Review: The Dark Maidens / Ankoku Joshi

The Dark Maidens / Ankoku Joshi (Blu-ray release 2017-8-26) starts with members of a high school literature club taking turns telling their stories about their relationship with the president of the club, and their theories of who murdered her.  Their stories contradict each other, and eventually most of the members are suggested to be suspects.  Based on a novel, this mystery progresses to reveal several twists.

I think the setup is great, and the plot is rich.  The ending is unconventional in that it does not simply reveal who the killer is, it has significant implications for the surviving members as well.  I think this is an advantage from its novel source.  On the other hand, the contrived nature makes it totally unrealistic.  One of the twists is also physically impossible to execute without any explanation.

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Review: Real (2017)

The Korean movie Real (Bu-ray release 2017-12-29) is a real incomprehensible mess.  In a way that I do not comprehend, the split personality of the protagonist is somehow transferred to another body and becomes a reporter.  It appears that this reporter had investigated a new drug several years ago.  They compete with each other for the ownership to a casino, and a nurse who treated both of them.  Groups of other gangsters are also involved.  Given the stylish scenes and the images, for those people who do not mind the higher than average sexiness and nudity, this movie could be just bad instead of terrible, if the filmmakers provided proper explanations for the people, relationship to each other, and their history in a chronological order.

Review: A Beautiful Star / Utsukushii Hoshi

A Beautiful Star / Utsukushii Hoshi (Blu-ray release 2017-12-6) is unlike every other movie that features alien.  Loosely based on a 1962 novel, three members of a family are triggered by some events to consider themselves as aliens from other planets.  The father sees a bright light when driving, loses time and memory, and wakes up in an unknown place.  He eventually considers himself to be a martian, and uses his job of TV weather reporter to tell the public to stop damaging the environment.

Some reviews consider this to be a comedy, but I think this is a social commentary that promotes the awareness of environment protection, and (my interpretation) human is so bad that they should all die, leaving planet Earth to be a truly beautiful place, and raises the question of what beauty is.  Everything is ambiguous in this movie, and I cannot find a definitive explanation other than some saying it is open to interpretation.  Perhaps some hints can be found from the 1962 novel?  Anyway, I’ll provide my view below.

SPOILER – Explanation

The following is my wild interpretation, and may be wrong.

Father – As a human he commits adultery.  When he sees a bright light, he is abducted by UFO, implanted with a martian soul to carry out the mission of raising awareness of environment protection.  Before he succeeds to summon the UFO on the rooftop, his body collapses due to cancer.  When the body is dying, he is summoned by the UFO in form of a hallucination of his mistress.  At the end the martian soul goes back to the UFO, the father becomes his original self and is left to die.

Mother – As the only non-alien in the family, she demonstrates stupidity by participating in a pyramid scam of selling overpriced bottled water.

Son – He is disrespectful of his female partner in the planetarium, but she does not demonstrate any good quality either, and admits to be with him only because of his superficial beauty.  He is an alien from mercury, but his role is to establish his manager as another mercury alien, who has superpower that can inject visions to him in the elevator to test whether he has awakened, and to force push him away in the office.

Manager – Actually this is not an accurate description of his job, but anyway, his mercury voice points out that human is stupid and unable to make correct decisions, should just be left to die as part of true nature of universe.  This position is symbolized by pressing a red button attached to an empty box.

Daughter – She is an alien from venus, and demonstrates the ability to summon UFO, which causes a strong wind to break the glass of the restaurant.

Singer – He steals a song from his bandmate and lies about writing it, sells it, borrows money from everyone, drug rapes the daughter, impregnates her and disappears.  It is hard to say whether he is really an alien, but he really knows when the UFO shows up and teaches her the gesture to summon UFO.  [Alternative: the bandmate lies about the singer due to jealousy.]

Mistress – She sleeps with the father only to advance her career and eventually take his job.

Politician – He represents the selfishness of human.

Teacher – He invites the daughter to join him only because she is beautiful.

Female classmates – They gossip behind the daughter.

Male classmate – He is only attracted to beautiful women and is disrespectful to those who are not beautiful.

Manufacturer of bottled water – They lie about where and how their product is manufactured.  This represents yet another bad aspect of human society.

Review: Beyond Skyline

I did not like the alien invasion movie Skyline (2010) and felt that it was average and, worst of all, had an incomplete ending.  I expected Beyond Skyline (Blu-ray release 2018-1-16) to be as bad but it’s slightly better than I expected.  Most importantly, 7 years later this sequel finally addresses the previously incomplete ending.  On the other hand, this sequel is very self contained so it can be watched without knowing what happened in the 2010 movie.

The plot is not completely satisfactory – such as the odd martial arts fight between two good guys, and the exact mechanism through which the war is won globally when only a local battle is shown (is this a spoiler to say human defeat the alien invaders?), let alone most of the characters who just appear so they can die later.  Therefore I cannot call it a good movie, but it has one or two nice ideas, and it is fairly entertaining in that it makes things happen frequently enough.

Review: Salyut-7

Someone recommended me to watch a Russian movie like Gravity (2013) known as Salyut-7 (Blu-ray release 2018-1-3).  This comparison is wrong, however.  It is based on a real mission involving the real space station Salyut-7, like Apollo 13 (1995) did for an American mission.

I do not doubt that Russia is fully capable of making a great space movie.  It actually starts fine and I’m excited about it.  With two decades of advances of movie CG it offers some scenes that look more beautiful than Apollo 13 (1995), but the latter has a more realistic feeling.  Then it goes wrong.  It turns out that all the significant parts of this movie are mostly fiction, whereas significant parts of Apollo 13 are based on real events.

If the movie is a good fiction I can still enjoy and recommend it, but no.  Whereas Apollo 13 demonstrated team work and the importance of the hard work and contribution by mission control, here in this movie the ground control does absolutely nothing, other than perhaps trying to get the astronauts killed instead of saving them.  Ed Harris did a perfect portrayal of a flight director in Apollo 13, the corresponding role in this movie is just weak. He also recognizes his own powerlessness and therefore throws a chair to break a glass in the ground control center.  Lastly, the American wives are comparatively more supportive, their counterparts in this movie are not.

Why Blade Runner 2049 Flopped

I was not a fan of Blade Runner (1982), even though I recognize its classic status and huge influence on sci-fi.  It is not what I would call an entertaining movie.  To my surprise, I found Blade Runner (2049) (Blu-ray release 2018-1-16) to be better than the original.  It manages to further develop the story, while staying true to the original themes, expands the world and provides a visual spectacle.

Most analysis point out that the movie is too long, including Ridley Scott.  However, being too long is not the critical factor for it to fail.  The duration only made the important problems being worse.

MINOR SPOILERS

Not entertaining / substandard action sequences – The critical factor, in my humble opinion, is that it does not deliver the exciting action sequences sci-fi blockbusters are required to.  The climax is probably even weaker than some other trash action movies.  Making a meaningful movie that explores humanity, what separates a replicant from human, whether replicants have rights, social inequality and discrimination, children labour, etc., without taking the care to be comparably entertaining movie as other sci-fi action blockbusters, it cannot succeed commercially.

Dark – Darkness is a hard sell.  Even It (2017) ends with a happy ending.  The Dark Knight (2008) has a dark ending, but at least through the important sacrifices justice is served, the city is protected, and the vigilante superhero is still respected by people.  Here in this movie, a supporting character gets a happy ending, but I don’t think the protagonist does.

Humans are bad guys – If everything else is done to mainstream satisfaction, this is not such a great problem.  Having humans as bad guys in this already dark story makes it even a harder sell.

Emotional core – Just as the humans say the replicants have no soul, there is no emotional core in the movie – only a false hope that actually makes it worse.  The protagonist’s love interest is an AI computer programme that anyone can buy.  In fact since her nudity is advertised in public, people does not even need to buy the programme to see her.  This is hard to identify with.  This is worse than having a love interest in form of a giant ape.  If the protagonist dies in the movie, absolutely no one will care about him.

The first movie was also a flop – Outside of sci-fi fans few people really cared about Blade Runner, let alone it was 35 years ago.  The 1982 movie was a flop, there is no sensible reason to approve such a large budget for the sequel.

I’m not saying Blade Runner 2049 is a bad movie.  In fact it is widely agreed by critics to be a very good sci-fi movie, I enjoyed it better than the 1982 original, but it is not suitable for mainstream audience.  This is why it flopped.

Review: Flatliners (2017)

The original Flatliners (1990) was not that good to warrant a remake, but still we now have the Flatliners remake (Blu-ray release 2017-12-26).  Medical school students experiment with near death experience (NDE) with bad consequences.  In spite of the initial scientific pretense, it immediately degenerates into a “demonic presence” with absolutely no explanation – why didn’t the many other people who experienced NDE before have the demon visit them?  Instead of exploiting NDE to allow for something new, the movie settles on a few generic horror sequences, making this NDE a dull experience.

Review: Tokyo Ghoul (2017)

Tokyo Ghoul (Blu-ray release 2017-12-20) is a live action adaptation of a manga series, about ghouls living in Tokyo.  They look like human beings but cannot eat human food.  They can only survive by eating human.  The human protagonist receives an organ transplant from a ghoul accidentally, becoming a ghoul and gradually learn to live as a ghoul.  Of course there is a human organization that hunts them down.

Reportedly this movie is rather faithful to the original.  Even though I have not read the manga or watched the anime adaptation before, the movie is sufficiently clear.  Given the many disastrous live action adaptions, I think this movie can at least be considered to be a good one.  Some may criticize the overacting compared to the source material, or the quality of the CG (which is the norm for Japanese movies – at least it’s better than Chinese movies), but I consider these to be acceptable.  There is also a complaint of having much less gore than the source material – I think this is a wise choice for mainstream audience.  Looking forward to the sequel.

Review: Before I Fall

Before I Fall (Bu-ray release 2017-5-30) is a time loop movie based on a novel.  The protagonist has several mean girl friends.  She rejects a nice guy and prepares to lose her virginity to her bad boyfriend.  They are cruel to a lesbian classmate, and to another girl whom they consider to be a freak.

Given the generally positive reviews of it, I suppose I fail to appreciate it because I’m not the target demographic.  It was immediately obvious to me what the key is to deal with the time loop after all characters are introduced.  The protagonist ignores the important stuff but spends her time loops in doing meaningless things such as arguing with her friends, dressing up as a whore and seducing her teacher – if this is supposed to be a common girl fantasy then I don’t know.

Review: The Battleship Island (2017)

The Battleship Island is a story about Koreans being cheated to become force labours and comfort women (prostitutes) in the Hashima Island coal mine operated by Japan in the WWII era.  The protagonist is a leader of a band and tries his best to protect and save his young daughter.  An operative infiltrates the place to help an official escape.

Naturally the Japanese officials in this movie are depicted as the bad guys, but what makes this complex movie smart is that some Korean characters in the movie are even worse – they are selfish and exploit others for their own sake.  To my surprise the Japanese is not depicted with even more evil – there is no rape scene by Japanese despite the subject matter of comfort women.  As with many Korean drama, it eventually becomes tear jerking.  This movie is well received in Korea.