Tag Archives: netflix

Capsule film reviews: Four horror movies from 2018

‘Cam’
Release Date: Nov. 16, 2018
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Starring: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh and Imani Hakim
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: A-

Photo courtesy of Netflix.

As someone who recently got all my shit stolen (everything from cell phone to Gmail and Instagram accounts), I both enjoyed and deeply related to Netflix’s original thriller “Cam.” It’s not until something terrible happens that you realize how much of your life is online and how quickly you can lose it all — which is exactly what we learn in “Cam” as we follow the heroine Alice (Madeline Brewer), a camgirl whose online identity is everything to her. As she’s rising in rank on a popular camming site called Free Girls Live, desperately trying to crack the top 50 with increasingly daring broadcasts, Alice suddenly loses access to her account. But that’s not all. Her account has been taken over by an eerie doppelgänger who performs under her name and has her audience fooled. The film follows Alice’s frantic race to figure out what’s happened to her account before she loses her carefully curated online presence, her reputation, her job and perhaps even her life. There have been numerous horror films attempting to show us the dangers of our technological world, but few, like “Cam,” which acknowledge how our online selves are now almost essential extensions of our lives.

‘A Quiet Place’
Release Date: April 6, 2018
Director: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski and Millicent Simmonds
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Rating: PG-13 for terror and some bloody images.
Grade: B

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Relying heavily on a creepy musical score, visual cues and emotive acting from its leads, “A Quiet Place” cements itself as one of the year’s most inventive sci-fi/horror films. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that has been taken over by horrible creatures that attack using their strong sense of hearing. The few humans who’ve survived the takeover — including Evelyn (Emily Blunt), Lee (John Krasinski) and their children (Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe) — have learned to adapt to new lives scavenging for supplies in abandoned cities and going about day-to-day business while making as little noise as possible to avoid detection. It’s a testament to the filmmaking that “A Quiet Place” can be so compelling and emotionally-driven without much dialogue beyond some hushed conversations. There are a few good moments of suspense and tension, but the film’s biggest strength is the human element. It is especially interesting to see the older children beginning to grow up in this oppressive environment and struggle to find their places in it. Their… quiet places in it.

‘Hereditary’
Release Date: June 8, 2018
Director: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Rating: R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity.
Grade: C+

Photo courtesy of A24.

“Hereditary” was supposed to be the horror movie on 2018. I love a good fucked up family drama, so I was all hyped up, which only left me disappointed in the end. Toni Collette does deliver a strong performance as Annie Graham, an artist and mother trying to deal with the aftermath of her own mother’s recent death. Likewise, Alex Wolff is excellent in his role as Peter Graham, Annie’s teenage son, whose pain and confusion help propel the story. Early on in the film, the audience is expecting to learn of the dark secrets Annie’s mother was hiding until her death, but this suspense is never satisfied until the very last scene in the film and then it’s such a letdown. That conclusion could have been much more fucked up if it was only handled with more subtlety and finesse. While the plot of “Hereditary” leaves a lot to be desired, it is beautifully shot and well put-together. I particularly enjoyed the gruesome death scene (I thought, “All right, now here we go!” but the movie never really picked up from there), and I loved the detail of the twisted miniature scenes Annie builds in her art studio to represent family memories, good and bad. “Hereditary” might be worth a watch for these reasons, but it’s not worth two.

‘Unsane’
Release Date: March 23, 2018
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard and Jay Pharoah
Genre: Drama, Horror, Mystery
Rating: R for disturbing behavior, violence, language and sex references.
Grade: D

Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street and Fingerprint Releasing.

I watched “Unsane” on an airplane — it was a 20-hour flight, and I was desperately working my way through every form of entertainment available to me. It was so bad, I was shocked beyond belief when I reconnected to WiFi and found out that this film was actually taken seriously by critics. Here’s the cool thing: like Sean Baker’s phenomenal “Tangerine,” “Unsane” was filmed entirely on an iPhone. Unfortunately for director Steven Soderbergh, it’s already been established that great films can be shot using minimal equipment, and that novelty alone is not enough to make “Unsane” a great film. “Unsane” centers on Sawyer (Claire Foy), a woman who seeks treatment at a mental health facility after being persistently tormented by a stalker. When she absently signs some documents at the appointment, she unknowingly commits herself to stay at the facility, and her attempts to escape only make her a bigger target for the staff and other patients. The story prompting us to question who is really crazy? is one we’ve seen in films — much better films — a thousand times before. The acting is over-the-top, and the ending is ridiculous. If you’re stuck on an airplane with “Unsane,” I recommend you play Tetris instead.

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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.

Film review: ‘Mitt’

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Photo courtesy of Netflix.

A few lofty assertions are made about the Netflix documentary “Mitt” in its promotional material:

1. “For six years, one filmmaker had exclusive access to Mitt Romney.” Well, it really doesn’t seem like it, because the majority of the footage is taken from directly before or after presidential debates or at other integral campaign events, showing very little of the promised “behind-the-scenes” moments of the Romneys in their natural habitat.

2. “Whatever side you’re on, see another side.” Well, not really. It’s not as if Romney As A Devoted Family Man is a shockingly new angle on the story — everyone has been exposed to Romney’s public image already, and “Mitt” doesn’t bother to delve any deeper than that.

But, what was I really expecting?

That isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the documentary. I had similar feelings coming out of One Direction’s “This Is Us” documentary last summer: ‘Well, that was a clearly scripted promotional tool/moneymaking device.’ But, well, duh. And then I went to see it again.

Likewise, I enjoyed watching “Mitt,” but at 92 minutes, it barely scratches the surface, and I wanted so much more.

It begins in 2006, capturing a few choice moments from the lead-up to Romney’s loss to Senator John McCain during the 2008 primary. Leaving out nearly all of the political elements of the political campaign, “Mitt” instead focuses on the family life of the politician (and expects the viewer to keep track of about 112 Romney family members that filter in and out).

trailer-for-netflixs-mitt-romney-documentary-mitt

Photo courtesy of Netflix.

My favorite Romney, Josh (identifiable only because he has a slightly stronger jaw than his brother Matt), has a good moment of attempted realism, providing both his “media answer” and “actual answer” to the question, “Is it worth it?” After the 2008 primary is said and done, the family, as a whole, agrees vehemently that running for office is not worth it and they will never do it again.

The documentary then skips ahead several years to file footage of Mitt appearing onstage at the 2012 Republican National Convention to accept his party’s nomination for President. This, I think, deserved much more of a segue.

The film also ends extremely abruptly without showing any return to normalcy or adjusting to life after losing a presidential election. Instead, Ann and Mitt walk inside their home, sit awkwardly on opposite ends of the room, then credits roll.

Mitt is an interesting person, just as villains usually have more interesting origin stories than their good-guy counterparts. Romney’s history is full of incidences of being good but never the best, culminating with his unsuccessful presidential campaign. He idolizes his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney (which is showcased, albeit subtly, in the documentary when Romney speaks passionately about his father’s accomplishments or hangs his father’s old campaign posters on his bus), and has always put great effort into doing things of which his father would be proud.

That’s what I want to watch a documentary about.

I found the rare, honest glimpses into Romney’s true character pretty interesting, and I would love to see a documentary focus more on that. I was pleasantly surprised by his self-deprecating sense of humor. During one of the many family pep talks featured in the film, one of the Romneys (probably Tagg) says, “A year ago, we told you that we’d love you no matter how this thing turned out, and—“ “And now you’re not so sure,” Mitt interjects with a wry smile.

Romney would make for a fantastic character study, but I’m not sure we’ll ever have the opportunity to truly lift the veil. Until then, “Mitt” only provides some partial insight.

‘Mitt’
Release Date: Jan. 24, 2014
Director: Greg Whiteley
Starring: Mitt Romney, Ann Romney and Taggart Romney
Genre: Documentary, Biography, Drama
Rating: Not Rated
Grade: B