Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thirst: A Vampire Priest's Journey Into Self-Discovery

So a while back in May, I had the extreme good fortune to witness a Blockbuster shutting down. Not that seeing a place where rental movies are sold is anything awesome really. To tell you the truth I kind of wish there were a few more left around, but I guess that's what Redboxes and libraries are for (I mean really, any rental under $2 is frickin bomb, I don't care who you are). No no, the reason that Blockbuster shutting down is awesome is because I got about ten movies for $10.

Sad? Maybe. But can you smell the savings through the screen? I know I can!

I went back three times. Ironically, though, then summer started off with a bang and I never got the chance to watch any of them because...well actually I'm sure I had plenty of chances to watch them, but I kind of forgot about them. Oops.

But anyway, since recently budgeting my funtimes (it's a word) money, I've been diving right into these puppies and finding a whole bunch of interesting films that I completely forgot I had.

Number one today was a movie called Thirst (Bakjwi in original Korean).

Fun fact: They edited something out of this poster cuz it was too suggestive apparently

Directed by Chan-wook Park, master of the messed up and responsible for fascinating skin-crawlingly disturbing movies such as Oldboy and Lady Vengeance. Let it be known, he makes no exception for Thirst.

Thirst follows the story of a priest getting turned into a vampire. Father Sang-hyeon is a really nice guy, playing the recorder for dying people, working in a hospital, trying to help people. But he is made sad by how many people he can't help. So what does he do? He volunteers to be a medical experiment, testing a vaccine against a disease called EV. Side effects of the disease are skin blisters, fingernails fallin off, and vomiting blood (can you say FUN?). So the vaccine they're testing doesn't end up working and he ends up gettin a blood transfusion and then dies.


He's not quite dead...

Sang-hyeon soon finds out that the blood donated to him was laced with vampire blood, making him not only immortal but a new creature. He starts to question his religion and his celibacy after meeting Tae-ju, the wife of a man he healed. After being invited over to Tae-ju's home (which she shares with her mother-in-law as well as her husband), there are some heavy graphic shenanigans between she and Sang-hyeon. Faced with new ethical questions after not only breaking his vow of celibacy, but also drinking human blood and committing various murders, the movie becomes almost more about the morality of being a vampire than the actual usual horror story.

Doesn't get much more classic than stories about human nature does it?

Much in the same vein as films like Let Me In, Thirst seems to focus more on questioning the humanity of vampires. Since they are technically inhuman and practically immortal, how does this change the nature of their being? Sang-hyeon goes from being a genuinely nice person to an adulterer and even a murderer, trying to find out how to survive without hurting people at first, and then slowly giving into his animalistic tendencies. As Tae-ju asks at one point "Is it a sin for a fox to kill a hen?", and the film really seems to play with that idea. Since they need blood to survive, is it really immoral to be killing these awful people around them if it keeps them alive themselves?

Perhaps the only thing that bugged me in this movie (and, really, most of Chan-wook Park's movies, if I'm being honest) is the awful squealing, selfish girl who ends up being Sang-hyeon's love interest. I don't know if it's the language barrier or her attitude in general, but she ends up being a rather selfish and sociopathic person who does nothing but cause trouble.

Don't look so innocent, you know you screwed shit up.

A very thought-provoking movie that studies human nature, morality, and sacrifice. Also it's South Korean, which (if you happened to see my entry on foreign horror) happens to be one of my favorite nationalities for foreign movies. Check it out!

6 outa 10 stars.

What Oscars?

So I feel like I owe you all at least a half-assed attempt at an Oscar-related post, but uh...I feel like I should clarify something. For the people that checked back on here to see news of Oscar glory, I apologize to you, my loyal readers. Aaaand, here it comes....

I did not watch the Oscars.

Stop looking at me like that Oscar!

Ok...there. I said it. Now, in explaining why I missed out on the Oscars, I'm gonna ask you all a question:

If you were so obsessed with movies that you actually had seen like half of the movies that they were rooting for in the Oscars, don't you think you'd rather be watching an awesome movie than some dumb award show?


So what was I doing the night of the Oscars, you ask?

I mean, REALLY, how often is Aladdin on TV!?

Plus, I knew The Artist was going to win everything anyway. The only thing I'm a little disappointed about is Octavia Spencer's win on Best Supporting actress instead of either Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs or Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids. Here's some reminders of these performances if you missed them:

Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs:

Octavia Spencer in The Help:

And who could forget Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids? Freakin' hilarious man:

Until next time my buckaroos!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Chroni-WHAT-cles of--...oh, just Chronicle, my bad.

So, dear readers (yes, all twelve of you), it has been brought to my attention that perhaps my ratings are a bit uniform seeing as how they are based on a five-star system. To make things a little more interesting (and a little more accurate) I'm going to amp up the full star count to ten. How d'ya like them apples?

But! Movin right along...

This week's movie was brought to the good people of Philadelphia through the Pearl Theatre right near North Philly's own Temple University. I had forgotten what it was like to be surrounded by masses of people two years younger than me carrying books and looking at illegal copies of something obscure like "Arial's Two Fins: Femininism in The Little Mermaid" (anyone else have to read that? No? Guess that's what I get for writing a senior paper on The Swan Princess...).

The myth. The legend. The Pearl.

Well in any case, I ended up seeing Chronicle, which ended up being pretty darn cool. After seeing the trailers for weeks I was kind of wondering how they could do long shots if the entire thing was filmed by a handheld camera a la Cloverfield. In fact, the cinematography was about 50% of why this film was really cool. The other 50% was a conglomeration of the characters and how they deal with having (wait for it...) super powers.

So Chronicle starts off with Matt and Andrew(I confess, I missed the first ten minutes of the movie cuz I couldn't find the theatre, oops). Matt (Alex Russell) is the stereotypical normal teenager, trying to party and go out and meet people and such, but he is hampered by his antisocial cousin, Andrew (Dane DeHaan). Now, it's not all Andrew's fault. His mom's got some kind of extremely painful condition and they can never pay for her pain meds because his dad is an old fireman collecting on some injury insurance money (Dad's also an alcoholic. Go figure.). Therefore, Andrew is really sensitive to bullying, having to deal with it at home all the time. But, lucky for him, after a crappy evening at a night club with Matt, he's approached by Steve (Michael B. Jordan), jock and nice guy extraordinaire.

And they're the three best friends that anyone could have.

Steve and Matt found something in the middle of a field and make Andrew come with them so he can film it. Long story short (I'll spare you the details, cuz it's a pretty cool scene), they end up getting crazy mental powers which enable them to move objects with their minds.

Typical of a super hero-esque plot, these guys end up being tested on how to manage their powers wisely. Some better than others. If you get what I mean. I'll leave it there.

Spoiler alert.

Probably the coolest thing about Chronicle is the liberties that they allow themselves to take with the camera work. Since the characters can move objects with their minds, and since Andrew is, from the beginning, obsessed with recording everything, the camera follows them around. But it's not always in someone's hand. The camera is floated at ceiling level, at skyscraper level, in the sky, in a closeup, and countless other kinds of shots that would require a crane or a helicopter but are simply done by the power of Andrew's mind.

No way you could film this without super powers.

They found a way to break outside of the tripoddy Paranormal Activity kinds of shots and broaden the horizons. I think that was one of the coolest things that I found about this movie. That and its ever-changing perspective. Even though the camera is by and large operated by Andrew, there are also other cameras recording at the same time he is for a few scenes, allowing the perspective to switch back and forth without compromising the handheld camera angle. Towards the end, as tensions rise and things heat up, the different perspectives get even more interesting.

Another cool thing about this movie was the kind of fusion of genres that it seemed to master. Teen movie, superhero movie, handheld movie. Really, a smart triple play of all the hot genres right now, but it tweaked each of them in such a way that they didn't get old fast. In fact the movie could be interpreted as any number of things. A fake documentary about how a superhero (and supervillain...?) have come to be, a lesson about bullying and the dangers of extreme power, a story about the valors of being a decent human being, or even just an amateur sci-fi thriller.

All in all, very cool movie. I hope they don't ruin it with a sequel.

Six out of ten. (See that? That's my new scoring method. I know you're shocked. It'll be okay.)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Albert or Alba?: Review of Albert Nobbs

Last time I went to an indie movie (The Artist, ahem, ahem) I saw the preview for Albert Nobbs and was immediately intrigued. First of all, period drama is one of my favorite genres (see Sense and Sensibility, Emma, the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and the BBC series Downton Abbey. You won't be disappointed.) and I was really intrigued to see one set in Ireland, a country which is usually overlooked. But let's not, of course, also overlook the fact that the film is centered around Glenn Close as playing Albert Nobbs himself.

The man(?) himself

Yes, children. But don't misunderstand, either. Glenn Close isn't merely playing a pants role, where the audience is supposed to overlook the fact that the man on screen is in fact a woman (see Mary Martin in 1960's Peter Pan). Rather, the movie investigates the "what-if" scenario of a woman passing as a man in late 19th century Dublin.

When the movie begins, Albert Nobbs is a waiter at a high-end hotel in the middle of Dublin. He is an odd man, but not overly so. He is quiet, courteous, and obliging but seems somewhat clueless as to his own humanity. The first time the audience sees him speak is only about matters of money, and he seems somewhat isolated from the rest of the staff. As the movie moves on, it becomes wrapped up in how lives like Albert's may have indeed happened and the possibility of him reconciling his secret with the joys of a somewhat normal life.

Honestly, this film was fascinating. Albert Nobbs is a character with a brilliant sort of androgyny that doesn't make you think of him as a woman in drag, but nor does it allow you to fully embrace the character as a man. This seems to be a direct result of Albert himself not really knowing (or seeming to care, other than of course being found out) whether he is acting as either sex. In fact, the circumstances surrounding Albert's initial choice make it so that he almost chooses the androgyny of being neither male nor female. Whereas being a woman was extremely dangerous (especially if you were alone), being a man was safe in any number of ways.

In fact, I would argue that this film is almost equally about the hardships of the lower class in the 19th century as it is about the complexities of gender-bending. Both characters masquerading as men (yes I said both, keep your eyes open for the second one!) only come about doing it as a result of their lower class situations. Mr. Page (I guess the jig is up) becomes a man as a result of losing the ability to have children and Albert (SPOILER ALERT) becomes a man after first being gang raped and then needing money.

The other two main characters, Helen (Mia Wasikowska) and Joe (Aaron Johnson), also seem to be direct victims of their class. Being basically deprived of most comforts, they seem to reach out to each other without really caring what the consequences are (and boy oh boy are there consequences).
What do you mean "kiss"?

I haven’t seen such a unique movie in a while, and for that reason I would recommend seeing it. Also, if for nothing else, please see it for Janet McTeer’s portrayal of Hubert Page, which is one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen on screen (in fact, I would even go as far as to say that she outshines Glenn Close’s Albert Nobbs).

Four outa five.

Also, the music in this is to die for. Check out the theme song, sung by Sinead O'Conner and the trailer: