Tag Archives: sex work

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.

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?!