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Lee (2185 KP) rated The Mule (2018) in Movies

Jan 29, 2019 (Updated Jan 29, 2019)  
The Mule (2018)
The Mule (2018)
2018 | Crime, Drama, Mystery
Clint Eastwood, still going strong! (0 more)
Some seriously underused talent in the form of Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña and Taissa Farmiga (0 more)
A simple, enjoyable story
It appears there's just no stopping Clint Eastwood. Not only does he star in The Mule, a movie 'inspired by a true story', but he's also on producing and directing duties too. Just when you think you've seen him in his last ever role, he's back, 88 years old and still going strong!

Eastwood is Earl Stone, a highly successful horticulturist and Korean war veteran who we first meet in 2005. He arrives at a horticulture convention where he charms the ladies, engages in friendly competitive banter with other exhibitors and sneers at the guy promoting a new way of ordering flowers over the internet, before going on to win first prize for best bloom. But over the years all of this success has been at the expense of his family and while he's buying everyone in the bar a drink to celebrate his win, his daughter is getting married, wondering where her father is while her mother consoles her. A life on the road devoted to work has lost Earl the most important thing in life.

Shifting forward 12 years to 2017 and Earl has been forced to close up the flower business, blaming the damn internet for it all. He pays off his farm workers as best he can before heading off to his granddaughters house where she is holding a garden party. His presence only causes tension though - his daughter can't bear to be anywhere near him, while his ex wife takes the opportunity to once again give him a piece of her mind, disappointed that despite a lifelong devotion to work, he now can't even afford to help pay for his granddaughters upcoming wedding.

So when an offer comes his way, working as a mule for the cartel in return for good money, Earl accepts. An old man traveling, with no previous speeding tickets, is less likely to be stopped than the traditional Latinos they usually use, and Earl benefits by continuing his love of traveling the country in his trusty old truck. He tries the charming old man routine with the cartel members he comes into contact with on both sides of his deliveries, with varying degrees of success, but in-between he manages to just enjoy life - driving on the open road, singing along to the radio for hours on end. And the money certainly is good - Earl is able to buy a brand new truck, help pay for his granddaughters wedding and even help prevent a bar he's been going to for the last 50 or so years from closing. He gradually becomes more trusted within the cartel, becoming responsible for transporting increasingly larger quantities of drugs and drawing the attention of the more powerful cartel members. Attending big parties at their lavish houses, dancing with bikini clad girls and engaging in threesomes, this ninety something certainly is making the most of his twilight years! As power shifts within the cartel and Earl gets drawn deeper in, he finds himself having to decide between the cartel and his family. A decision with very different but serious consequences depending on which path he chooses.

All the while Earl is having his fun, the net is closing in on him in the form of a couple of DEA agents played by Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña. Under pressure to secure a bust from boss Lawrence Fishburne, they're getting closer and closer to capturing the cartels top mule. All three of these actors are seriously underused though in what are essentially pretty standard cop roles.

The Mule is a fairly simple movie with no big sense of drama, and certainly no Breaking Bad levels of cartel tension. However, I was never bored at any point and just found myself completely engrossed in it all, swept along by the genial nature of Earl and what was an enjoyable, sentimental story.
  
Show all 4 comments.
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Erika (12825 KP) Jan 29, 2019

I was surprised that I actually really liked this film... and apparently I never wrote a review of it.

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Lee (2185 KP) Jan 29, 2019

I've seen a lot of negativity out there for this. I was surprised I liked it too.

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (2017)
King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (2017)
2017 | Action, Drama
Schrodinger's Film
There is a thought experiment that is used to help make sense of the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Say you have a cat, a box and a fragile vial of poison. You put the cat and the poison in the box knowing that the vial may break, you lunatic.

At this point, so goes the thought experiment, until we can perceive whether or not the cat is dead, the cat is dead AND alive simultaneously, and it is only when you look into the box that you know whether you have a friend for life or a Korean meal.

I bring this up because I often insist that I prefer a bad movie with great moments than a movie that’s adequate across the board, but Guy Ritchie’s most recent film certainly puts that to the test. It’s almost my favourite film of the year but is full of nigh-unforgiveable blunders that I don’t think I can watch it again. But I don’t regret seeing it. King Arthur is both good and not good and the cat is still in the box.

Well, I might as well start with what’s good about the film. For one, the character of Arthur himself has a pretty interesting arc. Normally interpretations of the Arthur myth focus on the King bit, so despite it being yet another origin story, it at least is for a character who rarely gets one, and it’s an interesting spin on the reluctant hero arc.

In addition, the world itself feels like it desperately needs a hero. You get the sense that this world is falling apart, which is much better than some other chosen one narratives like Harry Potter, where even when Voldemort took over the wizarding world he didn’t seem to do anything. Also, this is a fantasy film that isn’t just Lord of the Rings again, but a more Celtic mystic mythology that is ripe for exploration.

Then there’s Jude Law, who is so moustache-twirlingly evil that he’s hilarious. He’s clearly having the time of his life playing this cartoon super villain and making him campy enough to be fun while still threatening and compelling when he needs to be.

Shame about the rest of the cast, who all have the same personality, that of “Ah’m just one o’ tha lads, apples and pears, apples and pears.” It’s like a Chelsea game but set in the Dark Ages. So it’s identical to a Chelsea game. The only exception is Astrid Frizbee’s mage, whose intense magic power is so devastating that she manages to put a sleep spell on the audience every time she opens her noise-hole and lets out a monotone bored drone.

There’s also the action, and Hollywood, we need to talk. I thought that shaky cam was just a phase, but I’ve seen you doing it again, and you need to stop. I’ve played VR games where you do nothing but ride particularly unstable cows and came out the other end less motion sick than your sword fighting scenes. Come on, you’re better than this, and we just what’s best for you, so just buy a steady-cam already.

Maybe it’s Guy Ritchie himself, though. Nothing in the film seems to last longer than three minutes aside Arthur’s whining. Sometimes it works, like the very snappy but informative way we see Arthur grow from stupid baby to stupid adult, and sometimes it’s stupid, like when an entire other movie’s worth of content gets squashed into an uninspired montage.

But that’s the great dilemma; the montages are good and bad, like the movie itself. You will only enjoy the movie if you enjoy the movie but if you don’t then you won’t. I write this piece a defeated critic, ladies and gentlemen. Is it worth seeing? I don’t really know. A bigger fan of Guy Ritchie or quantum mechanics than I will probably get something out of it and there are worse movies out there, but it also can’t help but disappoint somehow. The cat isn’t dead, but it has a bit of a cold.

https://moviemetropolis.net/2017/05/25/schrodingers-film-king-arthur-legend-of-the-sword-review/
  
Film tie-in
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

Nominated for an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe,Trumbo is a recent film based on the original biography Dalton Trumbo written by Bruce Cook in 1977. Its adaptation to film provided the perfect opportunity to republish this extremely well researched book. With a forward written by John McNamara, the screenwriter of the motion picture, the story of Dalton Trumbo’s life is just as intriguing as it was almost forty years ago. But who is Trumbo?

If, like me, you have never heard of Trumbo or even the infamous “Hollywood Ten,” it may take a while for it to become clear as to why it was worth Cook’s time to produce a book about the man. Dalton Trumbo was a well-known screenwriter of films such as Papillon, Lonely Are The Brave and Roman Holiday as well as author of the novel Johnny Got His Gun. However these are not all he is famous for. During his life, Trumbo became a member of the Communist Party, which Hollywood branded as an Un-American Activity and thus blacklisted him, as well as other screenwriters, directors and actors. Ten of these men, Trumbo included, were imprisoned for their political beliefs – yet nothing prevented Trumbo from continuing his fairly successful career.

Interestingly, Cook begins the book with the final stages of Trumbo’s life. At time of writing Trumbo was still alive, although rather poorly. After contracting lung cancer, having a lung removed, and suffering a heart attack, Trumbo was a very sick man; nonetheless he was still enthusiastic about being interviewed and telling his personal story.

From his childhood, to his evening shifts at a bakery, Cook details Trumbo’s early life, emphasizing the hard upbringing he had before he found himself in the world of Hollywood. Although roughly 75% of the book focuses on Trumbo’s career, Cook highlights Trumbo as a family man, with both a wife and three children who he absolutely adores.

Cook constantly refers to the Hollywood Ten as a concept that the reader should already be familiar with. Granted, someone who picks up this book is more likely to do so having a prior interest in the central figure, and thus already know about his background; however those ignorant on the topic eventually gather a better understanding on the topic once reaching the relevant chapters. It also becomes clearer why Trumbo is worth reading/writing about – he may have been blacklisted, but he managed to break through all the barriers and reinstate his name and many others.

Reading this half a century after the event, it seems strange that Trumbo was imprisoned. He had not done anything intrinsically wrong, it was purely prejudice against his political beliefs that got him into the mess he found himself. But when you consider the events of the time: World War Two, the Cold War, the Korean War, and Vietnam; it is understandable why many feared those who claimed to be Communists.

Cook’s narrative does not flow as a story, and much of it is broken up with quotes from various people he interviewed. The timeline jumps about between past and present (1970s), which occasionally gets a bit confusing. A large part of the book is spent analyzing many of Trumbo’s works – both for screen and written formats – which, unless you have a particular interest, can be a little tedious.

It has got to be said that Bruce Cook was an exemplary writer with a great eye for detail. He did not jump to conclusions or only talk about things from his point of view. Instead he interviewed, what seems like, everyone who ever met Trumbo, and based his writing on fact backed up with numerous quotes and citations.

This edition of Trumbo contains a selection of photographs taken on the set of the movie. Disappointingly it does not contain any of Trumbo himself – you would think that some photos could have been tracked down!

Trumbo is not a book that will interest everyone. Most people today – particularly in England – will probably be unaware of who Dalton Trumbo was, and thus would only seek out this publication due to a fascination with film production. I have not seen the film, but after reading this and discovering how books go from novels, to screenplays to moving image, it would be interesting to find out which parts of Trumbo’s life made it onto the big screen.
  
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Christopher Kirk (1251 KP) rated Okja (2017) in Movies

Mar 3, 2020 (Updated Mar 3, 2020)  
Okja (2017)
Okja (2017)
2017 | Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Okja (pronounced ok-cha, as far as I can discern from hearing it said) was a film I had on my radar from its release, but it took the impetus of Parasite and director Bong Joon Ho winning the Oscar to kick me into settling down to watch it. It is the kind of film I would have seen as a matter of course when I worked at the beloved Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, back in the day… but the kind of film it takes me a while to get around to these days.

What I had heard was that it was quirky, had a very black humour and involved a giant pig. Other than that I was going in blind. Which is always preferable, with almost any film! Hype and too much information can ruin your experience of a thing, simply by putting preconceptions and ideas in your head that may influence your thinking and true reaction to something. I was very grateful then to avoid too much information regarding this unique movie.

The cast is full of people I like, outside of the Korean cast that were strangers to me, in all honesty. Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano, especially, are two actors that have been high on my list of consistent performers you can trust for some years; both making interesting and compelling career choices in terms of subject matter and working with strong directors. Tilda Swinton too is usually good value for a promising watch, almost guaranteeing something slightly leftfield and worth thinking about.

Dano gets away with being the one likeable, if morally ambiguous, character out of the three; with Swinton and Gyllenhaal giving bizarre, heightened comic performances that it is hard to reference to anything else! As the main story of eco-consciousness and a girl’s love for her giant pig progresses in charming fashion, it is these starkly bonkers performances that stick out like very sore thumbs – sometimes raising awkward chuckles, but mostly making you go “what the hell is going on!?”

Well, what is going on is an exploration of corporate evil, the lies, deviousness and manipulation used to make a profit that ignores life and nature as anything worth preserving, or even loving. It wants us to look at meat eating for what it is, and imagines how we might think more about it as a species if we truly accept that animals have rights, personalities, even souls. Of course many people watching wouldn’t need to be converted to this way of thinking at all, so I am very curious (as a non vegetarian / vegan) what reaction a person whose consciousness of these things has been awake for years might have…?

It is possible to watch this without involving yourself too much in that whole debate, however. At its heart, it is a film about innocent love, and a rescue movie that sets unlikely heroes against a gargantuan nemesis against all odds. Naturally, it is a very smart script, that doesn’t ignore the notion of making fun of itself and keeping it mostly fun. In many ways, it seems like a family friendly film, apart from the underlying seriousness of the subject of cruelty, torture and, essentially, murder for the private gain of unscrupulous suits who would watch the world burn in the name of profit.

At the time of watching it, I caught myself in the right mood and really enjoyed it for what it was. Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija is utterly lovely, and you do find yourself falling for Okja (rendered with marvelous CGI work) and sympathising with the warmth of their relationship as friends. The moments of the film that show nature and the calm of a non-modern world are the most compelling. The parts of the film with cities and noise and guns are more jarring – which, perhaps, is the point and fully intentional. Clearly, this is a director with serious vision and talent that was almost, if not quite, getting it right. As we now know, with Parasite he nailed it…

This is a film I’d be a little cautious of recommending to some people. It is just too odd in parts. It is a good film, not a great one. And perhaps more likely to impress in the hands of viewers that are already converted to the cause and way of thinking it champions.
  
My rating: 3.5

<i>I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.</i>

Nominated for an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe, <i>Trumbo</i> is a recent film based on the original biography <i>Dalton Trumbo</i> written by Bruce Cook in 1977. Its adaptation to film provided the perfect opportunity to republish this extremely well researched book. With a forward written by John McNamara, the screenwriter of the motion picture, the story of Dalton Trumbo’s life is just as intriguing as it was almost forty years ago. But who is Trumbo?

If, like me, you have never heard of Trumbo or even the infamous “Hollywood Ten,” it may take a while for it to become clear as to why it was worth Cook’s time to produce a book about the man. Dalton Trumbo was a well-known screenwriter of films such as <i>Papillon, Lonely Are The Brave</i> and <i>Roman Holiday</i> as well as author of the novel <i>Johnny Got His Gun</i>. However these are not all he is famous for. During his life, Trumbo became a member of the Communist Party, which Hollywood branded as an Un-American Activity and thus blacklisted him, as well as other screenwriters, directors and actors. Ten of these men, Trumbo included, were imprisoned for their political beliefs – yet nothing prevented Trumbo from continuing his fairly successful career.

Interestingly, Cook begins the book with the final stages of Trumbo’s life. At time of writing Trumbo was still alive, although rather poorly. After contracting lung cancer, having a lung removed, and suffering a heart attack, Trumbo was a very sick man; nonetheless he was still enthusiastic about being interviewed and telling his personal story.

From his childhood, to his evening shifts at a bakery, Cook details Trumbo’s early life, emphasizing the hard upbringing he had before he found himself in the world of Hollywood. Although roughly 75% of the book focuses on Trumbo’s career, Cook highlights Trumbo as a family man, with both a wife and three children who he absolutely adores.

Cook constantly refers to the Hollywood Ten as a concept that the reader should already be familiar with. Granted, someone who picks up this book is more likely to do so having a prior interest in the central figure, and thus already know about his background; however those ignorant on the topic eventually gather a better understanding on the topic once reaching the relevant chapters. It also becomes clearer why Trumbo is worth reading/writing about – he may have been blacklisted, but he managed to break through all the barriers and reinstate his name and many others.

Reading this half a century after the event, it seems strange that Trumbo was imprisoned. He had not done anything intrinsically wrong, it was purely prejudice against his political beliefs that got him into the mess he found himself. But when you consider the events of the time: World War Two, the Cold War, the Korean War, and Vietnam; it is understandable why many feared those who claimed to be Communists.

Cook’s narrative does not flow as a story, and much of it is broken up with quotes from various people he interviewed. The timeline jumps about between past and present (1970s), which occasionally gets a bit confusing. A large part of the book is spent analyzing many of Trumbo’s works – both for screen and written formats – which, unless you have a particular interest, can be a little tedious.

It has got to be said that Bruce Cook was an exemplary writer with a great eye for detail. He did not jump to conclusions or only talk about things from his point of view. Instead he interviewed, what seems like, everyone who ever met Trumbo, and based his writing on fact backed up with numerous quotes and citations.

This edition of <i>Trumbo</i> contains a selection of photographs taken on the set of the movie. Disappointingly it does not contain any of Trumbo himself – you would think that some photos could have been tracked down!

<i>Trumbo</i> is not a book that will interest everyone. Most people today – particularly in England – will probably be unaware of who Dalton Trumbo was, and thus would only seek out this publication due to a fascination with film production. I have not seen the film, but after reading this and discovering how books go from novels, to screenplays to moving image, it would be interesting to find out which parts of Trumbo’s life made it onto the big screen.
  
Electric Dragon 80.000 V (2000)
Electric Dragon 80.000 V (2000)
2000 | Action, International, Drama
7
7.0 (1 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Dragon Eye Morrison (Tadanobu Asano, Hogun in the Thor films)) didn’t have a normal childhood. As a young boy, he climbed an electrical tower despite his friends warning him he’d be electrocuted. After the inevitable occurred, Dragon Eye seems to go through electroshock therapy whenever he gets into trouble. These shocking developments usually happen in fights and become more frequent when he gets older. As a result, he’s now charged with 80,000 volts of electricity at all times. He has developed his own version of the therapy that involves bolting himself to a table. The only way he can deal with being charged with this much electricity is by playing his electric guitar. Aside from his unusual self-treatment, Dragon Eye is a lizard expert who has an impressive reptile collection. When one of his lizards goes missing and Thunderbolt Buddha (Mastoshi Nagase, Paterson, The Hidden Blade) steps into the picture, that’s when things get even more bizarre.

Electric Dragon 80,000 V is a beyond weird cinematic experience. It clocks in at a little under 55-minutes, so calling it a full-length movie may be a bit of an overstatement. Written and directed by Gakuryū Ishii (credited as Sogo Ishi, he has also directed Labyrinth of Dreams and Angel Dust), the Japanese film is visually similar to Tetsuo, the Iron Man but is more like an extended music video that collided with the visuals of a live-action anime or manga. Ishii used the leftover funds from Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle to make Electric Dragon 80,000 V while recruiting Asano and Nagase who were the two main leads in Gojoe.

Having nothing else in common with Gojoe, Electric Dragon 80,000 V is absolutely its own beast. The film’s biggest strength is its cinematography. With Norimichi Kasamatsu (Korean filmmaker Lee Song-il’s 2013 remake of Unforgiven) as the film’s cinematographer, being entirely in black and white allows the visuals of the film to bleed off the screen. Some of the most unique shots are when Dragon Eye is playing guitar as the drastic lighting and creative perspective are just what you’d expect from someone taking all of their frustrations out on a guitar; incredibly angry and in your face. There’s a scene in the second half of the film where Thunderbolt Buddha has gotten Dragon Eye’s full attention and Dragon Eye is moving through rooms without moving himself. He appears to be floating from room to room and it allows you to realize how he’s feeling at that particular point in the film as if it’s all a bad dream.

The music may be what makes or breaks the film for the viewer as it tends to walk a thin line between catchy rock music to nothing but loud, distorted noise with screaming. The film is noisy in every sense of the word. Whenever Dragon Eye starts playing his guitar, it often just sounds like noise. It fits the tone of the film perfectly since it complements the concept of channeling 80,000 volts of electricity through a guitar. That would probably sound more like amplified noise than polished music. If you’re not a fan of loud, heavy music then it may affect your judgment of the film.

Electric Dragon 80,000 V is an unusual gray scale experiment, but it’s certainly innovative and unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. It’s not a remake and it’s not an adaptation. It’s an original film that stands on its own, but its radical plunge into such severe weirdness could be a turnoff for some viewers as its manga inspired influences flow excessively through every frame surrounding every sequence with boisterous and heavy guitar riffs; think like a shorter and black and white version of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World that somehow fused with the FLCL anime. This was discovered while digging through Tadanobu Asano’s filmography and if you’re fan of his stuff, then Electric Dragon 80,000 V comes highly recommended.

Electric Dragon 80,000 V isn’t available to stream anywhere, was never released on Blu-ray (this would be amazing in high definition), and the DVD is out of print. A high quality version of the DVD cover had to be pulled from eBay of all places since Google can’t seem to find one otherwise that isn’t tiny in size. The DVD is available on Amazon from third party sellers for $39.99 plus $3.99 shipping in new condition and $29.98 with free shipping in used condition. A pre-owned DVD is running $69.99 to $79.99 on eBay with free shipping. It does look like someone uploaded a 90-minute version of the film on YouTube with English subs and that looks to be the best way to see the film at the moment.
  
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Lee (2185 KP) rated Parasite (2019) in Movies

Jan 27, 2020 (Updated Jan 27, 2020)  
Parasite (2019)
Parasite (2019)
2019 | Drama
About twenty or so years ago, before the age of social media and all the FOMO and spoilers that comes from having such easy access to the entire movie loving world, a delayed UK release for a movie that had already been out in the US for some months wasn't such a big deal. I can remember buying an imported region 1 DVD of The Blair Witch Project and watching it on Halloween night in the UK, in the comfort of my living room and on the day it was released in the cinema. I was pretty disappointed with what I saw, but that's not my point here. Recently, we seem to be regressing to that period in time once more - not with big releases such as Marvel movies, which we are usually lucky enough to sometimes get a day or so before the US, but with films that could be described as being a little less mainstream. The Lighthouse, Jojo Rabbit, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and the subject of this review, Parasite, have all been subject to such treatment and, along with the delayed release of Disney+, the UK currently seems to be getting a serious shafting. Parasite though is a movie for which I've heard nothing but praise for what seems like forever now. It has received six Oscar nominations and is now receiving a US disc release before it's even released in UK cinemas! Anyway, ranting aside, I did manage to avoid any spoilers for Parasite and was able to go in fairly unclear as to what to expect, and I would urge everyone else to do the same. Consequently, I will try to review it by giving away as little as possible.

Parasite tells the story of the Kim family, living in poverty in a cluttered South Korean basement. When we join them they are all desperately trying to find a spot in their home where they can pick up on a nearby public WiFi hot spot in order to connect their phones to Whatsapp (turns out, it's in the corner of the toilet!). Times are clearly tough and when the mother manages to get a small job putting together pizza boxes at home, the whole family chips in to help. They even have the pleasure of being able to view drunk men staggering down their street and urinating right outside the basement window while they try to eat at their dining room table.

A friend of the son comes to visit him one evening and tells him that he has to go away for a while. He currently has a job teaching English to the daughter of the wealthy Park family and wonders if Ki-woo would like to temporarily take over for him. Despite Ki-woo having no experience in tutoring, Ki-woo is assured by his friend that it will be easy money and, providing he can win over the confidence of the "simple" mother of the house, he'll have no problem. Sure enough, the confident Ki-woo, backed up by a certificate created for him in Photoshop by his sister, manages to land himself a regular tutoring job. Then, with the use of charm, lies and deception, Ki-woo soon manages to secure cushy jobs within the Park household for the rest of his family - art tutor, housekeeper and chauffeur - all being introduced as either old acquaintances or referrals from colleagues rather than family members. And so, the family find themselves having to lead double lives, juggling their own poverty stricken home-life together, along with the separate lives they lead while working for the Park family as work colleagues.

And that is really the basis of the movie. It's an elaborate scheme which, despite being deceptive and dishonest, is a lot of fun to see play out, and at times you really can get behind the Kim family and root for them. Things go comically wrong, in the kind of way that reminded me of a sitcom where a situation involves our stars getting themselves deeper and deeper into something, no matter how hard they try to go along with it and come up with a solution. And then things start to go horribly, even horrifically wrong, courtesy of a number of little twists and shocks.

Don't let the fact that Parasite is a subtitled movie put you off and believe all the hype you come across, as this is a must see movie and I was gripped, on the edge of my seat and thoroughly entertained for the most part. There is a very clear message played out concerning the rich/poor divide - obvious at times, when you see the contrasting effect that a serious storm has on each family - and much subtler at other times. There are some elements though, surrounding the ending of the movie, which I didn't quite buy into and that stopped this from being a full 10 out of 10 from me. I felt there was a clear point where this could and should have ended earlier, but still an incredible movie all the same.
  
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Lee (2185 KP) rated #Alive (2020) in Movies

Sep 11, 2020  
#Alive (2020)
#Alive (2020)
2020 | Action, Drama, Horror
7
8.0 (6 Ratings)
Movie Rating
The bar for South Korean zombie movies, or for any kind of zombie movie for that matter, was set exceptionally high when Train to Busan was released back in 2016. #Alive, which arrived on Netflix earlier this week, having premiered in its home country of South Korea back in June, had a lot to live up to. But by focusing primarily on just a single character, #Alive manages to deliver a quarantine story that we can all relate to after the chaos and uncertainty of 2020 and brings a touch of originality to a very familiar genre.

#Alive certainly doesn’t waste much time in dropping us straight into the zombie apocalypse. Young gamer Oh Joon-woo wakes up at 10 am, alone in the high-rise apartment that he shares with his parents. A note left by them tells us that they’ve gone away for a few days, leaving Oh Joon-woo to fend for himself. “Make sure you pick up some groceries”, his mum tells him, but instead he heads back to his room and begins playing an online game with some friends. But shortly into their game, his friends are distracted by some disturbing news reports on the TV, so Oh Joon-woo goes to check for himself.

He doesn’t need to watch much of the news on TV before realising that he can look outside of his apartment window and see for himself what the panic is all about. Down on the streets, people are running and screaming in all directions while others are in a frenzied state, attacking and biting everyone around them. Family members turn on each other, a fire truck crashes into a row of cars, and a nearby explosion quickly sends a dazed and confused Oh Joon-woo back inside his apartment.

The news reports talk of people quickly turning violent and attacking others, immediately passing on whatever it is that has turned them into crazed zombies. It describes how you can tell a person is turning because they will be bleeding from the eyes. “Citizens must stay home and avoid going out.” is the advice given. Sound familiar?

Oh Joon-woo does what a lot of us probably did during lockdown - he plays video games, drinks his dad’s alcohol, and tries to just ride it all out the best he can. He quickly regrets ignoring his mum’s request to go and buy groceries though, as he lays out the very small amount of mostly unhealthy food items that are in the apartment out onto the table, and separates them into meals for each day over the coming week or so.

Days pass, but without any sign of the outside chaos subsiding. There are still zombies down on the streets, taking out any unfortunate survivor unlucky enough to be outside, and any investigative trips outside the apartment front door are fraught with danger. We’ve now passed day 20, and Oh Joon-woo is struggling.

At his lowest point, Oh Joon-woo notices a laser pointer shining into his apartment from the high-rise opposite. When he goes to investigate, he sees that there is another survivor looking back at him. Kim Yoo-bin is also at a fairly low point in her life, but with food, weapons and homemade zombie traps, she appears to be a bit of a badass, clearly better equipped at dealing with the crisis than Oh Joon-woo. She initially thinks Oh Joon-woo is an idiot, sending food across a wire that they manage to set up between their buildings so that he doesn’t starve. But they soon form a close bond, sending messages to each other before eventually employing the use of walkie-talkies so that they can discuss a way out of their predicament.

#Alive taps into the feelings that so many of us will have felt during lockdown this year - feeling isolated, lonely, scared. It’s the quiet human moments that work so well here, especially with the introduction of a friend and an ally in the form of Kim Yoo-bin. Finding each other does literally save both of their lives.

But it’s never too long before we’re jolted right back into some zombie action, and thankfully that aspect doesn’t disappoint. The news reports had already informed us that the zombies appeared to be able to remember certain human actions from before they turned, such as opening doors. They even appear to retain aspects of behaviour from their human occupations. This makes for some entertaining and unpredictable zombie fun, most notably a firefighter zombie who scales the outside of the high-rise in an attempt to try and reach Kim Yoo-bin.

There’s a late plot twist and a deus ex machina which may seem like a bit of a cop-out for some, but overall #Alive is certainly a worthwhile watch for fans of zombie action with a focus on the human characters.
  
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Acanthea Grimscythe (300 KP) rated The House by the Cemetery in Books

Jan 31, 2019 (Updated Feb 2, 2019)  
The House by the Cemetery
The House by the Cemetery
John Everson | 2018 | Horror
6
7.3 (3 Ratings)
Book Rating
I have a love-hate relationship with The House by the Cemetery by John Everson, and it’s really tearing me apart. I absolutely enjoyed the story itself, but there’s a few issues, one of which is a huge red flag, that I simply can’t allow to go unspoken–and if other reviews are any clue, I’m not the only one that’s immensely bothered by it.

The story involves a witch that died in 1963, a haunted house, a haunted house attraction, and a lot of characters (too many to keep track of without a notebook, actually). Hired to repair the haunted house so that guests can safely walk through it, Mike Kostner spends much of his time drinking beer and talking with the girls, Katie and Emery. At the same time, Jeanie’s been hired on as a makeup artist for the upcoming attraction and drags her boyfriend, Bong, into it. Then there’s Jillie and Ted, paranormal investigators. And then there are three other groups of people to form more members of the cast, which I found to be extremely overwhelming.

At this point in my review, I usually talk about characters and their development, what I like about them, what I don’t, etc. In this case, I can’t really do that. The only character I managed to forge any sort of emotional connection with was Jeanie, and it’s mainly sympathetic. As for the rest of the roles played, I’m largely disappointed. Why? Because there’s a severe lack of sensitivity in this novel–which has been mentioned in several other reviews. There are four characters whose sole defining characteristic is either their race or their weight. There’s no depth given beyond that to them as an individual. The remarks dealing with weight are largely shaming and those dealing with race are stereotypical. And here’s where I’m going to take a moment to discuss the character Bong, which I feel is the most blatant insult to another race’s customs that I’ve seen in a long time.

Bong’s full name is Bong-soon Mon. Phonetically, that sounds a lot like “bong soon man.” It’s not overly obvious if you’re not familiar with Korean names, and Bong-soon is an actual name used in the drama Strong Woman Do Bong Soon. However, in this case, Everson shortens Bong-soon, which is actually the character’s name (whether it’s his first or last, I’m not sure), to Bong. Thus he makes it more of a laughing matter (really, it’s not funny), whether it’s intentional or unintentional. Usually I’m not sensitive to these types of material, but in this book the way it comes across is really bothersome and, like several other readers, I agree with the idea that this book desperately needs an edit for sensitivity. Please bear in mind that I read an arc of this book and so I’m not sure if any of these issues were addressed in the final publication.

EDIT: After speaking with the author, he explained to me that the reason he shortened the name as he did comes from personal experience with someone that had the same name, and what they went by. Everson also assured me it was not his intent to fat shame those characters. I really appreciate that he reached out to me, and feel it's important that my misconception be corrected, but not hidden.

Plotwise, I adored this book. I can’t go too much into detail without sharing spoilers, but I can say this: the Everson does have a talent for creating beautifully grisly, albeit somewhat repetitive, scenes. The bloodbath that takes place near the end of the book is a glorious gore-fest that I felt the rest of the story worked up to quite well, even if it crawled earlier on while Mike was working on the house. As for the setting, it’s well written. I liked the idea of a house next to a cemetery, and its easy to infer its age without being told: it’s too close to a turnpike to have been put there before the turnpike was built. I was, however, confused by the juxtaposition of a heavily wooded house and cemetery in close proximity to a city or town, as in my experience turnpikes usually don’t have exits between major locales. At least, not very many present-day ones do, as most of them have been converted to, or created as, a controlled-access highway, where intersecting roads tend to cross over or under so that they do not impede traffic. That said, it strikes me as weird that a single house and cemetery would have an exit from a turnpike.

So I decided to google cemeteries and turnpikes, and what did I find? Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is an actual haunted locale found in the suburbs of Chicago. And yes, it actually is that close to a turnpike! If you like to watch Ghost Adventures, the cemetery was featured in a 2012 episode. Also, the cemetery is extremely old. Even better? Many of the ghost stories referenced in the book are actual tales surrounding the cemetery. It’s actually pretty fascinating and I wouldn’t even have known about it were it not for Everson’s book.

Overall, I did enjoy reading this book. I loved the homage to horror movies of all types, including lesser known genres. I absolutely adored the way in which some of the characters were manipulated, too. Hence why I stated early in this review that I have a love-hate relationship with it. Because of the lack of sensitivity though, and the way I was made to feel as a reader because of it (I’m overweight, after all), I can’t give it more than three skulls.

I’d like to thank the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy of this book for review.
  
Show all 7 comments.
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Acanthea Grimscythe (300 KP) Feb 1, 2019

Agreed, @Heather Cranmer! I’ve seen that too, and I really love the phrase “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.”

One of the things about this book’s reviews that really bother me on Goodreads is that while several reviewers mentioned the issue, many more didn’t even touch on it.

Seriously. I’m just like, “Really guys? Am I the only fat, non-white individual here that feels singled out?” My first thought when I saw the weight comments, then the use of race as the identifier, was, “Wow, this author would hate me. I’m fat and Hispanic.” I have read some pretty triggering books, and of course I’ve read many that are considered no longer okay to teach in school because of their racial content, but I have never, ever felt so singled out as a reader.

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Heather Cranmer (2012 KP) Feb 1, 2019

Wow, yeah. It’s amazing what some people are comfortable with. The author sounds racist and just like a bigot. I will definitely be giving his other works a miss. I don’t want to read a bunch of hateful mean comments. The world is too full of meanness in real life as it is =(