Tag: 2005

Movie Review: Chinjeolhan Geumjassi (Lady Vengeance) (2005)

I’ve finally finished Park Chan-wook’s revenge trilogy! Man, it feels good! Sparking within me the sudden desire to wear red eye shadow, Lady Vengeance focuses on Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae), a recently-released alleged child murderer who gained a reputation for saintly behavior in prison. As she seeks out her old prison-mates and calls in some favors, the story flashes back to their crimes and subsequent experiences in jail. With this back-and-forth mode of storytelling, we gradually learn the true nature of Geum-ja’s character and begin to understand her intentions. One decision early in her life determined everything that happened to her afterward, and she seeks to tie up a host of loose ends.

This is an intricate and expertly told narrative with a master behind the scenes and a talented actress in focus. The script deftly weaves a cohesive story from several disparate threads- time periods, characters, locations- and works in some thrilling moments and off-kilter violence. It’s cleverly done, leaving the audience to make certain inferences and connections so that nothing is too obvious but everything makes sense. There is a good balance between badass revenge tale and in-depth character study, ultimately leading to a gripping and fast-paced drama.

Lee Yeong-ae is mesmerizing as the lead character Geum-ja. Her young face and innocent beauty befuddle almost everyone she meets, and she dons the red eye shadow to represent her newly hardened exterior. Many of her darker actions and motivations remain a mystery throughout the first half of the film, yet she is somehow always sympathetic due to Lee’s charisma and strength. Though she grounds the film completely, there’s a strong supporting cast with Choi Min-sik (Mr Oldboy himself) as a corrupt schoolteacher and Kwon Yea-young as a Korean girl raised in Australia, among many wonderful ladies as Geum-ja’s fellow inmates. Favorite Korean Actor Song Kang-ho even shows up in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role!

Lady Vengeance delivers in every way, offering a strong, determined central character and a complex, intelligent narrative. It’s beautifully shot, accompanied by a soaring classical score, and doesn’t move in a predictable fashion. It’s a Park Chan-wook film, you guys, what more can I say? The man is absolutely brilliant. And I don’t think he’s capable of making a movie I won’t love.


Further Reading:
Cinemascope review
Japan Cinema review

Movie Review: Sílení (Lunacy) (2005)

Czech director/animator/mad genius Jan Svankmajer is certainly an interesting fellow. He appears at the introduction of his film Lunacy to warn his viewers that this is not an artistic endeavor, but a straight-up horror film full of degeneracy and violence, drawing from the works of Edgar Allan Poe and the Marquis de Sade to examine two methods of running a mental institution: that of total uninhibited freedom, and that of punishment and pain. This is an insufficient explanation for what the film is actually about. Jean Berlot (Pavel Liska) is a reserved young man plagued by violent nightmares of being dragged away in a straitjacket. These are connected to his mother, who died recently and spent her last years in a mental hospital.

In town for the funeral, he meets the Marquis (Jan Triska), a strange but friendly man who offers him a ride to his hometown. Jean ends up staying the night at the Marquis’ manor, and witnesses a horrific display of blasphemy, orgy, and ritualistic sexual harassment. Shocked and confused by these events, Jean attempts to leave but is unwittingly drawn into his host’s curious grief therapy, eventually landing himself in an institution whose director is part of the Marquis’ circle. After befriending the director’s secretary (Anna Geislerová), Jean suspects a plot surrounding the hospital’s employees, but is unsure whom to trust. Throughout the film are interspersed short stop-motion animations featuring hunks of meat and various disembodied animal parts.

About half of this movie actually deals with the “two ways of running a mental institution” concept, and structurally it feels like two movies awkwardly conjoined. I’ve seen a few other Svankmajer movies and shorts, and have come to expect a certain level of weirdness combined with breathtaking but unsettling stop-motion. Lunacy contains these elements, but lacks the heart and cleverness of the other works I’ve seen. He takes a range of ideas, from experimental therapy to sado-masochism to religious idealism to metaphorical chunks of beef, and mashes them all together to create an uneven story that drags through its two hours. He claims it’s just a horror film, and it certainly delivers in the degeneracy department, but it’s not actually scary, just a little gross at times (mostly the animated bits). Clearly a point is trying to be made here despite the director’s claims against being “artistic”, but it’s lost in the shuffle of irrelevant plot points and confusion.

Lunacy isn’t a terrible movie, especially when held up against half the crap churned out by Hollywood, but it’s not a great one either. While the story does drag, it isn’t necessarily boring. Jean is a likable, if terribly helpless and naive, character whom I wanted to root for, while the Marquis is fairly enjoyable with his arrogant guffaws and unexpected violent outbursts. I liked the animated segments, which are generally comical, though often sickening (don’t watch this movie while eating), and could appreciate their “humans are like hunks of meat that can’t do much for themselves” symbolism. The scenes in the mental institution itself are interesting and a bit disturbing, and the story becomes more of a twisted mystery/tutorial on how not to run a mental institution; I wish the whole film had just focused on these elements and left the unconnected de Sade/Poe-inspired prelude for another day (though the hospital stuff is also based on a Poe story).


Movie Review: Just Like Heaven (2005)

Yup, another guilty pleasure romantic comedy added to the series my housemate and I have been doing. In Just Like Heaven, Reese Witherspoon plays Elizabeth, a workaholic doctor whose pushy sister Abby (Dina Waters) is yet again trying to set her up with a guy. After working 24+ hours and accepting an attending position, she gets in a car accident on the way to Abby’s house. A few months later, her apartment is rented out by seemingly professional slacker/beer-drinker David (Mark Ruffalo), who sees Elizabeth wandering around as a disapproving ghost, refusing to believe she’s dead but with no memory of her life. After unsuccessfully trying to expel her to the afterlife (no one else can see her except him), David decides to help her find Elizabeth identity and get her out of his hair. Along the way they will probably fall in love.

Ok, so yes, this movie like so many others paints a negative image of hard-working career women, and that’s not cool. And Witherspoon’s hair looks pretty bad for most of the time, also not cool. But aside from the usual romantic comedy problems, it’s a really cute and enjoyable movie. The plot is straightforward but engaging, and the comedy doesn’t resort to over the top slapstick or embarrassing moments; instead it comes from the well-written dialogue. The cast is great, with Ruffalo being his unkempt, likable self and Witherspoon making sure her strait-laced, no-nonsense Elizabeth is still very sympathetic. I liked the appearances from Donal Logue as David’s best friend/psychiatrist and Jon Heder as a spaced-out psychic as well.

Though I understand Just Like Heaven isn’t actually very good, I keep watching it, mostly for the charismatic performances and lack of complications. There are beautiful shots of perpetually-sunny San Francisco, a decent soundtrack (hey, Beck and The Cure, I can dig it), and a nice, fairly intelligent story. And it’s got a really smart lady who gets to show off her smartness in medical practice, instead of just wearing glasses and being given the title of a supposedly smart person even though she seems dumb (this happens in other movies, sometimes).


Alex and the British Wizard Fixation Double Feature: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

After watching Chamber of Secrets my first day home for Thanksgiving break, a friend and I decided why not just continue the series? Especially since everyone starts getting good looking in the third one. The Prisoner of Azkaban, based on my favorite book of the series, kicks off with a bang as Harry accidentally blows up his mean Aunt Marge and finds out that the recently escaped mass murderer Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) is looking for him. Hogwarts security has been increased with the soul-sucking dementors, who make Harry faint every time they near him. The awesome new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Lupin (David Thewlis) helps him conquer his intense fear of them, while the threat of Black infiltrating the school becomes more dire. The usual staples of Quidditch, friendships going awry, and magical interludes are added. Plus, time travel.

After the first viewing, I remember being disappointed that so much of the book was left out, but as I look at it as a movie and not just an adaptation, I really appreciate Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s visually stunning, and much more innovative than its predecessors. Cuarón brings a much-needed distinction and style to the film, making something that’s honestly fun to watch by itself, instead of just absorb out of habit because you like the books. It’s not perfect, surely, but pretty entertaining. The story delves more into Harry’s parents’ past, which is cool, and everyone gets better at acting, and Harry and Ron seem less collectively idiotic. ALSO: Emma Thompson, hello!


The fourth installment sees Harry entered in the Tri-Wizard Tournament against his will, which takes a 7th year from France, Russia/Bulgaria, and England and makes them compete in death-defying stunts for the supposed encouragement of “unity”. The new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, the paranoid Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) tries to help Harry out since he’s wildly unqualified for any of the events. Harry is also having weird dreams about Voldemort, sensing his imminent return to power but unsure how real his visions are. There’s a ball and suddenly Ron realizes that Hermione is pretty hot, while he and Harry are clueless and rude in regards to their own dates. Ugh. Boys. Anyway big battle at the end, lots of magic, etc etc.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is another so-so entry. The myriad new characters and subplots aren’t handled deftly, creating a rushed narrative in spite of the long running time. There’s so much going on that nothing is given very much focus, so the importance of certain characters or events isn’t really made clear. Cedric Diggory’s death didn’t mean anything, because he only gets about 2 lines and 5 minutes screentime. And Harry’s feelings for Cho Chang are barely expressed, so his asking her to the dance is unexpected. Also, everyone looks like they’re in the 70’s. Seriously, what is that? Cut your hair! Visually it’s ok, just not as exciting as Cuarón’s view of the world. Oh, and The Doctor shows up for like a minute at the end! Rad!


My original art for Harry Potter is for sale.

Movie Review: The Proposition (2005)

In preparation for The Road, I was shown John Hillcoat’s prior film The Proposition, a quiet and intriguing Australian western set in the 1880’s outback. Local lawman Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) is trying to round up the Burns gang, composed of three brothers who are accused of raping an innocent pregnant woman and killing her whole family. Hoping to catch the oldest brother and leader, Arthur (Danny Huston), he approaches Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce), who had taken his younger, mentally disabled brother Mike (Richard Wilson) away from their third sibling, who seems to have sunken into madness after catering to his own sickeningly violent nature. Mike is arrested and held until Christmas day, when he is to be hanged unless Charlie can kill Arthur. The effects of the crime and the pressures placed upon Stanley and his wife Martha (Emily Watson) are explored, set against Charlie’s search for his brother and Mike’s inhumane treatment in jail.

The Proposition sports an intensity and austerity in both its visuals and plot. The landscapes are gorgeous, vast and sprawling with warm colors and good attention to light, while the hand-made costumes are lush and intricate, heightening the realism. Penned by Nick Cave (who also did the music), the script is sparse but filled with emotional complexities in the characters of Charlie and Stanley, both of whom are dealing with external pressures and skewed senses of morality. While the story itself is fairly simple, it features an interesting dilemma and strong central figures. I think the role of Martha, who is basically the only woman with a speaking part, is unfortunately quite underwritten, but I guess I wouldn’t necessarily expect a well-developed female supporting character in such a male-dominated film (and genre).

In dealing with police brutality and criminal violence, this film is viscerally realistic and harsh. I had some trouble watching a few scenes, but appreciated the honesty with which the filmmakers approached the subjects. The racist attitudes of white Australians against indigenous Aborigines are also touched upon, adding an extra layer of moral ambiguity to the main characters. I really liked this film, but wasn’t completely taken in by it, finding a bit too bare and unemotional. I never got a handle on most of the characters or their relationships, and the story just isn’t particularly my thing, I guess. Otherwise it’s a beautifully filmed and engaging western with a lot of wonderful details.