Decision To Leave

Most of the Korean movies we go see are what you might call “popcorn movies”. (I mean, for us all movies are popcorn movies, and I think we take some perverse pleasure in chomping on big handfuls of popcorn as the host of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona or Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel is pontificating on “1962, the greatest year in the movies!” Love ya, Stephen!) But by “popcorn movies” I mean, of course, crowd-pleasers, the movies that the general public is going to enjoy, or so it is imagined when they are created. This is as distinguished from the Korean movies that generally make it over to our art houses, like Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite or Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring.

Korea has not had the complete schism between their art films and their popular films, as we have in America. Think, e.g., Kramer vs. Kramer being the #4 box office in 1980 (and would’ve been #2, except for the ten million it pulled in in December 1979) and people going “huh?” when you mention Coda or Nomadland (the “best picture” winners for the past two years).

I don’t even know where you’d put Park Chan-wook, quite frankly. He worked with Bong Joon Ho on Snowpiercer, for example, and it was his Handmaiden that actually started us on the road to seeing popcorn Korean films—even though it really isn’t one itself. I’m pretty sure his vengeance trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance) define the Korean revenge picture to this day. I’d pronounce him sui generis: He’s one of these auteurs who makes the statement he wants to make and has the skill to cross popular and critical lines.

Who. Are. You?

If you wanted to, you might criticize him for sensationalist or graphicness: Oldboy is shocking, as is Handmaiden, though entirely in different ways. The latter is as sexually graphic a film as I’ve seen in the past five years. And yet, the sex and the graphicness of it, seems absolutely vital to the story and the characters in it. And Oldboy would make a Greek blush.

Out of all these, he now gives us Decision To Leave which has literally nothing of the sort. He’s back at the noir well, for sure, with plenty of nods to Hitchcock (think Vertigo) and we have the central dramatic tension between the hero and the femme fatale—which is entirely chaste.

How’s that for shocking?

I mean, it kind of is, right? And just as the graphic sexual scenes created an interesting depth to Handmaiden that went beyond titillation into intimacy, the absence of them here does the same thing.

Gravity is indicted as a co-conspirator.

Our hero is a detective investigating a rich man who has fallen off a cliff and died, and the obvious culprit is his much younger wife. I don’t think I need to explain the twists and turns that follow which are artfully done, but follow the traditional path of our protagonist thinking she’s guilty, finding evidence, finding exonerations and ameliorations, finding more evidence, finding out that she’s apparently lying, finding out that she’s not lying but has a checkered past, but the checkered past has a good reason, etc. etc. etc.

This is all entertaining and well done, but it’s also just window dressing for the love story. He’s obviously (and almost immediately) in love with her, even though he’s married. But not only do they never make sexual contact—actually, I’m not sure they make physical contact at all—Seo-rae, our femme fatale, dresses most modestly at all times.

I’ve noted in the past that Korean popcorn movies tend to have demure depictions of females. The bad girl in The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos, for example, wears blue jeans and a (slightly ) short shirt. It’s kind of cute, like how Rita Hayworth in Gilda is a virgin. (She doesn’t dance like a virgin!)

But we are talking about the guy who directed Handmaiden, so he’s not doing this as a sop to censors or the morality squad. And it’s actually aggressively modest: Tang Wei (Long Day’s Journey Into Night) is lovely but is she lovelier than Lee Jung-hyun (Peninsula)? As the wife of the detective, she’s certainly not less sexually accessible. In fact, while the two are separated most of the week, she insists they have sex whenever they’re together, to stay bonded.

But will it be enough?

The movie follows what you might call the “usual” twists and turns until a climactic moment at what would be the end of most noirs.

But here it’s just the beginning. This is where the comparisons to Vertigo start to really kick in, though the director claims to only unconsciously have been influenced, and I believe that, since the parallels are more in the kind of surreal quality of the proceedings, and the contentious relationship the hero and the femme fatale have in the final portion of the movie.

And the whole thing is done with any sex or seduction so deeply buried as to raise the question, what is love? Is he in love with this woman or just obsessed? Does she have any real feelings for him or is she using him? Is there any value in compromising one’s self to protect someone else, even if that someone else is just an illusion? Is the whole business of living an illusion?

OK, I’m going off the deep end a little bit there. But it’s a great variation on classic noir tropes, sort of sweet and mordant, and it made me think I needed to see it again almost right away.

Now that you’ve decided to leave, how will you get down?

Emergency Declaration

I saw this one alongside Hansan, which made for a terrific double-feature. Where the historical drama reinforces the idea of Korea, the country, Emergency Declaration showcases Koreans, the people, as they view themselves today (plausibly). I should note that some Korean criticisms of the film thought it was too mawkish, too manipulative, too try-hardy, and too long.

These criticisms are valid, yet they mostly didn’t bother me. (Some of the manipulativeness was unnecessarily heavy-handed. The lily was gilded, as it were.)

The premise is this: A crazy bioengineer looses a nightmare diseases in the closed cabin of a plane on its way to Hawaii. (As we saw in our last airplane-based movie, OK Madam, Hawaii is a popular vacation spot for Koreans.) This is discovered on the way, and the initial thought is that the plane will land in Hawaii and everyone will be quarantined until the matter is resolved (or they all end up dead).


There’s gonna be spoilers, but I think you could probably guess all the twists-and-turns. The movie isn’t really about clever, surprising moments: It’s an exercise in hypotheticals.

The USA refuses to let the Korean flight land, to the point where the US government is willing to blow it out of the air. So they turn back. Next stop: Japan.

Do I even have to say how the Japanese feel about having a plane load of sick Koreans land on their little island? In a Korean movie?

The part here that didn’t quite work for me is that I’ve seen enough Korean movies to not even find it remotely plausible that a Korean plane full of infectious would be allowed to land in Japan. This is the downside of painting the Japanese so cartoonishly evil in every movie: I don’t buy it for a second when you say they’re going to do something decent. (In real life, I think the Japanese would handle it as a matter of pride and humanity. The US, probably, too, though the US government might decide to bring the plane all the way over to LAX to infect the maximum number of people. Tell me I’m exaggerating. I dare ya.)


The real point of the story, though, is how everyone reacts to the unfolding situation: Each disappointment at being turned away, Top Men searching for answers on the ground, and people starting to die on the plane—this all plays out in classic disaster movie form, with bits of society reacting in different and evolving ways to the progress of the plot.

Korean movies tend to paint modern Koreans in pretty much the same way: They’re selfish, vain, short-sighted, afraid…until they’re not any more. When confronted with a terrible choice, they will make a sacrifice over harming others. But they’ll go through the various emotional stages on their way to making peace with doing what’s right.

I dunno, that feels very universally human to me, and carries the whole thing through some of the more preposterous/poorly designed parts.

Top. Men.

In particular, the loophole that keeps the movie from being utterly depressing is a potential cure, which is being hidden by the (American run, heh) pharmaceutical company that engineered the virus (though didn’t let it go, can’t be TOO on-the-money). State functionaries work to discover this, and use the power of the state to force the company to admit they have it.

Part of the Korean Myth is that their government still works on some level.

Disaster movies tend to be long and mawkish and kind of clunky because they’re trying to build this class-crossing melodrama, and Emergency Declaration is no exception. It features an all-star cast including your favorites from such films as ParasiteAshfallI Saw The Devil (2010, Korea)Beasts That Cling To The Straw, and even OK! Madam! Box office may have been a bit disappointing but are well ahead of the likely Oscar contender Decision To Leave, and also the upcoming Broker (where the great Japanese director Kore-eda directs a Korean cast, including many of the people in this movie).

Somebody he cares about is on that flight.

Terrifier 2

I was not exactly clamoring to see Terrifier 2, the sequel to the barely noticed (by me) 2016 movie Terrifier, about a slasher Killer Klown-type terrorizing a…I mean, honestly, does it matter? Not really. And when (the great) Darcy The Mail Girl said it was the goriest movie she had ever seen, that didn’t really move it up my scales much. In fact, it moved it down. I’m not really a gore guy. I don’t like to rule things out on the basis of gore, but if I feel like gore is all a movie has to offer, I have concession stand popcorn (with artificial butter flavoring) to make me nauseous. (This was not playing at our beloved Laemmle, at least when we were looking.)

But it was Halloween and the pickings were slim, as they had been pretty much all year. (Although, as noted previously, it was a pretty good year for horror films of various sorts.) So the Boy and I trundled off to see Art The Clown have his way with the hapless residents of Manalapan, New Jersey?

Clowns are so funny!

Well, whatever. Off we went, and the otherworldly clown immediately launched into some savagely gory nonsense. It had a distinctly supernatural feel to it (which a lot of movies mishandle by making the literalness or the reality of the killer a matter of plot convenience). But Terrifier 2 gets that part right: Art The Clown is a demon of some sort. This also sets the tone for the movie: The director, Damien Leone, wants you to have fun, so he immediately tells you “this isn’t real…just relax”.

He’s no faceless killer a la The Shape or Jason, and he’s no wisecracking goofball like Freddie. He’s just pissed. Really, really pissed. (Courtesy of David Howard Thornton who right now is running around as the Grinch in the holiday horror Seuss rip-off The Mean One.) So the first couple of kills are really, really gory. To the point where you have to laugh at how over the top it is. It’s not a scoffing laugh, however, it’s a kind of uneasy laugh—the movie uses this extreme violence to create an air of menace around Art that permeates all of his subsequent actions, no matter how innocent. (One of Art’s characteristics which we have to assume is for himself, or for us, the audience, is to occasionally function as a non-homicidal clown. As if such a thing existed.)

The movie drips with style and blood as literal proceedings are peppered with nightmares that feel very real. The quality of the film is sort of nightmarish, so this trope is rather effective on its own, but like much of the movie, it doesn’t rest on being just a competent spooky slasher. The supernatural elements get amped up as our heroine discovers through her dreams a kind of anti-Art status.

They say Laura LaVey has martial arts training, and I believe that strictly from her bearing: It’s less “startlet” and more “kickass”.

Look, you guys know how I feel about long movies: Every minute you spend over an hour-and-a-half had better be well justified. This movie clocks in at nearly 2:20, but that last third of the film elevates it from fun, gory slasher to something that has an epic fantasy feel.

And here we, perhaps, see a kind of resonance with the extreme gore: The movie that isn’t afraid to go completely HAM on kill scenes then musters enough creativity and budget to posit some kind of cosmic struggle between good and evil—not in the “final girl vs. the slasher” sense but in demons vs. angels. In this case, our angel is Laura LaVera.

Commercially, it doesn’t make any sense. No one wants a 2:20 minute slasher. As Malignant showed us last year—and as any bold or daring horror movie shows—people have a real limit to what they’ll tolerate. On a $250,000 budget, why would you ever stretch the length out rather than focus on a shorter film.

Well, because writer/director Damian Leone wanted to. Apparently, this was his goal from the get-go over ten years ago. And The Boy and I could do no more than clap appreciatively and respectfully at the result. We were surprised on multiple levels: The quality of the film as a slasher, the scope of the film as something more, and the fact that it flies by despite being as long as it is.

Terrifier 2: It’s about family!

I suppose I should say something about the effects: The best thing I can say is that I didn’t notice them. I understand they were almost entirely practical with a few digital tweaks, and the movie does have an almost “throwback” feel. But they do what effects are supposed to: They get the story across. (Leone is a big FX guy, too, apparently.) You tell me why a guy with a quarter-mil can do this while the bigwigs throw money in to CGI. Probably it’s just harder and messier. But it works super well here.

Obviously, it’s not for the queasy. But I found myself taking the extreme gore in the spirit it was intended. Art is a badass mime, and you don’t mess with those guys. And soon it was just part of the experience, the universe, and it comes across as more weird than sensational, if that makes sense.

A pleasant, even shocking surprise, well deserving of the $12M it earned. Doubtless destined to be a seasonal classic.

If you image search this, you get lots of pictures of Wonder Woman.

Frantic (2021)

A group of young men approaching their 30th birthdays and who have frustrated theatrical aspirations take one last stab at becoming a success by staging a shocking play wherein they trap the audience and beat the tar out of each other (and their actresses).

Which they finance with a heist.


The premiere was a smash, but follow-ups suffered from casting shortages.

Look, this is one of those movies that is not shown in temporal order. The current moment (the putting on of the play) is threaded with the earlier stories of how the boys are looking down the barrel at ordinary lives (gasp!), with not a lot of romantic prospects, job prospects, and only a string of unsuccessful roles behind them. Then there’s the heist. Which goes wrong. But they still put on a show.

There’s a kind of surreal quality to it since, I’m pretty sure, you need to come up with your cash up front when you’re putting on a show (and if you don’t, fraud is easier and safer and involves less jail time than a heist), and they do the heist on the day of the show and as I say, it goes wrong but The Show Must Go On. (Because if it doesn’t you have to refund the tickets.)

This is low budget, to be sure, and kind of dizzying in its story-within-a-story structure: What is real, what isn’t? As The Boy pointed out, there were clues that you might think were just sloppiness, but it’s actually a pretty tight story where the pieces all fit together at the end. Kind of impressive.

She seems nice. She might be the girl next door. Or she might be plotting your death.

We liked it. We found it interesting. It managed to do some sophisticated things without becoming overly infatuated with its own technique or cleverness, which is refreshing in its own way.

Also, apparently, if you want to be in the entertainment industry in Japan, you’ve gotta run criminal scams. I don’t mean wholesome things like pornography rings or fraudulent accounting like in the good old USA, but “call old Thai ladies on the phone and get them to send you gift cards”. And money laundering, but I guess that’s the commonality between us. The Lingua Franca, if you will of criminal/entertainment activities.

Anyway, good and interesting micro(?) budget film. Toys with you enough to be interesting but not so much as to be irritating.

Based on the director’s real-life experiences, says he.

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

How about some Spanish surrealism?


I’m not surprised.

Luis Buñuel famously got his start pairing up with Salvador Dali for Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog) which is sixteen minutes of special effects. OK, it’s called “surrealism” but who are we kidding? Special effects are surrealism. If you’re a weirdo Spaniard and you call it “surrealism”, though, it’s now art and not just crass entertainment for the unwashed hordes.

Which is neither here nor there, I suppose.

The lambs take it on the lam!

The Exterminating Angel has the following premise: Some hoity-toity types have a dinner party and when it’s time to leave…they can’t.

There’s your movie.

It goes from humorous, as the various guests find reasons they can’t leave, to the point of encouraging others to leave but they’ve decided, spontaneously, to sleep on the floor of the living room they can’t leave, to almost science-fiction-y, as we discover nobody can get in to the house, and various strategies are tried, to horror, as the various guests suffer physical deprivation over time and some give in to despair.

A lot of faint-hearted Catholics swear to God that they will put their lives right if only they are freed and…well, I’m not sure what happens after that. I mean, I know what literally is portrayed, and I get the denouement, in the literal sense, and I get that it’s sorta ironic, I suppose.


But I don’t get what it’s about. If there’s a message here, it escapes me. Unless the message is that we are very little in control of things in the universe and our feelings about what happen have very little bearing thereupon.

Which, meh.

For all that, it’s an entertaining film, because the reactions of the people are amusing and have the ring of truth. What would these people do in this impossible situation? Probably this. That may be enough.

The Boy and I liked it, and I think it may be regarded as Buñuel’s  best work, although I think he has also done some more traditional narrative movies (Belle de Jour and The Obscure Object of Desire, e.g.) and I wouldn’t avoid them.

If you want something non-traditional, this isn’t the most difficult movie to watch.


Halloween (1978)

Horror movies, like classic Pixar movies, tend to be based on fun but flimsy pretexts that can make for a wildly entertaining moments but which hard to sustain—increasingly difficult, even as commercial exigencies demand that sequels be made.

I’m reminded of this every time I see Halloween. (Or any of its sequels, come to think of it, except 3, which is a mistake on its own terms, at least.) Halloween‘s premise is ridiculously simple: A child murders his sister and her boyfriend with a knife and is committed to an insane asylum where, instead of receiving treatment, his doctor becomes convinced that he has no soul and is the embodiment of pure evil.

Michael, on “whites” day: “Wait, I don’t have any whites!”

In 1978, this was kind of a batty premise instead of the most tired cliché in movies, and the whole thing is strung together with a kind of funhouse attitude where the big shock is that the doctor is right: The Shape (nee Michael Meyers) is not human. He’s Evil.

And he’s evil in such a way that a relatively minor injury makes him lie flat on his back as though he were dead, but only for a minute or so, until Laurie Strode lets her guard down. Seriously, I think she kicks him in the shins at one point and he falls down “dead” and she’s, like, “Oh, wow, what a relief he’s finally gone.”

The great final shot (of him) makes the movie a fun campfire story but, boy, it doesn’t make for an interesting premise for a series.

“He sees…nothing!” “Nothing?” “Trust me, nothing is VERY spooky!”

Clean, confident directing energy from John Carpenter, oozing style, and the first movie about a psycho killer that didn’t look like it was made by psycho killers and that played at the mall where you didn’t have to worry about getting killed by psychos.

The acting is…what would you call it? Legitimate? Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis as the Carpenterian urbane chicks, and there are dudes in this, too, somewhere, but Donald Pleasance is the only one (besides The Shape) that matters.

Iconic music by Carpenter. Finished at #9 for the year, raking in $47M on a third of a million budget, so it’s only natural that it would ruin the film industry and the lives of everyone involved. (I exaggerate. Slightly.)

Carpenter didn’t want to spend his life making this movie over and over again, so when he made II, he completely (and utterly arbitrarily) killed Michael Meyers. But as we know, Evil Never Dies, unless Evil Dies Tonight.

Jamie, Nancy and P.J.: cool ’70s chicks.

To Leslie

One of the ways I used to amuse myself at the end of the year is by going to Box Office Mojo and looking at the bottom of the list to see which movies I saw I made up a measurable portion of the box office for. Mojo stops at the top 200 now as IMDB/Amazon continues on its journey to destroy everything good in life (their redesign of the people pages is not only ugly and clunky, and I guess designed primarily for phones, it also robs the site of certain beloved functionality). So this year I went to The Numbers, which does not actually list To Leslie, even though the list goes down to Indemnity with a box office of $347, and it does list this movie has having over $1,000 in sales (internationally?).

I’m guessing that this flick, like some other odd ones (Ninja Badass anyone?) didn’t get any kind of formal release and only appeared in theaters by special arrangement. And by theaters, I mean a theater, and the one I saw it in. The Boy and I account for about 2% of its total box office.

Which is kind of a shame. My refrain for 2022 has been “Who did they make this for?” I loved The Northman, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t have spent $80M on it. I wouldn’t have spent $30M on it. Because I couldn’t answer the question “Who is going to want to see this?”

It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback, of course. But I am right.

To Leslie is more in the line of The Whale, a movie for actors to act in. It’s not going to be a big draw in the best of circumstances which, from a release viewpoint it didn’t have, which is a shame because it probably could draw some via word-of-mouth. That is to say, a movie about a woman on the skids a few years after winning the lottery isn’t a good starting point for putting butts in seats, but way, way too many of these movies like to show their characters hitting the skids—and then leave them there because, that’s like, life, man, and this one has a lot more respect for its characters and the audience to cop out like that.

In this movie, Andrea Riseborough (Oh, Mandy!) plays Leslie, who wins the lottery and blows it, big time, in the worst possible ways, and has now hit the skids. When the movie opens, she’s being thrown out of the motel she was staying in. She contrives to move in with her son (played by Owen Teague), whom she abandoned when she won the lottery, and who is wise to her many alcoholic tricks. He quickly kicks her out and she ends up going to live with some people who are not her parents (Stockard Channing and Stephen Root) but are willing to help her out if she follows some rules.

Which of course she can’t and ends up sleeping in an abandoned restaruant.

I swear Allison Janney gets better looking every year.

Marc Maron (!) is the motel manager that gives her a chance and another chance and another chance. And the problem of course is that when you’ve burned so many chances, nobody believes you when you try to turn it around. And in this movie, the upright characters—even some who were trying to help—also demonstrate their lack of grace and humility at times. Their humanity, if you will.

Everyone’s great in it. The supporting cast includes Allison Janney and Stephen Root, which would just about be reason enough to go see any movie. (I thought Maron and Janney had producer credits on this, but I can’t find any evidence of that.)

Anyway, Oscar bait for sure, but without the kick-em-when-they’re-down, unrelenting despair of a lot of such films. The movie gets you rooting for Leslie, and ultimately for most of the losers she hangs out with.

The Boy and I liked it, but obviously you’re going to have to be comfortable in the gutter for a while. At least the movie play on your sympathies and then abuse you for having them. (*kaff*thewhale*kaff*) Somewhat reminiscent of A Love Song, which I see I haven’t posted a review for yet…

Mayron with another great character actor, Andre Royo, as the “odd” motel janitor.


I didn’t have a chance to catch X, Ty West’s slasher about a porn crew in the ’70s that goes out to make a movie in a rural area only to be terrorized by the demonic old people who live next-door. Or something, remember, I didn’t see it.

I generally like West. As The Boy and I say when we see one of his movies, “He’s trying to do something.” He’s not, in other words, doing a paint-by-the-number, let’s have a jump scare at the 12:00, 15:00 and 23:00 minute mark thing that characterizes the Blumhouse era of horror movies.

And I’m not knocking Blumhouse: I’ve enjoyed many (most?) of his movies and I really enjoy the novel concept of paying your actors rather than trying to screw them with dishonest accounting practices.

Let’s put on a show!

But horror—all art, really, but horror especially—needs a constant infusion of daring ideas, risky approaches, things that are unsettling, unnerving, even disgusting, or it quickly starts to feel empty. Which brings us to Pearl, a kinda-sorta “What would a modern horror movie look like if it’d been filmed in Technicolor and starred Judy Garland.”

My thoughts went to Judy Garland and Meet Me In St. Louis. Imagine my embarrassment when the obvious Wizard of Oz parallel was pointed out.

Pearl is a girl who wants to be in show biz. Her father’s had a stroke and her mother is a harsh prairie type. She wants to get off the little Kansan farm (I have no idea if it’s actually Kansas) and become a showgirl or maybe be in one of the movies. She’s just a tad psychotic, however.

If we track the full on Oz parody, her mother is both Auntie Em and the wicked witch. Her father is both Uncle Henry and The Tin Man, unable to speak from his chair, just moving his eyes from side to side. The Wizard/snake oil salesman is a man who comes peddling movies (including those kinds of movies) a la Brinton, and who promises to take her away from all this.

The scarecrow? It’s a literal scarecrow she f—you know, some pre-production elements of the 1939 movie had a love interest between Dorothy and the Scarecrow! This movie demonstrates what a bad, bad idea this is.

“If I only had a …”

Ultimately, besides the wonderful and dare-I-say subversive premise of shooting a horror movie as though you were shooting Oklahoma, this is an actor’s picture. Mia Goth must, and does, carry the film, including a lengthy, climactic speech (which might even be expository if you’ve seen X). Honestly, it’s as much a tour-de-force and demonstrating of acting chops as Brendan Fraser’s in The Whale, and will probably go unnoticed as horror generally does.

Is it for everyone? Of course not. It’s a horror movie and it’s very unsettling in parts. Because of the circumstances and Goth’s performance, you have an inclination to sympathetic toward Pearl, but at no point does the movie suggest that she isn’t a monster at her core. You might be able to appease her for a while. As long as things go well. But the murderous intentions are just barely below the surface. They only need an excuse.

As a metaphor for actors, there may be something there, too, but who am I to say?

The Boy and I liked it and will probably get out to see the third movie in the trilogy, which takes the sole survival of the first movie and puts her ahead a few years to the early video years of porn. It’s not especially interesting as a concept, but I will like seeing how West interprets the dawn of the direct-to-video era.

Hansan: Rising Dragon

It is odd to simultaneously recognize The Myth and its use in keeping entrenched power systems entrenched while simultaneously enjoying the entertainment that it produces. As we often say coming out of Korean movies, “it makes you proud to be a Korean”. Even if you’re, y’know, not, at least until transracialism is appreciated the way some other trans are. This crystallized for me this year in a way it hasn’t in the past. Hansan: Rising Dragon is such a clear example, it and It’s A Wonderful Life (and Best Years of our Lives) for that matter really helped me grasp the power of The Myth.

In this movie, a prequel to The Admiral: Roaring Currents, Admiral Yi is the focus of a successful naval battle which stymied the Japanese invasion of Korea. (At least somewhat; The Myth should never be taken for actual history.) The Koreans are outmatched by the Japanese in most regards except that they have “turtle ships”, which are boats with their decks completely shielded and covered with spikes. These have a devastating effect on the enemy morale—the Japanese call them “sea monsters”.

“Are we the baddies?”

The dramatization of the events here has the somewhat effective turtle ships having certain defects, and a patriotic engineer struggling to redesign them in time for the battle. The Japanese, over-confident and jockeying for position between them to be the first to invade China, get a lot of screen time here so that the Korean tactics will be a surprise for the audience as well as the Japanese (all played by Koreans).

Besides the noble Admiral Yi, who must stand against the (classic Korean trope) stodgy, fearful bureaucratic military and the engineer who struggles to overcome the limits of technology, we also get a spy girl who sacrifices her body to the Japanese monsters in order to help get intel out, and most significantly, a turncoat Japanese soldier who is critical in the Korean war effort.

“This isn’t a struggle for land between powerful forces, is it?” he asks Yi after being tortured. Yi says, “No, it is a battle of good versus evil.”

By contrast, the Korean myth positions the Japanese as evil (often not in a historical context, either, just generally) whereas the American Myth just has the British as some guys we’re pretty closely related to but have some disagreements with. Granted, the British never tried a genocide against us. Multiple times. Over centuries. So The Myth isn’t always wrong or even much exaggerated.

Boy Band rapper Taecyeon and Along With Gods alumnus Hyang-gi Kim risk their lives to get vital information out about the Japanese plans.

The drama is all very heightened, of course, and this is very effective when it comes to the battle scenes. It is impossible not to cheer for the virtuous Koreans as they thwart the evil Japanese invaders (spoilers?) even if, like The Boy and I, you find the depiction of the actual battles somewhat dubious.

How successful was this film? Well, it was the number two movie in Korea, with about half the receipts of the #1 movie, The Roundup. Curiously, Box Office Mojo doesn’t note the actual sales for this film, even though it gets The Roundup right and (the much less successful Korean popcorn flick) Alienoid. But to put it in perspective, Hansan would comfortably be in the top 40 of American films for 2022 (around 30)—and 98% of that came from South Korea which has less than 1/6th of the population. It feels a little bit like a Maverick: Top Gun situation—except that South Korea is steeped in their own myth, unlike the USA, where Maverick stands alone.

To me, the interesting part of this is that it’s not like the Koreans don’t know it’s a myth. As noted with the earlier Joeson era story of the birth of the Korean written language, there are considerable debates and controversies around the story, both broadly and in details. But most seem to recognize that the exigencies of telling a dramatic story require certain dramatic flourishes, and can point that out without having to absolutely hate and destroy The Myth.

We had so much fun with it, we watched it later at home along with The Admiral and it was well worth seeing again. Even if we did eat sushi while watching it.

That’s turtle power!

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan


Wait, I think he’s actually saying “HAAAAM!”

OK, I’m fine now. Just had to get it out of my system. Beam me up, Scotty.

I think that’s how it plays out. Kirk gets super-mad at being tricked by Khan, even though he’s tricked Khan. There’s a lot of tricky-dicky stuff going on in this, the second, far lower budget, far less grandiose, and far more successful film. For that we can blame Nicholas Meyer, author of The Seven Percent Solution and director of Time After Time as well as the two of the three good Star Trek movies. (Those two being this movie and VI. The third good one—and best one—being Galaxy Quest. Meyer also wrote the screenplay for Star Trek IV.)

It’s a complete ham-and-cheese-on-wry as William Shatner cuts loose against Ricardo Montalban in a scenery chewing contest framed by a space Moby Dick plot (with Shatner as the White Whale so, y’know…) and it all, amazingly, worked then and still works now 40 years and some six-hundred plus hours later, with the vast majority of those hours driving down the quality-to-noise ratio. (As Futurama put it: “You know, 79 episodes, about 30 good ones.”)

But for me, anyway, I can’t really connect the movie with much that came after it—and honestly not a lot that came before it, despite it being based on an original series episode. The Movie may as well not have existed. The aesthetic continuity is non-existent to the series. At 62, Montalban looks great but his crew all look like kids—I assume that’s the genetic superiority—down to their perfectly coiffed 1982-style hair.

Taken from us too soon. By a sudden aggressive cancer I’m sure had nothing to do with an mRNA injection.

That’s the funny part, I suppose: From a technical perspective, from a visual perspective, it’s all “good enough”. (And it actually survives, FX-wise, better than some much higher-budget films.) But from a dramatic perspective, it’s top-notch.

Hell, this thing could work as a stage play.

Khan’s motivation is simple: He wants revenge. And we can see his point, really. Kirk’s motivation is also simple. If you are trying to recall the film, you might think it has to do with a former lover and heretofore unknown/ignored son. But it’s way simpler than that: He hates to lose.

This movie, along with VI, are so good because of their joie de vivre. Everybody’s having a good time here. The actors, maybe, but the characters for sure. It’s high melodrama with cosmic stakes. (IV is also like this, though it has a bad case of the sillies, too.) If you were looking at why this movie worked compared to the dozens of other attempts to carry series dramas onto the big screen, I would say it’s because it builds on the lore—it doesn’t just mine it.

They will never top the ridiculously merciless ’60s uniforms.

Like, today, they would scour every minute of the original episode and bring every side element in as “fan service”. The “Botany Bay” would make an appearance or something. If they didn’t bring back Madlyn Rhue, they’d have brought back her character (probably with a younger actress). But Meyer felt that her death would make Khan’s desire for revenge more dramatically potent. (Rhue had MS that she was struggling to conceal at the time but that was apparently not a factor in her not being in the movie.)

That’s the point: Meyer knows how to tell a good story and he’s going to tell it using whatever as a framework (Trek, Holmes, H.G. Wells). You don’t have to know or like Trek to like this.

We saw this on Labor Day—the staff screwed it up, of course. (Theaters are running skeleton crews and there’s a good 50% chance that any given “special presentation” is going to be messed up.) Apart from people packing the theater to see a 40 year old Sci-Fi movie from a moribund franchise, there weren’t many people in the other halls. (The theater has since been purchased by another chain. Which maybe explains a lot.)

“There! Head for the Sassoon system. Planet Vidal!”

…and Mary rode Joseph’s ass to Bethlehem…

It’s that time of the year again, when we misplace Christmas by spreading it from August to December 25th, instead of starting it on Christmas Eve, and instead of a rundown of our favorite non-Die Hard Christmas movies (see Christmas Ornaments and Christmas Ornaments 2: The Deckoning) I thought we’d talk about that most Christmas-y of animals, the ass. You see, while you weren’t paying attention, Equus asinus was making its way back into our cinematic hearts: Donkeys, burros, mules and asses—I’ll be honest, I can’t really tell them apart—have figured prominently in four motion pictures released in the US in the past six months.

I think we’re about six months from Francis the Talking Mule getting a three-picture deal at Universal. And isn’t Gus about the only Disney property they haven’t redone with crappy CGI?

The Chinese may say 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit—I’m guessing it will be the Year of the Ass. Let’s read the breadcrumbs.

“Shrek 5 will reinvent the series!” say hacks who repeat whatever they’re told by PR firms.

My Donkey, My Lover and I

My journey to awareness began with this slight, charming (and oh-so-French) film about a “young” schoolteacher who stalks her lover and his family through the French countryside on a walking tour made popular by Robert Louis Stevenson. I have a full review here, but the movie teases the donkey as a metaphor for our heroine’s troubles in life, while never losing sight of the fact that it’s really just a donkey. Recommended light fun, if you can take all the French.

I would’ve liked to see a few of my grade school teachers dress like this.

Triangle of Sadness

Ruben Östlund, who directed the subtle, low-key Force Majeure is back with a vengeance with this (English-language) feature about a couple of influencers who win a trip on an exclusive boat full of very rich people. The cruise goes very, very bad, and this movie is the hands-down winner for “most excreta and vomitus in a 2022 movie” and a front-runner for the all-time record. Call it a high-falutin’ “Gilligan’s Island”, but this manages to make commentary on class and society without oversimplifying or delivering the usual bromides.

The “triangle of sadness” in question is what a photographer calls the area between the male influencer’s eyebrows going up his forehead. The movie itself isn’t sad in the emotional sense, though it’s certainly a commentary on the sad state of humanity.

The appearance of a burro, and the complete inability of the largely useless ultra-elite to grasp what that means, is pivotal to tipping the audience to the resolution of the plot. If you like satire and commentary on sexual and class relationships, the two-hours and twenty minutes of this actually roll by quickly.

No Skipper, no Gilligan…would you settle for four millionaires and their wives, plus a sanitation engineer?

The Banshees of Inisherin

I have trouble keeping the works of the McDonagh brothers apart, to be sure, and this one by Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, In Bruges) feels a lot like his brother John Michael’s Cavalry. (John Michael also did The Guard, which is closer in tone to what we were hoping for.) It’s 1923 and Pádraic has woken up one morning to find that his old friend Colm no longer wishes to speak to him. He feels so strongly about it, in fact, that he threatens to cut off a finger for every time Páddy talks to him.

Much like his brother’s Calvary, the sheer godlessness of this movie is striking. There is a priest, several scenes in a confessional, and big questions about the meaning of life and companionship, and somehow McDonagh makes it feel like Inisherin is rock hurtling through a cosmic, nihilistic void. Despair is only tempered by not the bleakest possible ending.

Páddy’s best friend (especially after Colm abandons him)? A donkey. A donkey with a taste for human fingers. (Or maybe it was a little pony. I wasn’t paying attention.) It’s a great movie, but it sure as hell ain’t a nice one.

The star of our show with his co-star, Colin Farrell.


Finally! Leave to Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski (whom I only know from the 1978 horror film The Shout, with Alan Bates) to push the humans to the background and make the donkey the star! Eo is reminiscent of Warhorse, though without the ponderous Spielbergian touch. The Kuleshov effect—where two images are juxtaposed to encourage the audience to project emotion on to the scene—is paramount in movies about animals (y’know, ’cause they can’t really act), and this movie is no exception.

If Apuleius were alive today, he’d be collecting royalties that’d make Tolkien blush.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Surprise! GDT’s well-regarded remake of Pinocchio is completely ass free. Despite donkeys being prominent in the source material and every previous interpretation of it ever, del Toro opted to avoid these particular fantastic elements. Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile effort, and the best Pinocchio in 80 years. The music is not as catchy or memorable as Disney’s, of course, but the visualization manages to be highly and uniquely aesthetic without being the only reason for the film to exist.

There’s a lot of good here, so much so that when it misses, it kind of hurts. In particular, the movie has two major themes which it fails to develop. Early on, Geppetto is shown to be a religious man, building a crucifix for the local church when his son is killed. This gets resolved on Pinocchio’s first day of life and then never re-enters the story. It’s also an anti-fascist polemic—but GDT only seems to be able to view this in the most shallow “Italian fascism bad” (much like his previous movies’ “Spanish fascism bad”).

The traditional version of this story has Pinocchio disobeying his father (and society) by not going to school, and suffering as a result. GDT gives us a school dominated by fascist indoctrination—and then completely punts any sort of question of what it means to be obedient in a corrupt society.

Worst of all, it is completely ass-free.

It’s weird that a movie in development for over a decade feels so…underdeveloped.

In Summary: Asses

All four of these movies have been both critically and popularly well regarded, though none have made as much at the box office as The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent which to me makes Hollywood’s next play obvious: Nicolas Cage starring in a remake of Francis Goes To Washington.


High Society (1956)

Years ago, TCM played The Philadelphia Story and followed it immediately with High Society. I loved the former, and five minutes into the latter, shut it off. I dislike much about post-War Hollywood, even though it was much better than what was to come, and I found the slick, color production and the slick musical numbers distasteful. A harsh judgement, to be sure, but one I thought might be tempered if I didn’t try to follow the original so closely with the remake.

Almost four years have passed since I last saw The Philadelphia Story, so when TCM brought it around this year, it seemed the best shot for me and this picture. And?

My grandparents and great-uncle ca. 1956.

My initial impressions, while harsh, were not incorrect. I can now appreciate, at least, the amazing box office power of Crosby and Sinatra in their first (non-short) collaboration. On the other hand, avoiding direct comparison to the 1940 film allows me to see this version’s flaws more clearly. What’s good? Well, Louis Armstrong is good as the meta-narrator. Celeste Holm is good as Sinatra’s pining partner. Lydia Reed is good as the savvy little sister. Cole Porter’s “True Love” is good. Frank and Bing’s chemistry is good.

I’d go further and say, no, these were great elements. And they make up very little of the movie.

The bones of the picture—a love quadrangle between Kelly, Sinatra, Bing and John Lund—is really, really bad. Consider: The premise of the story is that Tracy Lord is a snooty high society girl with exacting moral (and other) standards. She’s cold because nobody lives up to them, including her father and her ex-, and she warms up because she fails to meet her own standards and realizes humans are flawed, and finding a flaw is not reason for summary execution. Also, she realizes if she goes with someone who treats her like this perfect goddess, she’s going to lose out on being a woman. (As I said in my original review, referring to such a film being made today: Can you imagine?)

Bing and Frank do this epic duet where they sing about…what the hell were they singing about? Women or something?

You can say a lot of things about Grace Kelly, but she was not one who came off as cold. She could express fury, sure, but not the kind of Ice Queen aura that Hepburn did. Hepburn notoriously said when someone told her Kelly studied her to prepare for this role, “She should have studied harder.” More study wouldn’t have helped: I can no more imagine her pulling it off than I can imagine her roasting someone like Hepburn did her.

Meanwhile, the rakish cad that is her ex-, no longer Cary Grant but Bing Crosby. You can say a lot of about Crosby, but rakish cad fits none of it, even in his youngest days. He does not have innately, and does not demonstrate, the edge of Grant.

Sinatra’s ok. You can’t really see him going for Celeste Holm and nothing here changes that. He doesn’t have Jimmy Stewart’s affable idealism but the part works just as well from a more cynical angle—well, again, except for the Holm relationship.

Sinatra paired here with the sort of woman he would never, ever be paired with again. In movies or in real life.

The Cole Porter tunes are mostly forgettable. It pains me to say it. Even “True Love” doesn’t quite land. Worse, the songs are utterly generic, like he had them chambered for whatever the next project was. (I have recently read Abe Burrows biography, and having worked with Cole Porter on a project he said that Porter always got this kind of review: Not up to his usual greatness. Sorry, guys, I don’t even remember the songs. And I have known and played “True Love” for decades but I don’t think I could do it the way it’s done here.)

Ultimately, I can’t quite divorce it from the original. Had I been unaware of the 1940 film, I would rank this with any number of forgettable Doris Day pictures of the same era: Pleasant enough, flimsy, with a cast that feels somehow wasted. But even by 1956, the time for this story had long passed and I suspect the same group could’ve come up with a much better picture more suited to the times.

Finished #8 at the box office well below King and I the same year and despite being a success financially and having a very successful soundtrack, didn’t spur much in the way of future Sinatra/Crosby crossovers. The two would work together again, but not in anything this splashy.


Should’ve studied harder: Even the postures are wrong.

Four For October

It’s been a pretty good year for horror. Per IMDB, there have been 10,858 horror feature films released in 2022—not counting TV movies or direct-to-video (is that even a real category any more?) or TV episodes—and at least three have been, by our estimates, pretty good. If we narrow down the list to those with more than 1,000 votes on IMDB, i.e., movies that someone beyond the cast-and-crew saw, that leaves 85 films. In the top 11 (by user rating), three are Telugu—I guess I need to check out the exciting world of (checks map) Indian horror…East Indian…Eastern East Indian horror. There’s also a Hindi movie and a Malalayam movie, so five of the top eleven are Indian—and one of the remaining is Indonesian.

In the remaining five we have Dr. Strange and Prey which I’m not going to consider horror movies.

Where the hell am I going with this? Well, for one thing, it’s hard to feel like American culture is all that central any more. And for another, the three remaining horror films happen to be the last three movies I’ve seen, plus the TCM for Poltergeist. (And, oh, the new Walter Hill Western, but let’s not ruin it.) So let’s take a look at those and get spooky season into full gear. I’ll have full reviews for all these later on in the month.


The new “Get Out The Vote” ads are LIT.

Coming in at #11 is Smile. If The Ring and It Follows had a baby, it would look like this. Call it Jump Scare: The Movie. A green director directs a bunch of people I don’t know (and also Robin Weigert, who played Calamity Jane in “Deadwood”, and Kal Penn, better known as Kumar) in a type of horror I intensely dislike—I won’t say what kind because that would be a spoiler—and it all works pretty well.

The acting is good. The atmosphere is good. It doesn’t have a paint-by-numbers feel, though its only real surprising aspects are in the nature of the effects (e.g., “I didn’t expect her head to do that exactly”). It could have been about fifteen minutes shorter, and would have been served by removing a lot of the backstory. Maybe that will work for some viewers, however. For me, there’s a giveaway to what kind of movie this is (that kind I dislike, as I mentioned) and that makes the exposition painful no matter how well acted or written.

I don’t usually do this, but I immediately thought of a better ending, that would’ve redeemed the whole thing.

This movie is very urbane and effete and, intentionally or not, a fair condemnation of the blue-pilled world. It would be interesting to see the a sequel play out with a group of marines as central characters.


A touching moment from—wait, why are they lying on the stairs?

Coming in at #6 is Pearl. If Judy Garland and Vincent Minelli had skipped Meet Me In St. Louis and decided to make a horror movie about a crazy girl axe-murderer, well, it probably wouldn’t look anything at all like Ti West’s prequel to X (which was released in June of 2022!). West is responsible for the not-really-a-’70s-satanic-cult movie House of the Devil, which I also liked. I always feel like West is trying to do something, to say something different, and to get out of the box that horror’s been squeezed into.

The movie has a traditional score with a Technicolor-style color palette. (And I wept once more that it was not actually in Technicolor.) It’s almost Lynch-ian in its use of a “happy” style mixed with grisly content. And where the actorly parts of Smile worked against it (I felt), acting is the raison d’être of Pearl. And Mia Goth, whom I don’t really know from much, is here for it, delivering the whackadoo goods while somehow still provoking our sympathies. (There is a grimy parallel here with The Wizard of Oz: analogues to the Tin Man, the Wizard, the Lion and even a literal scarecrow, along with Pearl’s desire to escape the farm.)

Pearl is rated substantially higher (at 7.5) than West’s other efforts (X and House of the Devil are mid-sixes) and that score may come down over time as more people see it. (That’s just how these scores work.) Still, The Boy and I were quite pleased.

I didn’t get out to see X, though I wanted to, and I will try to catch it before the follow-up (it’s a trilogy!) MaXXXine is released.


Look, just stay away from the big wooden stairs that lead down.

Coming in at #3 is Barbarian. Arriving on a rainy night at the worst AirBnB in history, Tess (Georgina Campbell) discovers that Keith (Bill Skarsgård) already has the place. After some wrangling, with Keith showing genuine concern for Tess’s wellbeing, they end up sharing the place for the night as mysterious things happen. The next morning, Tess realizes she’s in one of those Detroit neighborhoods Nature is taking back, and things get spooky from there.

No spoilers, but some nice twists in this creepy flick. Justin Long plays a #metoo Hollywood guy who actually owns the place and comes out to get it ready for sales. (Long, the perennial nerdy kid of Galaxy Quest and Dodgeball is 44, and finally starting to show his age.)

Though ultimately covering well-worn horror ground, there are good mysteries, twists-and-turns, with the characters mostly doing smarter (or at least justifiable) things. Long’s character arc is not the one I was expecting nor hoping for, but I shan’t quibble. Writer/director Zach Cregger (who’s probably best known for acting in the series “The Whitest Kids U Know”) has turned in a very solid, entertaining entry in the horror/thriller category.


In the final analysis, Zelda Rubinstein’s character was kind of useless.

It may not surprise you, dear reader, to know that your humble author, who did not care particularly for JawsStar Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark, also thought Poltergeist was a pile of ridiculous crap. I had not seen it since it’s original release nearly 29 years ago, so I took The Boy to see it when TCM showed it a few weeks ago. I wondered if I would re-evaluate it more positively (as I had other blockbusters of the era), and what also The Boy would think.

Somewhat surprisingly, the answer is no, this movie is exactly as dumb as I remember it. I was able to appreciate certain aspects of it more, however, that before got completely lost in the dumbness. The production and sound design is solid and effective. As leads, Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams were perfect choices. Elements of director Tobe Hooper that are allowed to seep through the cracks—like the ghost hunter who goes for a snack and ends up peeling his whole face off—don’t necessarily hold up as effects but they hint at a much better (scarier) movie.

The Boy felt like it was two competing visions (Spielberg’s desire to make a family-friendly ghost house movie vs. the guy who directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and noted that Jerry Goldsmith’s score comes off as almost psychotic. Dominique Dunne’s character is absolutely useless to any aspect of the story, and I couldn’t help but notice that her character was not old enough to drive but old enough to have a history with a Holiday Inn on the highway.

I feel like a lot of Spielberg’s output at this time was just ripping off Twilight Zone episodes and making them longer, louder and much worse.


You’ll notice that the top ten for 2022 did not include The Black Phone or Mad God. As it turns out those movies were officially released in 2021. The Black Phone is a solid, simple horror King-esque thriller (from Stephen King Jr.) probably trying to cash in on the whole “Stranger Things” popularity but good nonetheless.  It was actually made when the director parted ways with Marvel over Dr. Strange 2. (Using our above IMDB criteria, Black Phone comes in at #8 for 2021.)

Mad God is a surrealistic fever dream, just a series of nightmarish images with no real plot or purpose. If this is the sort of thing you like, well, this is really it; I can’t think of another film like it. (It finished at #14 for 2021.)

Full review of Black Phone here. Full review of Mad God here. The latter was also part of my Six Different Minds post.

On tap for the rest of October, we have Dark Glasses from Dario Argento (spoiler: more cohesive but somewhat disappointing than Argento fans would expect), Terrifier 2 (which is apparently much better than the first and potentially the goriest movie…ever?), Don’t Look At The Demon, Neill Marshall’s (The DescentThe Lair, Daniel Stamm’s (13 SinsPrey for the Devil, and of course Halloween Ends (we can only hope).

Stay spooked out there!