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Cure (1997 film): among the best horror films I’ve seen

I’m not a big fan of horror films. I’m tired of the genre’s reliance on in-your-face spooks and special effects. I’ve watched Cure twice, however. It’s undeniably a horror film, but the events that occur within it are situated in the real world. It’s also a mentally-challenging thriller.

Other review sites had already summarized the events in the film, so I won’t do it again. Since the film is open to interpretation, however, I’m going to write about mine and corroborate it with evidence.

Spoilers are below.

I think that Takabe was never completely mesmerized by Mamiya. That’s one of the central questions of the film. Since I don’t have a psychology textbook with me, I used a bit of Wikipedia. Hypnotic suggestion is dependent on the person. While most of the killers in the filmed may have medium susceptibility to hypnotic suggestion, Takabe had shown a strong resistance to Mamiya’s suggestion.

This is the first time Takabe knocks down Mamiya's lighter.

This is the first time Takabe knocks down Mamiya’s lighter.

Most of the first half of the movie presented how Mamiya was able to hypnotize the people who eventually performed murder. He usually utilizes the lighter in a one-on-one environment to draw the murderers in. Barring that, as with the case of the female physician, he uses the person’s reflection and the sound of flowing water, but it takes significantly more time to totally mesmerize the person.

The second time that Takabe knocks down Mamiya's lighter while daring Mamiya to hypnotize him.

The second time that Takabe knocks down Mamiya’s lighter while daring Mamiya to hypnotize him.

On my second viewing I looked at the size of the water puddle on the floor to estimate how much time lay between the water dropping through the ceiling and the hall guard entering the room. Since the film doesn’t go out of its way to be supernatural, I believe that a puddle that size would probably take between thirty seconds to a minute to grow to that size. Takabe is also very immersed in his pursuit of the serial killer that he is resistant to suggestion: the picture of the room when the hall guard entered was Mamiya rolling on the floor with Takabe abruptly standing. Perhaps Mamiya was able to impress upon him, finally, the necessity of Takabe killing his wife in order to life his own life. I also think that when Mamiya mentioned Takabe helping him escape, I think he meant that Takabe knew Mamiya’s capabilities to mesmerize the hall guard yet left him alone despite that.

The water puddle has a small size. It was only less than a minute between the water pooling and the hall guard arriving.

The water puddle has a small size. It was only less than a minute between the water pooling and the hall guard arriving.

Mamiya, however, never completes the sign of the X before he is gunned down by Takabe. I think that the ending is Takabe’s conscious choice to become the next among the ‘missionaries’ who would tear away the veneer of society and expose the darkness in people’s hearts: he gets rid of his wife in the process, and seems to be an even more potent Mesmer than Mamiya ever was. By freeing himself, he also becomes the undesired cure for other people. To me, the Cure in the film’s title pertains to the release from civilization and society that holds us back from our deeper desires: ultimately, all of the murderers in the film wished to kill their victims, but they let themselves go because of the suggestion.

The X was never completed.

The X was never completed.

There’s a very good chance that this film will end up as one of my all-time favorites.

Sorcerer (1977): one of the best thrillers of all time

I have always believed in the saying that ‘if you watch what everyone else is watching, you’ll think what everyone else is thinking.’ I’ve always been disgusted with intellectual stagnation, so I tried to avoid immersing myself in only what was popular. That philosophy allowed me to watch a film as old as Cavalcade, which was the Academy Award-winner for Best Picture back in 1933. (I don’t recommend watching that film: it’s a slog, and not even Noel Coward’s screenplay could save it. It’s probably among the worst Best Picture winners I’ve seen.) Most of the dated films I’ve seen were most definitely not as bad.

This scene was immaculately and painstakingly filmed. I was blown away with how it was executed - in 1977.

This scene was immaculately and painstakingly filmed. I was blown away with how it was executed – in 1977.

Casablanca still remains to be one of the most well-written and well-acted films I have seen, even though it was initially shown in 1942. Sorcerer also lies in the opposite spectrum from Cavalcade. It’s one of the best films I have seen. It was directed by William Friedkin, who is better known for his Best Picture-winning French Connection, and his seminal horror, The Exorcist. As I wasn’t and still am not into shock-horror films, I abstained from watching Exorcist. (I do watch films such as The Night of the Hunter and The Shining, however.) Because I was fond of thriller films, I watched The French Connection. It was merely a bonus that I saw the talented Gene Hackman play as an anti-hero instead of his later villainous roles. It was a good film then, and is a good film now.

Sorcerer, however, is a better film in my opinion than French Connection. Although Roy Scheider was never a notable a leading man as Gene Hackman was, Sorcerer had a more engaging and well-wrought story. It was a truly gritty, well-directed and well-acted thriller: Wikipedia even revealed that due to its close-quarters filming back in the 1970s, stuntmen were not utilized much: most of the stunts were performed by the leading actors themselves. The director contracted malaria after filming the movie. It was as manly as any film could get.

Despite its merits, however, few people know of the film nowadays. Why is that?

The answer is simple: it came out during the same year that Star Wars came out. The 1970s marked the period where people transitioned from enjoying films featuring earthly suspicion and paranoia toward the more iridescent space operas. I think Sorcerer was among the latest attempts by a talented and well-awarded film-maker to ground a picture in realistic cynicism and bleakness. We all know what happened to Star Wars: there’s even a movie coming out later this year! Sorcerer, on the other hand, was left in the lurch. Only fans of good thrillers or great cinema search for it: I only stumbled it when I had already seen most of the notable 1960 spy films.

The plot of the film is simple. Four down-and-out men belonging to the lower depths in different societies somehow end up in Nicaragua. They live sordid lives there, and wish to get out. There are almost no options left until an oil well explodes, and the oil company searches for four desperate, daring men to carry nitroglycerin to stop the fire. (This is probably where the saying ‘fight fire with fire’ came about.) Things don’t get any easier when these men have to traverse through the forests of Nicaragua with such terrible terrain: exaggerated vibrations can cause nitroglycerin to explode.

Though the film’s first hour may be slow to people used to watching Michael Bay films, the explication and build-up is worth it. By painting the four major characters with the desperation they need to tackle such a suicidal job, the gravity of their job is magnified. The second hour makes up for it with a number of suspenseful, taut sequences depicting their struggle to successfully deliver the goods. The four major characters certainly do not disappoint, and Roy Scheider was at his absolute best here.

I recommend this film to movie-watchers looking for a cerebral thriller with a dash of social commentary, as well as to those who are simply fond of well-made films. I am not exaggerating when I say this ranks among my top 5 films. To me, it really is THAT good.

Tokyo Story: an elegy to parenthood

My father was a year old when Tokyo Story was released back in 1953. To put things into context, I am only 27 years. Tokyo Story is more than twice as old as I am.

The best film of all time for directors

The best film of all time for directors.

Why did I attempt to watch such a dated film?

I watched it because Tokyo Story is considered by both directors and critics alike to be among the best films of all time. It’s not enough to read about a great film: a film is truly experienced only when one watches it. I had initially obtained a copy of it back when I was still an intern, but forgot about it because I had to attend to responsibilities inside the hospital and out. I then watched glimpses of it, but it was only two days ago that I had finally completed the film in its entirety. (It doesn’t help that the film has a slow, pensive, and elegiac quality in it. Patience is extremely important when one attempts to watch this movie.)

I don’t think it to be the greatest film of all time. First, I am neither movie critic nor director, so my understanding of film theory is marginal at best. I have a few films I think are more appealing to me. (These films are often thrillers, like The Killing and Army of Shadows.) Yet I cannot discount the greatness of this film and the eternal timeliness of its subject matter: Tokyo Story talks about family.

The story is simple. An elderly couple from rural Japan decide to visit their children in Tokyo. They are slowly being pushed aside, however, because of their children’s responsibilities to their family and to their work. Shige is the most obvious offender, bordering on subtly disrespecting her parents. Noriko, on the other hand, is a widow of the couple’s son. Despite that, however, she showers the most love and concern toward the couple, and it is this realization by the patriarch that moved me to tears. The blood siblings rush back to Tokyo a little after one of their parents died: only Noriko remained to help.

It’s so easy to summarize the film, because it tells a simple story. Its greatness, I believe, lies in its artistic expression as one watches the film. There are no true villains in this movie: there are only children who have drifted apart, and parents who have grown old.

I know and believe it’s natural to drift away from one’s parents. I guess I am lucky that I grew up in a close, traditional household that me and my siblings’ ties to our parents are still strong despite our adulthood. One day, I would have to be separated from them as well. I’m just glad that we were raised with filial respect that has still endured even despite our misgivings as regards our parents. I’m glad that I’ve watched the film, because I saw myself in the character of Koichi, who was a small, neighborhood doctor. While patients are indeed important, the film reminded me that my parents, who have given me life, are also important. Sometimes I take them for granted, but I appreciate them even more now that I’ve seen the film. While I would still get pissed off at them sometimes, as children normally do, I have the utmost respect and love for them. I hope having my own family in the future will not efface that.

This post is my own reminder.