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Monday, October 31, 2016

Review: The Wailing (Goksung)

One of the Best Horror Films I've Seen in Years

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: June 3rd, 2016 – U.S.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Horror, Drama, Fantasy
Running Time: 156 minutes
Director: Hong-jin Na
Writer: Hong-jin Na
Cast: Do Won Kwak, Woo-hee Chun, 
Jeong-min Hwang, So-yeon Jang, 
Han-Cheol Jo, Jun Kunimura

"The Wailing" is an electrifying mixture of horror, mystery, and family drama; a whodunnit police story set in a small South Korean town; a bizarre blend of ghosts, zombies, religion, the occult, demonic repossession, and exorcism; a wild meshing of genres that will keep you guessing until the very end – and even beyond that.

It begins with a police sergeant, Jong-Goo (Do Won Kwak), investigating a series of bizarre incidents. The townspeople are picking up what appears to be a mysterious illness or infection. The side-effect: they violently turn on their own family and friends. The result: bloodshed and murder. The unwanted presence of an enigmatic Japanese outsider (played by Jun Kunimura) is blamed for the carnage.

The policeman initially comes across as a pudgy, goofy "Keystone Kop." He trips and blusters, screams and sputters. Tasked to solve the mystery and protect the villagers, he is clearly in over his head and ill-equipped. He wakes up from frightful dreams wailing like a small child. However, it isn't long before the situation impacts him directly – his own daughter eventually begins showing signs of the "disease."
When the cause is deemed to be more mystical than medical, a shaman (Jung-min Hwang) is called in. His rituals are a sight to behold. They are wondrously outrageous and over-the-top.

As the horror hits closer to home, the police sergeant's transformation is startling. He morphs from an absurd comedy character to a fearful but focused father who will stop at nothing to find answers and save his little girl from whatever – or whoever – has taken over her body and mind.

In contrast to the madness permeating most of "The Wailing," there's a quiet beauty to its lush but simple village scenery and ordinary but slightly rundown city buildings.

At 156 minutes, this is a long movie – but I was glued to the screen the entire time.

The ending, which I won't spoil, is the only aspect of the film that gives me pause. It feels like almost an anticlimax after two-and-a-half hours of frenzied hysteria. "That's it?" might be your first reaction. Yet, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. According to the description on the back of the Blu-ray case, "fans made many return viewings in order to catch new clues and debate what’s sure to be the most talked-about ending of 2016." While that's partly marketing, there's a ring of truth to it too – you will undoubtedly want to seek out others who have seen the movie and look up what's being posted about its final moments.

I'm certainly anxious to start several conversations about "The Wailing" myself. That's the sign of a great film.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar Are Back in the Batcave Fifty Years Later

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: October 10, 2016 – U.S.
Rating: PG
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Running Time: 78 minutes
Director: Rick Morales
Writers: Michael Jelenic, James Tucker
Cast: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, 
Jeff Bergman, William Salyers, Wally Wingert, 
Steven Weber, Jim Ward, Thomas Lennon, 
Lynne Marie Stewart, Sirena Irwin

"Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders" feels like an extended episode of the classic 1960s "Batman" TV series and a love letter to that more innocent and magical time in the "Caped Crusader's" long and storied history.

The most exciting news for Bat-geeks is that Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar are back as Batman, Robin, and Catwoman, respectively. Even though it's been fifty years since the original series, they haven't aged a day thanks to the superpowers of animation.

This cartoon version of "Batman" perfectly captures the feel and nuances of the 1960s series. The signature comic book-style "Pow!" "Whap!" and "Bam!" appear on the screen when the heroes collide with the villains, and the famous tilted camera angle used during the fight scenes is even referenced literally at one point. More importantly, it retains the same clean cut humor and classic one-liners that made the show so endearing in the first place. If anything, "Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders" almost exaggerates and satirizes the purity Adam West and Burt Ward originally brought to their roles. In one clever scene, they have a conversation about the perils and pitfalls of jaywalking.

"Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders" is set in the 1960s, and the movie plays around with the era in fun ways. In one scene, there's a reference to the space race (the competition between Russia and the United States to be the first country to put a man on the moon) as Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara watch it unfold on TV. At first, it seems like nothing more than a throwaway nod to the time period, but it ends up being significant in ways I won't spoil. There are several other surprises too, particularly involving the heroes and villains – they intersect and crisscross in unexpected ways. Take special note of the plural at the end of this film's title.

Much like the original "Batman" show, the "Caped Crusader" and the "Boy Wonder" find themselves in various pickles that seem impossible to escape from. Part of me was hoping for the "Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel" intermission we would get at the end of every episode – there were several situations where that would have fit – but this is a movie, not a TV show.

My one nitpick: There were no mustache hairs showing through The Joker's paint, which was one of the gaudy highlights of Cesar Romero's delightfully over-the-top portrayal of the "Clown Prince of Crime."

I've come across some silly complaints online that Adam West "sounds old" in the trailer. Well, he is 88 now. As far as I'm concerned, he doesn't miss a beat for the most part. Listening to him voice this character again instantly transported me right back to my childhood sitting in front of the TV set watching Batman and Robin fight crime and foil the baddies. As for Burt Ward and Julie Newmar, Robin sounds like he's 15 again and Catwoman is every bit the foxy feline she always was. If you preferred the Eartha Kitt or Lee Meriwether incarnations of Catwoman, let's just say there's a tiny kitty treat waiting for you – and that's not the only reward this movie has for longtime Bat-fans. There are several eggs-cellent Easter eggs – it will probably require multiple viewings to spot them all.

The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler are back too. Sadly, the original actors – Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin – are no longer with us. Instead, sound-alikes have been hired to take over their roles (Jeff Bergman as The Joker, William Salyers as The Penguin, and Wally Wingert as The Riddler). The same is true of the remaining regulars: Alfred (now voiced by Steven Weber, "Wings"), Aunt Harriet (Lynne Marie Stewart), Commissioner Gordon (Jim Ward), and Chief O'Hara (Thomas Lennon). To my ear, the new actors do an admirable job. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear the original cast had all returned. If the performances are not exact, they're at least close enough. The worst thing a replacement voice-actor can be is a distraction, and that's never, ever the case here.

After viewing the "extra" following the film, I became even more impressed. None of the actors playing the villains look or sound anything like their characters in real life. Steven Weber – who voices Alfred – isn't interviewed for this bonus segment, but I'm familiar enough with his work to know that he doesn't even remotely resemble a posh British butler.

Truthfully, though, I think hiring celebrities for most animated features is a waste of time – because unless you're Owen Wilson, Antonio Banderas, or William Shatner, I'm not going to be able to tell anyway. This, however, is the exception! It's a sheer stroke of genius for Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar to reprise the characters that made them so famous and beloved in the first place. Their involvement provides "Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders" with the credibility and warm sense of nostalgia it otherwise could not have had. (By the way, speaking of Shatner, he will reportedly voice Two-Face in the sequel. If that's not enough to get '60s fanboys salivating, I don't know what is!)

I could not stop smiling during "Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders." It's an absolutely joy to see these versions of the characters again and hear the distinctive voices that brought such pleasure and wonder to my own childhood.