Tag Archives: foreign films

Capsule drama reviews: Pinocchio, Nineteen, etc.

‘Mary Stayed Out All Night’ (aka ‘Marry Me, Mary!’)
Starring: Moon Geun-young, Jang Keun-suk and Kim Jae-wook
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 16

mary

Photo courtesy of ACC Korea.

The bad news first: “Mary Stayed Out All Night” has the worst soundtrack. The show is supposed to be about indie rock, but all of the music is just terrible. The songs keep getting worse as the story progresses. If I had to listen to “My Precious” one more time, I was going to freak out. But the good news: Kang Mu-gyul looks really cute singing them. He looks really cute doing everything. He is the cutest. So I somehow managed to endure the soundtrack — even though that chorus of “She’s Mine” (“My woman, she loves me so very much! / My woman, she says I’m the greatest man she’s ever met!”) continues to haunt me.

The story follows Wi Mae-ri, who is out partying with her friends in Hongdae when she accidentally runs Mu-gyul (the stylish lead singer for a local indie band called Absolute Perfection) over with her car. They decide to get extremely drunk together and become fast friends, as you do when someone runs you over with their car. However, Mae-ri’s horrible deadbeat father has secretly arranged for her to marry a wealthy family friend, Byun Jung-in, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. So, Mae-ri enlists Mu-gyul’s help to pretend that she is already married — just until her father calls off the nuptials. As you can expect, hijinks ensue.

The first half of “Mary Stayed Out All Night” is much better than the second. I enjoyed the fashion and the bohemian aesthetic; I enjoyed the growing chemistry between Moon Geun-young and Jang Keun-suk; I enjoyed looking at Jang Keun-suk a lot. But the show became more frustrating as it went on: Jung-in was never fully fleshed out as a character, Mae-ri’s father never showed any redeeming qualities, and I was just sick of everybody’s inability to communicate. Ultimately, though, I still thought this was a really good find. But that awful music…

‘Nineteen’
Release Date:
Nov. 12, 2009
Director: Jang Yong-woo
Starring: Choi Seung-hyun, Lee Seung-hyun and Huh E-jae
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated

nineteen

Photo courtesy of CJ Entertainment.

“Nineteen” just so perfectly captures what it’s like to be 19 — the first of many years spent in the limbo between childhood and adulthood. It’s beautiful.

The movie focuses on three 19-year-olds from different walks of life. Seo Jung-hoon is kind of a slacker, satisfied with living at his parents’ house and working at a café. Park Min-seo is the meek rich boy who has a hard time interacting with other people and feels like he’s failed to live up to his parents’ expectations by not getting into a top college. Cha Eun-young just lost the hair stylist job she was using to support herself and her terminally ill mother in the hospital. The three of them are brought into the police station for questioning when a mutual acquaintance is found dead. They all feel as though the police aren’t listening and aren’t taking them seriously and are treating them like kids, so they miraculously escape police custody at the same time on go on the run together across South Korea.

It’s a fun adventure, and it’s infinitely relatable. What do you do when you’re on the run from the law? Compete in a rap battle and spend all your money on flamboyant sunglasses? Well, yeah, when you’re 19. It’s a pretty silly movie, but, at the same time, it speaks to the Millennials’ anxieties of growing up and finding a place in the world. And T.O.P performs a couple of goofy raps, so there’s that.

‘Pinocchio’
Starring:
Park Shin-hye, Lee Jong-suk and Kim Young-kwang
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Episodes: 20

pinocchio

I laughed really hard at this scene on the bus. Photo courtesy of iHQ.

“Pinocchio” is a romantic drama with a very heavy-handed overarching message about truth. Sort of like an Ethics in Journalism class with a romantic subplot.

For allegorical purposes, the story takes place in a world where a “Pinocchio syndrome” exists that makes those afflicted hiccup when they lie. Choi Dal-po and Choi In-ha are adopted siblings (more or less) who both aspire to become TV news reporters for different reasons. In-ha — a Pinocchio herself — wants to follow in the footsteps of her estranged mother who has a reputation for being a heartless but powerful news anchor. Dal-po wants to get revenge on the reporter who destroyed his birth family by spreading a sensationalized story that blamed his firefighter father for the deaths of many of his colleagues.

The drawn-out, Hamlet-style revenge-seeking and uncovering of the past was the most intriguing part of “Pinocchio.” The actual romance was neither exciting nor really charming. Although, I do believe I am the only viewer who is in strong opposition to Dal-po and In-ha as the endgame “darling couple.” I was really rooting for Seo Beom-jo —the spoiled rich boy who actually showed tremendous character growth and was one of my favorites throughout. He learned so much, and, although he struggled with it, he was always a good guy at the end of the day. And he was not related to In-ha at all, which is a plus.

‘Flower Boy Ramen Shop’
Starring:
Lee Chung-ah, Jung Il-woo and Lee Ki-woo
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 16

flowerboys

Photo courtesy of tvN.

“Flower Boy Ramen Shop” is part one of the three-part “flower boy” series of dramas that also includes “Shut Up Flower Boy Band” and “Flower Boys Next Door.” This one is okay. I wasn’t that into it, but then I began to find Jung Il-woo very endearing, so I had to finish it.

It takes a while to even get to the ramen. At first, Yang Eun-bi is studying to become a teacher, but she quits after her father dies and leaves his ramen shop to her and some mysterious narcoleptic stranger he apparently wanted her to marry. Which she figures is just as well because teaching was getting weird considering the strange affair she was carrying on with one of her high school students, Cha Chi-soo, who is also (naturally) an extremely wealthy heir whose family controls the school. At the ramen shop, she and the creepy stranger who inserts himself into her life take a group of cute misfits from the high school under their wing to revamp the restaurant’s image.

First of all, I find it very annoying that Eun-bi just lets Choi Kang-hyuk burst into her life and make himself at home, despite all of the Very Binding Legal Documents That Are Clearly Written In Crayon he produces to prove his ownership. It’s not a very well-made drama, the acting isn’t that great, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. Nonetheless, I guess I must be a sucker for cute rich boys learning the harsh realities of the world or something, because I still really wanted to observe Chi-soo’s personal growth and ensure that he and Eun-bi lived happily ever after.

Capsule drama reviews: My Love From Another Star, etc.

‘My Love From Another Star’ (aka ‘You Who Came From the Stars’)
Starring: Jun Ji-hyun, Kim Soo-hyun and Park Hae-jin
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama, Sci-fi
Episodes: 21

mylove

Photo courtesy of HB Entertainment.

I laughed hysterically. I cried uncontrollably. I craved chicken and beer. “My Love From Another Star” has been my favorite drama to date.

The show is about Cheon Song-yi, a down-on-her-luck movie star, and her next door neighbor, Do Min-joon, the 400-year-old alien who falls in love with her just months before he’s finally due to return to his home planet. This is a great example of how excellent a show can be when it centers on a fully-realized female character. Song-yi has been my favorite drama heroine to date — she is funny, exuberant, glamorous, sympathetic. She has so much personality, and she’s so adorable, it’s very hard not to fall in love with her and consider giving up your home planet. I understand completely.

Everything about “My Love From Another Star” is actually pretty great. Pretty stellar, as it were. The fashion, the cinematography, the script, etc. The supporting characters are also notable — particularly Shin Sung-rok as the cartoonishly evil villain Jae-kyung and Park Hae-jin as the rejected suitor Hwi-kyung, who recovers gracefully and proves to be a real friend and a stand-up guy in general. This show is fantastic.

‘Bungee Jumping of Their Own’
Release Date:
Feb. 2, 2001
Director: Kim Dae-seung
Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Lee Eun-ju and Yeo Hyun-soo
Genre: Romance, Drama
Rating: Not Rated

bungee

Photo courtesy of Cineclick Asia.

This movie really weirded me out. And it’s not particularly easy to weird me out.

It begins with the love story of In-woo and Tae-hee, who meet at university and quickly become inseparable — until Tae-hee is killed in a car accident. In-woo moves on with his life, marries, has a baby, and becomes a high school teacher, which is working out well for him until he becomes convinced that Tae-hee has been reincarnated as one of the underage students in his class. From there, the movie becomes wholly unsettling as In-woo creepily grooms the boy, calls him up the middle of the night, and tries to convince him that they’re soulmates.

It’s, at least, an interesting challenge of gender and heteronormativity springing from a religious standpoint, but “Bungee Jumping of Their Own” is very uncomfortable to watch. And it ends with the unpleasant message that it’s kind of romantic to kidnap a child that reminds you of your dead ex-lover. I can’t really hang with that.

‘Answer Me 1997’ (aka ‘Reply 1997’)
Starring:
Jung Eun-ji, Seo In-guk and Song Jong-ho
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Episodes: 16

Reply-1997

Photo courtesy of tvN.

Unfortunately for me, the vast majority of the in-jokes, pop culture references and celebrity cameos that make “Answer Me 1997” so amusing were pretty lost on me. Much more entertaining if you have a basic understanding of Korean life in the 1990s. However, I still enjoyed the show as a quick and interesting coming-of-age story about a group of high school friends.

The show is framed with the story of Shi-won, a 30-something writer, attending a high school reunion and reminiscing with her friends and former classmates about growing up in the ‘90s. She reveals that she is now married and pregnant, but leaves the identity of her husband open for interpretation as the narrative bounces back and forth between the present day and her final year of high school in Busan.

“Answer Me 1997” is the most down-to-earth drama I’ve watched so far. It’s honest and candid about premarital sex, homosexuality, erotic fanfiction about boybands… All the real issues that teens deal with every day. The pacing is great, the throwbacks to the ‘90s are refreshing, and the teenagers are really accurately depicted. Also unique is the setting in Busan and the distinction made between hailing from a big city like Seoul and growing up anywhere else in the country.

‘Shut Up Flower Boy Band’
Starring:
Sung Joon, Jo Bo-ah and Lee Hyun-jae
Genre: Romance
Episodes: 16

shutup

Photo courtesy of tvN.

While I’m cruising around, living my life, I keep wondering what that song I always have stuck in my head is. Turns out it’s “Jaywalking,” the song that propels Eye Candy to fame in “Shut Up Flower Boy Band.” Damn, that’s an unexpectedly good song — super catchy hook, rhythmic back beat, rough rock ‘n roll guitar, and the romantic lyrics Byung-hee wrote about his muse before his untimely death at the hands of the high school bullies.

“Shut Up Flower Boy Band” follows the five-piece band of outcasts as they pursue their dreams of sharing Byung-hee’s music with the world. Will girls and money tear the band apart? Will they ever get through a live performance without something chaotic happening halfway through the single? Only time will tell!

Both the music and the aesthetic are consistently enticing. The boys are all pretty compelling individual characters, especially Do-il (the mysterious, long-haired drummer who is the son of a mobster and is ridiculously good-looking), Hyun-soo (the tormented guitarist, played by Kim Myung-soo from Infinite), and Ji-hyuk (the newly-appointed lead singer who takes Byung-hee’s place as the group’s leader). Less compelling is Jo Bo-ah as Soo-ah, Ji-hyuk’s love interest/Eye Candy’s general muse. But the unconventional music drama and the cute rocker boys more than make this show worth watching.

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.

Capsule film reviews: Four more foreign LGBT movies

‘Yossi & Jagger’ (Israel)
Release Date:
Aug. 1, 2002
Director: Eytan Fox
Starring: Ohad Knoller, Yehuda Levi and Assi Cohen
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Grade: A

Yossi&Jagger_06_1212_big

Photo courtesy of Strand Releasing.

This movie is great — it somehow manages to create vivid and multidimensional depictions of all of the characters (even the background ones) and their connections to one another, although almost the entire plot takes place over the course of a single day. The story follows Yossi (Ohad Knoller), a commander of a company of soldiers in the Israeli army, and his second-in-command officer, Lior (Yehuda Levi), with whom he’s having a secret affair. Lior is quite amusing and endearing, his full-bodied personality and passion for music earning him the nickname “Jagger” among his comrades. Yossi is more reserved and sensible, but their chemistry is obvious, and the film beautifully and succinctly captures the loving relationship between the two. Also impressive are the stand-out performances of Aya Steinovitz and Hani Furstenberg as the company’s two female soldiers who are individually finding their places in a male-dominated field. The 67-minute film is quick but undoubtedly touching and memorable.

‘Weekend’ (United Kingdom)
Release Date:
Sept. 23, 2011
Director: Andrew Haigh
Starring: Tom Cullen, Chris New and Jonathan Race
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

weekend

Photo courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures/Sundance Selects.

I remember when “Weekend” was released because it was very much talked-about, and it is still just as good years later. In fact, it’s very refreshing and kind of remarkable in that it’s such a well-made, high-quality gay romance film that does not at all feature a gay panic as a plot device. Both main characters, Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), are already well aware that they’re gay and are out of the closet when the story begins with them meeting in a club and going home together one Friday night. The film follows the slow building of their relationship as they spend the weekend together having meaningful conversations, taking drugs, riding bumper cars and having sex. It is bittersweet, though, because Glen is scheduled to leave for America the following week. “Weekend” is really a beautiful, captivating movie that is romantic and interesting. It’ll move you.

‘Undertow’ (Peru)
Release Date:
Sept. 23, 2009
Director: Javier Fuentes-León
Starring: Cristian Mercado, Manolo Cardona and Tatiana Astengo
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

undertow

Photo courtesy of Axiom Films.

“Undertow” is a pretty well-executed, interesting romance — almost a fairy tale with its melancholic, supernatural twist and star-crossed lovers. It begins with Peruvian fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) sneaking away from his pregnant wife Mariela (Tatiana Astengo) to carry on an affair with a reclusive painter, Santiago (Manolo Cardona). It’s a pretty standard storyline until you remember that this is supposed to be a ghost story: Santiago shortly drowns at sea and returns as a ghost that only Miguel can see. At first, they’re excited and try to make their relationship work, but then they realize that undead love triangles aren’t really any less complicated than everyday love triangles and aim to put Santiago’s body to rest. The story is unusual and enjoyable. “Undertow” does a good job characterizing the entire community and showing development throughout as the plot progresses. Some elements are more difficult to follow (the ghost thing, I mean), but it is, overall, a solid movie.

‘Guys and Balls’ (Germany)
Release Date:
Oct. 7, 2004
Director: Sherry Hormann
Starring: Maximilian Brückner, David Rott and Rolf Zacher
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language.
Grade: C+

2006_guys_and_balls_007

Photo courtesy of Regent Releasing.

“Guys and Balls” is both a goofy gay romance and a sports movie! It follows Ecki (Maximilian Brückner), who is the goalie of his small-town football team until his teammates discover that he’s gay and kick him off. After being ostracized in town both because of his sexuality and because of a big mistake he made that cost the team the game, he heads to the big city to put together an all-gay football team with whom he plans to beat his old teammates and redeem himself once and for all. A series of zany high jinks ensue, a lot of which rely on offensive stereotypes, but it all comes together in time for the climactic final scene at the big game. Ecki, at least, is a dopey but likeable character, and the movie is, overall, pretty silly, even though it does attempt to feature some serious storylines. It’s just okay, though.

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies from 2013

‘Resolution’
Release Date: Jan. 25, 2013
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Starring: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran and Zahn McClarnon
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B+

resolution-movie-still

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film and Cinedigm.

Well, “Resolution” starts out with Michael (Peter Cilella) handcuffing his junkie buddy, Chris (Vinny Curran), to a pipe inside a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere in an attempt to get him sober. What could go wrong? The film is a pleasant surprise, though. As it progresses, it reveals itself to be a slow-paced psychological thriller that comments on storytelling and the horror genre itself. It’s like a low-budget take on the ideas explored in 2012’s “Cabin in the Woods,” although it’s definitely not as well-acted nor as tongue-in-cheek hilarious as its predecessor. Curran, in particular, does a really subpar job portraying his drug-addicted character. On the other hand, “Resolution” is a lot more actually menacing and scary than “Cabin in the Woods,” and its final 30 minutes are tense and unpredictable.

‘Stitches’
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Director: Conor McMahon
Starring: Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux and Tommy Knight
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Rating: R for strong bloody violence and gore, sexual content, language, drug and alcohol use – all involving teens.
Grade: C-

Screen-Shot-2013-04-01-at-6.46.48-PM

Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group and Irish Film Board.

This is a really goofy premise, so stay with me: “Stitches” is an Irish horror-comedy about a clown who is accidentally killed at a child’s birthday party and is resurrected six years later to exact his revenge on the kids who were there. It’s an attempt at the hilariously over-the-top gore perfected in movies such as the “Leprechaun” franchise or “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” but it isn’t executed as well. The cartoonish special effects aren’t too impressive, and it ends up being neither scary nor really funny (although there are some laughs). Considering there’s a Satanic ritual performed by clowns in the graveyard and an obsessive occult research segment on the history of clowns, “Stitches” should have been way more amusing. But there’s probably still a market for this. I’m not sure who those people would be, but they’re out there.

‘Berberian Sound Studio’
Release Date: June 14, 2013
Director: Peter Strickland
Starring: Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B

Berberian Sound Studio 2

Photo courtesy of Warp X and Illumination Films.

The film-within-a-film technique makes “Berberian Sound Studio” a creepy, slow-moving, atmospheric piece of surrealist cinema. The story follows British foley artist Gilderoy (Toby Jones) as he arrives on set in Italy to work on mixing sounds for director Giancarlo Santini’s (Antonio Mancino) latest giallo flick. Santini’s film is an Argento-esque horror story (although he refuses to refer to it as such) about a girls’ school cursed by witches, requiring Gilderoy and crew to create many creative sound effects in the studio. This is fascinating to watch, although potentially boring for American audiences. “Berberian Sound Studio” then takes a “Mulholland Drive”-style abrupt left turn into the realm of the absurd about three-quarters of the way through, as Gilderoy grows increasingly discomforted by the nature of the film and the working environment. The final act is eerie and tense, although this film is a lot more understated and never becomes truly “horror.”

‘We Are What We Are’
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2013
Director: Jim Mickle
Starring: Ambyr Childers, Julia Garner and Bill Sage
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rating: R for disturbing violence, bloody images, some sexuality, nudity and language.
Grade: B-

We-Are-What-We-Are

Photo courtesy of Entertainment One.

“We Are What We Are” is a thoughtful, beautifully-shot creepy thriller, but a lot of plot holes make it less enjoyable. The film (a remake of the 2010 Mexican horror film of the same name, although several key elements are different) focuses on the reclusive Parkers — a family of urban cannibals — following the death of Emma Parker (Kassie DePaiva), the mother of three children. The film is clearly supposed to make comment on religious fervor, patriarchal traditions and family bonds, but it seems like a lot of this is lost in translation. The influence of 2011’s excellent “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” about a woman escaping from the clutches of an oppressive cult, is extremely evident, but “We Are What We Are” never seems as believable. Luckily, the acting is strong from all three leads, the cinematography is attractive, and super blonde children are inherently disturbing. I only wish as much attention to detail had been paid to the screenwriting as was paid to the look of the film.

Capsule film reviews: Four more horror movies

‘Contracted’
Release Date:
Nov. 23, 2013
Director: Eric England
Starring: Najarra Townsend, Caroline Williams and Katie Stegeman
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A

contracted

Photo courtesy of BoulderLight Pictures and Southern Fried Films.

There are a lot of things to love about “Contracted”: the excellent special effects makeup that succeeds in creating some gross-out body horror scenes, the overarching allegory, the unconventional take on the genre, the sociological commentary. Although it gets off to a slow start with pretty weak acting, it soon hits its stride and is fascinating until the end. The story starts out evoking an old urban legend that I have even heard happened to some girl who knows a friend of a friend — Samantha (Najarra Townsend) is a lesbian who is drugged and sexually assaulted by a man at a party, and she quickly begins displaying symptoms of a strange sexually-transmitted infection that doctors cannot identify. She tries to carry on without acknowledging what happened to her, but the effects become increasingly difficult to hide. The film steadily ups the ante as it delves more deeply into Samantha’s life and finally culminates with a shocking final scene.

‘Compliance’
Release Date:
Aug. 17, 2012
Director: Craig Zobel
Starring: Dreama Walker, Ann Dowd and Pat Healy
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Rating: Rated R for language and sexual content/nudity.
Grade: B

5a_photo_compliance

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Well, “Compliance” on its own isn’t really that great of a movie. However, it’s a good complement to go along with reading about the real-life cases on which the movie is based, which I would highly recommend doing. The movie follows Becky (Dreama Walker), a teenage cashier at a fast food restaurant, and her manager Sandra (Ann Dowd). When Sandra receives a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, she barely hesitates to follow his orders to detain Becky, and the situation continues to escalate until Becky is stripped naked and sexually assaulted by Sandra’s fiancée Van (Bill Camp). What makes “Compliance” worth watching is the knowledge that this is a totally true story — and that it happened more than 70 times in many different states. The story brings to mind Yale University’s Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures, during which volunteers readily gave increasingly powerful electric shocks to innocent strangers at the command of an “authority figure.” So, like I said, “Compliance” is not altogether a fabulous movie filled with mind-blowing acting, but the story is so thought-provoking that it’s worth looking into.

‘In Their Sleep’
Release Date:
Jan. 27, 2010
Director: Caroline du Potet and Éric du Potet
Starring: Anne Parillaud, Arthur Dupont and Thierry Frémont
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C+

in-their-sleep

Photo courtesy of Delante Films and Banque Populaire Images 9.

“In Their Sleep” is a French horror film that probably would have been better had the main narrative twist not been glaringly obvious from the beginning of the action. The film is constructed cleverly with dream sequences slipped into the storyline, a nonlinear timeline and substantial flashbacks at opportune moments. Anne Parillaud succeeds at portraying Sarah as a sympathetic and emotionally vulnerable heroine, and Arthur Dupont is excellent as the twisted Arthur. The film has all the makings of an interesting addition to the horror canon, but it plays out exactly as it is expected to without taking risks or maintaining the suspense.

‘The Shrine’
Release Date:
July 15, 2011
Director: Jon Knautz
Starring: Cindy Sampson, Aaron Ashmore and Meghan Heffern
Genre: Horror
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: F

the-shrine-6

Photo courtesy of Brookstreet Pictures.

“The Shrine” is pretty terrible. I knew it was going to be pretty terrible when, one minute, we’re all in the United States, and the next, the film is suddenly taking place in Poland with absolutely no interlude between the two settings. It’s really pretty boring with run-of-the-mill, badly-acted American tourists wandering aimlessly through unfamiliar woods in an attempt to suss out a mystery. The only mildly interesting moment takes place more than halfway through the film, after the Americans have been captured by Satanic cultists and have escaped. And even these goofy special effects don’t make the movie or its letdown of a “twist” conclusion worthwhile.

Capsule film reviews: Four foreign LGBT movies

‘Plan B’ (Argentina)
Release Date: March 27, 2009
Director: Marco Berger
Starring: Manuel Vignau, Lucas Ferraro and Mercedes Quinteros
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A+

photo-Plan-B-2009-5

Photo courtesy of Rendez-vous Pictures and Oh My Gomez! Films.

“Plan B” is a great film — a Spanish-language romantic comedy with a strong emotional, dramatic element. The pacing is perfect as the plot progresses toward an excellent and satisfying conclusion. The storyline is almost Shakespearean in its use of plotting and scheming, zany high jinks, and secret identities: Manuel Vignau excels as Bruno, who is set on exacting revenge after his girlfriend (Mercedes Quinteros) leaves him for another man, Pablo (Lucas Ferraro). First, he aims to befriend Pablo, infiltrating his world and possibly setting him up with another woman. But, when that doesn’t work, he decides to go with “plan B,” which is to just do the seducing himself. But as silly as the set-up is, the story is sweet and romantic with effective rising tension leading to a touching resolution. The script is well-written, the acting believable, and, again, this film is a great one.

‘Water Lilies’ (France)
Release Date: May 17, 2007
Director: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Adèle Haenel, Alice de Lencquesaing and Warren Jacquin
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B-

maxresdefault

Photo courtesy of Balthazar Productions.

This French film centers on three girls during the summer they are 15 years old. Primarily, the focus is on Marie (Pauline Acquart), who is captivated by Floriane (Adèle Haenel), the captain of the girls’ synchronized swimming team. And, although Marie is dealing with her first personal sexuality crisis, she’s quite often expressionless and emotionless, which drags the film on a bit. More interesting are the other two girls, Floriane (who is negatively perceived as promiscuous by her other classmates, doesn’t get along well with girls and is anxious to lose her virginity to some creep) and Anne (Louise Blachère, who is Marie’s heterosexual childhood friend she finds herself now drifting away from). The minimalistic cinematography is a little boring, but the storyline certainly is not, and “Water Lilies” is an interesting look at female sexual awakening.

‘Eyes Wide Open’ (Israel)
Release Date: Feb. 5, 2010
Director: Haim Tabakman
Starring: Ran Danker, Zohar Strauss and Tzahi Grad
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C

img_2322_2087

Photo courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures.

Unfortunately for me, I had to start and stop this movie several times in order to make it through. I wanted so badly to not find it boring, but I managed to do it anyway. “Eyes Wide Open” is a film, in Hebrew, that centers on an Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem. Zohar Strauss stars as Aaron, a married father of four, who hires Ezri (Ran Danker) to work as an apprentice in his butcher shop and eventually falls for him. The consequent crisis of faith and social ostracizing are the most compelling elements of the film, posing questions such as, “Is Aaron’s faith hurting or helping him? Is following his heart a good decision or a bad one?” But the acting is just so-so. Neither Danker nor Strauss is particularly compelling or convincing in their respective roles. Also, you know what’s weird about this movie? The promotional picture on the cover features a guy who is not really even in it (he appears in two scenes, I think).

‘North Sea Texas’ (Belgium)
Release Date: November 2, 2012
Director: Bavo Defurne
Starring: Thomas Coumans, Nina Marie Kortekaas and Nathan Naenen
Genre: Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: C-

North-Sea-Texas16

Photo courtesy of Kinepolis Film Distribution and Strand Releasing.

There was probably a time I would have loved “North Sea Texas,” a Belgian coming-of-age film about a boy living with his good-for-nothing lounge singer/accordion player mother. Pim (Jelle Florizoone) carries off some amazingly angsty scenes dressing in his mother’s clothing and collecting mementos that remind him of the neighbor boy, Gino (Mathias Vergels). His mother (Eva Van der Gucht) does some lousy parenting, and Gino does some lousy boyfriending as he struggles with his own sexuality and his bleak family situation. It’s all very run-of-the-mill gay drama stuff, and that’s why I found this film to be so tedious. It’s well-acted, and it’s even emotionally-captivating. I just feel like I’ve seen this movie a million times over, and there are so many more diverse and interesting queer stories that could be told instead.