A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) *** and A Cheap, Comic Life

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) *** Second Viewing

Remember J-horror? Before those sparkly vampires? While most horror trends succumb to their own clichés, the best of the Asian horror boom of the early 2000’s still works. There’s a randomness and inevitability to the horror. Dread.

A Tale of Two Sisters doesn’t rely of the wandering, pale, black-haired, disjointed female ghosts cliché of other J-pop horror efforts. At it’s heart, it’s a drama about divorce and loss between two sisters. The best horror films are usually dramas where the fear and rotten emotions of conflict are rendered into horrifying flesh. The first two-thirds of The Exorcist is also a drama about the change of growing up and the new changes in the world.

There’s really a pretty crafty mystery at work in ATOTS. One I didn’t catch in the first viewing so many years ago. The set-up is extremely familiar, two teen sisters are forced to move into a haunted country house with their dad and evil, new stepmother. Slowly, crazy shit happens. The dad, certainly Lithium’s best customer, is emotionally unavailable. The step-mom vacillates between extreme roles, uncomfortable in any of them. The older sister tries to protect the withdrawn younger sister from the evil step-mother. You get the drill.

Of course, that’s not what really is going on. Clues abound.

The pace sometimes borders between slow and deliberate and slow and plodding, but the cinematography is fantastic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shoddy looking Korean movie. (Japanese, yes. Korea, no.) They’ve gotta have a great film school there.

Things I learned from A Tale of Two Sisters:

—Evil spirits, like young’uns in action films, love to hide under the sink.
—Korea has the best wallpaper.
—Pets, always the first to go.
—Puberty, the worst monster of all.
—The psychiatrist-waiting-for-patient two shot. This technique begins every third Korean film.
—Old Dunlap bags are the best way to store bodies. (A shout-out to Audition)
—Put an adorable Korean baby in the film and I’ll add a star to the review. Sorry, no Korean baby in ATOTS. You earned your three star rating honestly.
—I’m beginning to think my star-rating system might be flawed.
—Also, I wrote this review for the “Lithium’s Best Customer” joke which wasn’t framed well enough.

Do It: Tom Scharpling. Do it, Tom Scharpling. The king of free entertainment, Scharpling has had some crushing professional, personal and physical set backs lately. Me, I’d go all fetal baby, but Tom Scharpling is just getting better. He’s steamrolling the chumps. His radio show, The Best Show on WFMU just celebrated it’s 500th show, listen to it. The Best Show reminds me why I wanted to be a DJ so long ago, why I was a DJ so long ago, before the corporate vultures picked the bones clean. He just interviewed Weird Al and Tommy Stinson for his podcast Low Times. And he’s teamed up with podcasting’s reigning king of ‘making it about me’ Marc Maron for another funny podcast, The Marc and Tom Show. The dude should be more famous. That said, he’s still grinding away like everyday is game four of the playoffs. I miss one post one day, and I’m a big baby Sisyphus, screw that rock. Not Tom. He’s back at that rock. Also, he’s a Tweeteraholic. Do it, Tom, just keep doing it.

Avoid It: The usual Disneyland Dad Father’s Day hangouts. Valentino’s and Godfather’s. Pizza Hut and Pizza Ranch. Dairy Queen and Cherry on Top. Champion’s Fun Center and the bowling alley. On Father’s Day, these places become a giant bowl, nay well, of sadness, desperation, averted eye contact, forced interest and that one awkward smile as divorced dads try too hard, way too hard. Look, I know that sounds cynical. There’s plenty of happy dads and kids scarfing down half-priced meals on dad’s day, but it’s inevitable, there’ll be one father/daughter paring who’s psychic emotional scars will almost be palpable to nearby tables. Your J-pop pitch black spirit devouring souls under the guise of healing. I know, I’ve been there. I’ve been (am) poor, planning a whole day around one trip for crappy, half-price pizza and a game of pinball. I’m always putting too much stock in that one day.

Related side note—Why son, Why? Why don’t you want to talk to me? I’m sad. I miss you. Just the thought of Father’s Day…

Tom Scharpling. Tom Scharpling. Just keep doing’ it….

The Tweeter: I like sentence fragments. A lot. A real, real lot. A real, real, real lot. Like more than full sentences. Brain fragmented, like sentence fragments. Say what, again?

The Facing Book: Dear Facing Book timeline, why must you remind me that I’ve done Jack and Squat between 2007 and birth?

Old to begin, I’ll setcha back, setcha back, setcha back.

A Cheap, Comic Life:

Next Up: 200 Motels (1971), Aftermath (1994), The 400 Blows (1959), or Abraxas by Santana (1970).

Abbey Road by The Beatles (1969) ****1/2 and Keyhole (2011) ***

Abbey Road by The Beatles (1969) **** 1/2 Own

This was the first Beatle‘s record I ever bought. I was maybe, 10 or 11, and had this old orange suitcase style record player. At the time, my favorite songs were the Ringo songs, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Octopuses Garden. They had plot and were funny. Was Steve Martin in some kind of video for Maxwell’s Silver Hammer? Bang bang. Songs for an unproduced musical?

Now, I’ve heard all The Beatle‘s records probably as much as you—offer not valid for Chris Topher and other Beatlemaniacs—so, the songs are more subconscious at this point, they’ve always just been there. Anything I could say about them has already been said more eloquently by others by now.

But I listened to the hell out of Abbey Road. Hundreds of times. This was my Beatle‘s record. I don’t think I even bought any of the others (Beatle‘s Love excepted and that doesn’t count), all inherited or dubbed.

I remember spending hours looking at the album cover. The Beatles themselves weren’t that important. It’s the Volkswagen in the back. What kind of lives did those people inside the album cover live? Not knowing John, Paul, George and Ringo were just outside. That’s what we used to do—stare at a record sleeve the first twenty times we listened to the music. CD’s and MP3’s have all but eliminated that goofy past time.

America’s greatest achievement, packaging, is all but an afterthought in the itunes age. I mean, what’s the point of Pink Floyd‘s Animals if not staring at that flying pig?

Abbey Road, their 11th, is more stripped down than the last few. The White Album should be my favorite with it’s darker John Lennon production tricks. But no. It’s an adult record with too much revolution on its mind. And Sgt. Pepper’s is the ultimate Paul McCartney pop record, the Snoopy of Beatle records, everyone loves it. But I owned Abbey Road. So, that’s the one I’ve heard more than any other.

All the Beatle‘s are given their equal due. I’m not sure of songwriting credits, but’s easy to pick out what I think are the quintessential Ringo songs, John songs, Paul songs and George songs. More than the other records, George and Ringo are really given a showcase. And while the Ringo songs are now my least favorite, they’re kinda gimmicky, the George songs, Sun King and Because, gave me a greater appreciation for the denim Beatle. Doo-Wop turns into a nice rock drudge. I think they front-loaded the Ringo songs, got them out of the way, to prime you for the epicness of the end medley where everyone’s style melded into a whole. Even John’s Come Together is a joke front-end ‘hit’ song, the record’s palette cleanser from the other Beatle records.

In a lot of ways, Abbey Road doesn’t really get started until She’s So Heavy, all the other songs clearing out The Beatle‘s back catalog. It takes the meditation of George’s songs and the sweeter ballads of John’s songs to set the right mood for Abbey Road‘s existence, the medley that is most of the second side.

Favorite moment: The ten seconds after the first “She’s so….”

Least Favorite: The next ten seconds. Jazz influences ruin rock.

Redemption: The last “She’s so….” through the rocking sudden end of the side. My crappy suit case record player didn’t have auto arm return, so I’d let it go ka-chhhh, ka-chhhh, ka-chhhh on the last groove for about a minute. Good times. On the CD, Here Comes the Sun sounds so wrong after She’s So Heavy.

Remember that old Sonic Youth record, Evol? The last track of the second side had a resetting groove at the end of the song, basically replaying the last four notes ad infinitum. Drone all night. Awesome. I Want You and Loving, Touching, Squeezing were my favorite songs to slip cue as a DJ. Tight.

Final Dumb Comments or No Learning:
— I always thought the lyric was, “He had feet way down below his knees.” I like my lyric better.
— You know who needs a mojo filter? Effin’ Jim Morrison, that’s who.
— Apparently, the lack of shoeshine will help make you a great toejam football player.
— Walrus Gumboots. Now at Target.
—Maxwell was not a nice man, but he was a real hit with the ladies. Ba-Da-Bing.
— A square world is a real buzz kill.
— I may be good looking, certainly I feel as if I am hard to see.
— Funny papers are no substitute for real money.
— Ten Bob notes must certainly be small or mean Mister Mustard has a huge nose.
— 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7: that sounds like only 7 good children went to heaven. The Beatles, your Sesame Street substitute.
The Beatles may also earn you Latin Class credits. Or is it fake Latin? Italian? Anyway, all foreign language lessons should end with a drum bridge.
— Polyethene Pam. Now at Target.
— Need to wonder? Suck your thumb next to your lagoon.
— Monday’s always on the phone to me, AMIRIGHT working peeples?
— Robbing is a different skill than stealing.
— A man once died trying NOT to air drum to Ringo’s solo. True Fact.
— Love. It’s physical, makable, takeable.
The Beagles sure do love their queen. Oh, adorable Beagles. Did you see the Diamond Jubilee concert? Paul was the only one who didn’t completely suck. Madness excluded.
— Paul did marry the Queen. True fact. Her vocals were turned way down on Band on the Run. After a belly full of wine, he beat her. So, she took him for billions. It’s how the monarchy runs.
—And so concludes, Jokes You Only Get While Listening to Abbey Road. If you have any complaints about Beatle facts, you can take a long and winding road, pal. Slip out through the bathroom window.

Do it: Falling Off the Sky by The Db’s. The last time The Db’s released an album Ronald Reagan was still in office. And like last years, Here Now by The Feelies, their comeback effort, Falling off the Sky is a solid addition to an already great canon of country-tinged power pop records. Falling Off the Sky could have come out comfortably after Big Star‘s #1 Record without sounding dated in any era. A pleasant summer shandy for your ears.

Avoid It: This is PIL by Public Image LTD.
Also shooting for a comeback, Johnny Rotten’s back—years after cashing in his generic anger for the lucrative cashola—and This is PIL suuuuuuucckkks. I’m listening to it while I’m writing and was planning on making some kind of Malcolm McLaren is rolling over in his grave joke, but the awfulness of the record is sapping my strength, my ability to focus. It suuuuuuuuuccckkkks. If he’s trying to make a dirt stupid parody of himself, Rotten’s still falling short.

The Tweeter: Tweeter, the best place to rail against abstract concepts and the minutiae of life while making pop culture references.

The Facing Book: Hey (old) ladies in the (every eating) place, I’m calling out to ya (I’m also easedroppin’ on ya), let that one old lady talk. It happens every time I’m out, one woman is jabbering away, monopolizing 95% of the conversation. I’ve never heard anything Mrs. Never-Shut-up say that was even remotely interesting or not self involved. C’mon, other lady, speak up! #seewhatididthere? #beastieboys

True Fact: Famous grammarians Strunck and White used to team together to rape babies and cheat at cards. True Fact. OK, not a true fact, but I hate developing my own informal Style Book and needed someone to take the fall.

Bonus Review:

Keyhole (2011) *** First Viewing

Let me tell you about this crazy dream I had a few weeks ago. No, don’t go away, it’ll have a point. I promise.

You see, I had been watching strange old Asian horror movies, Japan’s Hell (1960) and Korea’s Cure (1997), and they wormed into my subconscious. Usually, we’re being chased in dreams or looking for something. We’re the passive hero subjected to whims of large outside forces, the stuff of horror movies. In this dream, I actually was one of the bad guys. I started out as a good guy. You see, I was part of a large group of teenagers visiting a enormous, cylinderal, haunted house. I got bit by a demon almost immediately and turned into a demon. I knew that I was not only in a dream, but also in a film. My dreams often come in different film styles. (Never a RomCom or porn, sadly) So, I started working with the other demons killing teens. With my claws, I shredded and skinned. We released giant bees forcing the teens down a series of hallways, only to block the other side, so they had to run through miles of angry, oversized bees. Funny thing, I didn’t feel any remorse for my actions. Also, I knew that was OK because I was in a film playing a part. I’m rarely the lead in my own dreams, but that’s another story for a lower self esteem day.

Keystone is a fully realized filmed dream of a 1930’s gangster movie. If you’ve never seen a Guy Maddin film, this is probably his most accessible. It’s like he’s got an AV plug on a dream helmet. While David Lynch flirts with dream-like imagery and logic, Maddin fully commits. Every strange emotion, blurred logic and editing, characters as self aware functionaries and as knowing symbols, casual nudity (lots of old man scrotum), the dream hero’s blasé stance on his own predicament, acceptance and embracing of the supernatural, the set as artifice, time fuckery, and ghosts, ghosts, ghosts. Every dream element.

This is how your dreams operate, right? Mine certainly do.

Usually when a movie eases from beginning weirdness to semi-coherent plot, the movie usually benefits. In Keystone, the black and white gangster premise was enough to support the machinations of the dream and of the hero’s searching in the dream. I did lose some interest in the last thirty minutes, both because of sheer image overload and because the sense the film started to make didn’t fulfill the earlier promises.

Jason Patric, Isabella Rossalini, and Udo Keir are in it. Keyhole looks lush like the best old time movies. Kids in the Hall‘s Kevin McDonald is in playing basically a KITH character that’s wildly out of place which makes it, oddly, appropriate. Oh, that 70 year-old dude is fully naked 100 percent of the time. Who needs clothes in dreamworlds?

I like that Canadian Maddin. Although aggressively strange with a silent movie vibe, his movies don’t strike me as pretentious. They really should, but they don’t. I guess it’s because Maddin is so good at showing a kind of movie reality as dream. He’s trying to understand, not impress.

Not for everyone and not in the daytime.

Oh, in my demon dream Roger from Mad Men kept harassing me to hurry up and do a better job. He tapped his watch a lot, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Kinda cool Roger, thanks for drooping by.

Next Up: 200 Motels (1971), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), The 400 Blows (1959), or Abraxas by Santana (1970).