Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Saturday, April 19, 2014
This world doesn't seem like it's much better than the old one!
Screenplay By: Hoon-jung Park
Directed By: Hoon-jung Park
South Korean cinema has been a favorite of many a cinephile for a few years now. A bevy of high quality films and great directors have made the country of South Korea a bastion of cinema for the majority of cinephiles. A film like Sin-se-gae fits into the mold of what is dominating South Korean cinema at the moment. It's a smartly made crime thriller with a wee bit of a nasty side. It's not as mean and nasty as some of the more popular recent South Korean films, but it substitutes a wry sense of humor for meanness. In Sin-se-gae the story, characters, bursts of violence, and comedy all come together to form one heck of a motion picture.
I didn't expect to laugh as much as I did during Sin-se-gae. If one were to pay attention to the faces of every character, sans Jeong Cheong, Sin-se-gae comes across as the dourest of films. Everyone is so serious all the time, but when contrasted against the antics of Cheong the seriousness of the rest of the characters becomes kind of funny. Cheong is a killer, he's nowhere near a good guy, but he has an odd charm about him that makes him easy to like. He livens up the picture and his mere presence helps the other characters to find a comic middle ground. Sin-se-gae isn't ra ra funny, rather it's funny in an offbeat and deadpan manner. The humor in Sin-se-gae is the sort that's not served up for the viewer on a plate. But, if the viewer pays attention to the film they will find plenty to laugh about.
Sin-se-gae is as exhilarating as it is funny, probably even moreso. The majority of the film is calm, but peppered around said calm are bursts of violence and energy. One in particular that will catch the attention of any action minded cinephile is a gang fight that winds up with one guy against many in an elevator. It helps that one of the characters in the elevator is supremely magnetic, but the direction of that sequence is top notch as well. The end result of the violence doesn't really matter, it's the way that sequence manages to capture the essence of a character and provide bloody good energy that makes the scene special.
Hoon-jung Park's film makes good use of story and character to make sure that the story twists aren't ever actual twists. At first they appear to be twists, but thinking back about the time I spent with these characters their ultimate fates isn't a surprise twist at all. The screenplay of Sin-se-gae digs its claws into its main characters and makes their interactions matter. They are tropes, but because we delve so deeply into what makes them tick they transcend their trope origins. The story in Sin-se-gae is strong, and it takes its time to present characters who take their place in life versus being part of a twist.
Another great movie from South Korea, who would of thunk it? Sin-se-gae is well made in every way and a very enjoyable time at the movies. Park-ssi's film is full of energy, well thought out characters, and a story that is as satisfying as it is daring. While America is stuck churning out the same mob movies over and over again, Sin-se-gae proves that Asia is still where the best, and most inventive, crime movies are coming from.
Friday, April 18, 2014
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Saturday, April 12, 2014
The movie opens with former youth pastor Chris explaining that the footage the viewer is about to see is disturbing. So disturbing that he quit being a youth pastor and took up selling insurance. Then he says the most horrifying thing in the whole movie, all the kids involved in the footage live.
This leads into the movie's title card and introduces the main characters. Due to not really caring and the rushed pace the movie introduced the main characters I did not really get the characters names. So I will just use the nicknames I gave them from my notes. The movie rapidly introduces Born Loser, Camera Guy and Mr. Mugging. Born Loser get lectured a lot for things he either didn't do or for things that are not as big an issue. Camera Guy is behind the camera eighty percent of the film and then there is Mr. Mugging. Every time the camera goes near Mr. Mugging this tool is trying his best to be annoying and is a great success at this. Most of my notes about this movie involve wanting this character to die horribly in this film.
The trio are going to a church lock in. A lock in is where a bunch of kids get locked in a church overnight and play games and do youth related stuff. Mr. Mugging thinks that this night will be epic and wants the events filmed. So Camera Guy and Mr. Mugging go pick up Born Loser and Mr. Mugging proceeds to cause problems for Born Loser. Mr. Mugging nearly shouts about how Born Loser had pizza and studied with a girl. This leads to Born Loser's parents taking him aside and giving him a lecture about the evils of premarital sex.
The plot starts to move again as the trio make their way to the church lock in. However, Mr. Mugging hasn't been annoying in two minutes and guilts the other two into cleaning his car. So they pull up to the nearest dumpster and end up finding an adult magazine.Mr. Mugging thinks it is a brilliant idea to hide the magazine in Born Loser's stuff. This plan goes about as well as most barely thought out ideas, the magazine is found and the trio get in trouble. Though Mr. Mugging does make himself human and likable by admitting it was his stupid idea but youth pastor Chris is blaming all three of them for the magazine.
So youth pastor Chris and the three protagonists go outside and burn the magazine. Back inside the church, the trio are amazed that they only got a lecture instead of being sent home and ending the movie early. This amazement is brought to an end when the adult magazine returns unexpectedly in Camera Guy's stuff. So the trio run upstairs to throw away this new magazine when everything goes wrong. The trio throw the magazine in the first trash can they can find and the trash can starts moving. Scared the daylights out of them, the trio run down stairs to find all the doors locked and there is no one else in the church.
This starts the bulk of the movie were the protagonists running around the church with the demon appearing at random to scare the trio to another part of the church. I liked how you never get a clear look at the demon in this part of the movie but it would have been better if the demon hurt some of them. Like Mr. Mugging for example, he could have used several needless beatings.
My pettiness and blood lust have nothing to do with the plot so back to the plot. As the trio are trying to escape the church and the demon they run into the girl that Born Loser likes. There is more running and not a lot of Mr. Mugging being injured. At one point they hide in a kitchen and Token Female Interest reveals that her parents divorce was caused by the images pornography put in her father's head. After some pointless dialog and a short nap, Token Female Interest hears her friend at the door and foolishly opens the door and is pulled out of the scene and the rest of the movie.
The idiots three decide to go running around some more and end up in a office with video camera setup. Like all normal people trapped in a church with a demon they do the most logical thing and watch the footage on the camera. The camera is being used to record a counseling secession of some guy who is dealing with porn addiction. After a few minutes of the addict explaining his on going problems with porn addiction the pastor leaves the frame and then things get weird. The guy looks into the camera and starts talking to the trio by name with a demonic voice.
This leads to the best part of the whole movie, Mr Mugging gets so scared that he leaves the group. Sadly this act does not lead to his grisly destruction but I will take victory where I can. Camera Guy and Born Loser run away and take shelter in a broom closet. The camera is running low on power at this point so the light on the camera goes out and the two of them take a quick nap. When Camera guy gets the camera up and running he find that Born Loser is gone.
Now Camera Guy is on his own and goes wandering around to find a way out and other people. Instead he finds and confront the demon, none of this is shown. There is lots of yelling and growling but nothing is shown. Somehow Camera Guy gets away and runs into the main part of the church where everyone is sitting looking sleep deprived. They are all puzzled as to why he is talking nonsense about everyone missing an demons. As far as they know, he was with the group of kids the entire night and just left to go to the bathroom only to come back ranting and raving crazy nonsense.
The final scene is of the trio talking in the not dead Mr. Mugging's car. Born Loser and Mr. Mugging don't doubt that Camera Guy what he had experienced but they don't remember any of the events he is talking about. He gets dropped off at his house and films himself throwing out his collection of adult magazines that he collected by dumpster diving. Then the movie just abruptly ends without credits.
MVT: Underneath the message there is a horror film begging to be let out. The writer of this movie understands horror and with a rewrite or two and a budget this would be an amazing horror film.
Make or Break: What makes this movie for me is the technical competence. Cgi is used sparsely and only when there is no budget for practical effects. Character conversations are framed so that you can see who is talking to who. As for breaking, the purpose and tone is what broke this movie for me. This is a film aimed at teenagers and goes out of it's way to try to speak to teenagers. This makes watching for entertainment rather difficult especially if you are in your thirties.
Score: 1.4 out of 10
Between the release of Goldfinger in 1964 to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, the James Bond films inspired hundreds upon hundreds of spirited, colorful, often nonsensical European spy films about smarmy super-agents trotting the globe to foil the dreams of assorted madmen megalomaniacs. These films took the Bond template and ran with it, and thanks to the inexpensive access to glamorous locations that Europe offers, even the films that couldn’t afford a proper office set could still afford to pop down to the Amalfi Coast or Monte Carlo or Paris for a couple days of filming. By the end of the 1960s, however, even though the Bond franchise was still going strong, the Eurospy films inspired by 007 all but vanished from screens, much in the same way as the sword and sandal films of the early 1960s.
It was no mystery where they went. Part of it was simply a case of over-saturation, the gluttonous overkill European cult cinema (usually led by the Italians) always bring to the table when a genre becomes popular. But even more so, the social and political climate of the 1960s rendered these frothy, goofball spy fantasies not just anachronistic, but even insulting to a generation that was now in the midst of civil unrest, warfare, and terrorism. When Red Brigades and Baader-Meinhof are running through the streets, it’s hard to work up much interest in some smirking spy in a sharkskin suit chasing after a dude who invented a spore gun. In 1972, against the backdrop of Black September terrorists massacring Israeli athletes at the Olympic games in Munich, the breezy fun of the Eurospy era gave way to the grim, nihilistic vision of the poliziotteschi film.
Still, much of the crime in Europe was politically motivated -- or at least so the criminals claimed -- and although tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union had relaxed a little, there was still a Cold War on. The spy films of the 1970s were a very different beast than those spy fantasies of the previous decade (even though that previous decade had seen the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis). More paranoid, more realistic, reflective of a world in which authority figures were no longer trusted or given the benefit of the doubt. Given the cross-over potential, it’s surprising how few times poliziotteschi and espionage met. Covert Action (Sono stato un agente C.I.A.) is one of the higher profile examples, if not one of the better ones, because it stars Maurizio Merli, the poster boy of the entire poliziotteschi genre.
American David Janssen (The Green Berets, O’Hara: U.S. Treasury) stars as retired CIA man Lester Horton, who spends his disgruntled retirement as a failed fiction writer and occasional author of scandalous tell-alls about the CIA (the character was allegedly based on real life CIA dirty laundry airer Philip Agee, who even sued the production company). When he pops up in Greece, for vacation he says, the CIA gets nervous, and before too long Horton is caught up in a convoluted plot revolving around murder and a taped confession that would be particularly damaging to the CIA.
Despite coming from two action-packed genres, and having “action” in its title, Covert Action isn’t an action film. It’s more of a brooding espionage thriller, paced slowly but not boring. Director Romolo Guerrieri was fairly low-key in the world of Eurocrime, compared to the big names like Lenzi, Massi, and Castellari, but he directed a few really good crime films in the 1970s (The Police Serve the Citizens?, City Under Siege, and Young, Violent, Dangerous), and Covert Action is similarly low-key. It’s about the paranoia and hopelessness one faces when trying to get out from under an organization that basically has carte blanche to do anything, anywhere in the world. When the action does heat up, it’s pretty damn good, including a good car chase, a harrowing interrogation scene, and a fight between co-star Maurizio Merli and a gang of hired killers. Merli co-stars as Lester’s friend, a man who is finding himself pushed out of the CIA and targeted for permanent retirement. Merli brings the intensity for which he’s known from cop movies, but this a more complex and vulnerable role than what’s he’s known for.
Covert Action isn’t essential viewing except for Maurizio Merli completists, and unless you’re predisposed toward appreciated slow burn spy films and character studies, it might try the patience a little. But if a measured pace doesn’t stick in your craw, then Covert Action is a deceptively intense thriller with some great performances, a few good stunt sequences, and a relentlessly bleak and exhausted mood. If you enjoy films like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or Three Days of the Condor, Covert Action will slide in nicely as a lesser but still plenty enjoyable example of the genre.
MVT: Although I’d love to give it to Merli for getting to do something other than grimace and box ears, it has to go to David Janssen. “Understated” is sometimes used when people don’t want to say “dull,” but it truly applies here. Despite maintaining his cool as best he can, Janssen’s performance bristles with a mix of intensity, frustration, and weariness. If James Bond was the spy who made people want to go out and have adventures, Janssen’s Lester Horton is the one that makes you want go home, collapse on the couch, and stare pensively at a tumbler of J&B.
Make or Break: Merli slaps some fools in a Greek amphitheatre. We all love watching Merli smack around criminals in his many cop films, but when he finally gets to bust out the backhand in Covert Action, it’s an entirely different sort of experience. Instead of the aggressor, he is the defender, and there is a savage desperation and sense of “the good man’s final stand” doom that lends the scene a melancholy air.