Friday, July 31, 2009

Thirst (Bakjwi) Review - Seat Squirming Sensational

When the Catholic Church in Korea tries to cure a disease, the treatment has unexpected consequences: vampires – of a sort. Unconventional, uncomfortable, shocking, hysterical, and fantastically entertaining, Thirst (Bakjwi) made me squirm with stomach-turning delight.

Unsatisfied with his life, Father Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song) agrees to volunteer for a life-threatening medical experiment. The experiment goes as planned but the treatments have a serious side effect for Father Sang-hyeon; it turns him into a vampire with thirsts for more than just blood. The Father does his best to feed his hunger ethically, but eventually, he abandons ethics and begins to make more and more morally ambiguous decisions, the worst of which surrounds his childhood crush, the beautiful, Cinderella-esque, Tae-ju (Ok-vin Kim). Tae-joo has lived with her drunken, slightly masochistic mother-in-law Lady Ra (Hae-sook Kim) and her sniveling, snotty, sickly son Kang-woo (Ha-kyun Shin) since she was a girl.

Thirst does start off slowly and dares the audience to believe that this will be a run of the mill, mystical Catholic-Church-creates-vampires movie. Slowly, the director, actors and writers walk the audience down a seemingly safe path of overplayed mediocrity. It isn’t until I walk directly into their trap that I realized I’d been duped. Not only is Thirst the most original vampire movie I’ve ever seen, it manages to do so while still covering necessary vampire themes and disarms the audience by making their seat feel like it shifted underneath them.

Director and writer Chan-wook Park and writer Seo-Gyeong Jeong never miss an opportunity make the audience squirm in their seats. There are graphic, yet ill at ease sex scenes that barely register as sexual at all. The relationship between several of the characters left me wondering if the lot of them had been dropped on their head as babies. By far, the most discomfort I felt was when I was laughing at things that in real life are not supposed to be funny.

Chan-wook Park and Seo-Gyeong Jeong turn scene after scene from tragic to tickling. Anyone who isn’t a sociopath will laugh, feel guilty about laughing, the laugh some more. Most specifically, any scene with blood was at the same time horrifying and hysterical. Where the vampire is in relation to the blood-letter takes the edge off the fact that the vampire is sucking vital blood from the person’s body.

As soon as the laughter has ceased though, serious topics slip in. Questions of killing, domestic violence, sexual abuse, faith, or a lack thereof, and unexpected changes in the personality of characters seep in through the skin like a salamander breathes. Due to the unconventional story-telling, it’s nearly impossible for an audience member to defend themselves from the revolting myriad of incoming emotions.

My usually stoaic husband wiggled as much as I did, often covering his mouth because he was utterly floored by some of the kill scenes in Thirst and he wasn’t alone. Most of the audience was clinging to their partner, shifting in their seat, giggling, breathing heavy and holding their hands up to their eyes with their fingers spread. “Eeew” and “ha-ha” could be heard at the same time by viewers unable to control their reactions.

There is a strange attention to how Thirst looks by the director. He doesn’t shy away from strange camera angles, movements or settings. Innocent props become sinister. There is a simple change of scenery late in the movie that changes the entire mood and symbolizes a change in the direction of the characters.

During some parts in the beginning, the acting by Kang-ho Song and Ok-vin Kim leave much to be desired. I don’t know if the director wanted them to be horrible on purpose to take the audience off their guard, but it really just came across as ridiculous, kludgy and strange. If you hang in there, I promise, the movie picks up and will shake the senses of even the most reserved.

I have never had so much fun being revolted. Every time I think of the movie, I shift in my seat and think ICK with a smile on my face right before I get the chill up my spine. This subtitled Korean gem, Thirst, will satisfy those who love a good story and those who love good horror. Spine crawling, seat jerking and satisfying, Thirst is a must see! If your local small run theater is not showing this, call them and demand they do!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Kissimmee, FL Wants to Add "In God We Trust" to City Logo

City Commission of Kissimmee, Florida, will vote to modify its city logo to include "In God We Trust" to voice objection to the “socialist” leadership of the country.

Commissioner Art Otero recommended this affront to the American Constitution. "This nation has been moving toward more liberal postures such as homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion and the legalization of marijuana. I'm against that way of thinking. Those are not the values upon which this nation was founded. I think we need to fight for the values we're losing."

The Mayor, Jim Swan said he would pay $250 of his own money to engrave it on the seal in the commissioners’ cambers. It turns out that $250 is how much Jim Swan is willing to spend to set the Constitution on fire and disenfranchise 15% of his constituency.

Oh, and the total estimated cost of changing the logo is $200,000. So, not only are they willing to put aside their duty to their country as elected officials, they are willing to sacrifice vital city services to do it.

This should upset non-Kissimmee citizens because they aren’t just spitting in the face of the Kissimmee citizens, but every American who hold the Constitution dear. They refuse to uphold their oath to the country that has granted them office through the process outlined in the document they willfully ignore.

Please, use your constitutional rights and write the Kissimmee Council and let them know how you feel about putting “In God We Trust.” Please take the time to write your own letter.
This is the letter I sent. It would mean the world to the citizens of both Kissimmee and the US. Please, bcc me at so I can see your letters. Pass the request on to like-minded friends.

Hello Elected Officials,

It makes me sad that we even have to have a conversation about how little a city like yours respects the Constitution of the United States. We were founded on the idea that governments, even little ones like yours, didn't have the right to impose a religious idea on anyone, and no one had the right to impose one on you. You seem to have a misunderstanding of the founding of this country or the the Constitution because I can't imagine that someone who took an oath to protect the Constitution would intentionally do something so blatantly against it.

Many of our founders were not Christians, in fact, the majority were not. More importantly than their own religious beliefs, they made it clear during their lifetimes that America was not a Christian nation, nor a nation of any other religion. Religion was to be left outside the doors of government, even a little one like Kissimmee.

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

This quote, was part of a Treaty of Tripoli and was signed by President Adams. I think we can agree that there is no ambiguity in this statement, and Adams was certainly a founder of this country. So, what will you say to the memory of our founders, including Adams, George Washington, and Jefferson? Will you, in the face of your oath to all of the citizens of Kissimmee and loving citizens of America, spit on the Constitution and memory of our founders? Will you, as representatives of your citizens break the first law of this country, the country we share, as an officer of the government? Do you think so little of our country, or do you believe you should not be subject to her laws and appreciate her protections?

Additionally, you have $200,000 to waste on this project plus the court costs in the future? May I have some for your roads, schools, police and firefighters. That way all your citizens will have the benefit of their government.

LaRae Meadows
True American Citizen
Mayor Jim Swan
101 N. Church Street
Kissimmee FL 34741-5054
Phone: (407)973-5226
Fax: (407)847-8369

Vice Mayor Jerry Gemskie

Mayor Pro-Tem Cheryl L. Grieb

Commissioner Carlos L. Irizarry

Commissioner Art Otero
Media Contacts
Orlando Sentinel
Letters to the Editor
633 N. Orange Ave.
Orlando FL 32801-1349
Fax: (407)420-5286
(Note: Letters must be signed with an address and phone number, and kept under 250 words for publication.)

The Miami Herald
The Reader's Forum
One Herald Plaza
Miami FL 33132
Fax: (305)376-8950

The News-Journal
PO Box 2831
Daytona Beach FL 32120-2831
Fax: (386)258-1577
(Note: Include name, address and phone number. "Clear, brief letters on a single subject are most likely to be published. Please include your letter in the body of the e-mail. Attached files may not arrive intact. Your address and phone number will not be published.")

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hockey Mama for Obama Jabs Palin with Song, Again!

Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Less than three weeks before the 2008 Presidential Election, real life hockey mom Sandy Riccardi and her moose Richard Riccardi (SanRich) aimed their musical weapon at Sarah Palin and took the internet by storm. Some have credited their song, Hockey Mama for Obama with clinching the election for Obama (but they don’t.) After Palin’s sudden resignation, SanRich had enough ammunition for another humorous lyrical mugging. Gleefully, SanRich released Sarah Palin Resignation Song; a ditty set to I Feel Pretty from the musical West Side Story on YouTube.

Sandy impersonates Palin at her now infamous resignation press conference and Richard revisits his role as the piano-playing moose. The melodic lampoon starts with the line, “I feel quitty” and ends with the YouTuber laughing.

Sandy and Richard granted me an interview about Sarah Palin Resignation Song, politics, and religion.
"I Feel Pretty has been dancing around in my head for a while in regards to Sarah Palin. It just seemed to work,” Sandy explained. “Other contenders were Send in the Clowns and I Dreamed a Dream.

When asked why they decided to write another song about almost-former Governor Palin now, both explained they just wanted a straight answer to the question of why Palin resigned.

“We all know she's running in 2012, and she doesn't have much time to get actual Washington experience. So she has now quit her job, left her sticky time-and-money-consuming problems behind her, not to, as she claims, heroically protect Alaska from her costly legal woes, but to start pushing her energy agenda through to Washington, thereby getting "experience" in D.C. There's nothing wrong with her plan; run for president if you want to. The part that leaves the bad taste in my mouth is the way she makes it all seem like she's quitting her job early selflessly, for Alaska's sake, not once mentioning her insatiable ambitions for the presidency.”

“Palin has never made a direct comment or statement, much less anything resembling a complete sentence, and there is a ploy here to defuse not only Alaskan citizens but the population of the entire country,” elaborated Richard.

The resignation may have been the Palinism that finally motivated SanRich’s song but Palin hadn’t gone unnoticed by SanRich since the election. Even though both insist they do not think Palin is stupid, her attitude, personality, speech patterns and politics have continued to provoke irritation in the pair.

“If she followed a liberal agenda, expressing a passion for civil rights and education and health-care reform and global cooling, I might not roast her at all,” Sandy explains, “but I would question her ability to comprehend the issues due to her clear lack of education. Yes, I know she ‘got a degree’ [but] that doesn't mean she is an educated person. Frankly, the folksy way she talks is a real turn-off to me. If she were to spend the next 10 years really educating herself (with a lot of help from advisors) she might come out with more universal public appeal. But I still wouldn't like her politics. I would like my president to be a cut above us regular folk. I think the job demands it… I would hate to see the first woman elected to the presidency be someone with her lack of statesmanship.”

Richard said it a bit more succinctly, “I want a true statesperson to lead this country.” He specifies, “I would refer to her religious sanctions, if we can call them that, as dangerous because she would be led so easily by her beliefs. This is not necessarily stupidity, and is much more frightening than pure naiveté. Her ‘good old boy’ style of address is a ploy which reaches a surprisingly large proportion of the country. Thank goodness there are enough intelligent people to see through it.”

A recovering fundamentalist from the south, Sandy’s feelings about Palin are influenced by her past and her personal political evolution. “I think my fundamentalist religious past offers me a glimpse into her psyche and decision making process. She'll fight abortion, gay marriage, and think she is sanctioned by God to do it. Maybe my past has me extra vehement about keeping her out of office. She can't be open-minded. She will think her very opinion was given by God…. And even our country, if led by religious extremism, will resemble the countries we fear the most. And a leader, who feels she is God’s chosen voice, is truly to be avoided at all costs.”

SanRich’s first video stirred thousands of conversations on YouTube and blogs across the cybersphere. Their comments ranged from personal attack and praise to policy conversation. The pair hopes that with the release of Sarah Palin Resignation Song, a conversation about finding a moderate Republican leader will be roused.

Sandy asked, “Will the real spokesperson for moderate Republicans please stand up and be heard? We need two parties to make our country work, but the pickins' have been slim for the thinking Republican.”

Even though Palin has inspired more than her share of SanRich songs, they haven’t shied away from other politicians and events. Other victims of their musical skewering were Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney. There is even a tribute, of sorts, to John McCain.

“McCain seemed to be the best the Republicans could muster. There clearly is no one on that side of the fence who can intelligently balance,” Richard concluded.

SanRich hopes to continue writing satirical songs and shooting videos together. Sandy jokes, “Richard must love me a whole lot in order to put a moose hat on and go national, not once, but twice.” In retort, Richard remarked, “I’ll do it again, anytime! Sandy must love me a whole lot to ask me to wear that moose hat and go national!”

About the Musicians

Sandy and Richard are both highly trained professional musicians. Sandy, who has a master's degree in music from Manhattan School of Music, performs jazz, cabaret, musical theater and classical music. Richard is a Mr. Holland's Opus Award winning music teacher with a degree from Oberlin and Yale and works as a professional pianist and conductor.

Read their previous interview with LaRae about Hockey Mama for Obama here.
Visit their YouTube channel here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half Assed Film

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the sixth movie in Harry Potter film series. Too dependent on previous films or expecting the audience to have read the books, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince fails to develop into a complete movie.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is whisked away by his professor and fellow wizard Dumbledore (Michael Gambon )to meet with Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to encourage him to return to his professorship at Hogwarts School. Harry and Dumbledore continue to attempt to find a way to defeat Lord Voldemort and prevent him from returning to the living world. Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) dance around their feelings for each other and engage in typical teenage romance melodrama. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) sneaks around, waving his wand at bookcases in dark storage rooms, spiraling down an emotional whirlpool.

As an added bonus for the audience, the director and writers have left bonus loose ends for the audience to enjoy. The extraneous footage includes destroying mystical stuff, a girl who has a crush on Harry, some broom related sporting events, potions, and curses. The cinematic loose ends fray long enough to braid and be sold as rope to climbers heading off for K2.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince reminds me of leftover casserole. Leftover casserole is made by taking the remnants of a week’s worth of food, layering it in a casserole dish and hoping it tastes good enough that your family won’t run out on you. If you sprinkle it with parmesan cheese, it can look delicious, but it almost always tastes like week old, reheated donkey-butt stew. Director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves take a bit of left over the Sorcerer’s Stone, covers it in Order of the Phoenix, slathers on Chamber of Secrets, dumps in Goblet of Fire and sprinkles Prisoner of Azkaban, bakes it with parmesan on top (the special effects) and thinks we will eat it.

It shows a total lack of cinematic integrity to assign the audience required reading or mandatory viewing in order to understand anything that is taking place on screen. It is perfectly rational to expect a first time Harry Potter viewer won’t get every mention but they shouldn’t be completely lost. It is not too much to ask for a bit of recap, artfully worked into the story so new viewers can understand what is going on. It irritates me to no end that David Yates, and the production staff think we should pay full price for a half a movie. In one of the more “intense” scenes in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Dumbledore says, “Once again I must ask too much of you, Harry” but I think it’s the writer and director who have asked too much of the audience by hiding the casserole behind a smoke screen - literally.

Smoke comes out of the water, goes into the water, is outdoors, is indoors, and seems to follow Harry and his compadres, regardless of their travels. Harry would be the alpha caveman of any cave based solely on his ability to attract fire to himself. Based solely on the beauty of the smoke, Harry Potter is a stunning movie.

All of the effects in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince shimmer almost brightly enough to make one blind to the disparities in the plot. Well lit sets are set against green-screen created backgrounds that seem to flow naturally into each other. While some of the scenes don’t work as well as others, they all work well enough to suspend disbelief and make wizardry riveting.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has no beginning, nor an end; it is only a middle. With nothing to tell the audience what has happened up until now and an unraveling carpet for an ending, it fails to offer the audience a reason to sit through the film. It should be renamed to Harry Potter and a Half.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Brüno: A Hilarious and Terrifying That Brought Matthew Shepard To Mind

Austrian fashionista Brüno sets off to become the most famous Austrian in history. Hilarious and terrifying, Brüno is an insightful look at American culture.

After the flamboyant, ultra-gay Brüno (Sacha Baron Cohen) loses his job as a fashion commentator on Austrian television, he sets his sights becoming world famous. He finds inspiration from the world of politics, Hollywood and history. He brings his assistant’s assistant, Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten) with him to America where he sets many plans to become famous into action. His plans take him around the world and back again. Except for Brüno and a few establishing characters, all of the people they interact with are not acting; they are real people with genuine reactions to Brüno. Famous politicians like Ron Paul and personalities like Paula Abdul are stunned, on film and caught fully exposed (socially, not physically).

More interesting than the famous people are the average global citizens Brüno rubs against, the most extreme of which are the Americans. Between the laughter, scene after scene, my heart broke. As a citizen of America, I am personally mortified by the behavior of some of my co-citizens. There is a scene with a woman and Brüno that if the roles were reversed, would be called a sexual assault.

After seeing Brüno, I am officially afraid of Arkansas, and the rest of the Midwest, for that matter. Redneck, white trash, nitwitted boobs, pumped up and ready for blood become thoroughly unzipped by Brüno. Knowing that they were not actors, their behavior was so shocking, I was overcome with both fear for the actors and disgust at the Arkansasans simultaneously.

In Brüno, it isn’t just the good ole boys who show no noticeable remnants of humanity. What could most kindly be described as an ethnically diverse rabble at a low-brow setting verbally attacks Brüno viciously for being gay. Even though Brüno does provoke a bit of well deserved anger on their part, the audience disproportionately reacts, making themselves look like fools and staining the fabric of America.

It would be easy to fall into the trap that Baron Cohen sets for the audience. Amongst the wagging penises (of which there are many), raunchy gay jokes and “faggy” stereotypes, Baron Cohen slips in a message about American society, written by Americans. By the end of the story Baron Cohen recorded, I couldn’t laugh anymore – I was angry.

During Brüno, and after, when I considered the film, I kept coming back to the story of Matthew Shepard. In 1998 Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, beaten and tortured within an inch of his life and tied to a fence in Wyoming. He later died from his fractured skull. The “good ole boys” who killed him, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney later said it was because Shepard was gay.

More than a decade later, America should be ashamed to be standing under the flag with these Henderson and McKinney knock offs. Easily incited, willing to submit their minds to their faith, uneducated and brain dead, they troll the American heartland – unchecked pre-murderers waiting for their opportunity to pistol whip, beat, torture, tie to a fence and let die someone who offends their “sensibilities.”

Before you stand pompously in a state, like say California, and say that could never happen here, I have two words for you: Proposition Eight. Just like the people mentioned above, we might not have attacked gay people or Brüno physically, but we allowed our co-Californians to do it legally.

Brüno definitely has its moments of levity, but they are wisely placed, to encourage the audience to lower their guard and look in the mirror. What will you see when see Brüno staring back?