Tag Archives: fantasy

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.

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Capsule drama reviews: Healer, Little Mom Scandal, etc.

‘Little Mom Scandal’
Starring: Hwang Jung-eum, Im Sung-uhn and Song In-hwa
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Episodes: 16

Photo courtesy of CGV.

“Little Mom Scandal” is an awesome drama if you’re looking for a story with many strong female characters and a straightforward look at female sexuality and sex work. It’s rare to see these issues presented at all on television — let alone as well as they are covered in “Little Mom Scandal.”

The show is split into two eight-episode seasons, and it tells the story of Hye-jung and Sun-hee, two high school best friends. Hye-jung is super smart and rich, but struggles with some real daddy issues that have led her to become a prolific sugar baby, dating rich older men. Sun-hee is such a typical teen girl: she just cares about finding a cute boyfriend and getting him into bed with her. The girls befriend Sung-sook and Hyo-won, two employees of the local gentleman’s club, but things go south when Sun-hee finds out she’s pregnant.

“Little Mom Scandal” has so much going for it. It’s really a great drama with a shockingly realistic, honest and unbiased depiction of sex work from many different perspectives. It also really gets into the truth of teen pregnancy and, later, teen motherhood. And what’s more! It also features a ton of multifaceted, interesting female characters all pursuing their individual dreams. Highly recommend “Little Mom Scandal.”

‘A Werewolf Boy’
Release Date:
Oct. 31, 2012
Director: Jo Sung-hee
Starring: Song Joong-ki, Park Bo-young and Lee Young-lan
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Rating: Not Rated

werewolfboy

Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

“A Werewolf Boy” is one of the most successful Korean melodramas of all time, and it is no joke. It is a beautiful, bittersweet story of ill-fated young love — the best and most painful stories to tell. And it features the best and most relatable of all the movie monsters— the romantic werewolf.

The film begins in the modern day: Kim Sun-yi has traveled with her granddaughter back to Korea to sell her childhood home. When she arrives, she remembers her time spent there as a chronically-ill teenager — particularly a darling feral boy named Chul-soo she and her mother discovered living in the surrounding woods and adopted into the family.

Song Joong-ki gives a fantastic performance as the sympathetic wolf boy with huge, expressive eyes. Likewise, Park Bo-young’s emotional delivery as Sun-yi is stellar, and the two actors create excellent chemistry in their scenes together. The first half of the film is very well crafted, funny and sweet as Chul-soo learns to become more “human” and forms a bond with Sun-yi and her family. The film’s weakest points revolve around the cartoonish villain Ji-tae (a random rich asshole thrown in there to advance the plot with his rich asshole behavior) and the weird secret-government-experiment werewolf origin story that’s thrown in unnecessarily. Really, the movie’s success rests solely on the intense connection between Sun-yi and Chul-soo.

The ending of “A Werewolf Boy” is like getting your heart run over by a train, though. I sobbed loudly. Those last 20 minutes will knock you on your ass. I’m just warning you now. It’s a deeply heart-wrenching conclusion that is fitting for the star-crossed lovers’ overall story, but that doesn’t make the tragedy any easier to bear. It’s actually perfect and thoughtful and so, so sad — it’s the kind of poignant conclusion that you’ll be thinking about for weeks after finishing the film.

‘Healer’
Starring:
Ji Chang-wook, Park Min-young and Yoo Ji-tae
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama, Thriller
Episodes: 20

healer

Photo courtesy of Kim Jong-hak Productions.

Action-romance is done right in “Healer.” It’s a winning combination: a cast of strong and likable characters, a murder mystery storyline that doesn’t let up on the excitement even toward the end, a substantial and complex villain backstory, sweet fight scenes, even sweeter wardrobe changes, and an incredibly darling male lead. For real, Ji Chang-wook might be the most attractive actor ever to appear in a drama. He is unbelievably gorgeous, and his felon-with-a-heart-of-gold “Healer” persona doesn’t hurt one bit.

The show centers on Seo Jung-hoo (or, as most know him, Healer), a “night courier” who is known for his martial arts skills and an illegal business of breaking-and-entering, petty larceny and the like. He is planning to save up enough money to live alone on a deserted island as the only person he has any connection to is an ajumma he’s never met in person who serves as his hacker accomplice. Unfortunately for him, he takes a job from a famous television anchor that sets him on a path toward unraveling the mystery of his father’s death in 1992 and its connection to his present.

“Healer” really is great. Even the wild, unbelievable puzzle pieces that perfectly come together are presented so well they aren’t even too ridiculous, which is a sign of a remarkable drama. “Healer” is also one of the rare dramas that doesn’t lose momentum halfway through its 20 episodes. I wish there were more so I could continue being thrilled by each new revelation and, of course, admiring Ji Chang-wook all the while.

‘EXO Lives Next Door’
Starring:
Moon Ga-young, Park Chan-yeol and Do Kyung-soo
Genre: Romance, Drama, Comedy
Episodes: 16

exonextdoor

Photo courtesy of Naver TV.

I am so pleased to live in a world where actual famous boybands are required to act out bad fanfiction on camera for our amusement. What a time to be alive. “EXO Lives Next Door” is all the standard self-insert fanfic tropes you may remember from LiveJournal circa 2006, but with the adorable, accommodating boys from EXO at the helm.

“EXO Lives Next Door” is a short web drama that packs a lot of zaniness into 16 quick episodes. Ji Yeon-hee is an underachieving 20-something who lives with her mother and younger brother and has never had a boyfriend because her face turns unnaturally red and she is unable to speak when faced with cute boys. Conveniently, several members of the 10-piece k-pop group happen to move into the house next door to her and immediately begin fighting over her, as this is how fanfiction usually goes. First, she slips on a banana peel and tosses her pads at them in the dark. Embarrassing! Then, she breaks into their house and chokes on rice cakes. Oh, no! At one point, Sehun and Baekhyun catch her spying on them with binoculars, so they decide to make out with each other to freak her out. Who even wrote this script? I’m not entirely convinced they didn’t just lift it from some 13-year-old’s FanFiction.net profile.

The best thing about “EXO Lives Next Door” is that the episodes are only 12-15 minutes long, which is exactly my attention span. The next best thing is that it’s completely ridiculous. Yeon-hee is not an interesting or likeable character at all, but no fanfiction heroines ever are (see: Bella Swan). The storyline, however, is so ludicrous it’s amazing. Personally, I’d stick around just for Sehun’s unlikely bromance with Yeon-hee’s kung fu-obsessed brother.

P.S. How can I get a job writing for one of these?!

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2014

‘Starry Eyes’
Release Date: March 8, 2014
Director: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: Alex Essoe, Amanda Fuller and Noah Segan
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

starryeyes

Photo courtesy of Snowfort Pictures, Parallactic Pictures and Dark Sky Films.

This film borrows heavily from its predecessors: it’s got a bit of “Suspiria” (Alex Essoe, who stars as Sarah, even looks just like Jessica Harper) with a dash of “Eyes Wide Shut.” The body horror is exactly the same as 2013’s “Contracted,” which was itself borrowed from 2012’s “Thanatomorphose.” And yet I still really, really liked “Starry Eyes.” It follows Sarah’s struggles as a part-time waitress/aspiring actress living in Hollywood with a group of self-centered frenemies. She finally has some success at an audition run by an eerie-yet-powerful production company with strange Illuminati-esque ties that promises to “transform” her life — quite literally. “Starry Eyes” is pretty campy, and it’s great. At its core, it’s just a classic Hollywood story. How far are you willing to go for success? How much are you willing to sacrifice? How squeamish are you around maggots?

‘Oculus’
Release Date: April 11, 2014
Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites and Rory Cochrane
Genre: Horror
Rating: R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.
Grade: D

oculus

Photo courtesy of Relativity Media.

The best line from this movie is, “Okay, what’s more likely: that you’re misremembering events from 11 years ago, or that the mirror eats dogs?” But, of course, the mirror really does eat dogs. It also manipulates people within its range to have vivid hallucinations that eventually cause them to commit horrifying deeds. In the case of “Oculus,” Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan) is convinced that the antique mirror her father (Rory Cochrane) had in his office when she was a child used its supernatural abilities to drive him crazy enough to murder her mother (Katee Sackhoff). It’s really such a stupid premise, I started to wonder if we’ve literally made a horror movie about everything and now there’s nothing left. It would have been much more interesting if Kaylie really was remembering incorrectly and her father was just an insane murderer of his own volition, but no. It was the mirror.

‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2014
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Starring: Addison Timlin, Spencer Treat Clark and Travis Tope
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for brutal violence, grisly images, strong sexual content, and language.
Grade: D

townthatdreadedsundown

Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures.

As a sequel/remake/ reboot of the 1976 classic slasher film, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” had a lot of room to play around with the story and the genre, but it really dropped the ball. The original is based on the true story of a masked serial killer who terrorized the small town Texarkana in the 1940s. The 2014 film picks up the story in the modern day with a return of the Phantom Killer at an annual Halloween screening of the movie at the local drive-in theater. I love meta horror, but “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” didn’t even try to do anything interesting with this reboot. With two horror powerhouses behind the production (Ryan Murphy of American Horror Story fame and Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions), I expected something more innovative. “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” is just another straightforward slasher without any particularly exciting gory effects and the most ridiculously disappointing resolution imaginable. In fact, it was such a letdown it made me angry.

‘Horns’
Release Date: Oct. 31, 2014
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple and Max Minghella
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
Rating: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use.
Grade: C

horns

Photo courtesy of Dimension Films and RADiUS-TWC.

The “Horns” script seemed quite true to Joe Hill’s novel, but there’s a lot going on that had to be condensed into a 120-minute film. I wish “Horns” had focused on the areas in which it excelled: black horror-comedy and religious satire. Unfortunately, it had to take a lot of time for scene-setting flashbacks, character-building romance and, y’know, plot-progressing twists and turns. It centers on Ig Perrish (played by Daniel Radcliffe, whom I love), a social pariah who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend Merrin (played by Juno Temple, whom I love). One day, he wakes up with horns sprouting from his forehead and psychic abilities to draw the truth out of people, which he uses to his advantage as he seeks out Merrin’s true killer. Also he can command snakes to do his bidding. There’s a lot going on, most of which is at least entertaining. But I really am sick of the compulsory rape scene in every horror movie.

What’s in my DramaFever queue this month?

‘Boys Over Flowers’
Starring: Ku Hye-sun, Lee Min-ho and Kim Hyun-joong
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Episodes: 25

boysoverflowers

Photo courtesy of Group 8.

“Boys Over Flowers” is probably the perfect introductory drama — it is so extra.

The story follows Jan-di, a plucky girl from a working class family who receives a scholarship to attend the exclusive Shinhwa High School, which is populated primarily by rich assholes. She faces some of the most hardcore bullying I’ve ever seen depicted on screen (the kids light her bike on fire!). The most fearsome of the students are the F4 clique: Jun-pyo (the gorgeous heir to the Shinhwa fortune who owns a surplus of fabulous coats), Ji-hoo (the insufferable Nice Guy™ who cries while playing the violin alone in the woods), Yi-jung (the playboy who is popular at school because he’s such a great potter) and Woo-bin (I’m not even sure what his story is, but I’ve grown fond of his silly hats and random usage of English slang).

Obviously, all of the cute rich boys begin fighting over Jan-di’s affections, and there is a life-or-death situation in every episode. People are getting chloroformed and kidnapped left and right. It’s truly wild.

There are a lot of complaints that could be lodged about “Boys Over Flowers,” and I had to read some spoilers to make sure the ending wasn’t going to piss me off, but it’s just so over-the-top ridiculous I can’t help being hooked.

‘Commitment’
Release Date:
Dec. 6, 2013
Director: Park Hong-soo
Starring: Choi Seung-hyun, Han Ye-ri and Kim Yoo-jung
Genre: Action, Drama
Rating: Not Rated

top-school-desk

Photo courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment.

This is cheating because “Commitment” isn’t even on DreamaFever, it’s on Netflix. But I’m going to talk about it anyway.

Myung-hoon is a North Korean teenager who has to go undercover as a spy in South Korea in order to save his younger sister from the labor camp where they’ve both been imprisoned after their father’s death. It’s a fairly lengthy and involved film (and it involves some knowledge of the politics revolving around the Korean War), but it is surprisingly captivating throughout with a handful of sweet, action-packed fight scenes.

To be honest, I mostly wanted to watch “Commitment” as an excuse to spend two hours gazing adoringly at Choi Seung-hyun (better known as T.O.P, a rapper and member of the boyband Big Bang). He’s painfully attractive, and a talented actor to boot, so it’s time well spent.

‘Absolute Boyfriend’ (aka ‘Absolute Darling’)
Starring:
Ku Hye-sun, Jiro Wang and Kun Da
Genre: Romance
Episodes: 20

absoluteboyfriend

Photo courtesy of GTV.

“Absolute Boyfriend” is a Taiwanese adaptation of a Japanese manga novel, but it stars a Korean actress, Ku Hye-sun, and dubs over her dialogue. It’s really weird.

That aside, the show is about a single woman, Xiao Fei, who ends up purchasing a robot boyfriend from an eccentric salesman through a strange sequence of events. Once she receives her order, she feels uncomfortable about it, but it’s too late! To make matters worse, the arrival of the robot boyfriend dredges up all the hidden feelings her neighbor and best friend, Zong Shi, has for her, and he starts spilling his guts all over the place. Eventually, the robot begins to develop human emotions as well, putting a hitch in the plans. He is played by Taiwanese boybander Jiro Wang, who is completely perfect as the lovable galoot with a rockin’ body, and I could totally go for one of my own, if anybody wants to hook it up.

The show starts off light-hearted and silly, but it really takes a dark turn somewhere in the middle. There is a lot of implied sexual assault and rape that I was not prepared for or expecting (again, people keep getting drugged and kidnapped!). I found it so disturbing I had to take a break from watching the show for a while. Once I resumed, the episodes became increasingly sad as they neared the ending. This is not what I thought I was signing up for — I’m glad to have finally finished “Absolute Boyfriend” and gotten it out of my life.

‘High School – Love On’
Starring: Kim Sae-ron, Nam Woo-hyun and Lee Sung-yeol
Genre: Romance, Supernatural
Episodes: 20

highschool

Photo courtesy of KBS2.

“High School – Love On” is the best show of this bunch, and I am fully obsessed.

It’s another romantic teen melodrama — albeit a lot more realistic than something like “Boys Over Flowers” — with a fantasy twist. Seul-bi is an angel of death who suddenly takes a human form after accidentally saving the life of a high school student, Woo-hyun. Once she’s stuck among the humans, she has to decide if she wants to return to her world or stick it out in high school and give mortal romance a shot.

All of the characters are well-rounded and interesting, from the school bullies to the kids’ parents and teachers to the other angels who appear throughout. The main love triangle is possibly the best I’ve ever seen on television, as I’m equally invested in all three characters and love the unique dynamic between each pairing. Woo-hyun and Sung-yeol are such compelling frenemies and have amazing chemistry — probably because the actors playing them are Nam Woo-hyun and Lee Sung-yeol, two members of the boyband Infinite. I’m rooting for them to all end up together in polyamorous happiness.

So far, I am really adoring “High School – Love On,” and I can’t wait to see the drama continue to unfold. Thankfully, I don’t have a life, and watching dramas is all I do anymore.