peteg's blog

The Yellow Sea (Hwanghae)

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Another Korean flick from the post-Parasite list by Manohla Dargis. Contrary to her I'm not unreservedly enthusiastic about the old graphic ultraviolence. Here it's all knives and axes — a guy with a gun who could aim would've made this movie about five minutes long — that inflict amazing damage and draw fantastic quantities of blood, and yet the people from Yanji (ethnic Koreans stuck in China between China/North Korea/Russia) continue. There are an excess of chases and a touch of the Oldboy invincibility. The handheld camerawork is too jittery. I lost track of the plot early on, and I wish they'd dispensed with one entirely. Directed by Na Hong-jin, new to me, and likely the last of his I'll see.

The Thief of Bagdad

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Abu: Where are we now?
Genie: Above the roof... of the world.
Abu: Has the world got a roof?
Genie: Of course. Supported by seven pillars, and the seven pillars are set on the shoulders of a genie whose strength is beyond thought, and the genie stands on an eagle, and the eagle on a bull, and the bull on a fish, and the fish swims in the sea of eternity...

Deemed a "great movie" by Roger Ebert in 2009. A matinee classic. Special effects! Colour! I found the adventure itself a bit too generically exotic, with place names now familiar from recent American wars; I'm guessing some people in 1940 knew them from World War I. Buddha has an all-seeing eye and apparently Allah wasn't too bothered by sorcery back then. In two sittings as I wasn't that into it.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Don Winslow: Broken.

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Kindle. A collection of shorts, almost novellas, or offcuts. Upon completing it I realised I'd seen his three-spoked Paradise weed dealers before, in Oliver Stone's Savages. Here they're trying to expand into Hawaii, which the locals, of course, are not happy about. That suggests there's probably more in these stories for Winslow's regulars than I got. There's also the vibe that he's a sort-of short-form West Coast Dennis Lehane, providing raw material to the movies.

All of these stories go about as you'd expect once the premise has been established. Most of the fun is in his punchy sentences and observations, and that none overstay their welcome to the point of resentment. The pick for me was the second — Crime 101 — where he sets up a few overlapping triangles of cops, robbers, jewellers and beach bunnies. The weakest is the concluding The Last Ride, which reads as some kind of manifesto for how he wishes Southern Republicans would behave, i.e., by getting back in touch with what Winslow presents as their traditional decency. Most are about men who are lethally competent in familiar but unreal scenarios where things go unsurprisingly.

Janet Maslin's review sold it to me. She reckons the first (Broken) is the weakest.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

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Another of Roger Ebert's "great movies" (four stars in 2009). The still in his review suggests fantastic things, like a 1960s Doctor Who set or a Bertolt Brecht: angular, stagy, artificial, and with a point to make. The reality is a silent German movie from 1920. I didn't follow the plot entirely; I was hoping for some David Lynch Lost Highway identity-based kookiness but instead got a fairly linear bit of misdirection. I'd lost interest by the last scene, and have no idea why the surviving friend was being branded insane.

The Pledge

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One of Roger Ebert's "great movies" (four stars in 2012, a kiss-of-death 3.5 stars in 2001). The draw was the fabulous cast: Jack Nicholson leads as a one-last-case retiring police officer in Nevada, Benicio Del Toro mumbles unpersuasively, Aaron Eckhart does his alpha-male thing, Mickey Rourke attempts some tears, and so forth; none are particularly convincing. Sean Penn pulled this crowd and directs, putting his wife-at-the-time Robin Wright Penn in flannels and cracked teeth as the obvious love interest. In this role he seems eternally preoccupied with the treatment of children: here there's some extreme but entirely routine serial killing. After the initial gore things slide into the soporific, and as the time wound down I realised that he was trying really hard to go somewhere new. The break, when it comes, is not worth the trip: the culmination of Nicholson's fishing, petrol vending, family anchoring, and angst is a solitary gibbering alcoholic.

Reviews were legion at the time.

Evan Ratliff, ed: Love and Ruin: Tales of Obsession, Danger, and Heartbreak from The Atavist Magazine.

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Kindle. Over an extended period of time, since I read Ratliff's fascinating The Mastermind. This is a collection of long articles drawn from The Atavist; some hits, some misses, some omissions, and one I'd read before. Most were good but nothing was particularly memorable.

Mindhunter (Seasons 1-2)

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It's like Twin Peaks and The Silence of the Lambs had a baby TV show that married Se7en but secretly wished it had saved itself for True Detective or Breaking Bad. It was raised in the neighborhood of Natural Born Killers. This FBI eerily echoes David Lynch's with similar tensions between institutional conformity and quirky innovation. Instead of Duchovny's timeless Denise we get Anna Torv's frosty lesbian academician; the psychobabble is sometimes, even too often, too much. (Lena Olin smokes her off the screen in a few brief scenes.) Jonathan Groff's semi-Rain Man Holden Ford (eventually deep into season two: "It’s a bad joke ... in Australia") has his kyptonite, just like Kyle MacLachlan's Dale Cooper but nowhere as inventive. Holt McCallany (memorable in Fight Club) is solid as his blinkering buddy. But of course without a character like Lynch's Cole things were always going to be a bit too linear. The smoking is epic. There are too many balls in the air. The ambience is ruthless. The family stuff wasn't too much but still crowded out more interesting things.

The draw was David Fincher, who hasn't done a lot of directing since Gone Girl. The cinematography is often dark sepia.

The Foul King

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Another Korean effort; another post-Parasite pointer from Ben Kenigsberg. This one is more literally a WWE cartoon, and you'll enjoy it about as much as you're prepared to indulge Song Kang-ho's style of comedy. There's a smidge of romance, some mess at the karaoke, much fantasy fulfilment. It was released in 2000, making it something of a response to Fight Club. Directed by Kim Jee-woon, who is new to me.

A. O. Scott at the time.

Train to Busan

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I thought I'd give SBS's on-demand service a go. You need an account (surprise). It didn't like the various ad blockers I use in Chrome, and even when I disabled these it cratered every ad break. I had even less success with FireFox. It did work fine on vanilla Safari, which I keep for just this purpose. Yeah, the ads are annoying.

This is a 2016 South Korean zombie flick set on a train, a bit too soon after Snowpiercer I'd say. Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, who was new to me. The violence is less graphic than we're used to, and it's pretty funny at times; things get cartoonish in the same way as the WWE. The cinematography is as gorgeous as you'd expect. The CGI is not too bad. It has all the tropes but passes up too many opportunities to freshly skewer the genre, its characters or Korean society; overall there's not a lot going on beyond the busyness in the frame.

Jeannette Catsoulis.