Saturday, April 20, 2013

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (2006)

Mental illness in film is tricky to represent correctly. Too often it's used as a plot device, or as a "quirky" character trait, not properly representing the struggle and pain people afflicted with these conditions go through. According to movieland, various metal illnesses ranging from depression, schizophrenia, OCD, bipolar disorder, Aspergers, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many more usually result in characters looking vacant, reciting convoluted but profound statements, and maybe trying to kill themselves before finding the light at the end of the tunnel, fixing their problems forever thanks to clean living and a positive outlook. This is done out of narrative necessity, as real mental illness is far more complex then that, and isn't something to can be so easily fixed in an hour and a half.

The characters in Park Chan-wook's I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK certainly aren't a particularly accurate portrayal of what I imagine most people suffering from real mental illnesses are really like. They are basically an amped up version of the same asylum archetypes we've been seeing since One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and it's clear that the movie itself isn't too concerned with realism in the first place. The movie is surreal, hyper stylized, and not afraid to bend and break the walls between reality and fantasy when appropriate. Our main character literally thinks she's a cyborg, the romantic lead steals people's emotions, and our protagonist's central relationship is with her pickled radish eating grandmother who thinks she's a mouse. This isn't too serious of an examination. And yet, despite it's silliness and it's fantastical nature, I think it gets more to the heart of a lot of mental illness much more successfully then so many serious movies like Rain Man or Silver Linings Playbook. The characters in it don't reflect real life, sure, but so many of the emotions these characters are put through seem more true to life then your typical Hollywood representation.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

War of the Gargantuas (1970)

There is a reason we still watch and love Jurassic Park today beyond the fact people like watching dinosaurs eat lawyers. It's because, past all the special effects and CGI, the story underneath it all is sound. Sure, it's total B-movie logic and isn't much past being an effective monster movie, but even when the dinos aren't on screen the human characters and their motivations are strong enough that you are just as happy to watch them go about their business as you are watching raptors tear each other apart. (...okay, maybe not quite, but still pretty close.)

Most kaiju, or Japanese giant monster movies, face this problem a lot. A lot of movies in the Godzilla franchise, like Godzilla vs. Megalon or Terror of Mechagodzilla, seem to be working backwards, thinking of cool fight scenes then making a plot around how these guys would meet up, usually by aliens or mad scientists, and having a team of spies or police or whatever have to take them down while Godzilla deals with the monster. Because the two concepts are never truly connected in a meaningful way, these movies tend to feel lopsided, and the viewer rightfully doesn't really care what's going on with the humans, but just wants to see some monsters destroy buildings.

I was expecting something like this with War of the Gargantuas, a movie with a history so convoluted it's hard to imagine it being made at all, much less with any sense of competence. The movie is technically a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World, a remake of Frankenstein that happens to be set in Japan and involves 100 foot monsters, which in turn was a spin off idea of King Kong vs. Godzilla, a movie originally pitched by Kong animator Willis O'Brien as King Kong vs. Frankenstein. But, surprisingly, what I found was a really good, solid monster movie. It's not Citizen Kane, but it's decent for what it is, and strangely enthralling throughout.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dark Tower (1989)

I miss bad, cheap horror movies done with a straight face. It seems like all the horror movies that come out now, assuming they aren't a remake of an earlier movie, are trying so hard to be the next Troll 2, but on purpose. What a lot of these directors fail to understand is you can't make Troll 2 on purpose, the magic of that movie is how it was done in total seriousness. If the filmmakers behind the movie hadn't been trying their hardest to make that movie the best damn picture put on film then the movie would just feel cynical and not worth anybodies time. There's love amidst the rubber masks and poor framing, and it leaks out onto the screen, much to the audience's disbelief and joy.

I don't know the production back story behind Dark Tower, a movie about a haunted skyscraper that's as dumb as it sounds. I know it stars the always fun Michael Moriarty, no stranger to the bad movie circuit, known for his star turn in Q and the original Troll. I know it was filmed in Spain and as such has several different languages spoken throughout the movie, which is really disorienting. I know it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But, although I don't know the circumstances under which this movie was made, I do know it has a lot of heart to it. It's like a kindergartner's macaroni art project. It's not really good, but it's charming and kind of enjoyable to watch under the influence of a lot of alcohol.