Author Archives: Mike Cho

Devil’s DVD Advocacy: Real Steel

Watch as many movies in a year as I do and you inevitably run into a few titles where you find yourself having to constantly repeat “no, really!” when explaining to someone that you liked them. Last year alone there was The Losers, The A-Team, The Other Guys. Now welcome 2011’s entry to the club: Real Steel. I liked Real Steel. No, really! And despite everything you’ve seen in the trailers, it’s less “Rock ‘Em Sock ’Em” than it is Rocky. Except…you know, with robots. Call it “The Sweet Science Fiction”, if you must.

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We Need to Talk About Kevin

We’re introduced to Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) when somebody throws a bucket of red paint over her car and the front of her house. We see her applying for a low-level office job, ignoring the whispers and dirty stares of everyone in the room. On her way out, a random passerby angrily yells at her and slaps her in the face. Eva barely reacts, to any of it. We wonder if she is even alive.

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Norwegian Wood

Taking its title from the classic Beatles song of…experience…Norwegian Wood is director Anh Hung Tran’s film adaptation of the work that launched author Haruki Murakami to international literary superstardom. The movie stars two of the more internationally recognizable young Japanese stars working today, Ken’ichi Matsuyama (who has appeared in Nana, Linda Linda Linda, and played L in all three of the Death Note movies) and Rinko Kikuchi (Academy Award nominated for her role in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel). With all of these separate pieces, you can imagine how eagerly anticipated this movie has been – in Japan, in the States, all over the world.

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The Artist

Not having grown up watching many silent films, it didn’t occurr to me until watching The Artist how international silents were and could be, uniting film audiences around the globe who nowadays may hesitate to see a movie just because it is in a language (or even an accent or dialect) with which they are unfamiliar. In this case, we have a silent movie made by a French director (Michel Hazanavicus) with two French leads (Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo), alongside familiar faces from America and Britain (John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm MacDowell, Penelope Ann Miller, dozens of others), telling the most Hollywood of stories, and flirtatious starlets are the only ones batting an eyelash.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Remakes are tricky business. The rules have been thrown out the window, but back in the day the rule of thumb was that you waited long enough a) for people to have forgotten about the original, b) for people to have properly digested, processed, and internalized the original enough to dream up an interesting reinterpretation, or c) at least until the next generation (i.e., the next graduating class of film school) comes along with fresh eyes and a new perspective on the story. David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, a 2011 remake of a 2009 TV miniseries based on a 2005 novel, of course, satisfies none of these rules, but that’s okay because it’s David Fincher, right?

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Devil’s DVD Disappointment: Apollo 18

Based on overheard pre-show conversation, Hollywood has apparently left many younger-ish moviegoers with the impression that the ill-fated Apollo 13 was our last attempted mission to the moon. The Apollo program actually continued on for three more years and four more successful moon landings, missions which saw the first deployment of Lunar Rovers and the famous miles-long driving of at least two golf balls (Alan Shepard, Apollo 14). By 1973, however, with budget cuts, waning public interest in the space program, and increased attention being paid to the Skylab project, the planned Apollo missions 18 thru 20 were unceremoniously cancelled.

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Genre Spotlight (Secret Santa): Super High Me

Most discussion of documentaries, like that of a historical/period biopic, seems centered more around the subject matter than the movies themselves. A lot of documentary filmmakers have gotten away with building entire careers on this fact – one in particular (whose name I won’t mention) has managed to create and popularize his own subgenre of shrill, “ambush”-style comedy-documentary, which has dominated the industry for over two decades now, based on the fact that people only discuss him in terms of the ideas he sets forth, not on the quality of movie he actually makes (and don’t even get me started on what I think of him as a human being). Me, I enjoy a good documentary as much as the next guy, but much prefer the interview-only or fly on the wall types to the ones with lots of voiceovers, Powerpoints, and “wacky” infographics, all of which I find a bit obvious, reductive and…well, cheesy.

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Young Adult

The “young adult” market, in case you don’t know, refers to that segment of the reading audience that is perhaps too old for Dr. Seuss and Winnie the Pooh, but not quite ready for Faulkner or Fitzgerald. Late grade school thru junior high, roughly – the “tween” years. Though these books are written for 11 and 12 year olds, the subject of the books themselves is, more often than not, high school – a time just far enough away to seem glamorous and even magical, while not so far away as to be inconceivable. Funnily enough, that’s basically how nostalgia works as well –  the “young adult(s)” of Jason Reitman’s Young Adult refers to people well into their 30s, arrested in and obsessively replaying their glory days, generally trying their best to look, act, and feel like they did back in high school. We’ve all been there. Haven’t we?

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Devil’s DVD Advocacy: Fright Night

Tom Holland’s original Fright Night from 1985 is a movie that I’ve always loved and, as confirmed by a recent DVD viewing, still very much do. It manages to be both fun (and more than a little campy) at the same time it presents itself as a credible, even frightening horror film. It has, even to this day, some of the best vampire (and vampire-death) affects I’ve seen in movies (achieved, not for nothing, using “simple” makeup, costumes, prosthetics, puppets, and lots of stage blood – take that, billion-dollar CGI houses!). Of course, I had the knee-jerk negative reaction to news of a remake, but the casting announcements (David Tennant! Colin Farrell! Toni Collette!) were very interesting and not only gave me hope that it could be good, but as the release date neared actually got me quite excited to see it. And after last weekend’s viewing, I can finally and wholeheartedly confirm that it wasn’t completely awful.

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Devil’s DVD Disappointment: Super 8

J.J. Abrams’ and Steven Spielberg’s (and yes, they do warrant a co-credit) Super 8 is a movie with so much potential to be fun, exciting, and vastly entertaining, but is unfortunately so self-conscious in its attempt to be E.T. 2 that the makers end up distracting, and detracting, from the story, leaving the audience holding the sad and rather flaccid bag.

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Immortals

Evil (and impractically helmeted) King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) blames the gods for the death of his family and plots to free the Titans from Mount Tartarus so that they can destroy the gods. On the side of good is young Theseus (Henry Cavill) who, despite being the spat-upon bastard son of a peasant mother, is fated/groomed by Zeus himself (John Hurt when in disguise; otherwise, Luke Evans) to defeat Hyperion and save all mankind. Thus begins Immortals, director Tarsem’s (a.k.a. Tarsem Singh, Tarsem Dhandwar Singh, Tarsem Singh Dhandwar) long-in-the-making answer to Louis Leterrier’s rather unfortunate 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans.

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In Time

At some unspecified time in the near (or not?) future, time has replaced money as currency and human beings have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, at which point you are given a year to die or to start “earning” more time. Of course, the rich have decades, even centuries of time stockpiled to give to their children and each other, while the poor must work, it seems, a whole day’s work just to earn another day’s life…in order to work another day to earn another day, forever. I wonder how much time it would cost to watch a movie in this world, i.e., would the length of the movie itself be factored into the cost? Would you, in other words, “pay” 2 hours of your life to watch a 2-hour movie (net cost: 4 hours)? Would the “price” of a longer movie be higher, or lower?

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Paranormal Activity 3

When we last left our extended family of paranormal activitiers, we discovered that the activity in part 1 was caused by the activity in part 2, and the demon-possessed Katie had upped her body count to at least three before stealing her sister Kristi’s baby and spiriting off to parts unknown. Wisely (or so I thought), rather than showing “The Further Adventures of Possessed Katie” (shot, presumably, thru gas station security cameras and whatnot), Paranormal Activity 3 decides instead to delve even further into the past, to offer us what I hoped to be a seamless, well-integrated story of how it all really began. No brainer, right? Right?

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The Skin I Live In

Antonio Banderas is one of those actors who are so good that people often just take him for granted. With his Hollywood success of the 90s and afterwards, people also forget, or just overlook, his beginnings in the scrappy, indie-ish Spanish cinema of Pedro Almodóvar, another artist who has seen much international acclaim in the last 20 years, but who, luckily, people do not yet seem to take for granted (at least, I don’t). Their early collaborations were key in shaping and defining both their styles and careers for their international success which was to follow, from the dark-sexy Matador, to the wacky-sexy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, to the…complicated-sexy (and still-debated) Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Now, 21 years since they last worked together, would the magic still be there, or would they simply be two international superstars, working together but not together. Do they, in other words, still have use for one another?

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Devil’s DVD Advocacy: Bad Teacher

My seventh grade math teacher, to whom I shall refer as “Miss K.” It’s not that Miss K was a bad teacher, she just wasn’t very good at her job. She was a neat-freak to the point of psychosis, her particular pet peeve those little paper chads that fell to the floor whenever you ripped a page out of a spiral notebook. She HATED those things, to the point where spiral notebooks were banned from her classroom. Period. She didn’t ban ripping pages out of one, she didn’t ban using them, SHE BANNED THE NOTEBOOKS THEMSELVES – we weren’t even allowed to have one in our backpack in her classroom.

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Real Steel

Watch as many movies in a year as I do and you inevitably run into a few titles where you find yourself having to constantly repeat “no, really!” when explaining to someone that you liked them. Last year alone there was The Losers, The A-Team, The Other Guys. Now welcome 2011’s entry to the club: Real Steel. I liked Real Steel. No, really! And despite everything you’ve seen in the trailers, it’s less “Rock ‘Em Sock ’Em” than it is Rocky. Except…you know, with robots. Call it “The Sweet Science Fiction”, if you must.

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Devil’s DVD Advocacy: Submarine

Watching Richard Ayoade’s Submarine is a lot like finding and reading one of your old journals from high school – embarrassed snickering at all the overwrought stories of heartache, longing and melancholy alternating with the dread of already knowing all the sadness and regret that is to come, not just in life but even in just the next few pages. You identify so closely with everybody in the story at the same time you just want to slap everyone to wake them up. Equal parts bitter at sweet (making it far more bitter than your typical megaplex fare), Submarine will almost definitely be on my list of favorite movies of the year.

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3

Hanna (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper) are a more-or-less happy couple in their 40s – professional, successful, and comfortable together even if the spark has long since fled the building. Living under a constant cloud of aging, dying and general new-millennium malaise, first Sophie then Simon independently meet and fall for Adam (Devid Striesow), who awakens in each of them a new lust for life and perhaps a new outlook on our times and society as a whole – for them, and for all of us.

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Genre Spotlight: Bend It Like Beckham

“Honey, all I’m saying is there is a reason why Sporty Spice is the only one of them without a fella.”

Ah, the early 2000s, when David Beckham was king, the Spice Girls weren’t quite a distant memory, and Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain were kicking ass and taking names in front of a world audience. It was a new millennium, the entire world appeared to be changing before our very eyes, and every soccer-playing teenage girl just knew in their hearts that it could be all theirs, if only given the chance.

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Apollo 18

Based on overheard pre-show conversation, Hollywood has apparently left many younger-ish moviegoers with the impression that the ill-fated Apollo 13 was our last attempted mission to the moon. The Apollo program actually continued on for three more years and four more successful moon landings, missions which saw the first deployment of Lunar Rovers and the famous miles-long driving of at least two golf balls (Alan Shepard, Apollo 14). By 1973, however, with budget cuts, waning public interest in the space program, and increased attention being paid to the Skylab project, the planned Apollo missions 18 thru 20 were unceremoniously cancelled.

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Really, the best haunted house stories are the ones that are “about” so much more than just a house that’s haunted. Think of The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining, The Others, or even, at a stretch, Forbidden Planet. On the other hand, if you’re making a movie for and about kids, it’s excusable to keep things to the simpler, stuff-just-happens model. On the third hand, if you’re making a movie for kids that features some pretty gruesome violence that fully earns its R rating, things get a little…messy. And I’m not just talking albino monkey-rats, either.

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Actor Spotlight: The Queen

It’s always seemed to me that most high-profile, biographical/historical movies are more concerned with recreating the people and events than they are with actually making an interesting movie, relying perhaps on the cache and fascination of the real-life events to let the filmmakers off that particular hook. And fittingly, most discussion surrounding said movies seems concerned only with the actual events and people involved, with any talk of the movie itself confined almost exclusively to how close the script is to what really happened, how close the actors’ makeup and mannerisms resemble their real-life counterparts, and how well the production design recreates the actual setting and era depicted.

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Fright Night

Tom Holland’s original Fright Night from 1985 is a movie that I’ve always loved and, as confirmed by a recent DVD viewing, still very much do. It manages to be both fun (and more than a little campy) at the same time it presents itself as a credible, even frightening horror film. It has, even to this day, some of the best vampire (and vampire-death) affects I’ve seen in movies (achieved, not for nothing, using “simple” makeup, costumes, prosthetics, puppets, and lots of stage blood – take that, billion-dollar CGI houses!). Of course, I had the knee-jerk negative reaction to news of a remake, but the casting announcements (David Tennant! Colin Farrell! Toni Collette!) were very interesting and not only gave me hope that it could be good, but as the release date neared actually got me quite excited to see it. And after last weekend’s viewing, I can finally and wholeheartedly confirm that it wasn’t completely awful.

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Devil’s DVD Advocacy: Super

Followers of geek news sites or “news of the weird” sections of papers may have noticed that incidents of real-life masked vigilantism have been on the rise in recent years. The idea of anonymous “everymen” out there, fed up with an ineffective law enforcement and judicial system, taking matters into their own hands and answering to no one is something that most everyone has probably thought of at one time or another, but not something that anybody actually wants, especially considering that anybody who would actually go and do this would no doubt be somewhat mentally unstable to begin with.

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Devil’s DVD Advocacy: Paul

You’d have to search pretty hard to find a single person-of-a-certain-age in the Western world who has escaped childhood without having seen E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or a single Star Wars movie at least once. If you were young, receptive, and imaginative enough the first time you saw them, some of their images and themes (and the emotions they evoked) probably will stay with you forever, whether you like it or not. Such is the power of sci-fi, particularly of sci-fi movies: their pervasiveness in our lives, popular culture, and collective memory make us feel that we’re not alone, not only in terms of extraterrestrial life, but for the even stranger creatures that walk the earth – us, each alone, wondering if there’s anyone else who feels the same way and remembers the same things that we do. If you need proof that you’re not alone, here come Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and the movie Paul.

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Another Earth

Imagine, if you will, that one day astronomers discover another blue planet in the sky which appears identical to ours, with all our same atmospheric and environmental conditions, which has all the signs of being able to sustain life, and is approaching, quickly. For young Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), however, the day takes on significantly different meaning, as in a moment of drunk-and-distracted driving, she accidentally kills the family of John Burroughs (William Mapother) and puts the talented composer and college professor in a coma. Cut to four years later, with the still-approaching “Earth 2” now dominating the sky, Rhoda returns home from prison, completely adrift, grasping at…anything, whether it’s a new beginning (she enters an online contest to be the first private citizen to be flown to Earth 2), or just forgiveness from Burroughs who, unaware of her true identity, allows her to enter into his life and confidence.

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Director Spotlight: Audition

“Kiri kiri kiri kiri kiri…!”

Before I begin, let me just say that much of the enjoyment (if “enjoyment” is the right word when talking about this movie) of watching Audition comes from surprise, from the movie’s many shifts and turns and turnaround-agains. If you’ve never seen the movie but plan to, I say just go ahead and watch it. You were going to anyway. I claim no responsibility. If, however, you’re reading this because you simply want to know if the movie is worth your time, I will say yes, it is, but with the very strong proviso that this movie is…shall we say…not for everyone.

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Bad Teacher

My seventh grade math teacher, to whom I shall refer as “Miss K.” It’s not that Miss K was a bad teacher, she just wasn’t very good at her job. She was a neat-freak to the point of psychosis, her particular pet peeve those little paper chads that fell to the floor whenever you ripped a page out of a spiral notebook. She HATED those things, to the point where spiral notebooks were banned from her classroom. Period. She didn’t ban ripping pages out of one, she didn’t ban using them, SHE BANNED THE NOTEBOOKS THEMSELVES – we weren’t even allowed to have one in our backpack in her classroom.

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Super 8

J.J. Abrams’ and Steven Spielberg’s (and yes, they do warrant a co-credit) Super 8 is a movie with so much potential to be fun, exciting, and vastly entertaining, but is unfortunately so self-conscious in its attempt to be E.T. 2 that the makers end up distracting, and detracting, from the story, leaving the audience holding the sad and rather flaccid bag.

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Devil’s DVD Advocacy: Battle: Los Angeles

You wouldn’t think it’d be such a big deal to make an alien invasion story that makes a bit of sense. In Battle: Los Angeles, the aliens need water, so they invade a planet that is 70% water. It makes sense. They begin their invasion by crashing into Earth’s oceans before rising up to take over the land, coastal cities first. It makes sense. Having crashed here inside meteorites, naturally their tech looks a bit rough, a bit battered and thrown together, and more importantly, they’re shown to us in a way that makes us feel that the human race actually has a chance. It makes sense. These aliens, when shot or cut open, have blood and organs that appear to be even more water-based than humans (who are at about 60%). It makes sense. I couldn’t help but think of, for example, the invading aliens in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs who, Wicked Witch of the West-like, have water as their one and only weakness – THEN WHY WOULD YOU INVADE A PLANET THAT IS 70% WATER?? I digress…

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