Technically, I’ve seen a David Cronenberg film before (eXistenZ, roughly a billion years ago—I have almost no memory of it), but I haven’t really seen any of the classic 80’s horror that he’s known for. (Or, okay. Maybe The Dead Zone? But also maybe not because I mostly just remember the ending.) Horror Bingo felt like a prime opportunity to correct this egregious oversight, and so for the very first time, I watched The Fly.
. . . holy shit, this is where that line comes from?
Year: 2014 Director: Choi Ho First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch Streaming Service: Viki Spoilers: Nah Grade: Vanilla
Big Match is enjoyable, pretty light-hearted fare. Once again, Lee Jung Jae is playing a dude trapped in a high stakes game where rich assholes bet money on if he survives; unlike Squid Game, however, Choi Ik Ho (Lee) isn’t playing various deadly children’s games. Instead, he’s a hothead MMA fighter forced to complete various dangerous tasks (escape the police, attack a bunch of gangsters, sing karaoke, etc.) if he wants to see his brother alive again. Shin Ha Kyun, who I’ve been pretty much obsessed with since watching Beyond Evil, plays the villainous mastermind Ace, and his hair in this movie is just . . . it is art. It is perfection itself. If I owned a curling iron, or hair spray, and actually knew how to do anything with my hair, I would 100% style it this way. His whole aesthetic in this film is just . . . *chef’s kiss.*
But yes, yes, the movie itself. Big Match is fun and silly—there are zero tonal similarities between this and Squid Game—and never takes itself too seriously. My attention did start to drift, I don’t know, maybe the last 20-25 minutes of the movie? And of course, it’s always hard whenever an actor I love is playing the villain, since I just end up rooting for them the whole time, particularly since I never did care very much about Ik Ho. (I do feel sorry for his brother, though, poor dude.) Still, I had a decent time watching this. Shin Ha Kyun is campy and petulant and delightful, and it’s fun to see Lee Jung Jae as this buff martial arts dude. I was both surprised and pleased to see Choi Woo Shik pop up, and I enjoyed Ra Mi Ran as Ik Ho’s sister-in-law, Hyung Soo. If you’re in the mood for an easy watch with ridiculous action scenes and fantastic hair, you could probably do worse than Big Match.
Year: 2019 Director: Yook Sang Hyo First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch Streaming Service: Viki Spoilers: Some, yes Grade: Chocolate
. . . LOL, I’m not at all convinced that this trailer does a great job establishing the overall tone of this movie. Like, parts of the film are definitely comedic, but . . . yeah, this isn’t quite it. Also, fuck it, this whole Triple Scoop Review is just gonna be dedicated to Shin Ha Kyun, I guess, because I’ll apparently watch all kinds of shit that I wouldn’t normally sign up for so long as he’s in it. Case in point: Inseparable Bros, which—in fairness—I didn’t watch solely for Shin Ha Kyun. I also wanted to see Lee Kwang Soo and Esom, too. But yeah. My wheelhouse is pretty firmly horror/fantasy/SF/action/mystery. I’m not saying I never venture out of these genres, but inspirational comedy-dramas, particularly ones based on true events, are really not my jam. And a story about two good friends—a very intelligent quadriplegic man and a sweet swimmer with intellectual disabilities—who’ve closely relied on one another for years . . . like, Jesus, I already watched The Mighty, okay? I know where you’re going with this, and my soul’s not in the fucking mood. (I feel the way about tearjerkers that some people feel about horror movies: why would you willingly do that to yourself, why?)
That all being said . . . I actually did enjoy this one. It helps that while I did get a tiny bit emotional once or twice (because there are sad moments, and/or because I’m a weepy mess of a person), it wasn’t quite the soul crushing tragedy that I’d anticipated. And the movie didn’t feel too, like, cringeworthy inspiration porn, either? (Though as a non-disabled person, I could very well be missing things here.) To me, the focus, really felt like it was on Se Ha and Dong Goo’s relationship, rather than just some, IDK, triumphant underdog story that makes able-bodied people feel good about themselves?
The cast is excellent: Shin Ha Kyun and Lee Kwang Soo both give really solid performances as Se Ha and Dong Goo, respectively, and they have a great rapport. I like Esom in this, too, although I do feel like her character is a bit off balance with the rest of the story; I wish she either had less screen time or a stronger arc. (Although I do like that this isn’t a romance and that any jealousy aspects are minimal. Also, I enjoy the mildly antagonistic friendship between her character and Se Ha.) I was delighted to see other familiar faces in this movie, too: Kwon Hae Hyo, Kil Hae Yeon, Ahn Ji Ho, and Park Chul Min. Ahn Ji Ho and Kim Hyun Bin are both really well cast as Young Se Ha and Young Dong Goo, and despite limited screen time, I really enjoyed Kwon Hae Hyo as Father Park as well.
Inseparable Bros. is kind of a simple story and there aren’t any big surprises except that—SPOILERS—our leads both live! But overall, I think it’s told pretty well: I like Se Ha’s reserve and crankiness, I like Dong Goo’s complicated relationship with his mother, and I think a couple of the flashbacks near the end of the film are used quite nicely. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that I, notably cold of heart, enjoyed a heartwarming dramedy, but there you have it. Sometimes, we just can’t help ourselves.
Year: 2017 Director: Jung Byung Gil First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch Streaming Service: Amazon Spoilers: Yes, absolutely Grade: Vanilla
Hm. You know, I have mixed feelings on this one, and I’m still trying to sort them out. The Villainess has some serious La Femme Nikita vibes (with a few parts that strongly reminded me of Kill Bill), and obviously, I’m a sucker for badass assassins and revenge flicks. I generally enjoyed all the frenetic action scenes. There are one or two pretty brutal surprises. I’m obsessed with the shot of Sook Hee in a wedding dress holding a sniper rifle. And the cast is pretty great, too. I enjoy Kim Ok Bin as Sook Hee, our assassin protagonist whose life just gets increasingly more and more tragic. Kim Seo Hyung is great as Kwon Sook, the chief of the spy agency who recruits Sook Hee. (I loved Kim Seo Hyung in Nobody Knows; this woman was just born to play a mega cool badass in charge.) Obviously, I continue to like Shin Ha Kyun; motherfucker just exudes charisma in this film, like, hot damn. He is one insanely cold-hearted (and sexy) bastard here. And it was nice to see a couple of actors I didn’t expect: Sung Joon (who I enjoyed in White Christmas) plays Hyun Soo, a spy who falls in love with Sook Hee, and Park Chul Min pops up for the second time this week, this time playing Sook Hee’s father.
Still . . . I feel like something’s missing here, and I’m trying to decide exactly what that is. I saw a lot of reviews arguing that The Villainess has second act problems, and . . . yeah, I probably wouldn’t disagree with that. In a way, I feel like this movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be about—or maybe it does know but never quite supports the thesis? Like, okay. By the end of the film, Sook Hee has lost everything—her child, her husband, her (admittedly not great) spy/assassin job—and all she has to show for it are a bunch of dead bodies (including the body of the man who ruined her life) and yet another arrest for mass murder. That, I think, is supposed to be the tragedy here: Sook Hee could (possibly) have had the normal life she longed for, but her obsession with revenge (and with Joong Sang, himself) ruins any chance of that. Kwon Sook tells her as much shortly before Hyun Soo and Eun Hye are murdered, and Joong Sang tells Sook Hee that the real pain will begin once she kills him—which she does, giving way to the last shot of the film, which (in true cycle of violence style) echoes the beginning of the movie, with Sook Hee violently grinning as she’s arrested.
Of course, “revenge destroys you and everyone around you” is not the most original moral, as far as these things go, but that’s not really my problem here. I think my bigger problem is that I never quite buy that Sook Hee does long to have this normal life. We’re told she does, but . . . I don’t know, I never quite felt it. Maybe I would have if we got more into her acting career, or if we spent more time with her daughter, or if I ever bought her romance with Hyun Soo—but I never did. The actors are both fine separately, but I’m not convinced they have much chemistry together—frankly, I think Kim Ok Bin has the best chemistry with Kim Seo Hyung—and while I think Hyun Soo is supposed to come off as an awkward but ultimately good-hearted spy stuck between a rock and a hard place, he mostly struck me as a Nice Guy creeper, and I spent half the film chanting for his death. I totally buy Hyun Soo’s thing for Sook Hee, but I never quite buy her thing for him, and maybe because of that—because Sook Hee never seems all that invested in her relationship or her career or really becoming this new person who puts her old life behind her—I don’t think the tragic arc hits nearly as hard as it could—even though they kill off her small, adorable child, which I will admit surprised me. Likewise, I don’t think Sook Hee’s implied descent into villainy makes for a particularly strong or satisfying conclusion, either. It’s totally a cool shot, but the emotion doesn’t linger. Which . . . yeah, might be how I feel about the movie as a whole. I could totally watch it again, didn’t have a bad time at all, but was also definitely left with the impression that it could have been so much better with a stronger script.
Year: 2021 Director: Yoo Ha First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki Spoilers: Nope Grade: Rocky Road
I’m a sucker for a fun heist story, and I have a soft spot for Lee Soo-Hyuk, so Mek and I decided to check out Pipeline. The movie is . . . fine, but also kind of oddly charmless, and a bit on the slow side for me. Oh, that sounds mean, doesn’t it? I didn’t hate this movie. The acting itself is fine (though I’m starting to wonder if Seo In-Guk has ever been in anything where he didn’t play the Arrogant Male Lead), and there were a few moments that did make me laugh; unfortunately, they weren’t very memorable because I can’t think of a single one now. I just never got very invested in the story, and that’s probably because I never grew to care about anyone on the team.
Heist stories usually go one of two ways: A) they’re grim little affairs, full of twists, betrayal, and murder, or B) they’re much wittier and light-hearted, often centering on the Team as Family trope. Pipeline is very much the latter (which is personally great for me), but none of the characters are very dynamic or interesting, and they just don’t have the platonic chemistry that really makes these kinds of stories sing. Honestly, we never learn much about any of them, not even our main lead. I kinda vaguely liked Counter (Bae Da-Bin), I guess, but that’s about it. Frankly, I found myself half-voting for the rich scumbag villain, because I didn’t really care about our heroes, and because Lee Soo-Hyuk wears the hell out of a nice suit. Like. I’m not always shallow, but yeah. I’m a little shallow.
Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings
Year: 2021 Director: Destin Daniel Cretton First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Disney Plus Spoilers: Yup Grade: Vanilla
This was fun. I don’t quite love it, for a variety of reasons that we’ll get into shortly, but it was definitely an easy watch. The Final Battle is weirdly murky, but all the other fight scenes are great; I particularly like the chaotic Muni fight, and also when Ying Li kicks Wenwu’s ass at the beginning. (Not to mention, Ying Li’s whole look is fucking fabulous. Christ, I hope to see this cosplay the next time I actually go to a con.) I like how this isn’t quite your typical origin story; it’s a delight when we realize that Shang-Chi already knows how to fight. The music is fun. I am all about that dragon. (Also, the qilin, the huli jing, and all the other mythological creatures that I’m less familiar with.) And I enjoy pretty much the whole cast. I was especially delighted to see Michelle Yeoh and Tsai Chin, even if the latter was only there for a few moments.
Still, I don’t love this one quite as much as other folks, and I think that’s partially because the whole story is just built from one of my least favorite tropes of all time. Like, introducing this awesome, badass, immortal lady who just gives up all her powers because she falls in love (for God knows what reason) with this evil warlord who totally doesn’t deserve her? Yeah, pass. I found myself checking out a bit even before we got to associating tropes like Evil Man Changes His Ways Because of Romantic Love and Evil Man Goes Back To His Evil Ways Because His Love Died. Mind you, this has nothing to do with the acting; Tony Leung is perfectly good in the role; unfortunately, none of this interests me.
Also, for a movie with this many flashbacks, I think it’s completely bizarre to exclude the one where Young Shang-Chi actually decides to run away. It’s a Big Moment for his character, particularly considering the emotional conflict between him and his sister, and the only reason I can think not to include it is if we’re postponing it for a Big Reveal, namely, if it turns out that the man Young Shang-Chi assassinated is also Katy’s dead grandfather. I am desperately hoping this isn’t the case because, ugh, talk about tropes I’m not into. (I think it’d also be kinda cool if Katy and Shang-Chi did remain platonic, but that seems pretty unlikely, and I don’t hate them as a romantic ship. TBH, I kinda like their low-key, just wanna dance vibe. They could totally date and do late night karaoke and save the world without being all tortured and shit–that is, unless Shang-Chi’s lying to Katy about vengance-murdering her grandpa.)
Finally, I appear to be in the minority here, but Ben Kingsley in the role of Comic Relief didn’t do much for me. Like, I loved it when they brought up his character at dinner, absolutely, but the second we actually get him on screen for Kooky Fun Times? Nah. OTOH, seeing Benedict Wong join in on the karaoke? Excellent.
Dune: Part One
Year: 2021 Director: Denis Villeneuve First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max Spoilers: Yup Grade: Rocky Road
So, I finally watched this movie, 20% because I was curious, 80% because Mekaela bribed me with a bottle of Moscato that we somehow ended up with. The wine was tasty. The movie was . . . okay? I’ve never read the book, and I have very mixed feelings on the David Lynch adaptation, so I doubt I was anyone’s target audience here. But sure, there are things I like about this. Exposition and worldbuilding are handled much better here than in the 1984 version. Rebecca Ferguson makes Lady Jessica a million times more interesting than I remember that character being. (Also, her costumes are just cool.) And some of Paul’s visions are intriguing, particularly the ones with Jamis, considering he’s set up to be this someday friend/mentor figure, but instead, Paul kills him. (Other visions are less interesting because, much as I like Zendaya, there’s a limit to how many times I need a quick flash of her looking all romantic/enigmatic. I’m definitely looking forward to her having more actual dialogue in the sequel.)
Still, Paul himself? Meh. I genuinely like that he’s a child of two wildly different lineages, but kid’s got all the personality of a celery stick, and I don’t care even a little about his whole Chosen One narrative. (Frankly, I kinda wish Lady Jessica was the Chosen One.) I continue to hate Baron Harkonnen, too, and I’m still royally pissed about the decision to put Stellan Skarsgård in a fat suit, especially while reading bullshit about how careful they all were to avoid using the fat suit for comedic effect in the film; meanwhile, in the very same article: “Stellan just loved being naked as the Baron. We all used to kill ourselves laughing when Stellan would ask for more nude scenes. He felt, quite correctly, that the Baron appeared more frightening and dangerous unclothed than cloaked in robes or armor.” Cool. That’s way less shitty!
The only positive thing I will say about the Baron is that at least Villeneuve cut the Depraved Homosexual shit because FFS.
Also, for a 2 1/2 hour film, I do think Dune, Part One has a couple of pacing problems. Like, I kinda feel there should be a little more time between “fuck, we’ve been set up to fail” and “Massacre Night.” And there’s been, what, five minutes between Paul whining that Lady Jessica made him a freak (dude, you’ve got bigger problems right now) and Paul deciding, “Well, okay, I guess I’ll just be Emperor, then!” The second half of the film feels especially off to me. I also kinda just miss how bizarrely weird the 1984 version looks in comparison, although obviously that’s a very subjective criticism. This movie is pretty; it’s just not very fun. Like, it’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie that takes itself SO seriously. Plus–and I know this is the most minor of complaints–I feel like the desaturated colors of this film are a bit at odds with this oppressive desert heat everyone keeps talking about. I never even once bought that heat.
So, will I watch Part Two? IDK, probably, though I suspect bribery will be involved again, and I don’t think I liked this one enough to see the sequel in theater, no matter how much Villeneuve abhors the idea of people watching his art on the small screen. (Yes, I’m petty. This shit pissed me off.) TBH, I’m a little surprised about how many people were apparently worried there wouldn’t be a sequel, like, I know every iteration of Dune ends up being divisive as shit, but also, this was a wildly anticipated film with a huge cast and well-respected white director, like, the kind of director who actually gets Oscar nods for his science fiction work. I just wasn’t quite sweating the sequel getting the green-light, you know?
We took a short break from TOS while binging Season 3 of Dark (among juggling some other television shows), but soon it was time to return, and so we did, to “Metamorphosis.” Accordingly, I prepared myself for potential insects and Kafka references.
Insects would have been a fucking delight compared to the bullshit on display here.
Hello again! It’s been a couple of weeks, I know. I’m afraid I’ve been distracted by work and new fandoms and the like, but today I return to discuss our last official Year of Monsters movie: The Wolf Man. This is one of the few Universal films I’ve actually seen before, although not since high school. At the time, I’d found it very boring.
This time, well. Maybe a little bored? But also amused, surprisingly sad, and–in one noteworthy scene–downright incredulous.