (getting uninterrupted movie time is nigh impossible for me at home, which is why I go to the theater). I was (predictably) much less engrossed on this viewing than I was as a boy, but I was sort of surprised not just at how well it held up, but how expertly made it is.

First, has there ever been a director who got so much mileage out of a dog standing and staring?

I kid The Joker.
Despite his greater range, Jed lost the Best Supporting Oscar to Jack Nicholson.

The two most bravura scenes (the CPR scene and the blood test scene) are sheer wizardry. Beautifully shot, timed and executed, they hold up 35 years later, despite the outdated special effects technology. And when I say “outdated”, I mean “we don’t use them any more”, not “we shouldn’t use them any more.” I mean, almost nobody would do this because CGI is so much more forgiving, and for every brilliant Rob Bottin—he was 23 at the time—you’re going to get 100 Charles Band/Ghoulies-style animatronics. And for every Carpenter, knowing exactly how to light and angle the shot, you’re gonna get a Don Dohler who just turns out the lights.

Dean Cundey was the cinematographer here, and he would go on to work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Apollo 13 before ending up (as the boys on Red Letter Media like to point out) lensing Jack and Jill and Scooby Doo and the Curse of the Lake Monster. Let’s hope this guy gets a comeback.

The effects are still effective, is what I’m getting at, even today as I’m aware of all the tricks being used. It’s not important, I generally say, whether effects are “realistic” but it is important that they convey a persuasive aesthetic. And while Venom was fine, and probably the sort of thing you couldn’t do effectively any other way, I can’t help but notice I have a different reaction between “that’s a cool prop, a thing in the real world” and “that’s someone like me applying an algorithm to some pixels.”

You Quiero Taco HELL!
Bottin did get a little overwhelmed and Stan Winston stepped in to make Satan’s Chihuahua here.

More surprising to me was that, despite there being a dozen characters, they actually do seem to use their short screen time to demonstrate real character, not just bodies to be picked off. Carpenter worked with screenwriter Bill Lancaster (whose other credits are all The Bad News Bears-related) and had a strong hand in shaping things. Besides Kurt Russell’s MacReady and Keith David’s Childs, even more minor characters, like Palmer (David Clennon, Gone Girl), the cynical stoner who utters the immortal words “You gotta be f***in’ kidding”, feel straight out of other Carpenter films.

As much as I enjoyed the film back in the day, I would have agreed with the sentiment that it was somewhat nihilistic and the ending unsatisfyingly ambiguous. Upon a re-view, though, I didn’t get that vibe at all: Everyone’s actions, even when incompetent—and there’s a fair amount of believable incompetence, like dropping a grenade when you’re panicking—seem very sensibly survival driven. Even the nervous breakdown of Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) makes sense when you realize that he sees the bigger picture.

And as for the end, well, I think it’s actually pretty clear that our heroes have won. It’s even broken down earlier on: If either survivor is The Thing, he could simply fall upon the other and kill him. If both were The Thing, they’d have no reason to pretend they weren’t. I think it actually has a happy-ish, if rather paranoid, ending.

It’s just one of the many things you can find in the original criticism that I think is just plain wrong. Because I think what happened is that this movie really freaking horrified people, including movie critics, and they responded by attacking it.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If something really and truly horrified you, you’d probably attack it. That’s why most “horror” movies these days are compilations of jump scares, smash cuts and cheesy CGI.

Nobody wants to get TOO scared.

Crunchy!
The problem with ordering an Hors d’oeuvre for the table is nobody wants to be the first to dig in.