When I saw the first trailer for Crimson Peak, you might say my interest was immediately… “peaked” (I’m so sorry.) It was being marketed as a horror film, released during Halloween season, but I could see from the trailer that that was merely the result of advertisers not knowing how to sell a movie that was clearly deeply inspired by the literary tradition of gothic romance (a fact that director Guillermo del Toro continuously asserts whenever talking about Crimson Peak on Twitter) As our heroine Edith (Mia Wasikowska) states in the film itself, this is not a ghost story, it’s a story with a ghost in it.
That said, the ghosts are beautiful, terrifying, and effective. They are all real actors in full makeup, enhanced by CG, which lends them an extra element of unsettling physicality. Enshrouded in shifting mists and yet unmistakably there, all of the scenes where Edith encounters or senses a ghost are by no means throwaway moments. So while Crimson Peak may not scare you out of your wits, you won’t be entirely disappointed by its creep-factor. And the ghosts are not the only stunning visuals in this delectable del Toro romp, the cinematography, costumes, and art direction are all superb. I saw the film in IMAX, and the striking colors and lush set design really shone on that larger-than-life screen.
But it is so much more than the ghosts that make Crimson Peak creepy. The characters and the setting all practically ooze with foreboding and tension. Or literally ooze, in the case of the Sharpe family home, Allerdale Hall. The crumbling castle that Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) brings his new bride Edith to is slowly sinking into the blood-red earth, and the impossibly bright clay continuously seeps into the walls and through the floorboards. The house is enormous and lavishly decorated but in an obvious state of disrepair, the perfect metaphor for the mysterious and deteriorating relationship of the Sharpe siblings Thomas and Lucille (Jessica Chastain).
Chastain gives a wonderful performance as the unhinged elder Sharpe. Working with her brother Thomas to save their childhood home and get his clay-mining machine off the ground, Lucille is possessive and disdainful. She is suspicious of Edith and her connection to Thomas, constantly wondering if the young woman has replaced her in her brother’s heart. Her villainous reveal in the film’s climax is an unsettling delight, with all the creepiness of Allerdale Hall and the Sharpe family finally boiling over into a violent and emotional explosion. Lucille is the best kind of bad girl: assertive, determined, and self-aware. Her frank confession to Edith about accepting her own monstrousness is equal parts pitiful and chilling. In the end, Lucille is a tragic character, but that only enhances how scary she can be.
Finally, Edith is a smart, capable writer whose only blind spot seems to be Thomas and his ominous home. Despite claiming that she has no interest in romance and looks down upon the nobility (she name-drops Mary Shelley, the mother of contemporary science fiction, as a woman she aspires to be like), Edith’s eyes turn into hearts as soon as baronet Thomas Sharpe walks through her door. She is untrusting of Lucille, but only because she seems to disapprove of her hasty marriage to Thomas and not because she is clearly poisoning her from the moment she enters Allerdale Hall. However, while such a naive characterization would likely bother me in another film, in Crimson Peak it works. And most importantly, Edith’s naïveté does not stop her from being her own hero in the end.
The film begins and ends with the cover of a book –another nod to the literary tradition it draws so much inspiration from– and with Edith’s narration of the story that unfolds. “Ghosts are real,” she states clearly, but when the film ends and we realize that Edith herself is the author of the story we’ve just been told, what is real and what isn’t is momentarily less certain. Is the sordid tale of Lucille and Thomas Sharpe, their sins and their decaying legacy, merely the result of Edith’s skill as a writer or did it all really happen, ghosts and all? No matter what the answer, Crimson Peak is still a satisfyingly weird and wild ride.
My friends have been excited for The Martian since it was announced, especially those of them who were captivated by the book it is based on, written by Andy Weir. We saw it this weekend, and I do not think anyone left the theatre disappointed.
The Martian takes everything that is satisfying and inspiring about science fiction and puts it together. Fragile humans making their way in inhospitable surroundings, edge-of-your-seat action sequences, gorgeous cinematography, intriguing science and jargon, and the triumph of human ingenuity and unity in the face of terrible odds. Plus, it has a killer cast. Would have liked to have seen some women of color in the mix but it is fair to say the depiction of white women and men of color was still generally favorable. I was pleased for example, by the presence of more than one woman on the Ares crew (especially because one was the commander– Jessica Chastain is stoic yet compassionate as Commander Lewis) as well as the fact that women actually exist in Mission Control. It speaks to the lack of these types of roles for women that my heart swelled when it was a female employee working on satellites who first noticed something amiss about the fate of astronaut Mark Watney, setting the stage for the film’s main conflict: figuring out how to get him home. Not only that, but Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, and Donald Glover all give great performances as major players in the plan to bring Watney home. And of course, Michael Peña is delightful as smart-mouthed Ares crew member Martinez.
The premise of The Martian is deceptively simple. Astronaut Mark Watney is left stranded on Mars after his crew’s mission is aborted and he is thought to be dead after being struck by debris. When Mission Control notices movement at the Mars base camp via satellites and realizes Watney is alive, NASA must quickly come up with a plan to bring him back to Earth. There are many obstacles, human errors, and pure accidents that threaten to keep Watney alone on the red planet, but the film’s message is persistent throughout: keep trying, work the problem, get through it.
One thing I especially appreciate about this particular brand of sci-fi, the realistic NASA-focused type, is that there are no petty villains to distract from what is already a daunting and horrific main conflict. Every character besides Watney is invested in bringing him home. The bigwigs at NASA each have a unique perspective based on their field (the media relations director wants to maintain morale and public favor, the Mars missions director wants to fix the problem without derailing any other Mars missions, the Jet Propulsion Lab director wants hard facts and numbers to be able to best solve the problems at hand, and the director of NASA wants to do everything possible to avoid a disaster while also preserving the image and future of NASA itself) but they are all nonetheless working toward the same goal. Nothing gets my goat like a smarmy bureaucratic character thrown into the mix specifically to gum up the works, and blessedly there is no such character in The Martian. The actions of NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) may seem frustrating at times but they are never malicious or without explanation. This is surely due in part to Daniels’ stellar performance, equal parts collected, empathetic and no-nonsense.
Matt Damon of course gives a wonderfully charismatic performance as Watney, injecting the perfect degree of humor and hope into a story that could easily be depressing and dark. I went into this movie not knowing anything about it, and was pleasantly surprised by how unique of a character I found Watney to be, so I won’t spoil that experience by elaborating too much on his personality and role in the Ares crew. Better to just check it out for yourself.
Finally, I saw The Martian in 3D, with motion seating, and would definitely recommend the 3D experience. These days seeing a movie in 3D is a real gamble; sometimes it’s poorly executed and distracting, other times it simply feels like a gimmick, and rarely it truly enhances the movie-going experience. The Martian is certainly in the latter category. I felt enveloped in the film and the many shots of the empty Mars landscape took on a whole new grandeur in 3D. The motion seating, I have to admit, was also pretty cool. The seat rotated and shook at appropriate moments throughout the film, with the motion ranging from a smooth glide as the camera panned across Mars’ red dunes to violent rumbling during a storm. Though I obviously wouldn’t want to see every movie this way, combined with the 3D it really made for a memorable viewing. And The Martian is a memorable film, so why not indulge in a little adventure?
By now everyone knows that Jurassic World is a huge summer hit, but I’d like to take a moment to share my two cents on a tiny, brilliant, apparently polarizing part of the film: Bryce Dallas Howard (as Claire) runs her ass off in a pair of high heels for half the film. It is amazing.
There has been quite a lot of media attention paid to this wardrobe choice. Most commentators seem to be fixated on how it would be impossible to run on the park’s terrain in high heels. This is a ridiculous argument–it’s a movie about genetically engineering dinosaurs and housing them in a theme park as tourist attractions. Disbelief has already been suspended to an incredible degree, so why quibble over some shoes? Why not just see Claire own her wardrobe choices, watch her run away from dinosaurs in them and believe she can do it? Frankly, I dig it.
I confess that the initial scene where Owen (Chris Pratt) gives Claire a hard time about her outfit when they’re out in the park looking for her nephews made me cringe a little. The scene is trite, clichéd and makes Claire look naive as well as silly as she rolls up her sleeves and ties up her blouse. But then the film, from director Colin Trevorrow, turns the uptight, “girly girl” cliché on its head as Claire proceeds to show just how badass and ready to kick ass she is in her supposedly insensible heels. Never once does she trip or hurt herself because of her shoes and Howard runs all out.
Claire sadly isn’t a three-dimensional character but neither are any of the other characters: they’re all props in service of the spectacles and thrills. Nevertheless, Claire does everything Owen does except she does it in high heels and a skirt. This may be a small, seemingly inconsequential part of the film, but its simplicity speaks volumes. Jurassic World is by no means a feminist film*, but those heels are another kind of small step toward better and more varied portrayals of women in film because they’re not used as a gimmick or to further a stereotype but are instead used to uproot that stereotype.
Sometimes the small things are more important than the obvious because they’re indicative of the changing perceptions of women in society: when the type-A, high-powered, prudish female stereotype kicks just as much ass in an action movie as the alpha male hero stereotype AND it’s portrayed as natural, not out of the ordinary or extraordinary, then there’s hope that societal constructs of femininity and gender roles are shifting. The fact that this occurred in a high-profile, mega blockbuster is all the better for how many people have seen and will see it and be influenced, either unconsciously or directly, which I think is a victory, no matter how small, for challenging and breaking down those constructs.
In addition, most of the comments I’ve read disparaging the shoes focus on the environment the character is in, not whether Howard is physically capable of the feat. I count this as a win.
Brava, Bryce Dallas Howard. Work it.
(Now if only she wasn’t the only substantial female presence in the movie… I did say it was a small step, right?)
*As far as I’m concerned, Jurassic World has no agenda other than pure entertainment–it’s not smart enough for that. But it sure is a fun watch.
After hearing many things about Mad Max: Fury Road and how wonderful and feminist it is, I finally got around to seeing it myself. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, but I do think the reviews that fall over themselves to praise the film as a groundbreaking feminist work may be slightly reaching. That’s not to deny the film’s appeal for women, however, as Fury Road is certainly very feminist in the sense that it puts women on nearly equal footing with men, in a genre that has traditionally been rooted in the concept of masculinity. I have heard from many women that simply knowing female characters exist in Fury Road as subjects and not objects was enough to get them to the theatre, and that says a lot about the dearth of options for women interested in exciting action films. But perhaps the best example of how the portrayal of women in Fury Road stands to positively affect representations of women in media comes not from audience reactions or box office sales, but from the film itself.
Sorry about the hiatus, dear reader. Clara has been away and I promised her I wouldn’t talk about Avengers: Age of Ultron until she got back. Also I’ve been busy and haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet so obviously my hands have been tied!
Anyway, instead of writing one long post about a particular movie or show that’s out right now, I’m going to do a roundup of quick thoughts on some of the television I’ve been watching over the past month. Spoilers ahoy! Also, be warned for discussions of rape and drug use.
Game of Thrones
Let’s get the big one out of the way. Episode 6 of the current season of Game of Thrones has caused quite a stir among online feminist circles for yet another controversial depiction of rape. In a plotline that is a marked departure from the source material, Sansa Stark has been promised to Ramsey Bolton (formerly Snow) whose father Roose currently holds Sansa’s old home, Winterfell. In the final scene of the episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Ramsey rapes Sansa on their wedding night and forces Theon to watch.
The multitude of reasons why this scene left many viewers feeling ill has been discussed at length, but perhaps my strongest objection to it is the way a woman’s sexual assault is framed as tragic and important because it hurts a man. Despite the fact that Sansa has been manipulated into a terrible situation, forced to marry the sadistic bastard son of the man responsible for murdering her mother and brother, the scene makes Theon’s pain the focus; the last image we see is his tearful, trembling face. Many fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series have also accused the Game of Thrones showrunners of again including a rape scene that never occurred in the books, essentially using a very real, violent, and traumatic act for shock value and an easy way to give female characters edgy development. While I haven’t personally read the books and have only watched the show, I agree that rape is treated much too casually on Game of Thrones and am consistently uncomfortable with the way violence against women is often treated as sexualized and titillating. For many viewers, this scene was the last straw, and they are refusing to continue watching Game of Thrones. I’m not personally boycotting the show because honestly I am too curious about the story to let it go, but I am disappointed in showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ consistent shortcomings with regard to women’s issues, and will be especially wary of it in any of their future projects (if, in fact, I choose to see them at all).
I recently got caught up with season 3 of Elementary, and saw the season finale where Sherlock, after being manipulated by an ex-dealer of his, relapses in his heroin addiction. The moment was rough, as Holmes’ sense of control over his addiction (not to mention his life in general) has seemed more stable than ever this season. But Elementary’s choice to depict this Holmes as a recovering addict has truly not been a casual one.
Rather than treating addiction as a one-note character flaw, Sherlock’s recovery is depicted as a never-ending process, one that he cannot tackle alone. Whether it’s Joan as his former sober companion, Alfredo as his sponsor, or the many support meetings he attends, it’s clear that Sherlock needs others to maintain perspective and sobriety, which is humanizing and grounding for a character that is too often depicted as hyperintelligent and in complete control of himself and his surroundings. When Sherlock, angry and alone, retreats to an abandoned tunnel and succumbs to a familiar enemy, we understand the weight that this moment has for him, and it hits like a punch to the gut. The combination of Sherlock’s relapse, the imminent return of his absent yet oft-maligned father and Joan’s recent introversion and struggle to reconcile her detective work and personal life, is setting up season 4 to be a painful rebirth for the entire cast. Nonetheless, I will watch it faithfully in my bed with the covers pulled up to my chin to catch my tears, because while the “mystery of the week” style cases Sherlock and Joan tackle in each episode are rather predictable (and as I have often described them, “CBS-y”) I am completely in love with these characters and cannot wait to see how they continue to grow and shape each other.
Jane the Virgin
I have a hard time not gushing about this show to anyone and everyone because it is truly everything I could have ever wanted out of a primetime drama and it consistently delights and surprises me. In case you don’t know, Jane the Virgin is based on the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen, and it takes plenty of cues from the telenovela format. The plot twists and turns, emotions run high, and important moments are punctuated with cheeky commentary from the narrator or on-screen stage directions (typed as though in a screenplay).
The show’s central drama is the pregnancy of the titular Jane, who is accidentally artificially inseminated and decides to keep the baby. Many, many things also happen throughout the course of the inaugural season, but since the show is new and half the fun is the wild ride the plot takes you on, I will leave any other spoilers out this time. The first season just wrapped up this month, and I’m already dying to know what happens next. Even though I’m keeping it zipped on the particulars of the show’s storyline, the most important things to remember are that the cast is fantastic (Gina Rodriguez in particular is incredible in her first starring role) the story is equal parts funny, touching, and honest, and the second season premieres in October. Set your DVR already!
Finally, I’m really looking forward to Seinfeldcoming to Hulu on June 24. It’s about time for a rewatch of my favorite 90s sitcom about misanthropic white people in NYC! Sorry, Friends.
While the two of us have unique sensibilities when it comes to film (we each have our own favorite directors, genres, etc) we also share some common favorites. Every now and then on this blog we’ll get together to review them and talk about what makes them so special to us. The first “Our Favorite Films” post is for Sunny (2011), which Clara referenced in her post 6 South Korean Movies That Should Be On Your “To-Watch” List.
As stated in that post, Sunny is about a middle-aged woman who gathers her group of high school girlfriends for a reunion at the request of their old leader, who is dying of cancer. As Clara astutely noted, it’s essentially the South Korean Now and Then, only better. So let’s dive right in!
Note: We discuss a lot of particulars about the film here so there are some spoilers. If you want to avoid those, watch the movie first, then come join in the conversation!
E: Let’s talk SUNNY
E: AKA The best girlfriends movie in the world.
C: Agreed. It had been awhile since I’d seen it and I had forgotten just how solid it is as a movie. It’s so well-directed and thought out and the acting is amazing.
E: You mentioned it being well directed before and that was something I forgot about it, also having not seen it in a while.
E: It’s just well-crafted in addition to being really heartfelt and funny.
C: That opening scene where adult Na-mi is making breakfast for her husband and daughter. She makes all this food, none of it for herself, her family hardly eats it, and then, after they’ve gone, she sits down and eats their leftovers. This all happens in about two minutes and already you know exactly who adult Na-mi is, when she bites into the toast that already has a bite in it.
E: Yes, exactly. I love that opening scene.
C: Also, a cover of “Time After Time” is playing. SO GOOD. Fantastic soundtrack.
E: I definitely have notes about the soundtrack and the use of music. I love how certain songs are used as like eidactic memories, they literally transport the characters to various places, times, emotions.
E: “Reality,” the song Jun-ho plays for Na-mi on his headphones, “Sunny”… And all these specifically 80s tunes that really cement the story in a real time.
C: “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” playing over the intercom at school. That and the way that the characters interact with the music.
E: Yes, so much Cyndi Lauper love on this soundtrack and I love it.
C: It really is transportive.
E: Especially with “Sunny” because they have their dance moves so there’s like actual muscle memory attached to the song for them all. The way whenever it plays they all sort of start doing the moves with their hands and smiling. Like in the scene in the back of the cop car, haha.
C: Speaking of cementing the film in a real time, along with the music, the sets, costumes and references to politics in the 80s are so well done. The Nike shoes, the older brother who’s a student activist, the HAIR!
C: One of my favorite scenes is when the two girl gangs get caught up in a violent protest. Without being overtly political and instead maintaining the focus of the girls’ story and antics, that scene says so much. Plus, it’s funny.
E: Of course, that climactic fight with “Touch by Touch” in the background. One of the best sequences in the movie.
C: I love how it plays like a fantasy almost, but grounded in reality. Like, it’s so over-the-top and ridiculous but it also has real, scary violence.
E: It toes the line between comedy and drama really gracefully. The entire movie is realistic in that way and that’s what I love about it because it’s so completely about women and their real, complex lives. The range of emotion women are allowed in this movie is incredible.
C: It really is. And it doesn’t sugarcoat things. There’s giddiness and joy, but there’s also heartbreak, loneliness, insecurity… Everything.
C: Finding out who the women are as adults is really sad. Na-mi, herself, has a really sad life, even if it’s not as tragic as others.
E: Oh god the scene when Na-mi watches the video of all their teenage selves talking to their future selves saying what they hope their lives will be like and what they believe they’ll have accomplished just wrecks me every time. I weep like a baby.
C: But the movie’s message about being your own protagonist really comes through in how she tries to win her life back.
E: Yeah ultimately the story is about how Na-mi and the rest of the members of Sunny lift each other up and inspire each other to be their best selves, by encouraging one another to be proactive in their own lives.
C: Women empowering women. It really is the greatest movie ever.
E: I love it SO MUCH.
C: ME, TOO.
E: I can never express enough love for Na-mi and Su-ji’s reconciliation. Ending girl on girl hate with booze.
C: The silly-sad drunkenness! “I’m sorry I’m so pretty! You can be the pretty one!”
E: “You’re the prettiest girl in the world! I like you!” Drinking and crying and hugging and calling each other pretty. It’s beautiful.
C: I love that Na-mi confesses that Su-ji’s prettiness actually startled her. And it really did in the scene, which came way before the drunken reconciliation scene. It’s a visible reaction.
E: Young Na-mi is a really great character, she’s so earnest.
C: And even though you can see her insecurities, she’s also really brave and unknowingly unapologetic about who she is.
C: I have to confess that the 80s flashbacks are my favorite parts of the whole movie. But I do love the story of the women as adults, too.
E: I love seeing them come together, how their friendship hasn’t changed. But yeah there is something special about the past scenes. It’s partly that all the young actresses are great, I’m sure.
C: Yeah, but also the film does nostalgia so well that those scenes make me all gooey on the inside. Though, when the women attack Na-mi’s daughter’s bullies, that is fantastic.
E: Haha yes!
C: And the way the women speak to each other hasn’t changed despite not knowing each other for 25 years. I want all my friendships to be so close and brilliant.
E: Another thing I like about the flashbacks are the sort of clique/gang showdowns. Like, the girls are bluffing a lot of the time but they’re also carrying around razor blades and shit and physically fighting a lot.
C: And the leader of the other gang is really a scaredy-cat. I love the way the camera shows her there one second and far away the next second.
E: I guess I just appreciate that the girls’ conflicts aren’t treated as solely frivolous or petty. Like, they’re getting into real fights on a regular basis and that kind of stuff does happen.
C: Yes! Nothing is trivialized even when it is something silly. It’s still treated with respect, instead of minimizing it.
E: I mean, I have this note about how when they make the pact to stay friends, they’re all completely wrecked over Su-ji, covered in blood, making a promise to always be there for each other. That’s hardcore femininity.
C: I LOVE Chun-hwa.
E: She’s amazing.
C: She IS the BEST leader. The fact that she’s concerned and upset while also pissed at Sang-mi for sniffing glue is really moving. She takes care of them all.
E: She really does. The girls all have their strengths but she helps them all realize their potential.
C: It destroys me that she’s dying but she also continues to take care of them all after her death. AND she’s still a hardass about it. All the feels right there. “Hey bitches!”
E: Ughhhh. It really hits me in the scene when they go see adult Bok-hee who’s working in like a sleazy teahouse and she just starts bawling saying Chun-hwa was supposed to take care of everyone.
C: I know.
E: And Na-mi and Jang-mi can’t even really say anything because they felt the same way. They all know how they relied on her.
C: I’m getting a little teary-eyed just thinking about Sunny.
E: Yeah when I was talking about that video scene with their young selves I was like “Don’t think too much about it! You’ll start crying all over again”
C: It’s such a beautiful mix of heartbreaking and heartwarming. And the story and direction flow between funny, touching and upsetting so well. One minute I’m crying because I’m laughing so hard and the next, I’m trying to choke back my sobs.
E: Women supporting other women and giving each other the confidence and the opportunities to thrive like I’m gonna cry.
E: I think it blends the political and the personal really well in the same way.
C: Absolutely. I found it really interesting that the director is a man.
E: Me too to be honest.
C: And he wrote the script. I want to be friends with him.
E: I think I’m just too used to Hollywood where any major “women’s film” is usually written or directed by women.
C: Me, too.
E: And the majority of male-written/directed content tends to give its female characters the shaft.
C: I think there’s no doubt that the actresses make this movie, without the amazing cast this movie wouldn’t work, but with a different director, I’m not sure the movie would work either.
E: I think you’re right, it’s one of those movies where all the pieces just fit.
C: There is diligence and forethought and love in the way this movie was directed.
C: I like that the film never focuses on the men. Even when the lens is on Jun-ho, it’s a POV shot from Na-mi and there is no side to his story, it’s 100% the women’s story.
E: Yeah, even when there’s the possibility of getting Jun-ho’s perspective, when he’s an adult and Na-mi goes to see him, it’s immediately cut off because his feelings about it don’t matter. The journey was all about Na-mi’s closure.
C: Exactly! Initially, I was thrown by that scene–it felt a little weird to me but I ended up loving the way it fit into Na-mi’s journey.
E: I like how remembering her youth and her friendship with Chun-hwa and the other girls helps Na-mi sort of rediscover her bravery.
C: Yes! You know what other seemingly little moment I loved? When Na-mi tells the driver that downtown is never the best way and her daughter tries not to laugh.
E: I really love the little moments with her daughter. Because you can tell from the very beginning how much she loves her and craves connection with her. But she’s an angsty teen so it’s hard to manage. Which makes it so satisfying when they do have those moments.
C: I totally agree. When her daughter walks in on her wearing the school uniform and she’s so embarrassed is hilarious.
E: And when they catch each other in the library and both flip out. Or study or whatever it is. Ridiculous fancy apartment.
C: I love that Na-mi tries to curl in on herself and hide in plain sight in that scene! Like she’s embarrassed but also wants to give her daughter privacy. It’s so adorable.
E: Sigh. Why is this movie so perfect in every way.
C: I know, right. I was trying to think of one thing I didn’t like and nothing. I like it all. I LOVE it all.
E: I thought the same thing. I was recently watching Raiders of the Lost Ark and remarked to my roommate that it’s just such a GOOD movie, well made, entertaining, nails all the right emotional points and stuff. And as I was watching Sunny I thought, this is the same way I felt watching Raiders.
C: What a weird comparison.
E: I know right? Haha.
C: Haha. I know what you mean though. They’re both so satisfying.
E: Not similar in content whatsoever but just really great filmic experiences.
E: It does exactly what a good movie should do.
C: They both tell their stories exactly the way they’re meant to be told.
E: Well do we have any final thoughts or do you think it’s about time to wrap it up?
C: I think the only thing I haven’t mentioned is how good the transitions from past to present are–though we did touch on that with the music. And, of course, this goes back to the direction/editing. I particularly love the first one when adult Na-mi is standing in the crowd of schoolgirls and it transports her back to being a teenager.
E: That’s a great transition.
C: Other than that, I think we’ve touched on pretty much everything.
E: I have one little bit about how I liked the country/city divide, Na-mi’s accent when she first shows up at school, and how she immediately puts it together that Su-ji doesn’t like her because she’s from the same place as her stepmother.
C: This movie has so many layers. That’s such a good bit.
E: I just appreciate it as a cultural thing I guess? Interesting to hear the difference in dialects.
C: The girls have completely different personalities and the way they interact with each other is so perfect.
E: Yeah I love their weird little group and how you might not think they’d all end up together but they just mesh somehow.
C: This movie embodies friendship like nothing else.
C: I love that you love this movie as much as I do.
E: I can’t imagine anybody not loving it?? It’s got everything.
C: It does. I also think that the varied reasons that we love this movie is indicative of our friendship–the things we both believe in, fight for, etc.
E: True. Well that’s the final word on Sunny, I guess. The perfect movie about ladies and friendship that everyone should love.
Today, I’d like to share one of my great, big loves: South Korean movies!
I love South Korean cinema because it is at once familiar and foreign. All of the filmmakers in the country today were educated in Hollywood’s style and technique, so all the technical aspects from framing to camera movements to cutting are familiar to anyone who watches Hollywood movies (i.e. everyone). What makes it different, however, is that the filmmakers have taken all these recognizable tools and used them to craft distinctly Korean stories. For me, this combination creates an exciting mix of new and fun and easy to watch.
I also love that South Korean films seem to defy genre, blending and weaving sci-fi, action, melodrama, horror, comedy, romance and whatever else to create impossible to categorize but delightfully refreshing stories. (Many of the films I list below are genre-benders.)
In an effort to share my love of South Korean movies with everyone and encourage others to watch them, I’ve compiled a short list of some of my favorite South Korean movies. I tried to pick movies that I think are accessible to American audiences–ones that aren’t so culturally different as to be impenetrable from an outsider’s perspective–and I’ve included helpful suggestions on which South Korean movie you might enjoy by comparing them to Hollywood movies. Additionally, I only chose movies that can be easily found online.
Here we go:
Sunny (Dir. Kang Hyeong-cheol)
When a middle-aged woman discovers that an old friend is dying, she hunts down all of their friends from high school to reunite for her dying friend’s last wish. As she tracks them all down, the movie is layered with flashbacks of how they all became friends. It is a funny, poignant and slightly heartbreaking but ultimately heart-warming film that will make you wish your best friends were beside you. This movie gets me in the feels every time I watch it.
If you like Now and Then (Dir. Lesli Linka Glatter) or A League of Their Own (Dir. Penny Marshall), you’ll love Sunny. And it’s available on Hulu!
A Werewolf Boy (Dir. Jo Sung-hee)
Recently moved to the country, a family finds a boy who has been raised by wolves in the woods near their house. They, of course, adopt him. Love and friendship blossom as outside forces try to tear the boy away from the family.
I challenge you not to fall in love with Song Joon-ki, the titular werewolf boy, while watching this movie. Not possible.
If you like Edward Scissorhands (Dir. Tim Burton) or Ever After (Dir. Andy Tennant), this one is definitely for you. Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Dir. Kim Ji-woon)
This kimchi-Western takes places in a Mongolian no-man’s land where a bounty hunter, a gangster and a thief are all on a desperate hunt to eliminate each other and find an unknown treasure. Hijinks, hilarity, and kickass action sequences ensue.
This is not just one of my favorite South Korean movies, it’s one of my favorite movies ever. It’s usually the movie I recommend to others when they ask me about South Korean cinema. It’s pure entertainment. You’ll love it.
If you like Indiana Jones (Dir. Steven Spielberg) movies or the first Pirates of the Caribbean (Dir. Gore Verbinski), this one’s for you. Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.
Memories of Murder (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)
This movie is based off the true story of South Korea’s first serial killer. It’s set in the 80s in a rural town. Someone is brutally raping and killing young women and leaving no trace of themselves behind. A special detective comes in from Seoul to help the local cops.
This is a dark, complex, gritty movie. And it’s brilliantly crafted–some of the best direction there ever was. (Hi, my name is Clara; I am a Bong Joon-ho fangirl.)
If you like Zodiac (Dir. David Fincher) or Silence of the Lambs (Dir. Jonathan Demme), definitely check out this movie. Available on Hulu.
The Host (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)
Yes, The Host is another Bong movie, but it’s totally different than Memories of Murder! And, really, it shouldn’t matter anyway because he makes brilliant movies.
A monster appears in the Han river, killing people for food and kidnapping them for snacks later. One family’s daughter is taken by the monster and their desperate attempts to retrieve her are blocked by the government at every turn. So, of course, they go rogue, determined to save her against all odds.
If you like Jurassic Park (Dir. Steven Spielberg) or 28 Days Later (Dir. Danny Boyle), you’ll like this movie. Everyone likes this movie. Available on Netflix.
Spellbound (Dir. Hwang In-ho)
Who would have thought that romantic comedy and horror would work? But in this movie it just does. A magician recruits a strange woman to be a part of his act. Then he finds out she can literally see ghosts. Along the way he falls for her. There’s a meet-cute, there are best friends who dole out advice, proximity works its magic… nearly every romantic comedy trope is in this but it’s also legitimately scary–I mean goosebumps and jumping out of your seat scary. I love this movie to bits.
If you like She’s All That (Dir. Robert Iscove) or The Apartment (Dir. Billy Wilder), try this movie. In fact, if romantic comedies are your go-to movies, you’ll LOVE Spellbound. Available on Hulu.
This list may be short, but I love all of these movies. The next time you’re trying to decide on a movie to watch, I hope you’ll consider playing one of them. You won’t regret it!
The journey of Dan Harmon’s quirky, nerdy sitcom Community has been a long and tumultuous one. After five bumpy seasons on NBC, the show was cancelled and fan dreams of #SixSeasonsandaMovie appeared dashed. But not long after, the property was picked up by Yahoo!, and a sixth, online-exclusive 13-episode season was announced. The sixth season is currently in progress, airing a new episode every Tuesday, and so far the show has been entertaining and refreshingly self-aware about its difference from the original NBC run.
Though several members of the original cast are no longer with Greendale, we’ve been gifted two new regulars, Elroy Patashnik (Keith David) and Francesca “Frankie” Dart (Paget Brewster). In the season’s first episode, “Ladders” (written by creator Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna) Frankie is hired as a consultant to improve Greendale, and her perspective on the ridiculous antics that take place at the school serve as the perfect grounding point for the “new” Community. The unifying goal for the group is no longer taking classes, or maintaining their unique group dynamic, because both of these goals have been prematurely negated; Troy and Shirley have left the school for other pursuits, Pierce has died, and the cast is no longer a “study group” but a kind of student-faculty council for the school’s affairs and public image.
The show’s trademark humor is still very much at play, as are the often absurd scenarios the main characters find themselves in. In the second episode, Chang gets bit by a cat after insisting that he has a way with them and wanders around in an infected stupor telling everyone about the bite and showing them his hand, which swells in size every time we see it. In the same episode, Dean Pelton becomes obsessed with an incredibly low-tech virtual reality machine and imagines himself a digital god.
But what is perhaps most interesting about the sixth season of Community has nothing to do with the actual content of the show, and everything to do with the way it has made its way to our screens. Last year, when Community was finally cancelled by NBC, I wrote a research paper about the show’s cult status and what was thought at the time to be its final chapter*. At the time, Community had been through several threats of cancellation, saved by social media campaigns and a highly motivated fanbase. The cancellation by NBC after season five appeared to be the last nail in the coffin after two seasons of death throes. But now, Community has turned some of my previous conclusions on their heads and proven it’s not down for the count just yet. The show has followed in the footsteps of shows like Arrested Development, which had a fourth season aired exclusively on Netflix years after it was cancelled, and Twin Peaks, which is set to return as a limited series on Showtime in 2016. With Yahoo! at the helm, is it possible that Community will actually fulfill its unofficial slogan of “Six Seasons and a Movie”? What does this trend of cancelled television shows finding new life on the internet mean for the future of network television, web content, and authorship?
A consistent sense of authorship certainly seems to be an essential element of making the successful transition from television to internet. Part of what makes Community’s sixth season feel natural and authentic is the presence of the show’s creator Dan Harmon as executive producer. Even with all its production hiccups and the major changes to the cast, season six still basically feels like the Community its fans fell in love with, the one inspired by Harmon’s real life experience making unlikely friends while in a study group at Glendale Community College. The showrunner’s notable absence in season four is one of the show’s established low points, and the success of season six will likely depend on whether or not the show can avoid the mistakes of season four and retain the je ne sais quoi Harmon brings to the table.
Whatever happens, it will be interesting to observe how well Community fares as “A Yahoo! Original,” if the show is in fact developed into a movie in the future, and what its success or failure means for other beloved cancelled shows (like, dare I say, Firefly?) and growing online media companies like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and now, Yahoo! Screen.
*You can read this paper here, using the password sixseasonsandamovie.
You know when you’re watching a movie and little weird, unexplained things happen but they’re usually so small and/or infrequent that you just let it slide when none of the characters pay any attention to them? Then, roughly three-quarters of the way through the movie a huge plot twist occurs that forces you to reexamine those moments through this new, improbable lens as if it explains everything that has come before it? Except that this twist is so fantastical and romantic that your suspension of disbelief is totally blown out of the water? Yeah, that’s what I call getting M. Night Shyamalaned.
I love The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable is a pretty great movie but when I say, “getting M. Night Shyamalaned,” it definitely has negative connotations; I don’t think I need to explain why.
This happened to me recently while watching Interstellar (Dir. Christopher Nolan), which seemed like it was going to be at least an enjoyable watch, if not my favorite thing ever. Matthew McConaughey is a would-be astronaut turned farmer and single dad in a not too distant future where humanity is on the brink of extinction due to failing food sources. He stumbles upon a group of scientists trying to save humanity by finding a new planet to inhabit and he gets to be the astronaut he always wanted to be.
It’s certainly an interesting premise and it has a great cast which also includes Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway and John Lithgow. For the first two hours, I was having a pleasant time. The cinematography is gorgeous; the colorists should be beyond proud of their work. The music, too, is amazing. And while not one of my favorite directors, Nolan is always interesting and I usually like his movies (except The Dark Knight Rises–what a mess).
(Please note that SPOILERS abound from here on out.)
Two-thirds in and wham! M. Night Shyamalaned! And in the absolute worst way. A few unexplainable, supernatural things have happened, have been totally left untouched while the story unfolds and then the explanation finally comes and it’s HUGE, fantastical and asks the audience to just accept it because it’s so GREAT. I’m not buying it. All of the heartache, moody atmosphere and poignancy the film created leads to McConaughey miraculously discovering a fifth dimension through a wormhole in space that is actually in his house and he saves humanity with dust particles and Morse code? AND he gets to survive? What?
I call shenanigans. It doesn’t make sense and asks the audience to swallow something that has little to no foreshadowing in the film. The real kicker, for me though, is that it doesn’t fit the story.
The film up until this miracle is understandably sad but also moving. (That sequence in the middle of the movie where Cooper [McConaughey] and Brand [Hathaway] lose Doyle [Wes Bentley] on the water planet only to return to the ship so many years later and Romilly [David Gyasi] is so much older and sad, and then they watch years worth of video messages from their loved ones is non-stop, gut-wrenching heartache.) The decision to ground Interstellar in real science gives the film an authentic quality that makes the demise of human life through human means seem not only plausible but probable. And the ending is a deus ex machina at its worst, erasing the heartbreak and even a semblance of real-life consequences for humanity’s part in their downfall by making it go away through magic prettified by science. Everything is wrapped up too neatly and sweetly. It is a fairytale that doesn’t fit. This is particularly true if Nolan wanted to use the film as a platform for social commentary on human consumption, waste, GMOs, global warming, etc. That commentary is effectively nullified by the ending because humanity faces no real consequences for their own part in making the Earth inhospitable.
Elyse shared this Vulture article with me that says Jonathan Nolan, the main screenwriter and brother of the director, originally had written an unhappy ending for the script, which I find incredibly interesting. Jonathan Nolan didn’t elaborate on what his ending entailed but for how serious this film is an unhappy or at the very least a more ambiguous ending makes more sense to me. In a Hollywood blockbuster there is never a chance that everyone on Earth is going to die in such a serious movie, but the fact that McConaughey’s character lives and everyone on Earth is saved, living in space like it’s no big deal is way too much to swallow.
Thus, I was M. Night Shyamalaned by Interstellar. I left the theater grumpy and annoyed, which was only exacerbated by the fact that I seemed to be the only one who felt this way! I can’t be the only one, right? Did the ending of this film throw anyone else for a loop? Or have you had a similar experience with a movie that wasn’t directed by the notorious Shyamalan? Please share! (Clearly, I love a good rant.)