This Dinner Party Dishes the EVIL! “Happy Times” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Digital Screener)

A small, but affluent, Los Angeles Jewish community dine together at a Hollywood mansion in celebration of the Shabbat.  Mixed feelings about each other compounded with mixed drinks stir the emotions of heated topics, including business ventures, religious attitudes, social statuses, marital qualms, and hidden desires.  Lines are being drawn and sides are being taken when one thing leads to another and undisclosed secrets become evident in a clash of suburban violence that pits friend versus friend, colleague versus colleague, and husband versus wife to the death. 

Director Michael Mayer reminds us that you should never mix business with pleasure with a keep your friends close, but your enemies closer black comedy entitled “Happy Times.”  The brawl of survival centered around Israel immigrants living in the U.S. is the second written and directed film from Mayer, following polar oppositely against another Israel themed, 2012 picture, “Out in the Dark,” a gay drama in the backdrop of the two rival and patriarchal sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The only conflict in this 2019 thriller-com is of the gravely plentiful and concentrated kind inside a L.A. mansion turned battle arena that sees about as much confrontation as the war-torn Gaza strip.  Co-written with Guy Ayal, “Happy Times” is a collaboration produced by Erri De Luca and Paola Porrini Bisson of OH!PEN and, the Israeli born, Gabrielle and Tomer Almagor’s Urban Tales Productions in association with Michael Mayer’s own company, M7200 Productions.

The Israel-nationality cast can be an immersive experience and a sign of good faith casting from the filmmakers as well as a show of open diversity from the production studios that casting Hebrew speaking, Israel background actors implies a serious interest and respect embroidered into the project. Mayer, born in Haifa, Israel himself, is a breath of a fresh air of non-appropriation in a time where whitewashing can still be prevalent in the movie industry. Israel born actresses Shani Atias, Liraz Chamami, and Iris Bahr command the screen not only as Israeli women in lead roles, but as different personas that interact and keep lively the one night, single dinner party narrative. Chamani especially dazzles in the details as the dinner hosting socialite wife and mother, Sigal, who exacts an assertive Jewish woman with a cooped up attitude and a knack for handling her own while also worried about her social status, an extravagant exhibition of a screen trope that you might experience on shows like “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” or movies like “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” enacted on point when she’s handing a frightened dinner guest, outside their Jewish circle and fleeing from the scene, tin foil wrapped leftovers with a wide menacingly unsure smile, while holding a medieval crossbow to go frag another party guest, in the plain view driveway. The wives’ counterparts are equally as Jewish and equally as prominent in the fold of the affair with Ido Mor as a unscrupulous businessman co-hosting the dinner, Guy Adler as a construction manager with money problems, and Alon Pdut as an unhappily married Ph.D engineer bothered by his fellow dinner guests’ lack of education and tact. In all, most of the characters are undilutedly snobbish with the exception of Sigal’s struggling actor cousin, Michael, played by Michael Aloni, whose magnified Hollywood liberalism deconstructs the Hebrew bible as racist and inaccurate among other colorful adjectives and becomes the catalyst that begins all hell breaking loose. Stéfi Celma, Mike Burstyn, Daniel Lavid, and Sophie Santi become the filament around the principle leads that strengthen the kill or be killed melee in “Happy Times.”

As if dinner parties weren’t already stressful enough, having to make trivial small talk, possibly acquaint or re-acquaint with unaccustomed faces, or pretend to enjoy the slop being served as food, “Happy Times” turns the internally exasperating dinner party debacle on its head with guests and hosts who are just too terribly comfortable with each other as volatile personalities explode like little active volcanos plumed to reach every corner of the house in a deadly playground for unstable, on-edge adults spewing their strident emotions and Mayer is able to maintain a layered pace with a narrative that’s snowballing quickly.  Where “Happy Times” struggles is the redline occurrences that trigger things to go very badly.  Though hardly trivial episodes between the guests, involving innocent infidelity affections or a slight practical joke stretched beyond devastating consequences, the harried moments afterwards diverge into a blown out result while more nefarious consequential revelations are held back, in after the fact chaos, and these differently graded spurs seem unbalanced, if not flip-flopped, in the story.  The characters themselves adequately course into being delightfully insane and as about as relatable as the internal frustration against our friendly-façade enemies, but there’s a part of me that personally wanted more development.  Military vet Avner, for example, exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the horror sounds of war play in his head when under stress.  As he stares into oblivion when the rage fills into his face, especially by a nagging, browbeating wife who doesn’t seem to be aware of his condition, the subconscious killing-machine overcomes the mild-manner tech engineer.  There’s also Yossi’s opaque tax evasion scheme, Michael’s thespian struggles, and Mati, the late arriving Rabbi, who pockets money on the side from Yossi and Sigal that factor into an erratic equation that’s a mind field surprise every step of the way.

“Happy Times” relishes in unpredictable violence as a round table of feast or famine hatred in this dog-eat-dog thriller coming to you from the Philadelphia based distributor, Artsploitation Films. Slated for a February 9th, 2021 release, the unrated film will be presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, in a gorgeously rich color of a modest, natural color scheme. Kazakhstani cinematographer, Ziv Berkovich, distills a solid, yet uninspiring, photography of mostly still cam mixed with subtle steady cam, rooting firmly to particular rooms without capturing the flow of a big mansion, reducing much of the in clover luxuries of the hosts. The Hebrew, English and some Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mix offers well balanced layers of audio tracks with dialogue clarity and establishing good range with depth not really set up because of the close up or medium shot frames. Guy Aya;’s score offers a good blend of a violin-screeching from a murder mystery dinner theater with the inklings of traditional Israel folk sprinkled in to create an anxiety riddled brew of trouble. There were no bonus material included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The best of times and the worst of times doesn’t compare to the bloodletting of “Happy Times” in a wildly amusing dark comedy with every impulsive-driven and tension-wrought scene chockfull with bated breath.

Pre-order “Happy Times” on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazom.com (Click the poster)

Sit Back. Relax. And Wank Off to EVIL’s “Live Feed” reviewed! (Unearthed Films / Blu-ray)

While on vacation in China, five friends traverse the local festivities and drinking holes, relaxing in the surroundings of an alien culture of their getaway destination, but when one of them accidently bumps into a depraved Chinese Triad boss, they believe to have nearly escaped a localized international incident with the help of a Japanese vacationer who seems to know quite a bit about this particular Triad boss.  To blow off steam, and to blow off some loads, the friends patron the Venus Theater, a sleazy porno theater offering 1-hour couples VIP rooms.  Their short-lived, and short-comings, visit turns into a terrifying nightmare of broadcasted kill rooms as they find themselves trapped inside the theater owned by the Triad boss for his personal snuff cinema experience and fine dining of cannibal cuisine.  Fried dong and balls are 100% MSG free. 

With a Ryan Nicholson directed film, you never know just what to expect.  From our reviews of the Vancouver native’s work, his teen slasher “Famine” was an angsty disappointment, his destitute slaughterhouse “Collar” collided technical gaffes with sordid satisfaction, and his most renowned direction on the bowling-themed retro-slasher, “Gutterballs” displayed a primal brilliance that rolled one hell of a strike down the lanes of indie filmmaking, but the late, great gore hound filmmaker always lit up our screens with a single reoccurring theme – flashes of red.  Lots and lots of red blood that is!  The blood geysers and gushes in heaps in Nicholson’s 2006 release, the written and directed, “Live Feed” that touts SOV violence in an arcane snuff style.  Co-written with his father, Roy Nicholson (“It Waits”), the self-taught, special effects prodigy bursts onto the full length feature scene with an introductory exploitation and survival horror full of ambition, insane effects, and a narrative bred specifically for fountaining blood.  Self-funded under Nicholson’s Plotdigger Films, the ”Live Feed” legacy continues to output interest in the gore and snuff subcategories with updated home video distributed releases throughout the years, keeping the resourceful, twisted humor filmmaker alive and well in our hearts and collections. 

The story revolves around five friends, or more intimately, the hapless stars of a snuff theater production, who are not the most chaste or morally concerned individuals finding themselves center stage because of their wanton whims and uninhibited fortes.  Out of the touristy Americans in a given the impression of being a strange and sordid foreign land, one of them quickly becomes established as the primary beacon of hope as an unassertive wiser in Emily played by Taayla Markell in her first lead performance.  Though their long history makes for easy persuasion into participating, from a distance, in their lewd behaviors, Emily’s hemmed in around familiar perversities derived from her good friends and even her finance.  Mike, a muscular, drug-fueled blowhard develops his crass charisma from “Stan Helsing’s” Lee Tichon, Mike’s current and former girlfriends, Sarah and Linda, in tinge of tattered relationships by Caroline Chojnacki and Ashley Schappert, and Darren, Emily’s douchebag, philandering fiancé played by “Skew’s” Rob Scattergood, lead Emily astray from her own self-preserving inner voice when their arrogance and laxed attitudes place them in hot water with a sadistic Triad Boss.  Stephen Chang fills in the gangster roll with a plastic energy that’s over-the-top and absurd just like the two women who hang off each side of his arm in hackneyed fashion, offering very little to outshine as a sadistic megalomaniac.  Luckily for the out-of-towners who are soon-to-be-goners, they coincidently meet the conversant Miles Nakamura (“Mortal Kombat: Legacy’s” Kevan Ohtski) who round houses his way through a torrent of bad guys to save his newfound American friends, but for what reason goes over our heads other than the potential guilt of knowing he left them to their demise.  Greg Chan, Mike Bennett, Ted Friend, Colin Foo and introducing boner-fide stripper, Charlene McCulloch, with an in your face pole dance rounding out the cast.   

Whether in a stroke of good luck or an ill-timely misfortune, Eli Roth’s highly popular and profitable “Hostel” was released a year earlier in 2005 and while Nicholson’s surely cantered behind that gore porn locomotive in the early 2000’s that sauntered a path for many filmmakers to make unbridled torture and tits productions in the wake, “Hostel” undoubtedly provided some hinderance by scraping some of the shock value from off the sticky theater venue floors of “Live Feed.”  The characters were also nothing to write home about, or in this case, to write highly about, as the circumstances that churn the dynamics amongst their closed circle friendship don’t dissolve until well onto the cusp of being dismembered and thus becoming a moot investable or relatable venture that was, in a way, still crawling for the finish line with spotty payments on Darren and Emily’s acute about-face relationship, the only turbulent character context that saw contentious action.  Yet, there is wonder why “Live Feed” even attempts to brittle or outright break the bonds between friends and lovers in a film that’s all about the blood, about the blood, no trouble, as I channel my Megan Trainor phrases that probably sounds better in my head than in my review.   Unless Emily and Darren’s woes play later into the story, as a point of significant break from the other or in a glimmer of salvaging something between them, the purpose is purposeless and the blood should pool together the entire snuff narrative without an emotional hiccup.  Speaking of blood, the effects between Jason Ward (“American Mary”) and Ryan Nicholson couldn’t have been better executed with a pliable, tangible, and free from visual imagery arsenal at their fingertips with prosthetics upon prosthetics of grisly skirmish matter.

“Live Feed” has it all:  cannibalism, decapitations, sex, bondage, medieval torture, kung fu, snakes, pole dancing, barbecued penis, sword play, a “Big Trouble in Little China” old man Lo-Pan lookalike, and gallons of spattering blood.  All of the above now arrives uncut and uncensored onto an Unearthed Films Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release.  The region A BD50 presents the transfer in a widescreen, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, enclosed with various formatted styles from the poor resolution of SOV to a full-bodied and unstrained digital playback lit up with vibrant neon lightening by director of photography, Sasha Popove, to create an illuminating florescent color splay of a universal Asian urban district.  The sundry of styles can be weighty on the sequences that challenge what should be natural segues into the next scene, but the format choices, from mostly handheld vantage points, interrupt the flow with a nonsensical fluidity.  Unearthed Films amassed a legacy-stamping amount of extra content with a commentary with Ryan Nicholson and cast, a making-of segment entitled “Behind the Blood” which is geared toward being a tell-all on how they spun and produced “Live Feed’s” fruition, a return to the Venus Theater location with a low-key walkthrough of scene locations and you get a little X-rated show during a live project run, deleted scenes, alternate scenes and ending, the video feed footage, photo gallery, trailers, and a short film entitled “Womb Service” of the softcore feature playing background of the feature story. There’s also an “Adult version” of “Live Feed” in the bonus material that includes the original runtime feature but with edited in hardcore footage; however, personally, did not notice any sultry inserts. Maybe they’re brief and missable…? In the experience unravelling Ryan Nicholson’s work, “Live Feed” is the filmmaker’s second best movie with wholehearted intention to jazz it up with as much blood and exploitation as possible and his loss, as a person and an exorable filmmaker with room for ghoulish growth we’ll never experience, stings to this day.

“Live Feed” blu-ray now on sale at Amazon.com. Click the cover to go to Amazon.

Chronicling the Cannibalistic, Necrophilism EVILs of a Serial Killer is for Adult Eyes Only! “LoveDump” reviewed! (A Baroque House / Digital Screener)

July, 2003 – a hollow-hearted serial killer, Denise Holmes, moves into a motel room of a populated metropolis of the West Coast.  Journaling every perverse and murder-lust desire in a diary, the unspeakable acts of sex and death blend together as one as the urge to kill grows bolder, leaving a trail of gore in the wake.  Paranoia begins to sink in after the last execution of an innocent victim and desecrating their bloodied, decapitated head in an inerasable moment from the mind. What you’re about to hear are the audio recordings of Denise Holmes’ diary inserts, read by Detective Jamie Reams whose giving a tactile voice to a wraith-like monster.

Over the years, the term Horror has been exploitatively glamourized for capital, trendsetting and bedazzled with glitzy gems of tamed teenager torment that sold the strung up, struck down, and sliced-and-diced adolescent carnage-fodder into each and every way the human brain can conceive with only a tweak of difference adorned with each ornate kill. Horror has also become garish with gorgeous women for the gratuitous donation of bare skin for the camera and the audiences to entice and gawk at the beauty in death. I’m not going to lie, I eat every millisecond of film of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to horror, and, truthfully, horror has been making a strong stance in the last couple of years and I’ve been embracing the subtle tingling of mind game thrillers to the overtly ostentatious gore-soaked slaughterhouses of a genre with the broadest spectrum known to the cinematic universe. The filmmaker under the alias of SamHel pushes our tolerance for extreme content to the breaking point with the written-and-directed 2020 adult-fetish exploitation, “LoveDump,” an independent film from the USA under the production company, A Baroque House, that set out to pay homage to the graphic adult and fetish horror films of 1990s Japan.

The 33-minute short film only stars two performers in non-speaking, purely physical roles. First up, Wolvie Ironbear, an intersex non-binary adult content pansexual specializing in gothic and kink fetishisms, depicts the notorious necrophiliac serial killer, Denise Holmes, and Apricot Pitts, an unshaven fetishist whose also in the adult content creator realm, as a hapless prostitute who becomes a slayed statistic of sadism lured in by Holmes to greedily satisfy the nagging ghastly degeneracies. Most of the runtime runs with Ironbear licking at the chops, contemplating the next libidinous victim. Thick in the air is the sordidness moisture of solo self-gratification with unorthodox sex toys: a pig’s head, human blood, and other interesting, socially ignoble objects not fit to describe without dismantling in spoiler territory. Ironbear has to be a killer and a pretender, playing into a pretense that is a wolf in a sheep’s kinky-gimp clothing when Pitt’s prostitute steps into the motel room. Together, Pitts and Ironbear are electric, sexy, and give a damn good X-rated show of lust and macabre that turns the fever of carnality into a gruesome display of monomania participation.

“LoveDump” is not an attractive title, but suitable for unattractive content of desecrating the dead to the likes of Jörg Buttgereit’s “Nekromantik” and Marian Dora’s “Cannibal” while striving to be akin to Japan’s extreme horror like “Splatter: Naked Blood” or the notoriously sought after Guinea Pig films. “LoveDump” has an outrush of a snuff film that emanates a deep, dark secret club with elite memberships under pseudonym-ship in the producer and production departments. The makeup and special effects prompt disconcert of an upholding quality for an indie picture and, so much so, the affect of the human soul skin-crawlingly good that we can’t find ourselves looking away when the urge to be squeamish is strong. SamHel’s film digs niche graves that not everyone will have the courage enough to step into by choice. For myself, “LoveDump” is purely curious voyeurism, ingesting and digesting the film as an informational vessel of visceral paraphilias and without a solid plot to chew on, “LoveDump” is a straightforward stitch in time gorging more on graphic imagery than story and that is where the A Baroque House flick loses me to an extent.

Don’t expect palsied love-stricken hearts to be oozing with jubilee affections; instead, expect a romantic bloodbath of narcissism in a solo courtship like none other in SamHel’s ultra-gory “LoveDump” on a limited edition DVD and Blu-ray from A Baroque House. The camera work by the monikered Excessive Menace renders a SOV resemblance from the 90’s with a lot of unsteady handheld shooting as well as adjusting the clarity of focus, but the frames do flicker noticeably which can be a minor nuisance. Almost all the sex and gore scenes are in an extreme closeup the gives you an extreme eye feel for the commingling faux blood and real semen. One of my only gripes is with the angles in the intercourse with Apricot Pitts that didn’t translate over well without the proper focus and lighting to be as a graphic as possible. Since provided with a digital screener and the screener provided is a rough cut of the short film, there were no bonus material included, if there were any. The limited edition physical packaged Blu-ray will include the full HD uncut version of the film, a still gallery, a behind the scene making of, and trailer. I assume the LE DVD contains the same features, but are not specified. Be warned! “LoveDump” is not teeny-bopping horror filmed for any Joe Schmo to casually sit down to Netflix and chill with their partner, unless they’re into switch BDSM with an ichor fetish and, in that case, “LoveDump’s” an avant-garde aphrodisiac bred out of extreme and unwavering compulsions.

A Major Book Deal Isn’t Worth This EVIL. “Writer’s Block” reviewed! (Gravitas Ventures / Digital Screener)

Skip Larson has become a one hit wonder in the literary field.  The aftermath of his initial work, a best seller success, has never again been duplicated as Larson’s wretched and dispassionate heart and mind hit an unscalable writer’s block that can’t afford to pay the ever mounting bills.  When a stranger approaches him at one of his dismal book signings, an opportunity presents itself to meet serial best-selling novelist, Chester Everett McGraw, at his private ranch where Larson has to decide whether to sign McGraw’s rigorously partisan and severe contract for wealth, prestige, and a chance to co-author McGraw’s next big novel after being cut off from the outside world for six months or walk away from everything without penalty and return to his mundane life struggle.  Larson agrees to McGraw’s extreme terms and begins working chapter after chapter on McGraw’s next literary masterpiece, but as the days turn to weeks and each draft is ridiculed and critically trashed, an irritated Larson itches to leave but the snake-tongued McGraw, his brutish bodyguard, and even the beautiful maid, who has suddenly taken a liken to him, keep tortuously motivating him back to novel drawing board whether he likes it or not. 

Putting pen to paperwork with a looming deadline on the horizon is already stressfully hair pulling, but when the cold steel of a gun muzzle is pressed against your sweaty temple, the pressure grows tenfold to get the creative juices flowing before the contract is up in Jeff Kerr and Ray Spivey’s co-written and directed 2019 exploitation thriller, “Writer’s Block.”  The independent feature is the second collaborated project between Kerr and Spivey following their 2016 documentary, “The Last of the Moonlight Towers,” about the obsolete street illumination system, the last of its kind, of electric light towers in Austin, Texas.  Continuing the trend of holding their filmmaking shop in their home state but not exploring non-fictional antiquated monolithic engineering marvels, the directing duo concentrate their Texas-based shot film toward being a cinematic turn-pager saturated with perfidious suspicion and crackpot characters that keep the road toward a clandestine endgame alluring and mysterious, unfolding in a similar regard to that of its general context of an exceedingly multifarious murder mystery novel.  Kerr and Spivey’s Sharp Town Productions serve as the attached production company.

Kerr and Spivey shop locally when choosing their downtrodden literary hero, Skip Larson, plagued with a wretched past and the desirable callings of the bottle.  The filmmakers settle on “Fear the Walking Dead’s” Craig Nigh who can sell smartass with the best of them and be as tough as nails when push comes to shove.  On paper, Larson’s a forlorn gambler risking his chance at life by accepting a seemingly glamorous, one-in-a-life, game-changing deal by a fellow writer he admires, but with a number of fishy, tall-tail signs of deception and corruption by McGraw and his goon, Digger, Larson can come off naïve, especially when he sticks around still after his free will fractures under physical violence and threatened to be shot.  The oppressive McGraw obviously has an ace up his sleeve in his proposed partnership with Larson and, never once, feels sincere in building Larson’s library with his dreams.  I found Mike Gassaway’s performance as McGraw to be one-note.  “The Next Kill” Gassaway tussles with sly intentions of a manipulative best-seller author, devolving into an unintentional weaker ranch obstacle that dwindles down McGraw to be more of a façade behind the true game being played against an unwary Larson.  Though McGraw as the brains, the cowboy hat wearing former oil rig worker, Digger, provided much of the muscle whose anxious temperament kept him from seeing the final stages of McGraw’s malevolent game.  Chris Warner finally lands a principle role that isn’t a short lived bit part that’s labeled Flatbed Driver or Prison Guard.  Instead, Digger Haskell seems like a teddy bear good old boy that Warner can inherently step into without having to get lost in a new persona and Warner fleshes out Digger’s hasty disdain in how the slow progression keeps him for enjoying what he loves to do best – being a hired goon – but the character rarely established a definitive connection of servitude toward McGraw other than the notable writer taking the oil rig injured man under his wing, causing some unresolved character development.  Cataline is perhaps the most underwhelming character as the immigrant house cleaner who falls in love with Skip Larson.  Played by Jeannie Carter-Cruz (“Sasquatch!  Curse of the Tree Guardian”), Catalina bashfully wills herself around the house, not really cleaning much in the audiences scope of her profession, and becomes discreetly entangled with the struggle writer for unknown reasons she herself couldn’t explain, leaving her, and Carter-Cruz, exposed in an under-seasoned character course. Katusha Robert, Avery Lewis, and Natasha Buffington rounds out of the cast.

“Writer’s Block” shoves an easily relatable theme of success never comes easy right into audiences’ laps as Skip Larson’s humiliation exhibits as much through literary famed Chester McGraw’s browbeating tactics ranging from verbal assaults to unwanted sexual persuasions. Not by McGraw. That would be gross. Yet, in essence, the actual frustration condition of writer’s block for an author in any facet is akin to the sensation of conquering in what seems the impossible. Once Skip Larson tips the odds into his favor, the woebegone writer’s line graph to success skyrockets off the chart after a bit of tough love motivation stemmed by McGraw and his boot camp, side-hustling ranch. However, “Writer’s Block” suffers from the titular misgiving in the form of pacing irregularities, a loitering third act, and a paper thin Skip Larson backstory that only dabbles into his post-family tragedy alcoholic stupors and his peradventure subversive dealings with his gangster cousin. The gangster cousin tangent is by far the most offshoot subplot underlined only in flashbacks and at the finale that introduces a character that has seemingly never been a functional part of the story but is pivotal in Skip Larson’s corner. The crux of the story’s issues is that it tries to incorporate too much whereas the basic building blocks, the pure premise, would have sufficed and have been modestly more successful if stuck to instead of throwing a curve ball of horror into the macabre construction of McGraw’s collective work of best sellers as trophies that becomes synonymous with his obsession for hunting, if not more so conquering, the wild game he annihilates.

When a wordsmith’s mental typewriter stalls and the hands hang still with fingers dangling above the alphanumeric keys, waiting for inspiration to flow through the very fingertips that provide financial stability and creative vigor, use the Gravitas Ventures released “Writer’s Block” as a tool to unstick the tacky words, pry open the oppressive blockade of the expression dam, and let the flood of literature be unbridled. Released earlier this month on November 3rd, “Writer’s Block” is now available on VOD and streaming platforms, such as Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Fandango Now, and Google Play as well as all major cable and satellite platforms. The 98 minute film is shot in the capable hands of Alex Walker who stays put mostly in natural lighting, swerving almost unnoticeably at times into various colored lighting (mostly blue or purple) and utilizes the story’s drone to capture effective aerial shots. There were no bonus features included with the screener nor were any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Writer’s Block” is a tousle survival-thriller careening toward a grisly surprise that requires a little more spick and span shaping for a grittier exploitation.

Own “Writer’s Block” on Prime Video!

 

How Far Will Three Detectives Go to Stop Evil? “Memories of Murder” (Neon / Digital Screener)

Two impractical detectives of the Gyunggi province of South Korea investigate a pair of rape and murder cases involving two beautiful and unrelated women found with their hands bound behind their backs, gagged with a rock tied into their mouth, and with their panties covering their heads.  Known around the province for their torturous interrogation tactics, the detectives bully a mentally handicap young man and the local pervert into confessing to the heinous crimes, but when a Seoul investigator arrives into the village, drawn in by the curiosity and coincidence of the murders, a larger scale serial rapist and murderer, calculating his every move, is unearthed, connected by series of events leading the small police force to reevaluate their handling of the murders that have become more gruesome than the next with every victim. 

Before his inevitable recognition from the 2019 Academy Awards for his socially skewed hierarchy thriller, “Parasite,” that historically won Best Picture, Directing, International Film Feature, and Original Screenplay categories, even before his breakout success amongst fans of the horror genre with the creature feature, “The Host,” and an introduction into the American film market with another social class commentary, the dystopian standoff that was “Snowpiercer,” starring the Captain America portrayer himself, Chris Evans, filmmaker Bong Joon-ho had an eye for crafting his vision on camera and a knack for nerve-shredding storytelling as a writer in the early 2000’s with his 2003 sophomore feature, a crime drama entitled “Memories of Murder.” Originally known as “Salinui chueok” and written by director, the film is an encryption of a murder mystery encoded from the real life serial crimes in the Hwaeseong province in the 1980’s, Bong Joon-ho’s film takes place in 1986, and renders an engrossing story structured like a modern day Jack the Ripper emerging out of the unpleasant anecdotes of Korea lore stirred with themes of consequences as a result of careless failures and the inadequacy of effort no matter the analyzed angle.  CJ Entertainment, Muhan Investment, and Sidus serve as production companies of this somber sleuth mystery.

Despite their different methods of interrogations and investigation pursuits, the story hammers down on the three detectives’ across the board search for a methodical killer rather than a killer’s betokening perception of events as the detectives, individually flawed with ill repute and personally challenged, separately come unglued, make mistakes, and suffer the consequences of their public inanity, but when they click in harmony and rally on the same page, the truth almost hops into their laps rather than at a snail’s pace stemmed from internal competition for apprehension success. Song Kang-ho has played the constant, the unparalleled keystone, in Bong’s two decades of film credits, beginning his collaboration with the acclaimed director in “Memories of Murder” as the province’s ineffectual blowhard detective, Park Doo-man. With a deadpan stare, Song Kang-ho debones the Park Doo-man to his rudimentary base, a waggish con artist in an officer’s casual attire, and the actor defines Park’s arc so clearly, distinctly, and with ease that you can actually see Park Doo-man’s soul just become utterly crushed by not only the tough case but also when it’s clear that he must separate himself from his partner Cho Yong-koo (Kim Roe-ha) after a foolish bar fight of steadfast conviction and begin to accept his counterpart rival Seo Tae-yoon (Kim Sang-kyung) to no longer be the buffoon when bodies continues to pile up. “Memories of Murder” round out with Song Jae-ho, Byun Hee-Bong, Ko Seo-hie, Park No-shik, and Ryu Tae-ho.

In the battle to be top cop that nabs the worst criminal the province has ever seen, a disastrous paradox thwarts their oath to protect and serve the community as the two detectives, in their haste for swift justice, don’t see eye-to-eye on issues of evidence and actual detective work with a levelheaded outside investigator putting his foot forward delivering a working, if not more rational, model of a killer’s mind.  The innate detective, Park Doo-man, relies heavily on the circumstantial from gossip, relayed by the province investigator’s soothing nurse who he’s also seeing romantically, to superstition, visiting expensive shamans and claiming to have supernatural sleuth abilities himself, in order to cheat corners in hoping the information will present itself like an elegantly wrapped gift with a bow on top.  At the other end is the outsider, detective Seo Tae-yoon, from the metropolis area of Seoul and the big city detective, who sees more of these types of crime in his urban backyard, conducts a factual investigation based off research and relying on experience that gives him intuition into how the killer thinks.  Clarity in the contrast concedes more so when the third detective, another province resident, Cho Yong-koo, refuses to change his ways of brutal violence and torture as he continues his flying kicks right into the chests of suspects whereas his partner, Park Doo-man, relaxes his greed for admiration when the number of deceased women becomes unnerving and public trust in law enforcement rapidly diminishes; the reality sets when his counterpart, Seo Tae-yoon, produces results closer to an arrest based on fact.  Bong Joon-ho’s approach at the beginning would not be a conventional one that mingles rape and murder with the bumbling antics of a small town police force that’s outrageously zany at times.  The zaniness comedy subsides and is replaced with an air-letting dismal outlook of vulnerability and powerlessness in making little-to-no headway into a case that keeps getting grislier and grislier with the killer not inserting objects into his female victim’s vagina.  Trusting the system is even more disquieted so when the most latest and reliable crime solving techniques in the mid-1980s, from America none-the-less, proves to be astonishingly inconclusive, making the case seem like a no-win situation that then reverts back to the idea that sometimes even the most careful and meticulously handled cases, without the use of force, are not solvable. 

The powerful knuckle-biter “Memories of Murder” rattles with anxious tension and is chartered gracefully through the unrivaled eye of Bong Joon-ho.  Now making it’s grand return exclusively to theaters nationwide October 19th and 20th, “Memories of Murder” will be exhibited digitally remastered for U.S. audience for the first time since it’s initial release since 2003 courtesy of a partnership between Neon and Fathom Events.  The limited theatrical running with include exclusive content and a post-screening conversation between Bong Joon-Ho and “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” director, Edgar Wright.  Since I’m unable to compare the digitally remastered with the initial release, all I can say is that the film presentation appears steady, tight, and clean with Bong’s sepia tone to incept a memory fragment of the past and shot to entice an unfathomable crime drama captured as beautiful gaslit dissonance between background societal unrest, the case at hand, and the audiences’ unsuspecting role as the potential suspect. The screener provided is a digital screening link and might appear different in a theater sitting. The English subtitles were clearly visible with some minor errors in spelling. Again, this might vary in theaters. There were no bonus material on this screener, but, remember, that the limited run event on October 19th and 20th will have the exclusive bonus content and the Wright and Bong conversation. Unforgettably wrung with wraith-like anecdotal properties, “Memories of Murder” can be labeled as Bong Joon-Ho’s exemplary film, even better than his current work that won him an Oscar.