Capsule film reviews: Four LGBT movies from the USA

‘Moonlight’
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence, and language throughout.
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of A24.

“Moonlight” is a groundbreaking film — the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBT film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Can’t deny that. But, while “Moonlight” is a well-composed film with great acting, I can’t help feeling disappointed after months of buildup. As a film, it’s good, and I’m happy that it’s been so well-received by mainstream audiences because we do need more diverse representation in cinema. But as a gay film, it’s really nothing special. The plotline is predictable, and this story… it’s been done. Maybe not this artfully, but it’s definitely been done. It’s broken into three distinct chapters, which represent three stages of one man’s coming-of-age. “Little” shows Chiron’s (Alex Hibbert) childhood years, where he seeks refuge from school bullies and his drug addict mother (Naomie Harris) with a mentor (Mahershala Ali) who tells him that it’s okay if he’s gay. Next up is “Chiron,” which depicts Chiron’s (Ashton Sanders) teen years and the problems that amplify therein. Finally comes “Black,” which shows Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) as a miraculously-ripped grown man who is still haunted by his first (probably only?) love. The movie I would have liked to see would focus on Chiron as an adult and really develop that character — a tough, intimidating drug dealer in Atlanta who has had just one sexual experience (with his high school crush, Kevin, years ago). Flashbacks to his childhood and adolescence could help flesh out his background, but a central narrative to come back to would have given the movie a lot more direction.

‘King Cobra’
Release Date: Oct. 21, 2016
Director: Justin Kelly
Starring: Garrett Clayton, James Franco and Christian Slater
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of IFC Midnight.

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I inexplicably was for this movie. Gay porn, murder, and an all-star cast including the cute male lead from Disney’s “Teen Beach Movie.” That’s all I need in entertainment, really. “King Cobra” is based on the true story of Brent Corrigan (aka. Sean Paul Lockhart), played in the film by the dreamy Garret Clayton. Corrigan is infamous for his successful career in gay porn that began when he was well underage. (Spot the Brent Corrigan reference in my review of “Schoolboy Crush” here!) “King Cobra” chronicles Corrigan’s ascent to pornstardom and his struggles to escape from the grasp of the Cobra Video studio and its lecherous owner Bryan Kocis (called “Stephen” in the film and portrayed unnervingly by Christian Slater). When Stephen refuses to let Corrigan out of his contract, rivals from another porn studio (Keegan Allen of “Pretty Little Liars” fame and James Franco) plot to do whatever it takes to get Stephen out of the way so Corrigan can perform with them. I would say this movie is about 85 percent gay porn, 10 percent murder and 5 percent plot development, which is the perfect equation for any movie. It’s campy and creepy, and if you’re into that, you should definitely watch “King Cobra.”

‘Tangerine’
Release Date: July 10, 2015
Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Mya Taylor, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Karren Karagulian
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Rating: R for strong and disturbing sexual content, graphic nudity, language throughout, and drug use.
Grade: A+

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“Tangerine” is phenomenal, and it’s just the kind of offbeat buddy/revenge comedy we totally needed in our lives. The film received major buzz following its premiere at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival because the entire thing was (amazingly) filmed using only iPhones — particularly impressive considering how cool the cinematography is and how well it captures this Hollywood neighborhood. But even more remarkable is the engaging storyline. “Tangerine” follows two trans women who work the streets near the iconic Santa Monica and Highland Donut Time shop: Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), fresh out of prison and on the hunt for her cheating boyfriend Chester (James Ransone), and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who just needs to make it to her big singing gig at Hamburger Mary’s that night. The day’s adventure is thoroughly entertaining, and the glimpse into the lives, friendships and relationships of the characters is really wonderful. I even equally enjoyed the subplot that follows Razmik (Karren Karagulian), a married Armenian cab driver and frequent customer of Alexandra’s. Other background characters are portrayed by real-life Instagram stars and Viners found online by director Sean Baker (a lot of the film’s kinetic soundtrack was sourced from Vine and SoundCloud as well). In the end, “Tangerine” is a compelling film that proves big-budget frills aren’t necessary when you have charismatic characters and a unique story to tell.

‘Blackbird’
Release Date: April 24, 2015
Director: Patrik-Ian Polk
Starring: Julian Walker, Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug use – all involving teens.
Grade: D+

Photo courtesy of KBiz Entertainment and Tall Skinny Black Boy Productions.

This movie is… really not what I was expecting. With stars like Mo’Nique and Isaiah Washington topping the bill and a strong story to work with about a gay black teenager growing up in Baptist Mississippi, I expected “Blackbird” to be a solid and impressive melodrama. Much to my surprise, it’s actually quite goofy. Campy, even. Which is — at times — enjoyable (I liked the high school drama club preparing to present a gay version of “Romeo & Juliet”), but — at times — very stupid. Julian Walker is not at all convincing or compelling in the lead role of Randy, and Kevin Allesee as Randy’s older love interest Marshall gives me the creeps every time he appears onscreen. The strange subplot about Randy’s missing younger sister is unnecessary and seems added on as an ill-conceived afterthought. But worst of all, the entire film is spoiled in the final moments when Randy dreams up a “vision” that tells him the exact details of the entire rest of his life. Whose idea was it to end the movie like that? Because it’s absolutely terrible. I don’t know what happened, but I feel like “Blackbird” was a really wasted opportunity.

The best Japanese ramen in Seoul at Ittengo

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The Tonkotsu Ramen at Ittengo, a Japanese ramen restaurant in Hapjeong, Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

For months, my friends and I have been obsessing over Ittengo, a small Japanese ramen shop located in a hip dining neighborhood near Hapjeong station. Day after day, rain or shine, the line of customers waiting to dine at Ittengo never seemed to get shorter. We pressed our faces up against the restaurant’s small windows like stray cats trying to see what made this food so special.

After watching dozens of people brave Seoul’s humid summer nights and, later, the freezing winter ones just to eat some of this ramen… We knew we had to try it. And, finally, we did.

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The minimalist facade of Ittengo in Hapjeong. SCREAMfmLondon

There was, of course, a long wait when we eventually made it to Ittengo. And, of course, it was extremely cold out. But, at this restaurant, you write your name and your full order on the list out front, so you can kill some of that wait time deciding what to eat.

Ittengo is known for its special basil-based broth that comes out a kind of algae green color, but this was unfortunately all sold out when we dined there. There are three types of ramen served at Ittengo, all given animal names in Japanese depending on the broth’s color. Kitsune (wolf) is the lightest, a traditional tonkotsu ramen (7,000 KRW). Next on the list is the Midori Kame (green turtle), which is the aforementioned basil pesto-infused ramen (10,000 KRW). And last is the Kayomasa (red tiger), which is the spicy ramen (8,000 KRW).

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Ittengo’s Kitsune (wolf) ramen, named after its light-colored broth. SCREAMfmLondon

Once your party is taken inside and seated, the ramen is served almost immediately. The restaurant’s intimate set-up is, I’m sure, a main reason for the lengthy wait. The dining room is comprised of just one central table around which all of the customers sit and eat together. The room is dimly lit, and the counter is sprinkled with candles and small knick-knacks.

Another reason for the wait is, obviously, because the ramen is delicious. It’s absolutely the best Japanese ramen I’ve had in Seoul. The pork bone broth is beautifully rich and flavorful. The noodles are thin and mixed with green onions, served with tasty slices of braised pork belly on top. Every bite is excellent, and every element of this dish is done perfectly. Peppers covered in yuzu juice are served on the side to contrast the strong savory flavors of the ramen.

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Amazing thin ramen noodles at Ittengo in Hapjeong. SCREAMfmLondon

Ittengo
11 Poeun-ro, Mapo-gu
Hours: daily from 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Closed on Sundays.

Lunar New Year 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan

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Colorful lanterns and crowds of revelers in front of Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan on New Year’s Eve 2017. SCREAMfmLondon

This weekend, I happened to be in Taipei, Taiwan in time to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which fell on Saturday, Jan. 28 this year.

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Colorful lanterns represent the Year of the Rooster. SCREAMfmLondon

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster.

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Lunar New Year 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

Around town, many Taiwanese people burned Joss paper (also known as “ghost money”) in metal fire pits as part of a special holiday ceremony. The sheets of paper are burned in honor of the deceased.

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Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

Ciyou Temple is an ornate temple dedicated to Mazu, a Chinese goddess of the sea. The temple was built in 1753 and is an impressive historical landmark in the Songshan District of Taipei.

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Ciyou Temple in Taipei, Taiwan. SCREAMfmLondon

The temple has an impressive six floors of detailed decorations to see.

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Lanterns cover the street in honor of Lunar New Year. SCREAMfmLondon

After midnight on the new year, locals shoot off fireworks to celebrate.

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Happy Lunar New Year 2017! SCREAMfmLondon

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Happy Lunar New Year! SCREAMfmLondon

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2016

‘The Invitation’
Release Date: April 8, 2016
Director: Karyn Kusama
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Tammy Blanchard and Michiel Huisman
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films.

In “The Invitation,” Will (Logan Marshall-Green) and his girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) drive deep into the Hollywood Hills to attend a dinner party hosted by Will’s ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband David (Michiel Huisman) at the house Will and Eden used to share. The party is the first time any of their friends have seen them in two years — Will and Eden divorced following the accidental death of their son, and Eden left to join a grief support group in Mexico, where she met David. Throughout the course of the evening, Will becomes increasingly disturbed being back in the house he once shared with a happy family that is no more, and he also begins to grow suspicious of Eden and David, who try to share with the group their new spiritual philosophies that have helped them overcome grief. I like how “The Invitation” slowly turns up the suspense and leaves the audience unsure if there is really something sinister behind Eden’s cultish white dress and David’s calm demeanor, or if it’s just Will suffering from a mental breakdown when confronted with his past. It’s sufficiently creepy and even a bit thoughtful. All-in-all, “The Invitation” is a pretty good thriller.

‘The Neon Demon’
Release Date: June 24, 2016
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone and Bella Heathcote
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, bloody images, graphic nudity, a scene of aberrant sexuality, and language.
Grade: B

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Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios, Broad Green Pictures, Scanbox Entertainment and The Jokers.

“The Neon Demon” is the most talked-about and most polarizing horror movie of the year. For the most part, I really liked it. Kind of a tired story: Jesse (Elle Fanning) is a young girl from a small town hoping to make it big as a model in Hollywood, but Hollywood is, unfortunately, full of Illuminati and lesbian necrophiliacs. It’s a higher budget version of 2014’s “Starry Eyes,” which is a much better film, plot-wise. But don’t come to “The Neon Demon” for the plot: come for the artistic visuals, evil female leads and the always excellent Jena Malone who steals the show as Jesse’s eerily too nice, there’s-gotta-be-something-wrong-with-her mentor Ruby. My main issue with “The Neon Demon” is the weird casting of Elle Fanning as the lead — she’s not charismatic enough to propel the movie on her own, and she’s cute, but the very embodiment of natural beauty? Eh. At least the costumes are fabulous.

‘Train to Busan’
Release Date: July 20, 2016
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an and Jung Yu-mi
Genre: Action, Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

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Photo courtesy of Next Entertainment World.

“Train to Busan” is one of the best zombie movies I’ve seen in a long while. The Korean horror film expertly showcases comedic moments, high tension, family drama, romance and truly frightening zombie shots. It’s an excellent movie and one of the best horror films of the year. The story follows Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), an absentee father whose focus on his business has crippled his relationship with his 9-year-old daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an). For her birthday, all Su-an wants is to be reunited with her estranged mother, so Seok-woo begrudgingly agrees to accompany her on the high-speed KTX ride from Seoul to Busan. Unfortunately, the train departs just as the country begins to deteriorate into a zombie apocalypse. Only Busan, the country’s southern port city, is safe, and the survivors must fight to get the train to its final destination. The intense zombie action scenes are top tier (my favorite is a stop in Daejeon where the passengers are faced with a horde of zombie soldiers in military uniform charging up the stairs), but where “Train to Busan” really got me is with its heart. The evolving father-daughter dynamic will suck you in, and the supporting characters are all so compelling. “Train to Busan” is not to be missed.

‘31’
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2016
Director: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Malcolm McDowell and Meg Foster
Genre: Thriller, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody horror violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use.
Grade: B-

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Photo courtesy of Saban Films.

As a diehard Rob Zombie fan, I enjoyed “31” and was pleased to find it more straightforward and accessible than Zombie’s last release, 2012’s “The Lords of Salem.” “31” follows a group of carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween 1976 and told by three strangers that they will be entered into a game called 31. During the game, they will have 12 hours to escape from a maze-like warehouse of rooms while various clowns will be sent to torture and kill them. The plot isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking, but Zombie’s characterizations are always the most entertaining. His villains are excellent, particularly Malcolm McDowell as Father Murder, an aristocrat in a powdered wig who oversees the proceedings and announces the carnies’ odds for survival over a loudspeaker, and Richard Brake as Doom-Head, the final and most effective obstacle in the gang’s way of survival. As always, Sheri Moon Zombie is a badass and a delight, and I love that she’s still the ultimate scream queen, wielding chainsaws in barely-there crop tops at 46.

Food: Pho Vietnamese Rice Noodles in Hapjeong

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A large bowl of pho on a cold winter morning. SCREAMfmLondon

In the hipster enclave of Hapjeong, there are many hole-in-the-wall restaurants, cafés and bars that serve interesting dishes and minimalist décor. One such spot is simply identified as “Pho.” This intimate restaurant can only seat a few parties but has nice hardwood tables, clean decorations and tasty Vietnamese food.

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Love the fresh vegetables in these rice paper-wrapped spring rolls. SCREAMfmLondon

We were sitting so close to the couple at the next table that I kept shooting glances at their delicious-looking food and ordering exactly what they had. We started by splitting an order of spring rolls. They’re rice paper stuffed with cabbage, carrots, cucumber and other fresh vegetables, served alongside a peanut dipping sauce.

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Chili shrimp stir-fried rice. SCREAMfmLondon

For my main course, I ordered the chili shrimp stir-fried rice. The stylish bowls make this dish look deceptively small, but it’s actually really filling. The rice is mixed with seafood like shrimp and baby octopus as well as a variety of vegetables. It’s not overpoweringly spicy but does pack a good punch. It also came with a nice, small bowl of soup on the side.

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Pho Vietnamese Rice Noodles. SCREAMfmLondon

But the trip would not have been a complete if we didn’t try the pho. This serving was also very generous, and the dish included a fair amount of meat. Perfect antidote for the freezing cold wind in Seoul these days.

Learn k-pop dance at Dancejoa in Los Angeles

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Dancejoa studio in Koreatown, Los Angeles. SCREAMfmLondon

I’m not even exaggerating when I say that Dancejoa is one of the best things about living in LA. I only wish I had found out about the studio sooner!

It all started when I determinedly decided that I was absolutely going to learn the choreography for G-Dragon and Taeyang’s song “Good Boy.” I did learn it (eventually), but I also learned that dance is perhaps my secret passion in life, and I haven’t quite been the same since. I’ve logged a lot of hours at the studio in the ensuing years, and I like to think I’ve come a long way since I stumbled through my first dance cover video with Dancejoa LA several beats behind everyone else the entire time.


Yireh is an excellent teacher with amazing dancing talent and style. She makes everything look cool and effortless (even when I, myself, am dying and sweating profusely). But most importantly, she is a really effective teacher. Actually, Yireh is one of the best dance teachers I’ve ever had — she breaks everything down so well and teaches so clearly that I never feel confused or left behind even during difficult choreography. The classes are so well-organized and well-run. It’s really a pleasure to attend Dancejoa.

The schedule is also very well thought-out. There are two classes on Tuesdays, two on Thursdays and two on Saturdays. On the weekdays, it’s usually a one-hour girl group dance followed by a one-hour boy group dance. The Saturday classes are a bit longer (one and a half hours) and consist of one k-pop dance and one hip-hop routine.

The songs are broken down and taught in sections spread out over the course of a month so you can learn the entire choreography, which I love!!! You feel so accomplished after learning an entire full-length song. And having four weeks to work on it gives you enough time to digest the lessons and practice at home before coming back to add more.

I also love having so many varied dances to choose from. If you like cutesy Twice dances, they’ve got ’em! If you like super-intricate EXO dances, they’ve got ’em! If you like badass hip-hop dances, they’ve got that too! And if you like it all, you can just come learn everything. The schedule is posted in advance on Facebook.


Last year, Dancejoa moved to a new location. It’s easy to find and has its own (very small) parking lot out back. Some of the classes get quite crowded, so I’d recommend coming early to make sure you can find parking (but what else is new, LA?). There’s also a weird random wall in the middle of the studio that limits the space a lot, but Yireh is great about moving around so everyone can see and splitting big classes into groups so everyone has a good chance to practice.

I really can’t recommend Dancejoa enough. I’ve discovered a love for dance that I didn’t realize I had, and it’s made such a big difference in my life. Thanks, Dancejoa!

Students practicing GD and TOP's "Zutter" choreography at Dancejoa in LA. SCREAMfmLondon

Students practicing GD and T.O.P’s “Zutter” choreography at Dancejoa in LA. SCREAMfmLondon

Dancejoa Dance Studio
3859 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, Calif.
For more information, visit www.dancejoa.com.

My k-beauty picks: More of the best cushion compacts

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Cushion compacts from Clio, Moonshot, The Face Shop and Tony Moly. SCREAMfmLondon

It’s time for a sequel to my first list of the best Korean cushion compacts! I’m simply enamored with this beauty innovation, and I can’t imagine ever returning to clunky traditional foundations. Korean beauty brands release new formulas and new collaborations regularly, so I’m always experimenting with the next great products.

Here are four more of my favorite cushion compacts:

Clio Kill Cover Liquid Foundation Cushion

This Clio cushion is absolutely amazing if you’re looking for a super full-coverage foundation. The Kill Cover cushion has an incredibly high-coverage formula for such a lightweight compact, and it’s great to work with if you want a really long-lasting, flawless makeup look. This is my go-to cushion for fancy nights on the town because it’s smoothing, moisturizing and brightening, and it really doesn’t require any touchups. Definitely recommended if you like full coverage foundations. You’ll be impressed with Clio’s Kill Cover compact.

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Tony Moly’s Pikachu Mini Cover Cushion. SCREAMfmLondon

Tony Moly Pikachu Mini Cover Cushion

Pikachu is having a big moment in Korea right now, so you’ll find various Pokémon in all the shops, on all the fashion and in all the beauty products. As I am very easily swayed by adorable packaging, I had to pick up the Pikachu Mini Cover Cushion from Tony Moly’s latest beauty collaboration with Pokémon. The line includes all kinds of Pokémon products, from face masks and cleansers to nail polishes and lip tints. This cushion is smaller than your average compact, so it’s great for on-the-go spot treatment. Although it’s cute, the formula is actually quite decent, and it provides good coverage. But I’m mostly in love with the detailed packaging, including the Poké Ball-shaped applicator sponge.

The Face Shop Oil Control Water Cushion

Speaking of adorable packaging, The Face Shop is also stocking some super cute character compacts at the moment. They have a Disney collaboration featuring a Monsters, Inc. cushion and a Mickey Mouse one, but I’m much more drawn to the darling Kakao Friends collaborations. The Kakao Friends are various characters used as emoticons on the Korean messaging app KakaoTalk. My favorites are Frodo, the dog, and Ryan, the bear. So, I had no choice but to buy this cushion compact featuring one of the best Ryan illustrations (he’s cheering for you amidst a backdrop of confetti!). It’s a light-coverage formula, so it’s best for daytime wear. This particular cushion is designed for oil control and boasts sebum-minimizing powers. But, let’s be real: I bought it for the packaging, and I’d do it again.

Moonshot's Microfit Cushion. SCREAMfmLondon

Moonshot’s Microfit Cushion. SCREAMfmLondon

Moonshot Microfit Cushion

I briefly touched on this cushion in my review of the moonshot x BIGBANG10 LUCKYBOX. Moonshot is the beauty brand owned by YG Entertainment, Big Bang’s record label, so all of the products are endorsed and modeled by YG artists like G-Dragon and Blackpink. I just dream of having skin as luminous as GD’s, so I am very drawn to this product. I really love the formula, the semi-matte finish and brightness of the Microfit Cushion. My only complaints are with the design: the applicator sponge broke really quickly, and the sponge inside that holds the product has gotten weirdly off-centered. While I’m disappointed with the durability of the compact, I’m still really into the product and will continue to use it.