Category: get reel

Usually I find out about good movies because I read reviews or follow certain actors and directors.  I’m an IMDb freak and a Netflix subscriber, which is a dangerous combination.  This time, a good friend heard about last year’s Kundo: Age of the Rampant, and that started me on a research expedition into South Korean cinema – especially horror (The Host is excellent K-horror that all connoisseurs of the broader genre should have seen by now) and the flicks affectionately termed “kimchi westerns” or “Easterns” – of which Kundo is a prime example.

It might be obvious at this point in my blog history that I’m not a fan of romcoms or teary dramas (exception: historical dramas like The Imitation Game).  I prefer scifi, thrillers, action, adventure, you get the idea.  I live on the edge.  Of my couch.  I’m not a hardcore afficionado of martial arts films, but I’ve seen a Kurosawa or two, and of course Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  I’ve even seen 47 Ronin (but if you’re looking for a good Keanu movie and you’ve already seen The Matrix 100 times, skip 47 Ronin.  Even with the superlative Rinko Kikuchi, skip 47 RoninCheck out John Wick instead).  I enjoy a spaghetti western occasionally.  But there’s something about a mashup of Korean swordplay, Tarantino, and Sergio Leone that makes a gal’s eyes light up as she googles Kundo and starts skimming farflung movie reviews.  Sweet, it’s on Netflix.

And oh man, what a great way to spend two hours of recharge-time.  A blockbuster in Korea, Kundo draws on the country’s history, specifically the Joseon Dynasty (circa 1862), infamous for its government corruption and poverty.  Roving gangs of bandits known as “kundo” wreaked havoc Robin Hood-style to return food and money to peasants tricked into indentured servitude by sleazy officials.  The movie unfolds in five acts like a Shakespearean tragedy, which indeed it is, but not without wicked swordfights, a balls-out, thundering hooves Morricone-style soundtrack, a kickass lady warrior who shoots a bow while carrying a baby on her back, and the obligatory (yet no less awesome) bamboo forest training montage.  And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the movie’s delightful parade of period-style hats.  Cheers to the costume designer, big time.

Occasionally Kundo slows down for dramatic character development, but that’s a good thing.  The acting is top-notch, and these scenes are necessary – they make the ending more poignant.  The nobleman villain Jo-Yoon is no cardboard demon, likewise the rebel hero Dochi, a “lower-class” butcher with his gigantic meat cleavers turned mêlée weapons, is a twitchy hothead (literally).  Both have their reasons for who they become.  And everybody talks like a street kid (“Look at this douche” is definitely my favorite subtitled one-liner).  I’m not going to give up plot details – it’s better to let this film unfold.  I really want a sequel.  In the meantime, I might have to check out The Good, The Bad and The Weird.


Bamboo photo by “PădureDeBambus” by Țetcu Mircea Rareș – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


get reel

And so begins my 2015 Documentary Watch Project.  I’m always interested in documentary films but never seem to get around to actually watching them (because I’m doing really important stuff like…ahem…watching Grimm and Arrow).  My goal is to view at least one documentary a month, which is nothing…but a start.

Chasing Ice is my January Pick.  It’s languished in my Netflix queue because of my fear that it might be emotionally devastating.  But I’m interested in climate change and I appreciate the merger of science and art.  James Balog is a photographer I’ve long admired and who is perhaps the most well-known animal photographer working today.  In Chasing Ice, we get to know him on a very personal level, accompanying him and his team on an Arctic journey of several years, photographing and recording the retreat of some of the biggest glaciers in the world.  When I make this statement about the retreat of the glaciers, it’s not propaganda or a political agenda.  It is a fact, and you can see it for yourself in Balog’s stunning time-lapse films.  Literally watch miles of the Columbia Glacier – a river of ice at least 126,000 years old – disappear before your eyes, and gape as an iceberg larger than Manhattan breaks off the Ilulissat glacier in Greenland and crashes into the sea.  Stay for the science and the photographs, and then do your own research – by which I don’t mean your news source (or mine).

Balog and his team – the Extreme Ice Survey (which in the documentary seems to be two incredibly resilient assistant photographers, but is for sure a much bigger posse) – travel to Alaska, Montana, Iceland, and Greenland to set up cameras in prime locations to record images of glaciers and calving sea ice.  From 2006 to 2009 they helicoptered, ice climbed, sled dogged and trekked their way into these unbelievably remote (and fricking cold) locations to place their cameras (and by “place their cameras” I mean anchor those bastards to rock ledges well enough to withstand everything Mother Nature might hurl…failing spectacularly quite often…we get to see Balog cry on camera at least once).  The result is both Art – the photographs are breathtaking (and they are portraits, really – of our Earth itself) – and Evidence.  Or a warning?

Just watch the documentary to see magnificent ice and our loss of it.  Ice – what Balog calls a “limitless universe of forms.”  So gorgeous, so massive, so deceptively permanent.  I’ll say that I didn’t need a soundtrack of elegaic piano music to help me realize that this is a planet we live on, and we are part of it – this incredible blue and green ecosystem, this sphere spinning in the universe.  The planet changes itself, but we also change it by what we do.  How utterly foolish for us to believe otherwise.  Whatever your reaction to the words “climate change” or “global warming” might be, this is a film that should be seen.  I’m glad I finally got around to it.

I’ve got a few ideas for my February documentary pick, but I’m absolutely open to suggestions.  Please send me your thoughts in the comments!

Read other Posts in my 2015 Documentary Watch Project

Photo from Unsplash

get reel

Happy New Year’s Eve, people!  

It’s that time when every website on the internets is banging out a “Best Of” list and yammering at you to make resolutions.  So while I’m still trying to wrap up my 2014 To Do list and write something coherent about my recent trip to New Orleans, I thought I would share some of my own favorite fun bits of the past year.  Have a safe and happy night!

Noon Pacific’s Space Jams  By far my favorite weekly treat is the music playlist that Clark Dinnison publishes every Monday at – yep – noon Pacific Standard Time.  Here’s a compilation of his picks for 2014’s best spaced out jams.

Jay Sizemore  Absolutely my new favorite poet.  I discovered his work after Rattle published his poem ‘how to remove a hazmat suit.’   It blew my mind.  Just go read it.

io9  Great gobs of geekiness, I am so glad I found this website.  Always something interesting for me here, and frequent contributor Charlie Jane Anders is now one of my favorite bloggers.

The Leftovers  I admit I haven’t watched the final episodes because I don’t have cable TV, but this HBO series about life in a small town post-Rapture was freakin’ badass.  So many unexpected twists and turns, so much to ponder, and also Carrie Coon.  I can’t wait to watch the finale.  Don’t tell me what happens.

Luna Station Quarterly  So happy to be part of this wonderful women’s speculative fiction website.  My first audiobook review comes out January 6th!

Maplecroft  My one-night stand read of the year!  Couldn’t put down this Cherie Priest novel, so I didn’t!  Read it in one day.

Why do I study Physics?  I love this short animated documentary by Xiangjun Shi – I re-watch it constantly, like a daily affirmation.

book reviews get reel grab bag mixtapes

This is the opening weekend for the film The Imitation Game, a biopic thriller about computer scientist Alan Turing and how he and the Bletchley Park team cracked the German Enigma machine and helped the Allies win World War II.  I learned of Alan Turing my first year in college, back in 1992. We discussed the Turing Test in my Psychology 101 class, and I was riveted by his marvelous idea for testing the humanness of artificial intelligence in such an elegant way.  No machine has ever passed the Turing Test – at least, not by a huge margin.   For now, we’re all still the only human humans we know.  Whatever that means.  All I know is I can’t ever contemplate robots and the singularity and intelligence without thinking about Alan Turing.  And I can’t think about Alan Turing without feeling sad, and wondering what good is our humanity, our languages, our love, when we can be so cruel, even to heroes like him.  Anyway I wrote a poem about the man back in 1992.  It’s not Wordsworth, but I thought I’d post it here in memorium.  Fangirling out big time for Alan Turing!

Chess Game

I’m calling out to you, Alan Turing –

When does creation begin?

I wake to consciousness

from angry, muddled dreams.

Where is darkness

when we turn on the lights?

I’m talking to something

beyond the wall,

asking questions which have human answers,

breaking the code

in a race to win – what?

What is it we are beating

at its own game?

This is the clicking of a keyboard I hear

and not a voice.

This is the alien rattle of Morse

across the wires of wartime.

And is this you, Alan?

More machine than man,

or more human than many?

In the mystical night,

my brain is lightning,

humming, electric, alive.

I travel unconfined, unharnessed.

There is no touring that I cannot test.

There is no off, only rest.

I find you, Alan,

midst love and wakefulness,

lamenting our destructions.


get reel

Let’s compare two revenge films that, at first perusal, couldn’t be more different.

John Wick‘s title character is a hired killer, the best in the biz: a cool, wealthy, consummate professional.  Compare him to Blue Ruin‘s Dwight: hangdog, homeless, and hapless.  Both are men of few words, though, and both have a single-minded purpose: vengeance.  [Beware spoilers to follow.]

John Wick, as it’s related in the film, is not just the boogeyman, but the man you send to kill the boogeyman.  Dwight, in comparison, is an average guy chasing his own terrifying boogeyman, someone who’s just been released from prison after serving a term for the murder of Dwight’s parents.   Dwight has been waiting years for revenge – he seems to have given up all other hope and any semblance of engagement in life; sporting a Duck Dynasty beard, he lives in his car and dumpster-dives for food.  John Wick, by contrast, retired from an apparently infamous career as a hitman when he met his beloved wife, but now her death from an unnamed illness serves to disconnect him from life, too.  Her posthumous gift to him of an adorable beagle puppy named Daisy seems to offer Wick a way back to the moral world.

But we’re watching films about revenge here.  The minute Dwight finds out his parents’ murderer has been released, his life gains dark meaning and purpose.  And when a cocky Russian mobster’s son and his goons break into Wick’s house, beat him senseless and kill Daisy, John Wick comes out of retirement.

The parallels between these two movies are fascinating.  John Wick’s car, a gorgeous gunmetal gray ’69 Mustang, is the impetous for everything awful that happens.  Compare it to Dwight’s rusted heap of a Pontiac Bonneville, the faded blue ruin of the title, pocked with bulletholes and just about Dwight’s only ‘valuable’ possession.  Both men lose their vehicles along the road to retribution.

Consider how these two gentlemen go about their pursuits.  How Dwight has to break into a house to take a shower and shave off his beachbum beard, how he steals a gun only to be unable to bust off its trigger lock, how he slumps in his stolen khakis.  John Wick, by contrast, breaks into his own house’s cement floor with a sledgehammer to unbury his cache of guns, grenades and hitman miscellany, then dresses himself to the GQ max in a smokin’ hot black suit and tie.  Somewhere in an attic there’s an aging portrait of Keanu Reeves, because he’s looking damn good at 50.

Yet because of Dwight’s incompetence and in spite of Wick’s skills, things go totally sideways for both of them.  Dwight does indeed find his target and makes a messy end of him with a fillet knife, but he’s forced to abandon the Pontiac at the bloody crime scene, and then the hunter becomes the hunted.  John Wick, on the other hand, is an urban killing machine who ends up needing all his skills to achieve payback.  His gunfights – and there are many – are like brutal ballet.  It seems that nothing will stop him – not an army of thugs, not a sexy female assassin, not running out of bullets.  Good thing Wick has connections: elite membership in a luxurious, gangsters-only hotel, a crew of discreet cleaners to mop up the bodies, a comrade in arms with a sniper rifle, and Ian McShane (enough said).  Dwight, by contrast, has a high school buddy with a gun rack and a compound in the woods.

I never thought either of these anti-heroes would survive, and I believe they were both ready to die.  You know the old adage: if you seek revenge, dig two graves.  Both men are injured badly in the course of events, but of course John has access to a private doctor, no questions asked, and Dwight fails in his attempt to stitch his own wound and ends up fainting in a hospital waiting room.  What stays with me – and why I bothered to put all this in writing – is that I can’t decide which movie was more violent, and which movie’s depiction of violence was the more justified.  John Wick is hands-down one of the most unflinchingly violent films I’ve ever seen.  I lost count of how many bad guys got shot in the head at close range, sometimes several in rapid succession.  It’s not the goriest film I’ve seen, though, but maybe that’s more unsettling because the majority of the deaths are so ruthlessly efficient and breathtakingly choreographed.

I asked myself repeatedly why I cared about John Wick’s fate.  He’s a merciless killer, but if I’ve got my facts straight he only kills bad guys, he refrains from killing a bad woman, and there are no innocent bystanders killed because of him.  Do I sympathize with him because he’s moral?  He’s…not.  Is it because he’s handsome and stylish?  He is.  Is it because the bad guys killed his sweet little dog?  Maybe yeah.

I asked myself why I cared about Dwight’s fate.  He’s tortured, pathetic, and inept, but he’s also sad and lost.  He ends up killing the wrong man and endangering his sister’s family.  Do I like him?  I think it’s more that I pity him.  Is he moral?  He…is.  Do I like him because he looks like he could use a hug?  Yeah.  Do I empathize with him because the bad guy killed his parents?  Not as much as I empathize with John Wick over the death of Daisy.  And wow…what does that mean?  I know what Daisy means to John, and I had to witness to the death of that innocent dog.  I don’t see the death of Dwight’s parents – I only see the sad ruin that remains: Dwight.

What it comes down to for me is that John Wick is entertainment – it’s a sleek thrill ride artfully composed – not surprisingly – by two stuntmen.  But Blue Ruin is as close to reality as fiction can get.  With its talented cast of unknowns and its Kickstarter budget, Blue Ruin is grim and unflinching and brilliant.  Maybe that’s why if I had to rewatch one of these films, I’d choose to watch John Wick again.  I don’t have the guts for Blue Ruin twice.

I keep wondering what might have happened if Dwight had simply hired John Wick.  But then, Dwight couldn’t afford John Wick.

photo credit: Shawn Hoke via photopin cc

get reel