Tag Archives: sci-fi

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.

Advertisements

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

20160417_172436-1

“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 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.

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.