Mary Poppins Returns
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Pandora ticks off all the current societal scares and packs them into one slightly bloated, often shrieking action drama that nevertheless gets the job done despite its worst narrative instincts.
Talking about specific genre films that have been around forever, disaster movies have been around forever, seemingly. They came into popularity, at least on this side of the world, in the 70s with films like Airport and its sequels, Earthquake, Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. Admittedly speaking, I've only seen the latter of the aforementioned flicks. And I wasn't in love with it, because I felt that it was way too fucking long at almost three hours in length. The genre sort of died off before coming back with Titanic and really kicking off post-2000 with films like The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, San Andreas and others that I'm sure I'm forgetting. South Korea, naturally, has several of these that I've seen. Off the top of my head, I recall seeing two movies called Tidal Wave and The Tower. The former I liked, the latter was pretty much a South Korean version of The Towering Inferno except considerably shorter. I wasn't a big fan of The Tower, despite giving it an average score. Which brings us to this flick, a nuclear disaster film. Where do I even begin? I suppose I should say that the film is fairly chaotic. And that's to be expected given what was a nuclear meltdown that could get considerably worse if a leak isn't isn't stopped. So the chaotic pacing of the film, with characters constantly moving, whether it is to help others or evacuating from the little town near the nuclear plant, the flick is certainly never boring. Would I say that I liked the movie? I suppose I'd say that I liked certain parts of it. The chaotic tone constantly kept you tense. It certainly kept from thinking too much about whether it was good or not because you might have ended up missing something important. It's certainly a very watchable movie, at the least. But, and you knew that this was gonna come eventually, this movie falls into the trap a shit-ton of South Korean movies fall into. You know that you're in for quite a ride when you have a South Korean disaster film. What I mean by that is that this is the type of movie, particularly this type of scenario where the entirety of South Korea is under the threat of being exposed to radiation if the situation isn't contained in time, where they can give in to their absolute worst tendencies. I've watched my share of South Korean movies, gotta be in the hundreds now, and I've seen some of their television series (less than ten), and I know that a lot of them like to rely on melodrama to get their point across. They do this by having characters loudly weeping, giving sad monologues with a sad score. They do everything in their power to manipulate and pull at your heartstrings. So it stands to reason that this movie made use of such tactics as well. I've seen enough South Korean movies to have known, even before watching this, that it was bound to end this way. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out. And that's really problematic because, while the film wasn't perfect, as far as disaster movies go, this was actually a fairly solid little movie. I believe it has too many things going on at once, like the whole Prime Minister hiding shit from the president about the situation at the nuclear plant felt like a way to pad the movie. The Prime Minister eventually takes control and does everything in his power to keep the truth from the media (sort of like the current president of the U.S). The president, eventually, after being absent from meetings, takes control and finally starts taking affirmative action that might actually help people. I honestly have no idea what the point of this subplot was. Like I said, it was an unnecessary way to pad out the length, because the people responsible for hiding important reports from the president never face any consequences. The Prime Minister, after the president takes full control, is never seen again in a substantial scene. I get that they felt the president should have played an important role, but this character did nothing for me, they tried too hard to play at the altruistic, humble president. I think the story should have centered more on Jae (one of the nuclear plant workers who ***SPOILERS*** makes the ultimate sacrifice at the end) and his family (mother, sister-in-law, nephew and girlfriend) escaping from the town. That way you could have developed the characters a little more. They do a decent enough job as it is, but they could have done more if they limited the president's role more. The scene where the nuclear reactor explodes and sends debris flying into the town is really cool visually. It's not the best you will ever see, but it's well done. The acting is solid. But, again, I cannot overlook the fact that the third act was so melodramatic. Jae's girlfriend lies to his mother about the fact that he's gonna catch up to them. It culminates in the third act when the mother realizes this and turns back (they're on the highway far away from town) to walk back to him. This is at a point in time when Jae has decided to make the ultimate sacrifice to save his family and the rest of South Korea from radiation exposure. He was wearing this suit with a helmet camera that was showing a live feed of the action the the president. Jae turns the helmet camera on himself, asks to be put on TV to speak to his family. The family (and the girlfriend) go back to the bus they got off from, which has a TV (how convenient) and they are able to see Jae give his little speech apologizing to his mother, praising his sister-in-law for her strength and lament the fact that he was not able to give his girlfriend the life, and happiness, she deserved. This is all fine and dandy. The problem comes in the fact that, as he gives this monologue, and I already spoiled this, he's loudly sobbing. The mother is loudly sobbing. The sister-in-law is loudly sobbing. The nephew is loudly sobbing. The girlfriend is loudly sobbing. Jae's fellow volunteers who went back in are all loudly sobbing. In short, everyone is fucking loudly sobbing. And it's, like, how effective can this be when everyone in sight is crying their eyes out. It'd be fine if it was just one person doing it, but almost every character, that is shown during this scene, is crying their eyes out. That, honestly, just ruins what should have been a very poignant scene. This is a man who is talking to his family for the last time before he dies, despite the fact that he cannot see or hear them. This required a very subtle approach to pull off effectively. They took the subtle approach, put it in a cannon and shot that motherfucker into space. In its place we got some heavy-handed histrionics that did no one any favors. It doesn't kill the movie, but it brings the rating down from 3 stars to 2.5, that's how bad it is. And that's a shame, because there's enough here, prior to the melodrama, to enjoy. But they had to give in to their worst habits and it was not to the benefit of the overall quality in any way, shape or form. With that said, this is still a fairly decent disaster film. One that falls apart in the third act, but that isn't enough to keep me from having enjoyed most of this. I'd say shut it off after a certain point, but you wouldn't get a real conclusion to anything. You can do that with other flicks and it's not so much of an issue, but not with this one. This was decent when it really should have been good.
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