MOVIE DIARY 2018 is finally back! Sorry about the wait! I was doing a little bit of traveling for work and I missed last week's post, but don't worry I've got this one for you here today and I'll have another one for you tomorrow, featuring a special guest! I've also got MOVIE DIARY 2018's official Q2 report here for all of our beloved MOVIE DIARY 2018 investors.
Fulltime Killer (2001)
I initially heard about this through former special guest Sean Witzke’s podcast, Travis Bickle on the Riviera, and so a big thank you to those guys because this movie is so so so legit. Fulltime Killer follows the rivalry between O and Tok, the top assassins in Asia. The flamboyant and aggressive Tok has decided to come for O’s top spot and he’ll do anything to get to him, including stealing away his kind of sort of girlfriend.
From the get-go this movie is all about style. It’s very much of its time— fast-paced dynamic action, some very cool slow motion shots of our protagonists walking casually through chaos, and that weird extreme zoom thing (it’s used to take the camera deep into a grave and then later to follow an instant message from one computer screen, then through the internet, then out the other end to the receiving computer screen, a late 90s/early 00s classic). The movie is built on its style, and it’s carried by its two very entertaining and very different protagonists.
O is low-key and confident. To borrow a term from the zeitgeist (sorry), O has “Big Dick Energy.” He’s also extremely cold blooded. When he’s first introduced we see him casually murder an old friend he hasn’t seen in years because he witnessed one of O’s hits. While O is at the top for his uncompromising and professional skill we come to learn that this life is taking its toll on him and he’s looking for a way out. On the other hand, Tok is about as much of a counterpoint to O as we can get without dressing them up in Joker and Batman costumes (myself, I prefer Christian Hosoi vs Tony Hawk). He’s flashy, funny, and he also prefers overkill and violent rampages to O’s more measured methods. The first look we have at Tok is him using a shotgun concealed in a comically huge bouquet of flowers to make his way to his target, whom he kills by way of throwing entirely too many grenades at him. While O introduces himself by talking self-seriously about the life of an assassin, Tok introduces himself by talking about himself (sorry for the quote block, I just love this bit and I think it’s pretty essential!):
My name is Tok. I'm a professional killer. I like watching movies, especially action movies. Big or no budget, foreign or local. As long as they have fresh ideas. Take this movie from a few years back. A guy runs around Mexico with a guitar case blasting people left and right. Not the best movie. But I like the style.
Tok’s introduction is both an introduction to himself and an introduction to the ethos of Fulltime Killer. It’s all about style with him, and he gets his style from the action movies that he’s constantly referencing— Desperado (1995), The Professional (1994), Point Break (1991), just off the top of my head. It’s played off to be kind of annoying, but it’s self aware enough to be endearing. While it’s true that both O and Tok are action movie archetypes we’ve all seen before, it’s also true that Fulltime Killer knows that it’s a movie that’s been done before, but that’s not a problem— it loves that movie. Like Tok says in his introduction, “Not the best movie. But I like the style.” The style of Fulltime Killer is what sets it apart from the rest. You get the sense that directors Johnnie To and Ka-Fai Wai are just revelling in how over the top they can be, gleefully seeing how far they can push this movie. Not just with Tok’s wild antics, but also with O’s dour internal monologue, itself an action movie staple. Fulltime Killer is a movie that knows what it is, knows what it’s doing, and loves it. It’s so satisfying to see a movie just rightfully loving itself.
Shinjuku Triad Society (1995)
I’m not super familiar with Takashi Miike’s movies, but Shinjuku Triad Society is typically pointed at as the starting point for his particular brand of violent action crime movies, so I figured I’d give it a shot! I downloaded this movie to my phone and started watching it on a plane, and let me tell you— this is… not the movie to watch on a plane!
This is a totally violent and brutal movie. The first few minutes of the movie are these quick cuts between scenes from a nightclub’s sex, dancing, and drugs, and quick looks in on a crime scene where cops are posing with severed heads. It’s an unfiltered barrage of sex and violence and it feels like it’s pulsing and thumping, getting you in sync with the mindset of this movie.
There’s blood and gore and sexual violence, but there’s also these very strange, idiosyncratic touches that go hand in hand with it. I think maybe we might have all heard about the fucked up interrogation scene (if you’re googling it, be prepared, it’s extreme), which on top of being unsettling, is also just plain weird, but there’s also this scene where our main dude Kiriya is chasing down a car on foot. It’s almost Lynch-ian in how long it seems to go. He’s just… chasing that car, and every time it seems like he’ll just give up and let it go, Kiriya screams and keeps chasing. And when he catches up, he stops the car and looks inside to give his brother and the crimeboss Wang the deathstare, and… that’s it. They pull away and that’s it. Kiriya’s left there just kind of standing in traffic and quietly vomiting from the exertion. It’s these odd little moments that I think help set Shinjuku Triad Society apart from your typical sort of splatterfest action movie.
I’m kind of struggling about how to approach this one, to be honest. It left me feeling kind of gleefully scandalized, if that makes sense? Like, I was shocked and appalled at some of it, but there were also quite a few moments where my shock felt like it had a touch of giddiness to it, like back when you’re a kid and you’re watching a movie that you know you wouldn’t be allowed to watch if your parents knew what was going on, and maybe that’s partly because I was watching it on a plane, hoping that the people around me wouldn’t get offended at a glance at whatever awful thing was happening on my screen, but I think that it’s amazing when movies are able to tap into that mix of discomfort and excitement.
Red Sparrow (2018)
***THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS ONE I THINK, AND I KNOW THE MOVIE CAME OUT A WHILE AGO BUT I’M PUTTING SPOILER WARNINGS UP FOR ALL 2018 RELEASES JUST IN CASE, THAT’S THE MOVIE DIARY 2018 POLICY***
I watched this movie on a plane and I did not care for it! It’s a movie that follows the markers of an espionage thriller, but does nothing new with them. I don’t think I’d mind too much if it were at least doing it competently or interestingly, but it came off flat and boring. There are no discernible stakes, there’s something about finding the mole (it’s always about finding the mole or a list of the names of spies around the world with these things) but who cares, so what if they find a mole? We’re never really given any idea of what the consequences may be. There’s also a point about how Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominika is doing all of this to provide for her mother, but none of that hits home, and I’m not really sure why. All that maudlin shit about her mom having cancer and the questions about how Dominika is going to take care of her after her ballet injury just never really hits and I think it’s due to a combination of a half-assed script and a weak Jennifer Lawrence performance. I think Jennifer Lawrence is usually just fine, but she’s out of her depth here, having to express vulnerability and a slow acceptance of her mission all through a not super consistent Russian accent. I believe she can do one, maybe two of these things at a time, but making her do all three here is a challenge that I don’t think she really met.
Plot-wise, Red Sparrow does not offer much beyond the typical espionage plots and double crosses so it tries to set itself apart by focusing a lot of its unnecessarily long runtime (almost two and a half hours!) to unpacking the idea behind spies using sexuality as a tool of psychological manipulation. A lot of time is spent in the Red Sparrow school where prospective Sparrows are told their bodies belong to the state and as Sparrows they will be using their bodies the way the state deems useful. That’s the way we’re told the Sparrows operate, by forcing themselves to dissociate from what they find repellant and by using their sexuality to manipulate their targets into giving up whatever information they need. There’s a lot of rape, and it’s played to be shocking (it is), but it’s also intended to show how depraved the idea of this aspect of spycraft is. The results are… mixed. I think the movie does want you to think that it thinks it’s presenting a critical look at this aspect of the spy and espionage genre, but it presents this specific and awful violence without ever really taking the time to linger on how this is affecting Dominika. All we see after the numerous rapes and abuses and traumas is how they set her on a path to be a better spy. She’s hardened and toughened up after these traumas as a defense and a necessity, sure, but I would think that these circumstances would merit a more complex emotional outcome. That Red Sparrow skips over that in favor of barreling through a paint by numbers plot feels insulting and exploitative.
THE MOVIE DIARY 2018 QUARTERLY REPORT (Q2)
Thank you to all of our readers for your continued support through Q2, MOVIE DIARY 2018's most successful fiscal quarter yet. Q2 saw MOVIE DIARY 2018 move to its new home on geoffreylapid.com, and feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Overall totals for movies watched by Geoff went down to 36 from Q1's 40, but 2018 releases went up to 8 from Q1's 5. Special guests went up, with 10 new special guests, a dramatic increase from Q1's 3. Looking forward, there will be more new special guests as well as some returners, plus a special event planned for the month of August. MOVIE DIARY 2018 is still looking to deliver the same consistently high quality posts each week, but Q3 will hopefully offer a little bit of variation to keep the MOVIE DIARY 2018 experience fresh and conducive to monetization.
Thank you once again for your support of MOVIE DIARY 2018! We here at MOVIE DIARY 2018 are looking forward to a profitable and enjoyable Q3!