Category Archives: Film

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.

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

neondemon

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+

train-to-busan

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-

31

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.

Capsule film reviews: Foreign LGBT movies (part 4)

‘The Way He Looks’ (Brazil)
Release Date: April 10, 2014
Director: Daniel Ribeiro
Starring: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi and Tess Amorim
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of Vitrine Films.

“The Way He Looks” is actually a wonderful, creative coming-of-age movie. It centers on Leo (Ghilherme Lobo), a blind Brazilian high school student, who longs to gain his independence and study abroad in the United States despite the fears of his overprotective parents. The solid relationship he has with his best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) is challenged when he begins pursuing a romance with Gabriel (Fabio Audi), the new boy in school. This interesting story is a breath of fresh air for the coming-of-age/gay teen romance genre. There are so many things “The Way He Looks” does well. The budding young love is perfectly paced, and the awkward jealousy between best friends when one starts dating is beautifully illustrated. Even Leo’s parents are well-written, complex characters that offer depth to the story rather than serving as stock characters to further the protagonist’s plotline. The film handles both Leo’s blindness and his sexuality tactfully, and it results in a really well-done, believable film.

‘Velociraptor’ (Mexico)
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Director: Chucho E. Quintero
Starring: Pablo Mezz, Carlos Hendrick Huber and Alan Aguilar
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Fantasy
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Photo courtesy of TLA Releasing.

I have been looking forward to watching “Velociraptor” for a long time: a Spanish-language gay drama set against the backdrop of an apocalypse? That is right up my alley. And I’m so glad that the film exceeded my expectations. In “Velociraptor,” Álex (Pablo Mezz) and Diego (Carlos Hendrick Huber) are best friends spending some casual time together as the end of the world creeps closer and the people around them react accordingly. For Álex, who is gay, it particularly bothers him that he’s never found a guy he trusts enough to go all the way. And Diego is a really (really, very, very) supportive friend. “Velociraptor” greatly succeeds because of the amazing chemistry between the two leads, who are (for the most part) the only real characters in the entire movie. The characterization is believable and the tangible sexual tension is captivating. The storyline is excellent and super unconventional, which makes “Velociraptor” such a valuable contribution to queer cinema. I also love the well-executed flashback scenes that add depth to the story, as well as the voiceovers reporting on the status of planet Earth. “Velociraptor” will make you think about friendship and the ways people limit themselves in order to fit into society. Definitely one to check out.

‘How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)’ (Thailand)
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2015
Director: Josh Kim
Starring: Ingkarat Damrongsakkul, Thira Chutikul and Jinn Jinna Navarat
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

Photo courtesy of Wolfe Video.

On the eve of Thailand’s annual military draft lottery, now-21-year-old Oat is haunted by memories of his childhood and his first experience with the drafting process. The majority of the film takes place in flashbacks to Oat (Ingkarat Damrongsakkul) as an 11-year-old orphan growing up in the outskirts of Bangkok with his aunt, younger sister and older brother. “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” shows Oat beginning to lose his innocence and grow up as his brother Ek (Thira Chutikul) prepares to face the draft lottery and the corrupt system that is stacked against them. While Oat trains himself to beat Ek at a game of checkers so he can finally be allowed to accompany him to the gay bar where he works as an escort, the young boy also learns how adults “win” at real life: by doing whatever it takes. Although I would have liked to see more development of adult Oat in the present-day sequences, I think “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” is a great, well-done film. I enjoyed the characterization of Oat and Ek, as well as several supporting characters, including Ek’s more privileged long-term boyfriend Jai (Jinn Jinna Navarat) and their friend Kitty (Natarat Lakha), who is exempted from the draft because she is transgender.

‘Jongens’ (aka. ‘Boys’) (Netherlands)
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2014
Director: Mischa Kamp
Starring: Gijs Blom, Ko Zandvliet and Stijn Taverne
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C+

jongens

Photo courtesy of Pupkin Film.

“Jongens” (translated from Dutch as “Boys”) is all right for a quick little teen angst/romantic drama. Fifteen-year-old Sieger (Gijs Blom) lives with his single father (Ton Kas) and rebellious older brother Eddy (Jonas Smulders) after his mother’s death. He and his friends spend most of their time training as key runners on the local track team. When he is chosen as one member of a relay team that will compete in an important upcoming race, Sieger begins developing feelings for Marc (Ko Zandvliet), another boy on the team. Blom’s acting is pretty good: he does an impressive job conveying a lot of emotion with minimal dialogue, often by exchanging pointed glances with Zandvliet as Marc. The scenery is nice, and the accompanying soundtrack is a good complement to the storyline. Unfortunately, the plot is not particularly captivating or original, and the ending of “Jongens” is disappointingly ambiguous and anticlimactic. I didn’t dislike the film at all, but I probably wouldn’t watch it again. I would recommend this film, but I would recommend it to someone who hasn’t seen many films about gay romance yet, so the story may still be intriguing and new.

Check out more capsule film reviews of foreign LGBT movies here, here and here.

Film review: The Handmaiden (Agassi)

Kim Tae-ri and Kim Min-hee star in “The Handmaiden.” Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

It’s always been interesting to me how deeply twisted and delightfully macabre Korean cinema can be — in sharp contrast to the conservative cuteness in popular television dramas. And no one has mastered the perverse and gory in this genre like director Park Chan-wook, who brought the world “Oldboy,” “Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance” and, most recently, “The Handmaiden.”

His latest creation takes place in 1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation of the country. Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is a beautiful but frail heiress living on an expansive estate with her tyrannical, book-collecting uncle Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). When she hires Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) to be her new maid, she has no idea that the woman is secretly a double agent, raised from childhood as a pickpocket and chosen by a conman (Ha Jung-woo) to help him seduce the heiress and steal her fortune.

Although it runs for nearly two and a half hours, “The Handmaiden” never seems to drag and each scene keeps the audience anticipating more. The first half of the film moves along at a pleasant pace as Sook-hee and Hideko begin to get to know each other. The building sexual tension between the two women is masterfully executed, and Tae-ri is particularly charismatic in her role as the endearing criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold.

handmaiden

Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

When the film finally reaches its peak of excitement, it never relents. There are nonstop twists that constantly change the audience’s perception of the characters’ alliances, as well as flashbacks and revelations that reveal deeper levels to every element of the story. It’s a thrill to watch and try to keep pace with the film’s progression.

And when it gets grisly (because of course it has to), it does not disappoint. The climactic conclusion is absolutely satisfying and every bit as fucked up as is expected of Park Chan-wook.

“The Handmaiden” is also filmed beautifully — each scene is a pleasure to observe. The scenery is complemented with skillful framing and camera angles that complete the film’s artistic aesthetic. “The Handmaiden” is a great thriller and pleasing to the eye as well.

I love the kind-of feminist focus on the powers of the two female heroines, as well as the unique love story that develops between them. My only real complaint about the film is that the lesbian romance is so completely shot for the male gaze it’s a bit cringe-worthy in parts. The entirety of “The Handmaiden” is pretty kinky, and it’s clear a straight male director was behind the helm.

But, hey, no one could claim this film is not aesthetically exceptional, and the story is quite an exhilarating ride. I highly recommend “The Handmaiden.”

‘The Handmaiden’
Release Date: June 1, 2016
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo and Kim Tae-ri
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

Theater: Arts Council Korea presents ‘Save the Green Planet’

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“Save the Green Planet” at Daehakro Arts Theater in Seoul. SCREAMfmLondon

Ever felt that Stephen King’s “Misery” was lacking in aliens? Director Jang Joon-hwan thought so too. So, he devised the 2003 genre-bending film “Save the Green Planet!” inspired by the aforementioned psychological thriller as well as the exciting internet theory that Leonardo DiCaprio is an alien.

The resulting film contains elements of horror, comedy, science fiction and thrillers, and has gained a cult fanbase following its success at several international film festivals.

This April, “Save the Green Planet” made its official debut as a stage drama at the Daehakro Arts Theater in Seoul’s most famous theater district, Daehangno. The script was adapted for the stage by playwright Jo Yong-shin and directed by Lee Ji-na.

The story centers on Lee Byeong-gu, who believes only he can keep aliens from destroying the Earth. In order to get in touch with the Prince of Andromeda, Byeong-gu kidnaps the man he perceives to be the highest-ranking incognito alien in Seoul: pharmaceutical executive Kang Man-shik. Once he has Man-shik secured in his basement dungeon, the torture begins to get the answers he’s looking for before local detectives can find him.

It’s a very good movie: a beautiful combination of goofy, disturbing and titillating. Definitely one to check out for fans of black comedy and zany sci-fi.

The stage adaptation is quite a bit different — everything about the production is scaled down, which is intriguing. The set is very, very minimal and relies heavily on lighting, video projection and sound to create the scenes. The theater itself is small, holding only 500 seats with little space between the audience and stage. And the cast is comprised of only four actors.

savethegreenplanet

Shin Ha-kyun and Baek Yoon-sik star as Byeong-gu and Man-shik in the 2003 film “Save the Green Planet!” Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment and Koch-Lorber Films.

Like the film, the play is character-driven, relying on the actors’ performances to sell the story. As is customary, “Save the Green Planet” features a rotating cast for its characters. The show I attended featured SHINee’s Key as Byeong-gu, Kim Do-bin as Man-shik, Ham Yeon-ji as Byeong-gu’s henchman/girlfriend Su-ni, and Yuk Hyun-wook as literally everyone else.

Hyun-wook is excellent onstage, and I was super impressed with his ability to make each of his many characters seem different in such a short period of time. He keeps the play’s momentum going and even interacts with the audience and improvises well.

Key and Do-bin have great chemistry during the torture sequences, and all of the actors had good comedic timing. I was often amused by the perfectly choreographed, slow-motion fight sequences and chunks of dialogue delivered in the language of Andromeda.

The play really excels in its comedy, and it is super entertaining. The best thing about “Save the Green Planet” is its ability to garner so many laughs despite the gruesome and weird plot progression.

However, the play was not as successful as the movie at achieving the truly dark, twisted and emotional side of the story.

I was very curious to see Key take on the role of Byeong-gu because he’s such a cute boybander, and he’s so different from the older, grittier actors who also star as Byeong-gu (as well as the film’s excellent Shin Ha-kyun). I would have loved to see him go all out into the addled mind of the character, but I get that he’s a pop star, he’s got other stuff to do, and he can’t fully dedicate himself to such method acting. But if they ever want to film a remake, I’m still curious.

Overall, I really enjoy both the “Save the Green Planet!” film and play, and I would definitely see the stage production again. I appreciate how the actors work with the set-up onstage, as well as the source material. Ultimately, it’s a cool story about humanity.

Now who will save the Earth?

‘Save the Green Planet’
110-809 Daehak-ro 10-gil 17, Jongno-gu
8 p.m. Tuesday – Friday, 3 and 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through May 29
Tickets range from 45,000 to 55,000 KRW
For more information, visit www.koreapac.kr.

Capsule drama reviews: The Secret Message, The Lover, etc.

‘The Secret Message’
Starring:
Choi Seung-hyun, Juri Ueno and Yoo In-na
Genre: Romance, Drama
Episodes: 18

secretmessage

Photo courtesy of CJ E&M and Amuse, Inc.

Like “EXO Lives Next Door,” “The Secret Message” is a quick web series comprised of short episodes that are each only 10-20 minutes long, which is such a wonderful format. Unlike “EXO Lives Next Door,” “The Secret Message” is pretty sophisticated, well-written and well-executed. Sorry about it.

The show takes place half in Korea and half in Japan. Juri Ueno plays Haruka, a Japanese woman who is staying with a friend in South Korea, trying to deal with the end of her first romantic relationship. T.O.P plays Woo-hyun, a Korean filmmaker working in Japan on a documentary about love who is, himself, still hurt from a recent breakup. When Woo-hyun accidentally texts Haruka’s phone number, the two begin communicating despite the distance and language barrier between them.

The cinematography and scenery showing off the beauty of both Korea and Japan adds a really nice touch to “The Secret Message.” And, although the show tries to take the subject of moving on from a lost love pretty seriously, T.O.P’s goofy personality, interspersed jokes and references to Big Bang keep it cute and entertaining. But “The Secret Message” is kind of a big exercise in product placement. The show originally aired on Line TV and is clearly sponsored by the Line messaging app — quite a lot of the communication takes place through the app, and the trademark Line characters appear throughout. That being said, “The Secret Message” totally makes me want to download Line. I mean, if there’s a possibility T.O.P will accidentally text you and fall in love despite the odds… Well played, Line.

‘Twenty’
Release Date:
March 25, 2015
Director: Lee Byeong-heon
Starring: Kim Woo-bin, Lee Junho and Kang Ha-neul
Genre: Comedy
Rating: Not Rated

twenty

Photo courtesy of Next Entertainment World.

I got quite a kick out of “Twenty.” This is a raunchy coming-of-age sex comedy/buddy movie — just like “Superbad,” only funnier and with better-looking actors.

The story follows three best friends who have just turned 20 and are at a crossroads in their lives. Chi-ho (Kim Woo-bin) is the spoiled rich boy whose only aspiration is to have sex with as many women as possible. Dong-woo (Lee Junho from the idol group 2PM) dreams of being a comic book illustrator, but has work part time jobs instead of attending art school after his family’s bankruptcy. Kung-jae (Kang Ha-neul) is a preppy college student who falls in love with a smart upperclassman in the stock market club.

“Twenty” is awfully entertaining. Each of the lead characters is charismatic in his own way, and each individual plot arc is interesting. Although “Twenty” is decidedly a comedy, there are some well-done dramatic moments that add a lot of depth to the story. Even the cinematography is interesting — the film features some well-placed surrealism (the group of friends arriving at a literal crossroads in the dirt) and a solid soundtrack to enhance key scenes. It’s a bawdy, laugh-out-loud funny movie (seriously, it is), but it’s also slightly tragic. Basically, “Twenty” is a great movie that perfectly toes the line between soul-searching melodrama and dudes making dick jokes.

‘Oh My Ghostess’ (aka ‘Oh My Ghost’)
Starring: Park Bo-young, Kim Seul-gie and Jo Jung-suk
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Romance
Episodes: 16

ohmyghost

Photo courtesy of tvN.

“Oh My Ghostess” is a fun show to watch — it’s a kind of sexy romantic-comedy that slowly turns into a murder mystery. With solid acting from all of the cast members, this show just gets more exciting to watch as it progresses. It’s, at times, funny and dark with an action-packed conclusion led by the show’s cool group of heroines.

Shin Soon-ae (Kim Seul-gie) is a ghost who is unable to cross over until she resolves her grudge: that she died a virgin. Unfortunately, in order to resolve her grudge, she has to find and seduce a “man of vitality” who is able to withstand sex with a ghost without dying (she learns this the hard way). Na Bong-sun (Park Bo-young) is a meek assistant chef whose shaman grandmother enables her to see ghosts, making her body the perfect vessel for opportunistic spirits. And Kang Sun-woo (Jo Jong-suk), the handsome celebrity chef who employs Bong-sun, seems to be full of vitality, if you know what I mean.

“Oh My Ghostess” is very amusing, and Park Bo-young especially does an excellent job portraying both shy Bong-sun and gregarious, sexually liberated Bong-sun-as-possessed-by-Soon-ae. The budding romance is cute, and the relationship between Bong-sun and her coworkers at the restaurant is sweet. However, the show really gets interesting when Soon-ae’s memories of her life begin returning and she starts to question the suspicious circumstances of her death.

‘The Lover’
Starring:
Oh Jung-se, Ryu Hyun-kyung and Jung Joon-young
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 12

thelover

Takuya Terada and Lee Jae-joon star in “The Lover.” Photo courtesy of Mnet.

“The Lover” is kind of a stupid show, but I just couldn’t stop watching it once I started. Although it starts out highly ridiculously (there are entire long episodes hinged solely on double entendres, innuendos and sex jokes), the characters become relatable and, suddenly, the plot of “The Lover” seems very serious. I even cried a little during the last episode!

The show follows four different couples in the same apartment building who are — scandalously — living together before marriage. The primary focus is on Oh Do-si (Oh Jung-se) and Ryu Doo-ri (Ryu Hyun-kyung), who are both in their 30s and have lived together for two years. In the next apartment over lives Ji-nyeo (Choi Yeo-jin) and her cute guitarist boyfriend Young-joon (Jung Joon-young), who is 12 years her junior. On the seventh floor lives Joon-jae (Lee Jae-joon), a quiet homebody who is quickly falling in love with his Japanese roommate Takuya (Takuya Terada from Cross Gene). They get very little screen time, unfortunately, but their story arc is the most tense and compelling. And, finally, on the fifth floor lives Hwan-jong (Park Jong-hwan) and Seol-eun (Ha Eun-seol), an engaged couple who just moved in together.

Some of the couples are more entertaining than others: Ji-nyeo and Young-joon are adorable, hilarious and touching, while Hwan-jong and Seol-eun are awkward and lack chemistry. “The Lover” is definitely worth watching, though, for its amusing, in-your-face portrayal of cohabitation, sex and love in Korea (without marriage!), and its focus on more unconventional romantic pairings. Plus, it has a pretty sufficiently satisfying ending for everyone. “The Lover” even presents the happiest ending I’ve seen for gay characters in a k-drama so far! I’ll take it.

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2015

‘It Follows’
Release Date: March 13, 2015
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist and Daniel Zovatto
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violent and sexual content including graphic nudity, and language.
Grade: C+

itfollows

Photo courtesy of RADiUS-TWC and Dimension Films.

“It Follows” has definitely been one of the most-hyped horror movies this year, but it unfortunately doesn’t live up to those expectations. In the grand tradition of sexually-transmitted monsters in horror films, “It Follows” is about a girl, Jay (Maika Monroe), who has sex with her boyfriend and then realizes that by doing so, he has passed a curse onto her. There will just be a creepy person that only she can see walking steadily toward her at all times. If it catches her, she dies, and the only way to distance herself from it is to pass it on to someone else. Bummer deal. The film is shot well, and some of the scenes of “it” following her are genuinely creepy and unsettling. The movie begins to fall apart at the end, though, as Jay and her friends attempt to defeat “it.” The movie doesn’t have a strong conclusion at all, which leaves the audience feeling dissatisfied after watching.

‘Spring’
Release Date: March 20, 2015
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker and Francesco Carnelutti
Genre: Horror, Romance, Sci-fi
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

spring

Photo courtesy of Drafthouse Films and FilmBuff.

I enjoy horror-romance almost as much as I enjoy horror-comedy, so I was excited to check out Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s “Spring” (they also directed 2013’s “Resolution,” which I enjoyed). “Spring” is quite good as well (with a few caveats). After his mother’s death, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) takes a spontaneous finding-himself trip to Italy, where he starts working on a small farm and meets a beautiful woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker) that he begins dating. Of course, there has to be a catch when beautiful, exotic women show an interest in down-on-their-luck American dudes, and Louise’s hidden secret is both creepy and intriguing. “Spring” is Lovecraftian in its horror, but it’s mostly romantic. Which is my main complaint: I just don’t buy the romance. There is no way Evan is the best person she’s ever met. No way! Louise is such a complex, interesting character, but his main redeeming quality is that he still really likes her even when he discovers her grotesque secret. Eh, she could do way better.

‘Creep’
Release Date: June 23, 2015
Director: Patrick Brice
Starring: Mark Duplass and Patrick Brice
Genre: Drama, Horror
Rating: R for brief violence and language.
Grade: A-

creep

Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

I actually got quite a kick out of “Creep.” It’s a simple, independent found-footage horror film featuring only two actors. Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass not only star in the film, they also wrote the story. Additionally, Brice directed and Duplass co-produced it alongside Jason Blum of Blumhouse fame. This creates a real personal touch to the movie and allows the audience to really get to know the strange two characters. Duplass is excellent in his role as Josef, a man who places an ad on Craigslist for a videographer to help him film a message for his unborn son. Brice is less impressive but still alright as Aaron, the unlucky artist who answers the ad and becomes involved in Josef’s life. There are some really tense quiet moments, but overall, the film is pretty amusing with sarcastic jump scares and the increasingly absurd connection between Josef and Aaron. The conclusion is absolutely perfect, and I definitely recommend this movie.

‘Cooties’
Release Date: Sept. 18, 2015
Director: Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
Starring: Elijah Wood, Alison Pill and Rainn Wilson
Genre: Action, Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for horror violence and gore, language including sexual references, and some drug use.
Grade: B-

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Premiere.

Elijah Wood has produced and starred in some great horror movies in the past few years — “Grand Piano,” “Maniac,” “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” “The Boy.” He also produced and stars in “Cooties,” a goofy horror-comedy in which infected chicken nuggets served as school lunch turn elementary school students into zombies across the nation, leaving a group of teachers to fight for their lives. Wood is pretty funny as Clint Hadson, a substitute teacher who would rather be working on his novel than working with children. The movie definitely has some failed attempts at humor — the same run-of-the-mill stuff you’d see on “Saturday Night Live.” But it’s overall pretty entertaining to watch the mismatched group of teachers fight their way through the monstrous children. “Cooties” is a satisfactory movie, but it’s not going to become one of my favorites.