Wacky creature-buddy movie that gets dark fast and stays that way, with some bizarre character choices and a variety of clashing tones. I never got on board with the unreal look of the superpigs or the horrible overacting of Jake Gyllenhaal, and it’s the second time in a year that I’ve wondered why Tilda Swinton needed to be playing identical twins. Enjoyable movie when it focuses on the lead girl and her dumbfounding meetings with Paul Dano’s Animal Liberation Front (was ALF supposed to be a joke, or did nobody tell Bong about the cat-eating comedy connection?), and the mixture of Korean and English languages works well, including a good mistranslation plot point. I guess most importantly, the emotional heart of the thing, Mija and Okja rescuing a baby from the superpig death camp, is extremely strong.

Some points that are applicable to these times we live in: the company led by Two Tildas is tricking the public into eating genetically modified superpigs by claiming they’re “all natural” (and the public mightn’t care much either way, cuz they taste so good). The company is using city police as a private security force to brutally beat the law-breaking but nonviolent activists. And we get the plot device where the good guys expose the corporation’s misdeeds by broadcasting their hidden-camera recordings to the horrified public at the end, but in this movie it’s not clear that it makes any difference – the company changes leadership from one looney CEO to another, and the superpig-slaughtering machinery continues uninterrupted.

Cowriter Jon Ronson made Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes, is British, so I suppose he might also have been unaware of Alf.

Incoherence (1994, Bong Joon-ho)

Bong’s half-hour student short has been on my laptop for ages, and since I’d just watched Coherence, I couldn’t resist pairing these. I’m guessing it’s closer in tone to his unseen Barking Dogs Never Bite than his more sinister features of the 2000’s. Three comic chapters, each featuring a man in a position of power doing something immoral (professor reading porn in his office, business exec stealing milk from stranger’s front step, lawyer getting drunk and belligerent) with an epilogue of the three appearing on a panel show to discuss morality and self-control. The drunk prosecutor would go on to play a detective in Memories of Murder.

Light Is Calling (2004, Bill Morrison)

Like a Decasia outtakes short. Scenes from The Bells (1926, James Young), destroyed and decayed, set to serious violin music. The director of Begotten probably cries himself to sleep watching this.

Three Video Haikus (1994, Chris Marker)

Firstly, some manipulated digital video of a river under a bridge.

Catherine Belkhodja from Level Five smokes a cigarette, each exhale punctuated with superimposition of an owl in flight. I think the smoking is the same footage from Marker’s Silent Movie. These first two were set to piano music.

The third has opening and closing titles, static shot of railroad tracks, and electronic sfx, and I think was supposed to be humorous?

Tomatoes Another Day (1930, James Sibley Watson)

I didn’t know indie goof-off sound shorts existed in 1930. Where’d they get the equipment? Oddball talkie featuring a wife, her husband and her lover playing out a predestined scene while flatly speaking their every thought (“You are my husband”). The second half is full of punny wordplay like the title line, which the Portuguese subtitles on Youtube faithfully translate as “outro dia de tomates”.

This is Watson of Watson & Webber, following up their Fall of the House of Usher. A. Grossman, who brought the movie to my attention with a Bright Lights article, calls it a “satire of the redundancy of talkie cinema, in which image and sound are inflexibly congruent” … “a revelation that the silent trance, when granted sound, becomes embarrassingly demystified.”

On Departure (2012, Eoin Duffy)

The Missing Scarf finally showed up online, so after failing to impress Katy with that, I watched Duffy’s other popular success. Depressed alien goes on a business trip… then, as tends to happen at the end of his movies, the world ends. Actually I read an interview with Duffy, and this is about something else entirely, but I’m gonna gonna stick with my interpretation.

Sausage (2013, Robert Grieves)

Local craft food sellers work together to defeat mustache-twirling corporate foodlike-product manufacturer. Populace is easily distracted by whatever shiny new thing tries to catch their attentions. Movie shows the public swayed by price and spectacle (true) and turning up their noses at gross combinations of things like hotdog-in-a-donut (sadly not true).

Three Little Bops (1957, Friz Freleng)

I’d planned to follow up Shocktober with Animation November but cancelled… still watched a few Looney Tunes, though. Wolf vs. Three Pigs story retold in the jazz age. At the end, the wolf dies, goes to hell, returns as a ghost sitting in with the pigs on trumpet. Could they not get a vocalist who could sing on the beat… or is that jazz? Great line: “The Dew Drop Inn did drop down.”

Duck Soup to Nuts (1944, Friz Freleng)

Porky goes duck hunting. Daffy does his thing, gets away.

Ali Baba Bunny (1957, Chuck Jones)

Bugs and Daffy are buddies on vacation together until Bugs digs ’em into an Arabian treasure cavern and DD gets greedy. Showdown with the Sultan’s enforcer follows. DD gets shrunk by a genie. Stereotypes abound, but this is all better than it sounds.

Transylvania 6-5000 (1963, Chuck Jones)

The one with the two-headed bird-witch. Bugs stays at a vampire’s castle, learns some useful magic words. Remade in the 80’s with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis,

Vampire vs. umpire:

Porky in Wackyland (1938, Robert Clampett)

Katy’s first time in Wackyland – she seemed annoyed at just how wacky this was, decried the “darkest africa” bit, asked if that’s what dodos really looked like, and claims scientists are trying to clone new ones.

Boop-Oop-a-Doop (1932, Dave Fleischer)

Less nuts than my favorite Boops can be. A couple terrific visual gags, some good cartoon weirdness (sinister circus ringmaster has a mighty morphing mustache, empty seats applaud on their own) and one song (“don’t take my boop-oop-a-doop away”) but Betty’s act only amounts to whipping lions, and her standard damsel-in-distress scene (saved by Koko the Clown) is uninspiring.

Arcana (2011, Henry Hills)

A half hour of zen based on a “treatment” by John Zorn (a numbered list of things) and featuring his music. I always love Hills’s editing (less extreme here than I’ve seen before), so this is enjoyable and relaxing, with seemingly no rhyme or reason to the order of events. I fell asleep to this a couple times in Georgia but only now watched it all the way through. Katy also praised the movie when I used it once as a kitchen screensaver.

“I know what people taste like. I know that babies taste best.”

My hopes were too high for Bong’s English-language debut – I found it talky and clunky and obvious. Good ending, though. Revolution within class-stratified humanity-protecting perpetual-motion train is led by Steve “Captain America” Rogers. He’s backed by wise old train architect John Hurt, loyal-to-the-death Jamie Bell, pissed-off mom Octavia Spencer and tech whiz Kang-ho Song. After dealing with company mouthpiece Tilda Swinton through various levels, final confrontation with engineer Ed Harris, who claims to have planned the revolution and wants the Captain to replace him at head of the train. Meanwhile it’s rumored that the frozen Earth has been warming, and might sustain human life again, which will be tested after Song’s daughter Ah-sung Ko (the monster-abducted girl of The Host) is the only one of these people who survives a train crash.

Things: the workers in back are fed “protein blocks” which turn out to be gelatinized cockroach. The two Koreans are addicted to a drug called chrono which doubles as an explosive. Harris claims John Hurt was secretly working with him (for the good of the train/humanity, of course). A cool bit near the end looks like 2001: A Space Odyssey.

M. Sicinski:

Snowpiercer’s mental motor, its driving intelligence, is its obviousness, which allows the film to be misperceived as something silly. .. Bong, however, seems to understand something many others don’t, both about broad entertainment and the state of successful political action. Big action demands broad strokes; nuances emerge later. In fact, this is to a large degree the political subtext of Snowpiercer itself. .. it doesn’t matter who’s running the train. Bong is not telling us anything we don’t already know, but Snowpiercer’s power is precisely in its capacity to boldly visualize this shared awareness: the futility of liberal revolt, the buffoonery of our betters, the hidden human kindling that is always the tiger in our tank. .. Bong shows us that there’s only one track, and so you can’t flip the switch. You can only light the fuse, and embrace the inevitable destruction as the last picture show.

Has a lot in common with Zodiac – investigations into a never-solved serial murder case, which gradually wears upon the investigator until he’s acting more like a suspect than a detective.

Our main local detective is played by Kang-ho Song, star of The Host and Thirst. His local partner is Roe-ha Kim (A Bittersweet Life). They’re joined by a city detective from Seoul, Sang-kyung Kim (Hahaha, Tale of Cinema), don’t even hide their witness-bullying and evidence-planting from him, and eventually they pull him down to their level.

It’s a period piece, set in the 1980’s, punctuated by air raid drills (in case of attack from North Korea) and footage of demonstrations throughout the country. Very well-made movie, if super-depressing by the end.

The Times:

Finally and without fanfare, though, it becomes impossible not to see these impotent and crushingly overwhelmed public servants as victims of a kind. The image of these hapless men, who belong to a postwar generation born in the grip of authoritarianism, standing helplessly by as one after another woman brutally dies has a blunt-force power that needs no explanation.

The latest thriller from the director of The Host takes fewer sidetracks and has a more sustained atmosphere, though it lacks some of the monster movie’s more extremely exciting scenes. Just as astoundingly excellent, maybe even better than The Host, which I wasn’t expecting from the plot description.

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Bin Won (of The Brotherhood of War) is the son Do-joon, a slow guy who leans on friend Jin-tae (Ku Jin of A Bittersweet Life), whom Mother tells her son is a bad influence. DJ’s friend and mother have always told him to stand up for himself, to fight anyone who insults him, so when the boys get in trouble attacking a guy who hit DJ with his car (and smashing up the car), JT pins the costly damage on his forgetful friend, who accepts his guilt.

Film Comment on character:

Diminutive yet ferocious, Kim embodies Mother as the ultimate survivor. And she’s surviving for two—her relationship to her son is so symbiotic he’s practically an appendage. Frantic and penniless, Mother uses all of her meager advantages: the perceived innocuousness and near-invisibility of an elderly woman. The delicately handsome Won Bin transforms himself into a credible simpleton just by the way he breathes and by assuming the stunned look of a stoner. Do-joon frustrates everyone, dimly working things out, sometimes years after the fact. Like Mother, he is not quite what he seems. Won barges through the film, conveying the confusion of a stunted child desperate to break free, only not before dinnertime.

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So when JT is accused of murdering a girl, his mother (Hye-ja Kim) knows he didn’t do it, and swings into action. She hides in JT’s closet and retrieves the bloody potential murder weapon, but the cops tell her it’s not blood, it’s lipstick. She confronts the grieving family of the girl at her funeral to explain that her son is innocent. And she follows a long trail to locate the dead girl’s missing cellphone – seems she was a slut with a phone full of men in compromising positions, and everyone wants the phone, but DJ’s mother finds it first and it leads her to the old junk collector, who witnessed the murder, saying her son is guilty.

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She doesn’t take that well, kills the old guy and burns his place, gets home to find that her son is free as the cops have arrested another mentally-challenged guy for the murder (she meets the boy, asks him “Do you have a mother?”). Final scene is exceptional. She’s taking a bus cruise, pulls out her acupuncture needles and sticks one in the secret place that causes you to forget all your worries. Uninhibited dancing ensues, shot all zoomed-in, jittery and backlit, abstract revelry.

Just won best film, actress and writing at the Asian Film Awards, whatever those are. Oh wow, Yatterman and Symbol were nominated for stuff. Sounds like a more fun award show than most. This movie might mark a turning point for me, in a way. It was playing theatrically here (at my least-favorite theater) but I chose to stay home and watch it in HD instead… and I don’t regret it, don’t feel like I missed anything. I had perfect picture quality, control over the show time and environment, and about as large an audience as I would’ve seen at the weekend matinee of a foreign film in Atlanta. Of course it’s rare that a movie would be available in HD at the same time it’s playing in theaters, so perhaps not a choice I’ll be making very often.

Cinema Scope:

Bong has become one of the premiere narrative film artists now working—and while that label does hang a trifle portentously over Bong’s commendably unpretentious head, this only shows how difficult it is to place him. Another small-town murder tale, Mother once again demonstrates Bong’s ability to render violence, sadism, and brutality (even that, most troublingly, of a sexual nature) at once entirely serious and screwball comic without offense.

Three half-hour Tokyo-set films by three famous non-Japanese filmmakers. I didn’t read the reviews very closely but I gather that some viewers thought the Michel Gondry segment about a struggling couple moving into the city and the Bong Joon-ho segment about socially-dysfunctional residents of an earthquake-prone Tokyo were pretty good and the Leos Carax segment about a sewer-dwelling monster was awful, and some viewers agreed that the Gondry and Bong were pretty good but thought the Carax was brilliant. A fan of Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge, I assumed I’d fall into the latter group, but I wound up finding the whole experience somewhat unsatisfying. By the time I finished watching six previews and an overlong ad for the film festival through an allergy-induced headache I was ready to go home already. Then the movies themselves, a far cry from Paris, je t’aime, seemed awfully down on their host city, and the whole thing was kind of a bummer (and a digital-video-looking bummer at that).

Gondry’s bit featured a wannabe-filmmaker come to the city with his first film, which turns out to be terrible, and his girlfriend (Ayako Fujitani of the Gamera trilogy) who feels like nobody notices her. There’s fanciful talk of dreams and ghosts, and in the end she turns into a piece of furniture, a wooden chair. She’s picked up by a musician, and finally finds happiness – to be of use.

After this portrait of selfish men in an inhospitable city, Carax dives right in with a sewer-dwelling monster (Denis Lavant, of Lovers on the Bridge and Chaplin in Mister Lonely) named Merde walking the street shoving and groping people and being a general nuisance. It’s all jolly and hilarious until he finds a cache of grenades in an underground cave, and on his next rampage he blows up a bunch of people and is arrested for murder. Now we get an achingly prolonged trial where the monster is represented by a lookalike (but more posh) lawyer (Jean-François Balmer of films by Ruiz, Chabrol, Akerman), who speaks our guy’s mythic language of grunts, whines and head-slaps. It’s all over-silly and over-serious at the same time, and I don’t know what to think when the unrepentant Lavant is hung at the end.

Bong tries to restore some whimsy to the proceedings with Shaking Tokyo. His story of a shut-in (Teruyuki Kagawa, in Serpent’s Path a decade ago, starring in the new Tokyo Sonata) is at least the most Japanese of the three stories, the reclusive “hikikomori” being a recent phenomenon of that country – as far as I’m concerned, the other two movies could be set in any major city. Due to an earthquake, our guy accidentally makes eye contact with another person for the first time in a decade, and that person is substitute pizza-delivery girl Yû Aoi, who has button-like tattoos representing different emotions – when one is pushed it determines how she feels. The next day, she decides to shut herself away in her room, along with seemingly everyone else in the city, while our guy steels himself and goes outside to search for her, leading to a cutey happy ending when he presses her LOVE button. The “earthquake changes everything” conceit reminded me of Chan-Wook Park’s short Judgement, and the empty city reminded me of Pulse.

Bong: “I had an image of the people of Tokyo as oddly repressed, defensively lonely… I think I had a desire to wake them up, shake up and liberate such people. That’s where the title, Shaking Tokyo came from and how the motif of the earthquake also came about.”

I guess I’m liking the three movies better now that I’m thinking about them, but at the time they didn’t seem to be working together and I wasn’t sure what the movie’s point was. I’m sure it’ll be like Eros or Three Extremes, where the omnibus concept disappears in time and I start to think of ’em as decent individual shorts.

Nice monster movie, funny most of the time, a few good scares, good effects and everything. Full of death and serious situations, but never feels heavy or grim.

GUY is a dim slacker with a young daughter, a drunk college-grad brother, a champion archer sister, and a dad who owns a food stand on the beach, where guy and his daughter also live. One day a legged, tail-swinging fish monster attacks the beach and steals the daughter. After they find out she’s still alive via a cellphone call, they set out to rescue her. Of course the archery will play a part in this, along with a homeless man with a tank of gasoline. The girl actually dies at the end (so does grandpa), but she helps an even younger homeless boy, who ends up living with our guy after the almost-successful rescue attempt.

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Americans are implicated everywhere! First a belligerent US lab guy orders his assistant to dump a whole lot of used formaldehyde down the drains into the river. Then the US forces (which have laughably low security throughout the movie) take charge of hunting down the monster and quarantining the area. Then they apparently lie about the monster being “the host” of a crazy killer virus that never really exists, capturing our guy and extracting tissue samples from his brain! Finally they try to destroy the monster with “agent yellow”, a gas that causes all the cops and student protesters and our family members to cough and bleed from their mouths and ears, but of course doesn’t hurt the monster one bit. One particular American military doctor just looks so ludicrous in close-up that the whole theater was laughing at him. Not such a pro-US film, then… but they take us down in entertaining ways.

A good movie, worth waiting to see in theaters (video has been out for a while). A dysfunctional family teams up to fight a giant monster… sort of Little Miss Sunshine vs. Godzilla.

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The lead guy and his sister starred in Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, and the men of the family were all in Memories of Murder, Joon-ho Bong’s popular 2003 movie.

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