Friday, November 11, 2016

"The Handmaiden" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Handmaiden" as well as DVDs "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" and "Mascots."  The Book of the Week is "52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Slacker."]

The Handmaiden

A young girl is hired to be a handmaiden for an heiress, but her main purpose is to help a con man marry the heiress and steal her money.

First of all, I need to preface this review by saying that I am not a prude and I do not believe in censorship.  That said, I have to also confess that the sex scenes in this film made me squirm in my seat and not in a good way. It wasn't so much that I disapproved of the scenes, but I was more worried about the other seniors in the audience and what they were thinking (when you go to a lot of matinees, you automatically are in an audience with a bunch of senior citizens). I think a couple of them left.   I wasn't shocked, but I have to say that I find some sex scenes in movies these days a bit gratuitous, and, frankly boring.  If they go on too long, I start thinking, "OK, I get it, now can we get back to the story?" I am thinking we should go back that movie device they used in the old movies.  Waves crashing on rocks.  We all knew what that meant and we didn't have to actually see it. But maybe it's my age.  I've already seen it all or whatever.  But let's just say, the sex scenes between the two young women are very graphic, and this film made me wonder about the fine line between what someone might call porn and what someone else would call "art." Hard to know what you might think. But since this film is about libertines, I guess there has to be some liberteeny stuff in it.

Now that doesn't mean I didn't like this movie, because I did, but you have been warned.  If you get upset about the sex scenes, I don't want you blaming me later for recommending this movie.

The film takes place in 1930's Korea during the Japanese occupation and is broken into three parts, each one showing the point of view of each of the three main characters, Roshomon style.

Part I shows Sook-Hee's (Tae Ri Kim) point of view.  She is our handmaiden.  We first see her living in a Dickensesque hovel with her family of pickpockets and con artists. Count Fugiwara (Jung-woo Ha), who is not really a Count but a Fagin-like character who runs any scams he can, hires Sook-Hee to work for Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim), a sheltered heiress who lives on a large secluded estate with her domineering Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo).  The Count has discovered that Lady Hideko's uncle plans to marry her so he can use her money to continue buying his beloved books of which he is an avid collector. (Don't worry. The movie is kinky but not that kinky.  Kouzuki is her uncle by marriage).  However, the Count wants to get in there first and marry Lady Hideko himself. Sook-Hee is to become Lady Hideko's handmaiden and act as a champion for Fugiwara, so that he can seduce her and elope with her to Japan.  Once married, he plans to get her committed to an insane asylum, thus taking all of the money for himself. 

When Sook-Hee arrives at the estate, she is told that half of the estate is a western-style mansion and the other half is a Japanese style house.  Uncle Kouzuki is Korean but loves both western architecture and Japanese culture.  Kouzuki collects books (you find out what kind later) and Hideko spends time reading them aloud in the Japanese portion of the estate which is off limits to Sook-Hee.  When the two women meet, Lady Hideko appears to be very shy and unworldly.  Sook-Hee sleeps with her some times when Hideko is frightened and eventually the two form a, shall we say, "loving relationship."

But you know how these things go.  The best laid plans and all of that...

Part II tells the story from Hideko's point of view as the film goes back to Sook-Hee meeting Lady Hideko and from now on, the twists and turns begin as the tables start to turn.  Hideko might not be the sweet, shy, naïve young thing that Sook-Hee thought she was and in Part III, as the Count's story unfolds, we learn how he met Kouzuki, just what was in those books of his that Hideko had to read aloud and what Sook-Hee's real role was going to be in all of this. 

It's all very gothic, but believe it or not, there is also quite a bit of humor in this film. It's also a fast-paced two and a half hours with many twists and turns.

Director Chan Wook-Park is best known for psychological horror. "Oldboy," the original Korean version, not the Spike Lee remake, is one of his best known.  His first foray into English language films was "Stoker," an interesting psychological horror film starring Nicole Kidman but it was little seen.  Here he is back to his Korean roots, and though I wouldn't exactly call this horror, it certainly is a psychological thriller and does involve a few fingers getting cut off.

Speaking of fingers, this film is based on the book "Fingersmith" by Sara Waters and Wook-Park masterfully takes the story from Victorian England to Korea in the 1930's.  Wook-Park not only directed the film, but also wrote the screenplay, and the film was nominated for the Palm D'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. I would not be surprised if this film will also be nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film as it's gorgeous to look at with art direction by Seong-hie Ryu, and the actors and story are first-rate.

Rosy the Reviewer says...highly recommended but not for the sexually squeamish. Now if I could just get those ben wa balls the size of Christmas tree ornaments out of my mind (and remember, I warned you)!
(In Korean and Japanese with English subtitles)

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

On Netflix and DVD

Mascots (2016)

An inside look at the world of sports mascots.

I first became aware of Christopher Guest when I saw "This is Spinal Tap."  It was a revelation. 

I remember getting into an argument with some friends who hated the film, but the reason they hated it was because they thought it was an actual documentary about an actual rock group.  No amount of arguing would change their minds and convince them that this was a spoof on all of the trappings of  1980's heavy metal bands.  But I don't really blame them, because Guest is a genius at finding those bits of reality and then lovingly mocking them.  I think Guest might be responsible for the term "mockumentary" (though he has said he didn't like that term for his films), because he went on to turn his satirical eye to small town community theatre groups ("Waiting for Guffman"), dog show people ("Best in Show") and folk singers ("A Mighty Wind"), to name some of his other really funny movies.

Here he turns that same satirical and witty eye onto sports mascots as they get ready to compete at the World Mascot Association's Championships also known as "The Fluffies."

I would bet that you have probably not thought much of the real lives of those sports mascots you see at football, basketball and other sports matches, and that's what makes this film funny.  There is a wealth of material in that idea.

Mascots are coming from all over the world.  We have Owen Golley Jr. (Tom Bennett) as Sid the Hedgehog from South Croyden, England, who is carrying on the mascot tradition (his father and grandfather all played Sid), but wants to update the routine that both older generations had used, much to his father's disapproval. An acrimonious husband and wife team perform as Tammy the Turtle and Ollie the Octopus (Sarah Baker and Zach Woods) and Jack the Plumber (Matt Griesser), who looks more like one of the Mario Bros, cheers for a football team, that when he tries to buddy up with some of the players, they have no idea who he is.

"I remember the mascot.  I never knew it was you."

There is also Cindy Babineaux (Parker Posey), whose Alvin the Armadillo comes to life through her modern dance interpretations, and Chris O'Dowd as Tommy "Zook" Zucarello, who plays "The Fist" for the Blue Lake Mallards, a Manitoba, Canada, hockey team.  And yes, his costume is a giant fist, one of the grossest things I have ever seen, though it does afford him the opportunity to give the finger to the crowd when he wishes to. Though Tommy grew up as part of a religious commune based on the teachings of Michael Landon's "Highway to Heaven" TV show, he has gotten himself into a bit of trouble as a mascot because he has gotten that fist into a bit of trouble by getting it too close to female spectators' body parts.   

A.J. Bloomquist (Ed Begley Jr.), Buddy Campbell (Don Lake) and Gabby Monkhouse (Jane Lynch) are the judges.  Buddy runs a carpet store ("You say it, we lay it") and A.J. was a mascot who was disgraced for his anatomically correct mascot costume for his character, Danny the Donkey. Gabby lords over the other judges because when she was a mascot - Minnie the Moose - she was able to turn her experiences into an inspirational best-selling book "A-Moosing Journey to God and Real Estate." Begley, Lake and Lynch are also Guest regulars.
Everyone at the competition is all in a tizzy because officials from the Gluten Free TV Channel are coming to see whether they want to televise the awards.  The Vericose Veins Channel came last year, a fun Guest dig at how many TV channels we now have. 

There are rivalries, insecurities, bad relationships amongst the contestants and over-the-top costumes as they prepare for the big finale and highlight of the movie - their signature routines.

A favorite is Jack the Plumber who comes out in his Mario Bros - inspired costume complete with plumber's crack to unplug a giant toilet, and when he does, out pops, how do I put this?  A little dancing t**d.  I know, I hate that word, too, but a little dancing poop didn't seem to describe it. Anyway, Jack the Plumber and the little bit of doo doo do a dance together and then he pops her back into the toilet and flushes her down.

Another funny routine involves some competitors from India who are Pointy and Grindy, a pencil and a pencil sharpener (they represent an Indian cricket team) who dance around Bollywood style. 

After the routines, the awards are given out and then we catch up with the contestants a year later.  One has given up mascoting, one of them now has a new baby (a new little mascot to carry on the tradition?), and guess which one became a monk?

If you have seen Guest's other films, you will recognize actors he uses in almost all of his films. In addition to Begley, Lake and Lynch, you will also recognize - Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Bob Balaban.  Guest has created a sort of film repertory company of actors, but in what is a departure from Guest's usual films, he brings back some characters from past movies: he himself plays Corky St. Clair, who you will remember from "Guffman" and Parker Posey's character of Cindy is the same one she also played in that film.

The humor here lies in how self-important the mascots think they are and how seriously they take this competition, despite the fact that no one knows who they are because no one can see who is inside the costume.  It's also a commentary on the many championships and awards shows out there for just about everything, and Guest couldn't resist commenting on the whole "Furries" phenomenon since the mascots seem very much like "Furries" themselves, so of course there has to be a "Furry" running amok amongst the mascots.

Guest directed the film and wrote the script with Jim Piddock, and the humor is droll to say the least. If you don't find anything I've said so far funny, you might not think the film is funny.  For some, Christopher Guest's humor is an acquired taste, but I think he is funny as hell.  It also makes me laugh to know how much of his films are improvisational and the actors are just riffing on an idea half of the time. He is the king of situational humor, and I can't wait for his next one.

This is an Netflix original film available for streaming. More and more we will be seeing new films produced by Netflix and Amazon only available via their outlets.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a comedic gem in the best of the Christopher Guest tradition.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

It seems like whenever the Stangle brothers attend a family event, something bad happens, so they are told unequivocally that if they want to attend their sister's wedding, they must bring dates.  You see, there is this idea that the women will keep the boys in line.  Good luck with that.

Directed by Jake Szymanski, with a script by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, believe it or not, this movie is based on a true event and there really were real life Stangle Brothers who needed wedding dates. The brothers placed an ad in Craigslist looking for dates for their cousin's wedding and the ad went viral in February 2013.  They were able to turn that into a book and now here is the movie.

Adam Devine and Zac Ephron are Mike and Dave Stangle.  The brothers are known to show up at family events and get so drunk that something bad happens every time and the event is ruined.  So they are told that they must bring dates to their sister, Jeannie's (Sugar Lyn Beard) destination wedding in Hawaii, the idea being that having dates will calm them down.  So the brothers put an ad in the paper looking for some nice girls to take to the wedding.

OK, I already have a question.  How is it possible that Dave Stangle, who looks remarkably like the deliciously handsome Zac Ephron, does not have a girlfriend?  Even Mike is quite adorable.

Anyway, Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza), who are decidedly NOT very nice girls, see the ad and decide that they need to score those dates and get a free trip to Hawaii.  Unfortunately, and wait -- here's the hilarious premise - these two girls are way worse than our guys.  Since they are the farthest thing from being nice girls, they need to create some personas for themselves so Alice pretends to be a hedge fund manager (though she doesn't even know what a hedge fund is ), and Tatiana pretends to be a school teacher ("The key to teaching children is repetition. You'd be surprised how stupid they are.")

You know what "meet cute" is, right?  Well, these girls do a "meet ugly" to meet our heroes.  They dress up, find the club where the boys are hanging out and then Tatiana gets their attention by throwing herself in front of a car.  I know, but it's actually kind of funny because Plaza is very funny as Tatiana, who is a very, very bad girl. Alice on the other hand isn't so much of a bad girl, but she is just getting over a bad break-up and whenever she hears the word "wedding" she drinks...and drinks...and drinks. The two of them make more of a debacle of the wedding than the boys ever could.

And you can see how this movie is going to go from miles away. 

I don't know why I keep doing this to myself.  I see a trailer and the movie looks funny so I go see it or rent the DVD and realize I have not only seen all of the funniest bits in the trailer, but practically the whole film as well.  It's a one note joke.  But that's not to say that there aren't some laughs to be had here, even for someone my age who is hardly the demographic this film was aimed at.  So a younger crowd might find taking ecstasy, an overabundance of pubic hair and getting naked funnier than I did.

But Aubrey and Anna are the real stars here.  Aubrey is really funny and will go all out for the laughs and Anna also shows her comedic chops.  She is a very versatile actress.  It's nice seeing women getting the laughs. As for Zac and Andy?  They are great at being hapless schmoes taken advantage of by the girls and, yes, ladies, Zac takes his shirt off.

Rosy the Reviewer says...there are some laughs to be had, but I think I listed most of them in this review.  But, hey, Zac takes his shirt off and that's good enough for me!


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

227 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Slacker (1991)


A day in the life of the slackers of Austin, Texas circa 1990's.

Director Richard Linklater follows a group of subcultural eccentrics through the course of a day as they wander around Austin, Texas.  Over 100 different cast members of unknown actors (and friends of Linklater) dovetail on each other as they loosely interrelate, carrying on conversations that appear to be improvised, but in fact were all scripted by Linklater. He not only wrote the script but directed and even starred in this one. 

There is no real plot per se. People run into each other and engage and then break off into a new plot line, if you could call any of this a plot. Let's just say, few of these people have jobs, many are overeducated, and some are just plain weird. They are mostly twenty-somethings, social outcasts and misfits, and Linklater uses a series of vignettes where the characters seamlessly move from one scene and into another. 

Here's an example of that kind of dovetailing of characters: A guy leaves a bookstore and we follow him for awhile.  Then he starts talking to a guy working on his car and then that first guy leaves and now it's about the guy working on the car with his friends.  Those guys get in their car, pick up another guy who talks about how glad he is that his Dad is dead, then that guy gets out of the car and now it's about him and we follow him until he meets someone else and then we follow that person. Get it?  It's actually quite cool. It's a revolving door of characters and vignettes that moves the movie along despite its lack of a plot and evokes that feeling you may get as people pass you by on the street or you see sitting in the restaurant.  What are their lives like, where are they going, what are they doing today?  Why aren't they at work?  Well, I wonder those things anyway, and this film gives us a peek into what those people are doing.  And why aren't they at work?  They are slackers! 

Highlights include Linklater himself playing a young guy in the back of a cab regaling a stone-faced cab driver with his stream of consciousness about alternate realities (really funny), a conspiracy theorist who believes that the U.S. has been on the moon since the 1950s, and a woman who produces a glass slide purportedly of Madonna's pap smear. 

The film ends with a bunch of young people making a movie - and of course one of those people is Linklater himself, the young guy who started the film in the back of that cab.  Remember those old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney films where they would say something like, "Let's put on a show!  My parents have a barn we can use!"  Well, this film with Linklater and his frirends is like "Here's an idea.  Let's get together and make a movie!"        

By now you probably know that I am a huge Linklater fan.  This was only his second feature film and the first to get any real distribution.  He shot it on 16mm film for a mere $23,000 and set the stage for what has become a brilliant career with his classic "Dazed and Confused," his stunning "Before" trilogy, and  the Oscar nominated "Boyhood," all original and milestone films.  He has had five Oscar nominations. This movie was a key film in the independent film movement of the 1990's and directly inspired Kevin Smith to make his own movies, thus "Clerks" was born.

Why it's a Must See: [This film] doesn't have anything resembling a continuous plot except in the most lilteral way that it moves chronologically and geographically through part of a day in Austin, but it's brimming with weird characters and wonderful talk...Even if the movie goes nowhere in terms of narrative...the highly evocative scenes give an often hilarious sense fo the surviving dregs of 1960's culture and a superbly realized sense of a specific community."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a Linklater fan you will enjoy seeing his early effort, but even if you aren't a fan, it will remind you of what the 90's were like.  It's an original and lots of fun.

***Book of the Week***

Turner Classic Movies: The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter by Jeremy Arnold and Robert Osborne (2016)

Fifty-two essential films. Why 52?  It's a year of classic films.  One per week and you have seen them all!

As you know I have been in the midst of "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" for a couple of years (see above).  It is daunting to say the least since I have 227 to go and at the rate of one per week, it's going to take me another four and a quarter years to see them all.  At my age, I might not make it that long!  So anyone taking on a similar task needs to take that into consideration.  Will you live long enough to see all of the films?

But if you are interested in immersing yourself in some classic films or want to be able to say you have seen "the essentials," this would be an easy way to get into it.  There are only 52 films, and if you watch one a week, you've got the job done in a year.

Now keep in mind, these are all Turmer Classic Movies, as in movies that have shown on TCM  as part of a program started in 2001 called "The Essentials," a weekly Saturday night program that was first hosted by Rob Reiner and later directors Sydney Pollack and Peter Bogdanovich.  Then the format changed in 2006 when Robert Osborne came on board as host with a rotating cast of co-hosts: Critic Molly Haskell, Carrie Fisher, Alec Baldwin and others.  The co-hosts participated in choosing the "essential" films that would be shown and each year the TCM staff would compile a list of the films that would be shown.  The show is currently on hiatus.

This book reflects that program and before you get your knickers in a twist if you favorite movie isn't listed, the introduction clearly states that this book is not an attempt to list the BEST films, only "a sampling of some of the nearly three hundred films that have been shown so far on TCM as 'essential' movie-watching..."  I know, how can "The Shawshank Redemption" or "Pulp Fiction" not be included?  Well, first of all, only films up through the 1980's are listed, so that excludes those two, and even if you have a favorite that was produced in that time period, it still might not be included.  But this is still a good list of must-see films with the expected classics such as "Gone With the Wind" and "Citizen Kane" in evidence, but there are also some lesser known films like "Gun Crazy" and "Leave Her to Heaven" - a nice mix of classic films.

So what constitutes an "essential?"

These films have all "left an unmistakable impact in some way." 

If you are a movie buff, you have probably seen most of these, so even if you don't want to embark on any binge-watching, this is also a fun read because each film included has a couple of pages that talk about why the movie matters and some fun facts and interesting things you should look for in the film (or be reminded of).

And speaking about why movies matter, in case you missed my blog post of the same name, here it is.  It's one of my most popular posts and movie lovers have commented that it was meaningful to them.

"Why Movies Matter"

I have already seen all of the films in this book, but I enjoyed revisiting them, reading why they are important and the interesting facts about their production and casts, and if you are a movie lover, you will too.

Rosy the Reviewer says...for anyone who loves the movies.

That's it for this week!

Thanks for reading!

 See you next Friday 

for my review of



The Week in Reviews

(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project." 


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Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Once there, click on the link that says "Explore More" on the right side of the screen.  Scroll down to External Reviews and when you get to that page, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.

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