Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nowhere to Hide / Injeong sajeong bol geot eobtda (Korea, 1999)

Here's an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying movie that gives you the feeling you should like it more than it actually makes itself likable. Available in two versions, the original Korean version at 112 minutes and an international version at 97, we watched the latter and came away with two main feelings: one, the movie is surely better on the big screen than the small, and two, it's way too long (even when shorn of the extra 15 minutes). We also found the main actor playing Detective Woo (Park Joong-Hoon) unbearable and almost one-note, but the color, composition, cinematography, and visuals do compensate a bit for his half-assed imitation of a walking ape.
Nowhere to Hide opens with a high-contrast B&W scene that is actually emblematic of all that which is good and bad in the movie. In its cinematic seductiveness, it calls to mind the pop artiness often practiced by the Japanese director Suzuki Seijun in films like his classic Tokyo Drifter (1966 / trailer), if doped by speed, and in doing so really raises one's expectations — despite Woo's obnoxiously ridiculous swagger. Visually, most of the movie also continues to display the director's audaciousness and fine eye, but flash and dazzle alone and no story makes Jack a dull boy. And much like how even the most beautiful person in the world begins to get on one's nerve if they have no brain but like to talk, after about 15 minutes Nowhere to Hide begins to feel like a zipless fuck that is overstaying his or her welcome.
The opening scene really has nothing to do with the rest of the movie — though one could argue it presents the "character" of the lead policeman — and comes across a bit as if it were simply tacked on to stretch the running time, which makes it all the more odd that Nowhere to Hide was cut for its international release. After this stroboscopic sock 'em and shoot 'em scene, the movie moves to the main plot, but the plot is reduced to the point of inconsequentiality: bad guy introduced, bad guy chased, bad guy finally caught. It is — as the movie's final scene faintly refers, when the female lead (Choi Ji-Woo) walks past Woo and totally ignores him — an anorexic reduction of the bare bones of The Third Man (1949 / trailer) and a thousand other bad-guy-pursued films. But whereas in most films one scene follows the other and build towards a final, most of the various scenes of Nowhere to Hide seem to all stand alone with but the most gossamer of interlinkage. And as good as the scenes might be, once too often one really wishes that the obviously highly visually adroit director Myung-se Lee also had as much talent at scriptwriting and directing actors and had put a bit more time into the story and the direction of the performers instead of just constantly wowing us with his optical finesse.
After the pop-arty but pointless opening scene, the bare-bones story begins with a well-shot scene of a murder on an outside open stairwell that deserves brownie points not only for the excellence with which it is both set up and executed, but also for getting away with using the Bee Gees' Holiday without seeming stupid. (Why the "mysterious [killer] Sungmin" — an excellent Ahn Sung-Ki — should choose to involve so many minions in a job he could well have done himself does seem a bit odd, however.)
From there, we're introduced to the violent world of the Incheon police as they take a real "hands-on approach" to solving the murder, which proves to be part of drug underworld war. Some leads are followed, others are skipped over via a text board stating "so-and-so many days later" that gets shot full of bullets before the next impressively shot or dazzling scene commences. Often, like the naked child molester in the police station or the long drive to another town, the scenes are so extraneous to the story one wonders why they are even there. (To the director, we can only say: learn to kill your darlings.) Even Woo's visit to his sis, which can be at least written off as character development, seems extraneous simply for the fact that when a plot is as lean as in Nowhere to Hide — it's way leaner than that of Walter Hill's Driver (1978 / trailer), which says a lot — character development is fat. Why spend time on that when, if you are going to add padding, the story could way better use some decent inter-seaming?
When watching Nowhere to Hide on the flatscreen, and even on one of larger than average size, it quickly becomes obvious that the movie was not made for the device. It is a movie for the cinema, for the big screen, and on such a screen it is surely a visual overdose of great power, one with enough punch that its other flaws become secondary, perhaps even immaterial. But not many people have a home cinema, so the flaws — above all: uneven acting, a disjointed story, and one too many chase scenes — become noticeable and the film almost dull in its redundancies. The result, as we said: an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying movie that gives you the feeling you should like it more than it actually makes itself likable. (Try, if you might, to imagine a spicy beef burrito with dollops and dollops of spice, but no beef.)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Short Film: Violeta, la pescadora del mar negro (Spain, 2006)

We couldn't find all that much online about this little nightmare of a short film, at least not in a language we understand. The director, writer and production duo behind the film, Marc Riba & Anna Solanas, seem to be the CEOs of I+G Stop Motion in Barcelona, "an independent production company specialized in stop motion animation and puppet animation." This short is a dark, nightmarish example of their mastery.
The storyline commonly found online is "Violeta loves best fishing into the darkest depths," which is little more than a play on the film's title, which translates into something like "Violeta, the fisherwoman of the dark sea." In the end, Violeta, la pescadora del mar negro is somewhat plotless; more than anything else, it is simply an oneiric, disturbing tableaux of dank and disturbing scenes that play out consecutively and interlink, but there is no real beginning or end to the narrative. Nothing is resolved or revealed in this short: what went on before, and what will transpire afterwards is a mystery — the only thing for sure is that it wasn't, and won't be, pleasant.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Malevolence (USA, 2003)

(Spoilers.) Here's a flick that surprised us. The second flick on a two-movie DVD package, neither of which we knew anything about when the DVD fell into our hands, we ended up watching Malevolence years after the flick on the first side, Mustang Sally's Horror House (2006), primarily because Mustang Sally's sucked syphilic donkey dick to such a large extent that we figured this flick couldn't be much better. How wrong we were.
Not that Malevolence is a masterpiece, as it isn't: it suffers from some questionable acting, some odd and/or unbelievable behavior on the part of certain characters, and occasionally overly forced if not primitive narrative streamlining. But those are all common flaws found in many a film, including those with big budgets, which this film did not have. We're talking low budget independent horror here, and it is a sign of how good the movie truly is that Malevolence has such flaws but remains both a solid ride and also keeps the viewer interested.
Not that one expects it to do so when the flick starts: the pre-credit sequence doesn't promise much, and at the latest the slow, handheld, and over-lit "nighttime" travelling shot to the doorway of a house as loud, canned thunder peals in the background, one begins to feel that another truly bad film has been popped into the DVD player. But this intro, which comes almost across almost as an ironic (if unintentional) statement on the stereotypical tropes of horror movie opening scenes — "It was a dark and stormy night" — soon moves on to the quiet, well-framed, and at times aesthetically pleasing if almost sad landscapes of the opening credits, and they do wonders to build the viewer's hope. They reveal that the director obviously has a good eye — and, for the most part, he keeps it throughout the rest of the movie.
In its core, Malevolence is a generically simple slasher flick with crime-film embellishments, but along the way it becomes something more. Surprisingly engrossing for a crime cum horror movie, it becomes all the more noteworthy when one realizes that the low budget indie flick is also the feature film debut of its director/screenwriter Steven Mena, who has since gone on to make a prequel (Bereavement [2010 / trailer]) and is about to foist a sequel (Killer: Malevolence 3 [2015]).
The basic plot, once the stereotypical slasher intro is over, is that of a bank robbery gone wrong and the surviving robbers meeting at a predetermined, deserted house somewhere in the countryside of Pennsylvania. (Here, unlike in Dead Birds [2004], which despite its historical setting also begins with a robbery gone wrong before moving into supernatural horror, Mena actually manages to keep viewer sympathy with at least one character.) As fate would have it — and arbitrary fate plays a major role in much of what happens in this movie — a mysterious, seemingly unstoppable killer happens to be housing close by.
OK, let's bitch about the obvious: the killer never stays dead and, no matter how often he reappears, no one ever shoots or stabs or knocks him over the head with a baseball bat a second or third time, much less long enough to ensure that he really will never get up again. Are people really that stupid and lazy? Seriously: the film comes from a country where cops shoot black people for sport and citizens shoot foreigners for knocking on their doors or other foreign-looking citizens over parking-space disputes, and we're expected to believe that someone who's just barely survived hell won't/doesn't make sure a killer is dead when all it would take is two or three more seconds? (Isn't there a Zombieland [2009 / trailer] rule pertaining to this?)
And let's not forget about the momma, Samantha Harrison (Samantha Dark), who over the course of the film is kidnapped, along with her young softball-playing daughter Courtney (Courtney Bertolone) by a bank robber on the run (Richard Glover of Sightseers [2012 / trailer] and A Field in England [2013 / trailer]). Her pudgy daughter has managed to free herself from the same bonds she's tied with (gaffer tape), and is out on the run from an armed robber, and all momma does is fall asleep — not just once, but twice? Hallo? Steven Mena reveals a substantial lack of understanding for the maternal instinct here, if not a total disregard of reality. But then, more than once, as is normal for a slasher, the characters don't exactly react or act like the average Joe and, instead, suffer screenplay-convenience syndrome. (The most extreme example of which is when the good-guy robber Julian [R. Brandon Johnson of Fabled (2002 / trailer) and Little Erin Merryweather (2003 / trailer)], much like the Samuel L. Jackson character in The Long Kiss Goodnight [1996 / trailer], doesn't stay dead despite obviously being killed. Unlike the faceless killer, however, he doesn't do that more than once.)
But all the bitching aside, Malevolence does work. It intrigues, it enthrals, it scares, it thrills, and it makes your root for some and hate others — and best of all, it keeps you so involved that most of the flaws only come to mind after the movie is over. (Allah knows that there are enough professional filmmakers out there who have years of experience behind them and huge budgets at hand but can't do that.) So, even with the flaws, the film remains commendable: for all its echoes of the generic body counter, it manages to become more than just that. We can't help but feel that had Albert Camus been a low budget trash filmmaker instead of an intellectual and highly successful author, he probably would've made films like this one.
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