Quick-Thoughts: Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman (2021)

Conceptually deviceful as a rendering on how a child may comprehend the all too serious; these curious experiments of imagination bring to life the impossible in time travel so that they may read between the lines, self-discovering their generational correlations. Minimalistic while still providing enough context. Embracive of its surrealism to a point where it feels solely natural. In other words, it definitely succeeds as the live-action Studio Ghibli Sciamma was going for. Cute!

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked, Céline Sciamma Ranked

“Petite Maman” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours (2002)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Marathon Part II of VI

“I feel like hitting someone.”

The opening credits drop… *mwah* 

It’s a rare case for cinematic realism to be depicted to such an anthropological and down-to-earth degree especially for a feature-length fiction as it is in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Blissfully Yours, serenely exhibiting many of our nurturing practices towards one another with its visibly affectionate scrutiny of this way of life for all therapeutic intents and purposes, sometimes though through its polar opposite also to substantiate the human species’ compound intellectual or emotional configuration, not to mention through our impulsive yet cleanly neediness for control over the environments we encounter as well. In context with the film’s romantics too, it’s always hard to ignore a narrative’s impression when it beholds a classic dichotomy between the old vs the young for us to woe at.

For a director who is building off of his feature-length directorial debut which expressed itself in the form of an experimental documentary, it’s not remotely surprising to see that its transition of a rather narrative / fictional follow-up still inhabits a concrete aura of the real world itself. It’s another piece where Weerasethakul shares with us glimpses of his culture in Thailand, howbeit this time just enough so to create a broader universal relatability to it based on the vague inclinations of its characters stemmed from perhaps their immigrant-based adversities or the business ethics that handle them. 

So great, great, great stuff. At the moment, I might be in love with its unparalleled simplicity.

Verdict: B+

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Ranked

“Blissfully Yours” is currently not available to stream on VOD.

Quick-Thoughts: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Objects at Noon (2000)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Marathon Part I of VI

“Don’t forget my KFC Chicken. Don’t forget.”

One far-out concept for an experimental documentary, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s feature-length directorial debut pieces together in a dense 90-minutes an elongated game of exquisite corpse where talking heads get to voice their own added on fictions that each reveal a little bit of human information regarding the subconsciously desired or simply observed diegetic life experiences that occupy the minds of the director’s hometown. Just a seed of a premise is set up to blossom from community into a fleshed-out fable marked up by the colliding storytelling comforts of its many people; their expansive culture unveiled from a new legend. Couldn’t make out anything particularly standout about Weerasethakul and first-time DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s execution of the non-staged footage, aside from the courteous sincerity it has towards its diverse palette of subjects, but they still successfully complement the project’s inherently fertile premise via some atmospherically engaging recreations of the many recorded ideas extracted across Thailand. All in all, a solid celebratory tribute to inspired fictional narrative by virtue of the open-ended deconstruction of it. 

Verdict: B

Apichatpong Weerasethakul Ranked

“Mysterious Objects at Noon” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

It felt so wrong watching this MCU movie in an empty theater. I didn’t laugh at any of the jokes this time because there wasn’t an enormous crowd around to convince me that any of the quips were remotely funny. Sociology.

A long, long, long time ago — 9 years to be precise, BUT… — a one-of-a-kind filmmaker by the name of Sam Raimi frivolously made what many believed to be his last contribution to feature-length cinema, prematurely sending his career off by the pothole of what many saw as a consequence of studio control, a damning scenario that could only make the director’s die-hard fans act as if an eternity had passed since then. At the hands of perhaps the most powerful franchise this century has endured yet, the auteur has been conjured back from a crypt for round three in the leading chair of some corporate blockbuster studio known for obstructively controlling their hired artists, as if this could alas be his strike-in to do what the outs of a Spider-Man capper and a prequel to the most beloved Hollywood classic couldn’t quite under such challenging moviemaking conditions. 

If you missed the iconic snap-zooms, tilt shots, schizophrenic soundbites, opacity layering, dual-purposed and rhythmic quick-cutting, camera-spins, rack-focusing, cartoony transitional graphics, etc., fear not because you get it all with the anti-commercial metal attitude that made Raimi’s blockbusters a vanguard to begin with. A couple horror sequences in particular put a big smile on my face — one involving a formerly snug abode, and another a carnage of familiar superhero faces that’ll put young children into a nightmare coma. Then again though, a parcel of the fear factor here feels simply like the director reestablishing what he’s already done before for the horror genre as he also committed in Drag Me to Hell (2009) – his returning Evil Dead mirror tricks and cameos especially exiling me into some serious nostalgic indulgence. Be that as it may, *occasionally* seeing such ruthlessness in the space of the MCU, a franchise that loves to astronomically compensate for every dark phenomena or stylistic stretch it introduces, was thirst-quenching, till it eventually departs of course via the unassailable studio prescription. Raimi has comparatively won with reuniting that grim trademark vision for which Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) tried to conserve under the counterintuitive sobriety of the family-friendly heads at Disney, but it plummets just as Sony’s infamously moderated Spider-Man 3 (2007) did when it comes to the congested narrative at stake.

Raimi and Michael Waldron’s revision of Disney’s MCU formula isn’t called a multiverse of madness for no reason: with a plot this convulsive, it’s hard not to feel as if pretty much every character arc comes off as unearned no matter the sector we find our heroes and villains beamed to. Conceptually all of these transformations are meaningful (though generic to the unruliest degree) but in execution they are ABSURDLY rushed, especially during its face-slap of a resolution. Thus, the second installment of Doctor Strange admittedly feels like its working off of a virtually unacceptable first draft script, but it also feels 99.9% shot by Sam Raimi — or at the very least by an actual human behind the camera — and its refreshing to see Marvel really push their PG-13 rating in the name of horror. God knows they need something gimmicky at this point in a franchise that’s been hanging by a thread since the inception of our global pandemic.

As if this coincidence was actually some social experiment in disguise though, there is another multiverse adventure competing (yet losing) concurrently in cinemas with this here franchise cash-cow that’s almost thematically identical to it, and in spite of its own questionable narrative spazzes, the project ends up being the one perpetrated with far more patience and care to those ideas. So just to let y’all know, Everything Everywhere All at Once is still in theaters!

Verdict: C

2022 Ranked, The Marvel Cinematic Universe Ranked, Sam Raimi Ranked

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will be playing in theaters May 6th.

Quick-Thoughts: Thrilling Bloody Sword (1981)

Screened at The Alamo Drafthouse New Mission

Four things…

1) This is pretty blissfully kooky in regards to its so-bad-it’s-good fantasy logic which is applied towards almost everything such as a plot that’ll move on any immediate whisk-up of a far-out solution, and it admirably tries so hard to be within the confines of limited resources, but maybe not to the extent its been made out as. This underplays Grimm’s renowned story — there probably just to sell — in spite of dedicating then way too much time to its preliminary beats, and feels as, if anything, its holding the film back from reaching a zanier potential that could rather overplay all parts to really reinterpret this tale and endorse a strong gonzo tone than to only green-light every plausible world-building lore idea for some cult-worthy spectacle, but perhaps I’m too overstimulated by Gen-Z mashup culture to be that impressed from its hybridizing. *this coming out the same year as the nuttier The Evil Dead (1981) is a hell of a coincidence*

2) I didn’t necessarily laugh a whole lot, but the bear costume, speedo rubber swimming fins, and that entire magic mountain action sequence in general had me flabbergasted to the point where I definitely knew I was getting my money’s worth. 

3) Why is everybody so sexy in this? Like, most of the main cast are up to the goofiest shenanigans ever and all I can think about is how hot they look doing it. Taiwanese cinema. 

4) The Princess (our main character *at first*) is completely wasted in this despite being set up with a truly bats**t crazy origin story that you would think exists to imply something and not just to be there as the opening incident. A boring (in a non-boring universe) damsel in distress she shall be!

Verdict: C+

“Thrilling Bloody Sword” is currently not available to stream on VOD.

Quick-Thoughts: Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Kind of impossible not to view Drag Me to Hell as anything short of f**king adorable when its basically an Evil Dead movie trapped in an early 2000s romcom about yuppie lifestyle. It doesn’t exactly pan out to be a remotely good combo, but I’m just joyous something as ridiculous as this actually exists — a certified Sam Raimi moment lol. Nothing quite comes close to topping the first act’s kinetic parking garage sequence, but I was never bored onward as Raimi continued to do everything in his power to make you side with our lead — apart from a socially despicable sacrifice. Other than that, beyond a few exemplars of build-up and the presentation / design of The Devil itself, which is just sublime and used conservatively for better, the horror camp visuals are mostly inferior to what we’ve seen from Raimi before. The romantic subplot is somewhat too twee, furthermore incorporating itself into much of the script’s cheap and illogical plot — the $10,000 payment and oops the wrong envelope! — but the reasonable counterargument here is that the film isn’t trying to be anything but a leisured escalation of simple-minded drama. Moreover, it’s admittedly satisfying to see Raimi return back to his supernatural roots, even if the strategy to rejuvenate them is just barely in arms reach of succeeding. 

Verdict: C+

Sam Raimi Ranked

“Drag Me to Hell” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan (1998)

A little disappointed by how Sam Raimi’s entry into channeling his longtime pals’ (The Coen Brothers’) wavelength of moral crime thriller storytelling lacks about any of that arresting quirk and diverse nuance that the duo has, or maybe even just some prominent evolution in Raimi’s own style given the opportunity to work with a new genre. A Simple Plan genuinely appears as if it could’ve been directed by any studio stand-in with its restrained seriousness for objectivity, and a familiar gist where the conflict grows progressively worse and worse despite nobody trying to put a stop to it, making its point simply through the spiral of the commoner’s relentlessness for the American dream, but you know, you can’t knock a fella for trying something new in regards to what’s typically up his alleyway, especially when the attempt is still pretty decent overall thanks to its compelling character-writing. 

Nonetheless, you have to admit, especially since this arrived two years after Fargo (1996), it’s hard to help yourself from thinking of its famous “there’s more to life than a little money, ya know?” quote next to every added situation Scott B. Smith piles. Yet, this kind of fable formula reconstruction from a sense of comparable realism that can constantly remind you it’s feeding a message like, in this case, something against perseverance for a better life while in the outskirts of defying law and interpersonal morality will still probably strike a core with most audiences as did Fargo.

Paxton and Thornton’s characters and relationship are just excellently communicated and unrolled. The whole dichotomy of the intellectual and stable brother who, because of so, can effortlessly lean into his sociopathic and egotistical tendencies when needed, to the less bright and successful brother that, because of so, can effortlessly lean into his empathetic tendencies for others through guilt and reflection, ultimately carries this movie. The whole thing is a smidge too Of Mice and Men (1937) inspired for anyone to not be regularly collating it to that, but for what it’s worth, it does a good job repositioning the classic tale into a modern-day lower / middle class small town community which we can, under those circumstances, relate to at a slightly deeper level. There’s quite a vile manipulation cycle happening as well, mainly between both Hank and Sarah (mutually) + Hank and Jacob (disproportionately) that intensifies your outlook on them. You really are stepping into dangerous waters learning to be like somebody that mostly everybody else doesn’t have the opportunity to be, no matter what that “innocently” starts out as. 

Verdict: B-

Sam Raimi Ranked

“A Simple Plan” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Sam Raimi’s Darkman (1990)

Peyton literally invented in-person catfishing.

Coming in the midst between the releases of his final two Evil Dead pictures, Darkman is Sam Raimi’s initiation into the blockbuster action scene that, alongside Tim Burton’s Batmans, is hard not to look back at today as nothing short of a precursor to the melodramatic storytelling of early 2000s comic-book movies. There’s a blender of an origin story to it as well that sort of heightens my claim: it feels less so guided by your justice-determined “anti-hero” venture and more so by a rather temperamental romantic “anti-monster” venture; the discombobulated choice makes sense all too well knowing Raimi’s demeanor for unhinged campy horror execution, which is performed here to rightfully convey this character’s evolving state of mind through the director’s usual visually creative intensity that, however, comes off as quite self-serious this time around, introducing us to the kind of narratives he’d put together later on. With no nervous system attached to this physically compromised lover — our main character —, the distraction of revenge and hope is something that guides this metaphorical emotional bomb into feeling like he used to while furthermore numbing to terms with the functionality of his new complexion and the state of reality that it has to offer. 

Yet, it’s sort of a shame to see a genre pairing and therefore inventive film use dated black-and-white extremes to distinguish realized heroes with mindlessly villainy (but at least enjoyably quirky) villains, where essentially Darkman, like a lightened-down version of Norman Osborn / Otto Octavius becoming Green Goblin / Doc Ock, is able to stand morally higher next to corporate power which is of course the bigger evil — a dominant cliché of the 80s action blockbuster now idly carried into its subsequent decade. This may all be in the name of cheese, but it isn’t particularly memorable next to the weightier scheme of what the Darkman character himself has to offer despite them both giving into familiarities; one at least delectably mixes them in the spirit of a mad-scientist’s rage. In hindsight of the future of Raimi’s filmography though, it is nice to see the inceptions for what he would later carry on or even improve upon in the future: the doppelgänging seems like preparation for enlivening Evil Ash from Army of Darkness (1992). Also, boyishly toying around with villains, saving a damsel in distress who’s falling down a fifty-story building, not to mention swinging from a helicopter on a rope around a city crashing into buildings and dodging cars has “Spider-Man (2002) audition tape” written all over it.

Verdict: B-

Sam Raimi Ranked

“Darkman” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on The Grudge 1 and 2 (2002-2003)

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)

If this third entry proves anything, it’s that Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on material clearly works best with an extremely low-budget and cryptic atmosphere, not with a slightly more commercial appearance and a louder clarification of what’s going on, given that the scares sort of primarily function best at their most irrational. 

Ju-on: The Grudge is no Ju-on: The Curse (2000), but it is *faintly* better than their middle partner Ju-on: The Curse 2 (2000). The longer sequences harken back to the original Curse’s tense formula, but at times, harken too much to a point of self-plagiarism like the film’s finale which is essentially a nod back to the teacher story from The Curse. This ending also subsequently spells-out even further the context at hand in an uninspired flashback montage, as if the opening of the movie’s flashback didn’t “spoil” us with enough clarification already. Conclusively, The Grudge is literally just an easier to comprehend version of The Curse, but that counteractively removes some of the tempting mystery for which made that movie captivating to begin with. This third entry is, to my surprise, not even remotely as unhinged or graphic as the first one too. 

Nonetheless, I do think The Grudge has a couple excellent scares, some almost up to par with the best of The Curse. The use of television static works, especially in its last implication where the screen goes entirely black and we get that jolting reveal. The artificial look of the new shadow figures for the corpses make the environments all the more unearthly and therefore uncomfortable for us as well — welcome to Hell! The entire apartment building sequence with Misaki Ito is definitely a top-tier progression in the franchise. But then again, a lot of scares here are just using pre-established creepy traits that we already know of like the grumbling or the pale faces, deteriorating their effect movie by movie. Also, I get that the cat sounds in this franchise can sometimes be off-putting, sure, but the entire presence of cats? Never. Quite frankly the opposite.

Verdict: C

Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2003)

Yo, ghouls always be eventually learning how to foreshadow and therefore up the quality of their scares; that’s beautiful.

Without a doubt, this the most straightforward Ju-on entry until for some reason the final twenty minutes just decide to go full “let’s give the audience a sudden Enter the Void (2009) mild brain-f**k” mode and earn itself as the most interesting segment from it all. Nonetheless, for a majority of The Grudge 2, its focus is basically on a single streamline, making it the slowest paced of the films so far, especially since it’s still only working off of the already established curse narrative being introduced to new victims, and making the hallmark use of character chapters seem pointless this time around.

Although, it does appear to be that this fourth Ju-on is Takashi Shimizu’s New Nightmare (1994) attempt given the almost meta settings of horror movie productions, and perhaps also his Rosemary’s Baby (1968) attempt given the birth elements for which he delegates as central to the narrative, so in a way, part of me appreciates how this sequel administers already known cinematic horror concepts yet unknown concepts to the franchise into this film more so than the previous two sequels did — though I guess it reveals Shimizu’s desperation to keep things fresh also. Howbeit, the scares which were the prime selling points of those other sequels are clearly lacking here.

The whole “something’s there and then it’s not” scare tactic has clearly begun to wear off on me, and it’s particularly over-utilized in this movie. I must admit though, the imagery of the hair-wall with Kayako’s face on it is absurdly haunting, but I can’t think of anything else that latched onto my memory that well in terms of keeping me up at night, which blows cause The Curse (2000) had like at least ten of those. 

Lastly, why does Shimizu introducing ectoplasm to the rules of the franchise low-key feel like him warming up for his American remake? So goofy.

Verdict: C-

“Ju-on: The Grudge” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime and “Ju-on: The Grudge 2” is now available to stream on Tubi.

Quick-Thoughts: Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on The Curse 1 and 2 (2000)

Ju-on: The Curse

Really need to stop watching these types of movies after midnight. 

The main saving grace of Ju-on: The Curse — a straight-to-video J-horror that started a franchise crave better known by the title of “The Grudge” — lies within its charming yet moreover tantalizing and subsequently unnerving structure of vignettes. The warped chronology of six interrelated events is a resourceful reparation for the low-budget and simplistic construction of each sequence that renders them, and it secondarily italicizes the terror that each victim had to undergo while making the audience more and more hopelessly aware, as the time-irrelevant vignettes continue to stack, of this sheerly doomed nature that comes with anyone who runs into the curse. 

Though, not to completely disregard the individual sequences’ modesty, a decent quota of their choices had me strung for those very reasons: the straightforward grumbling noises, two “where’d the lights go?”s, the tape-audio lagging, a not-so-cutesy diary find, the telephone booth of deranged mutilation, a talk with spirit mommy, a jaw-dropping face reveal on the series’ iconic stairway, and perhaps one of the best “just lurking in the corner” shots I’ve ever seen. 

And WOAH; Chiaki Kuriyama???

Verdict: B

Ju-on: The Curse 2

The concept of The Grudge is so petrifying just by its own rules: the idea that you’re screwed so long as you see someone with it, removing your entire chance of survival no matter what you do. It warranted the futile and therefore nightmarish sensibilities of the first movie. Ju-on: The Curse 2 is clearly trying to reapply that magic, but unfortunately not to a T. 

For one, it wipes the warped chronology that made the original so mysterious. There are still some creepy moments though regardless, from a gnarly shot that contrasts a black-and-white space against a colored one to when the mother character has a complete personality 180 — repeated actions also make me squirm; for the love of God please stop laughing and bowing! Yet, there are also some moments here that are clearly trying too hard to regurgitate the impactful send-off that the first Curse gave us, like its zombie-inspired climax. 

The ending of the original is already fitting enough because it implied to the audience that The Grudge will only continue, so the existence of this second Curse — to show such even further by bouncing right off of the ending’s event — is pretty much arbitrary, but you know, gotta have a sequel! Plus, this was apparently shot back-to-back with the original, so you also gotta use that mere forty-six minutes of extra footage to somehow make another feature-length for bank! 

Lastly, is the final scene intentionally supposed to be comedic? Perhaps even quirky? Cute.

Verdict: C

“Ju-on: The Curse” and “Ju-on: The Curse 2” are currently not available to stream on VOD.