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 The older sister tries to protect the withdrawn younger sister from the evil step-mother.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).

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) *** and An Open Letter to Drug Dealers

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) *** From Memory, Saw Many Times

I’m pretty sure I saw this one in the theater, summer of ’84. I might have even been on a date. I always say when I see stuff in a theater, somehow my feeble brain thinks this gives the review more credibility. Scrabbling for credibility, another weak grasp in a series of poor autobiography titles.

More than I remember the date, I do remember the buzz before the movie came out in my high school crowd. It wasn’t the Porky’s buzz of a few years earlier, but everyone was fully expecting a new Jason or Mike Meyers (not the scary Canadian kind, but the other one) bogeyman. ANOES did deliver on that front. I’d even say Freddie Krueger was in the zeitgeist even before the movie opened. Lunch boxes and the like.

And for the time, the oooey-gooey special effects wowed. They were front and center in the marketing campaign. Boy, they look so dated now. At least it wasn’t the abomination that is any movie with early CGI. Yea, you suck, 90’s horror/CGI-fests.

I have a joke-based memory, meaning I make jokes to remember things, and I definitely remember comparing Freddie Krueger to James Bond. He quips, he kills. The quippy nature of the villain represented a minor change in popular horror movies. We were encouraged to root for Freddy, not fear him. He’s the funny one. Although we may have secretly rooted for Mike Meyers or Jason to slaughter the stupid teenagers–as we are at heart all a bit of a psychopath–we weren’t encouraged by the filmmakers to do so. Wes Craven knew that franchises needed a likable lead, even if that lead was slaughtering you in your sleep. So, Freddy, the Catskills Killer and funny-man was born.

Halloween was mostly the Jamie Lee Curtis story, not Jason’s. ANOES was Freddy’s show. Quick, besides Heather Langenkamp, name the human leads in ANY of the sequels which were more interesting than Freddy. John Saxon, hardly.

ANOES actually kicked off a feeling in me that I should root for the bad guy in horror movies, that horror movies were mostly about the visceral thrill, the special effect, the shock. Call it the MTV-ization of horror movies, the quick jolt over building the mood. As a budding young psychopath, I looked for the bad guy winning in horror movies for years. It wasn’t until after college that I began to appreciate the build-up and it wasn’t until a child was born that I began to root for the hero again. Full psychopathy averted.

And Heather Langenkamp and the whole set-up of the movie was pretty solid. She’s a sympathetic character like Steve McQueen in The Blob trying to warn her friends of the dangers unseen. And like a Poltergeist, darkness lies underneath the sunny, suburban surface. However, this time the primal danger is terrifying—everyone has to sleep. Add to that, your parents held a secret that could get you killed and it’s nightmare fuel time.

BTW, who didn’t secretly think their parents were helping the bad guy or at least covering for a dismembering, ratty sweater-wearing, quip-spouting, horribly burned janitor with a manicure problem?

Well, what teenagers didn’t secretly think that?

Do It: The Humble Indie Bundle V. It’s the last day to get eight great indie games for just under nine bucks. Bastion, Amnesia, Swords and Sorcery, Braid, Super Meat Boy, I’ve played them all and you can connect them to your Steam account as well.

Avoid It: Smokie Beef Sticks. Sometimes, I think my diet is Dollar Store sponsored. I read the following disclaimer on my 99 cent food-like snack, Smokie Beef Sticks, smoke flavor added. Dipped in a solution of potassium sorbate to retard mold growth. This means THERE IS mold growth, it’s just retarded. More like fucktarded, am I right my beef-stick-eating ladies?

The Tweeter: So, CEO Jamie Dimon just apologized to Congress. Great, when exactly is he going to jail? Jerry Sandusky may have a new strategy. #allshallburn

The Facing Book: Great news! I can finally touch my knees. WITH my hands! And WITHOUT bending my knees! Look out Mr. Presidential Physical Fitness, you’ve just been ousted!

True Facts: Last week in an interview, a Coke executive said that Coke’s true competitor isn’t Pepsi, but tap water. True Fact. Well, mission accomplished in my house, Mr. Coke Executive. Have you met Mr. Presidential Fitness? No?

Bryan Gahagan, Man of Letters:

Dearest Drug Dealers,

I know times are hard. The economy is down and kids just aren’t looking ‘for kicks,’ as you say. But this is not a time to stagnate. This is not a time to pack up your meth kit and go home. No good sirs and ladies, this is the time to innovate. This is the time to reintroduce quality craftsmanship back into this time-honored profession that you call The Game.

America is not in decline, we’re only regaining our wheezing, flem-spittled breath.

And you can be there to help usher this new age. Drug dealers matter. We shall not crumble under the Third World aggression of a Mexico, of an Afghanistan.

And we shall do this by doing what Americans do best. We shall innovate. How do we innovate? How do we wrest the mantle of Drug King, of Drug Leaders, away from the oily foreign hoards currently yapping at our well toned heels?

The answer is simple. One word. Packaging.

How often has a fresh-faced, bright-eyed junkie–nay, customer–come to you eager for your wares, only to be rendered sullen and disheartened by the whole transaction a mere hour later? More times than you can count on your blinged-out posse’s fingers and toes, I imagine.

Let me explain. You’ve built a multi-million dollar processing facility in the basement of an abandoned factory somewhere. You’ve hired the best men to process your goods. Security is flawless. You have a multi-level distribution system with the right tentacles in all the right corridors of power. Everyone is handsomely paid off, with you at the top, rightfully basking in success. There’s only the best quality in ingredients, the highest of ammonias, the premiumiest of filtration systems, the double-lined crackless ceramic tubs.

However, when your product, certainly the Cadillac of Methamphetamines, is delivered to your customer, it’s in a three cent cellophane bag. A three cent bag.

Think about that. The cheap cell phone burner you used to make the deal came encased in hard plastic, form fitted and nearly indestructible. Yet, the dime bag of quality blue sunshine costs way less than a dime for the bag. It’s the first impression a client has of your product.

Even McDonalds knows you need to spend more on packaging than food. It’s why, they are McDonalds and you are an unknown in the business world.

Let’s think for a second about practicality and how a lack of oversight can ruin your business. An excited customer, ready to relax with your premium wares after a hard day, quickly grabs a cheap Baggie of product and it rips. Product falls from the packaging and slips away into the crevices of the customer’s shopping cart. Later, a passing police dog easily sniffs out your product. It’s a pretty well known product, you know.

Well, it’s one less customer if you’re lucky, one lost empire if you’re not.

How do you change the current production models? First, secretly lobby those companies that make your containers. Ziplock. That other one. They know that upwards of 80% of their business is dependent on you. You are their valued customer. These companies know how to make quality containers. It’s their business interests to protect your business.

Thick, multi-threaded, color-coded, secure Baggies. Right-sized and with ornate labels that appeal to each user. The kingpin who has not considered all the options will not be a kingpin for long.

Consider cardboard inserts for heft, security and a bag that stands up. What customer hasn’t fumbled with loose product because he couldn’t obtain its precious contents exactly when he so desperately needed it? Individual compartments, single serving sizes, and problem solved.

Someone who takes daily medication doesn’t just chuck it all in a loose Baggie, they have a hard plastic container with each day separated for convenience, for clarity. Think about it. Consider all your packaging options. For holidays, perhaps gift wrapping or a small box. As always, details make the business.

I’m positive that if you ponder all the options, your business and your loyal customer base will be limitless, like the imagination and energy of those you wish to serve.

America has always been about, not just the steak, but the sizzle. The sizzle of a million brains on fire with desire. The crisp snap of a new bag, a new habit.

So, fuck you, Mexico! Fuck you, Afghanistan! America will always be number one as long as we continue to innovate and as long as we continue to rule in the lucrative packaging arena.

High quality, drug-resistant, resin-lined space-aged bifurcated methamphetamine containers. It’s a no-brainer. Literally.


Bryan Gahagan
Lover of Breaking Bad and
Ziplock Baggies.

Next Week on Bryan Gahagan, Man of Letters:

Dearest Kleenex,

Have you considered the needs of 95 percent of your current market, that is the chronic masterbater and his friend, the humble masterbater?

Next Up: 200 Motels (1971), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003), The 400 Blows (1959), or Abbey Road by The Beatles (1969).

A Bell From Hell (1973) **1/2 and Drive (2011) ***

A Bell From Hell (1973) **1/2 First Viewing

I’ve seen three movies that start out with the protagonist’s head fully covered with plaster of Paris, creating a featureless melting man effect. Straws jut from the invisible nose holes, a body with a lump candle wax head. It’s a strange way to start a film and it jumps you right into WTH territory. Nice.

Handsome Juan has just been I released from the nut house. He’s probably still crazy and his constant tricks on others don’t make a case for his sanity. The tricks are of the ‘horror special effects artist’ variety. I mean, how funny is pretending rip your own eyes out (See above) to impress a girl? Okay, it’s kinda funny if only for the commitment to the bit.

There’s some cousins, an aunt who holds his inheritance, the eponymous bell–a church bell, although probably not exactly FROM Hell, just Hell adjacent– and what I think is a forest hobo that only Juan knows. Also, there’s a general feeling the movie could go rapey at any moment. That’s good, right?

For the first three-fourths of the film, I had little idea what was going on, who was who and why we were being shown what we were shown. I’m good with that in a horror film because the good ones operate on a level that should be a bit ahead of comprehension. The film does coalesce into coherent film in the last quarter and becomes a more traditional horror movie with an Edgar Allen Poe ironic justice ending. Cue Scooby Doo. Usually, horror movies start out strong and peter out, but ABFH ends pretty strong after a muddled beginning.

Honestly, it wasn’t until after I saw the movie that I learned what it was about, plot-wise and theme-wise. According to the internet, ABFH is alternately a reaction to fascism, a study on the nature of insanity and what is insanity, and that movie from Spain where the director dies on the last day of shooting.

Yea, the director fell off the bell tower on the last day of shooting. Instant credibility in the horror community. Another director finished the editing. This certainly gives the movie a fractured feeling. A lot of movies are called ‘dream-like,’ but I’d describe ABFH as an exercise in filmed memory. Dreams are fluid and operate of their own alien logic. ABFM is more jagged with jumps between scenes, dialog that doesn’t match the shots, gaping holes filled in through intuition, and an almost nil soundtrack.

A sidetrack. I like horror movies with minimal soundtracks. Too often, the horror soundtrack, especially in modern horror, is too overdriven telegraphing almost every scare. Ugh. I hate the loud, cheap music sting when some one comes into frame just behind the main character. Too easy. Also, the director will try and be clever about two-thirds into the movie by suddenly dropping the up-until-then constant throb of music to show contrast and ‘build suspense,’ only to go back to the pounding whenever Jason or whoever pops up again. Most horror soundtracks are forgettable and unnecessary to gauging the level of onscreen horror. It’s why we remember the good ones like Halloween and Suspiria, otherwise they’re mostly superfluous. (However, good sound design often makes or breaks most horror efforts.)

ABFH does have a bit of the ‘creepy children’s chorus,’ this time, the public domain Frere Jacque. The 1970’s love their creep children choruses. I tend to prefer 1970’s horror because the genre seemed to be about making a concerted effort to break and play the rules of horror and the ways you can tell the story. Once again, this old man is complaining about how cookie-cutter the movies have become. Blah, blah, blah.

My version of ABFM had some dark muddied video and about a third of the dialog was muffled adding to the hazy memory effect of the film. There wasn’t a ton of dialog (I bet five lines of dialog in the first 15 minutes), but just piecing together what the hell was going on kept me interested until the movie gelled at the end.

Things I Learned From ABFH:
—Bees will stop stinging you if it rains.
—You can be ‘On Probation’ from a mental institution.
—I know it’s been said before, but working on the kill floor of a slaughter house can be a good job for a serial killer.
—Ravens make good pets.
—If you want to get a stranger to touch your penis, build a fake upper body cast and visit a public restroom.
—Glass eyes are very affordable.

Bonus Mini Review: Drive (2011) *** From Memory

“And the award for best cinematography goes to…”

That’s about all I remember about Drive. It looked great with all those glassy, wet nighttime shots of LA. Chris asked me to review it, so okay, enough for me.

The plot, as I remember, was of the generic ‘One Last Job’ variety. Why must every single damned anti-hero ‘be pulled back in’ for one last big score. It never goes well. Super bland, er, I mean stoic, Ryan Gosling did nothing for me. I remember looking more at his stupid jacket (I bet the promotional production jackets for the movie and Ryan’s jacket were one and the same).

Also, no kick-ass chase scene at the end of the movie. Isn’t that what a movie called Drive should be driving towards? For the life of me, I can’t remember how the movie ended. Albert Brooks dies. Not even in a car chase. Oops, spoiler. Bryan Cranston was crotchety in it. Christina Hendricks was fully clothed and only in it for about two minutes.

Overall, underwhelming. Watch the first half of Drive for the cinematography, then go rent Steve McQueen’s Bullitt to see how it’s done.

92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes is ridiculous. If you have a movie you want me to review, let me know. But be warned, accuracy and thoroughness is not a strong suit.

Do It: Comedy Bang Bang on IFC. Hot Saucerman and company deliver a low-key talk show heir to Mr. Show. Get in on the ground floor and then go back and check out the podcast. If Reggie Watts isn’t proclaimed ‘America’s Teddy Bear,’ the world ain’t right.

Avoid It: Blythe Danner. Mom to the spokesperson for extreme nutty whiteness, the over exposed and under talented drug pusher Danner needs to ‘break a leg,’ indeed. She’s not royalty.

The Tweeter: Hey Sting, that book by Nabakov is called Lolita. It’s pretty famous, movies were made. Check it out. #dontstandsoclosetome

The Facing Book: Just a tip, the edible shells on the taco salads at Amigos cost extra. BS, bro.

True Facts: I heard F. Scott Fitzgerald has a big foot fetish. True Fact. Maybe Quentin Taratino should’ve directed that 3-D abomination The Great Gatsby.

Next Up: 200 Motels (1971), A Bucket of Blood (1959), 21 Days (1940), or #500. Aquemini by OUTKAST.

And So It Begins, Again

Ever since I was a teen, I’ve watched at least five movies a week. I’m a total media junkie. Five Movies a week, 10 or so records, a boardgame or two, and a crapton of TV. Honestly, I’ve weighted it, a crapton. I’m in my mid 40’s now (remembering exact ages is for the soon to be depressed), so by my estimation I’ve seen thousands of movies.

On the Buddism scale of quiet zen reflection, I’m a total failure unless, as I imagine this is the way the world now operates, we’re just a collection of what media we’ve consumed. By that measure I’m an A Number One Success as an American. USA! USA! USA! (Sorry starving third worlders with your endless time to contemplate a meaningless life before a ripe old death at 23.)

Now that almost every movie, TV show, CD and book is just a stream or download away, I’ve kinda hit a brick wall. I now spend more time searching Netflix Streaming or Hulu than watching said premium services. I’m not a big fan of most mainstream, big studio fare, I like surprises and most popcorn movies have suprises surgically drained from them to appeal to the mass audiences their budgets demand. I know I’m sounding like a movie snob, but Prometheus this weekend, YO! (excited)

So while browsing the B&N movie book section, I came across two books where I wanted to see every movie in them. Granted, I’d already seen 2/3rds of the films in each book, but saw some gems I hadn’t seen. The books The 500 Essential Cult Movies and Horror!: 333 Films to Scare You to Death. I’d also been trying to plow through the Criterion Collection on Hulu, since my exposure to classic foreign films was a little underexposed. And for fun I added the Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, so I’m not reviewing movies everyday.

Oh, I’m making another stab at a review blog. Basically, I always have four choices each day for the next review. In addition, there’ll be smaller reviews, twitter jokes and other errata every day. Also, the reviews may favor horror movies because that’s what I like. The format came about pretty quickly, check out The Rules for more info.

To quoteth DEVO, “Freedom of choice is what you got, Freedom from choice is what you want.”

The older reviews are just the bones of an older review site.

And so it begins again. Think of it as a another daily recommendation site from someone you sorta know. See y’all tomorrow.

First Up: 200 Motels (1971), A Bell From Hell (1973), 21 Days (1940), or #500. Aquemini by OUTKAST.