Snowpiercer is an under-the-rader post-apocalyptic thriller that offers the grittiness that many times only Asian cinema may achieve. South Korean director Joon-ho Bong forces audiences to forget that Chris Evans was ever a Marvel superhero, as he leads a revolt of his fellow “low-class” citizens against the self-appointed gentry in a train that contains all remaining members of the planet. With immersive environments and a layered script, this film melds together social commentary and moral discourse in a visually arresting and vastly entertaining package.
From Park Chan-wook (maker of Oldboy) comes The Handmaiden, a great movie in line with his now mastered style of portraying the beautifully weird. A rich Japanese lady isolated from the world accepts a new handmaiden, a shrewd young Korean girl with hidden motives. The men around them, full of greed and lust, complete the grand Victorian tale of deception, romance or lack thereof, and dark humor. You will find yourself at times screaming “what?”, and at times bewildered by the general aesthetic of the film including clothes, traditions, and the stunning nature of both Korea and Japan. If you love cinema, you can’t miss this movie. It’s just too big of an achievement.
The story of a single mother trying to raise an unstable teenager and their interactions with the world surrounding them, Mommy is a movie that aims straight for the heart and doesn’t miss. It is so intense that you are likely to feel a kind of emotional tiredness after watching it. However, it is a beautiful intensity so to speak. Because while it has many joyous moments as well as funny ones, its true brilliance is reached while you are being punched in the guts. This is the more impacting with perfect the performances from the cast, the elaborate soundtrack and Xavier Dolan’s impeccable staging. Think of Mommy as the most beautiful heartbreaking movie you will ever watch, it will hurt, but you will never regret watching it, and you will find yourself recommending it to everyone you know.
A cynical down-on-his-luck Seoul taxi driver is hired by a German journalist to go to another town called Gwangju. What seemed like an easy and overcompensated journey at first takes him into the heart of a city under siege by the military. This is in fact the student uprising that will be a very important event in South Korean history, known as 1980 Guangju Democratic Uprising. Both the journalist and the taxi driver confront life-threatening situations as they find themselves at the center of the movement. A true-story-based movie, it’s a heartfelt and entertaining political drama about one of the bleakest chapters of modern Korean history. In 2018 it was the country’s official submission to the Oscars.
Director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) does something quite amazing with the $50 million budget Netflix gave him: he makes a simplistic movie. But man, is it good. Okja tells the story of a “super pig” experiment that sends genetically modified pigs to top farmers around the world. In Korea, a farmer’s granddaughter forms a special relationship with one of these super pigs (Okja). When the company who originally ran the experiment want their pig back (performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton) – the two find an ally in an animal advocacy group led by Jay (Paul Dano). This is a straightforward movie, but nevertheless it is entertaining and full of thought-provoking themes and performances from an excellent cast.
A fast-paced thriller, and “actually dangerous” movie as envisioned by its directors, Good Time is about a bank robbery gone wrong and one brother trying to get his other brother out of jail in its aftermath. It’s a deep and fast dive into New York’s criminal underworld that will not give you the time to catch a single full breath. The rhythm here is, without exaggeration, unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s anxiety-inducing and very… primal. Incredible work featuring a career-pivoting performance from Robert Pattinson as the loose criminal that will do literally anything in the pursuit of seeing his brother free.
When Russian director Vitaly Mansky is commissioned by the North Korean government to make a documentary about an average Pyongyang child, he follows their every guideline. Except the end result, Under The Sun, is the complete opposite of what they had intended. For example starting every take earlier than they thought, he makes the documentary about the watchdogs around the child and other mechanisms of propaganda. He uses quiet storytelling to expose how brainwashing in a fascist regime takes place, and how the people caught in it function. May just be the smartest, most important film you can watch on North Korea.
In the mood for an impeccably crafted real-life thriller? This movie is for you. On the way out of a nightclub Victoria runs into four raucous German men who convince her to hang out with them. She is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t very good, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends, and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans. While the plot may sound like your standard issue crime drama, Victoria turns out to be something a little different, due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed – in a single shot. In interviews the director has talked about his process, and the challenges of filming an over 2-hour movie (it clocks in at 138 minutes) in over 20 different locations throughout the city of Berlin. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, I think it works well to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the story line. Laia Costa give an astounding lead performance. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her. A crazy, awesome movie.
A decidedly mediocre young drummer is discovered by a tyrannical music teacher and transferred to his class. It is in this class, with this teacher, that he discovers his own breaking point and strives to surpass it. It takes traditional thriller elements (outrageous villain, inexperienced victim, plenty of blood) and turns them into something wholly new and utterly provocative. It’s almost impossible to single out the best part of this film, considering the flawless performances, masterful script, and meticulously crafted soundtrack. Watch this movie to step out of your own life for a while and come back asking “How far would I go?”
This is the type of famous movie that doesn’t feel like one. So if you haven’t yet seen it, avoid watching the trailer. Kate (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent who is enlisted to aid in the war on drugs at the Mexican border. She is introduced to Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), a quiet and secretive agent working on the Mexican side. The reason you shouldn’t watch the trailer is that Sicario is much more than just another crime action movie, which its marketing will lead you to believe. It’s gorgeously made, with scenes that will catch your breath starting from the color composition to the amazing performances by Blunt and Del Toro. It’s intense, intelligent and very realistic in its approach to action sequences. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies, etc.)
One of The Drop’s many strengths is its dark, clever, yet compassionate script. It will take you into the heart of the Brooklyn crime scene through the characters and their respective more or less fragile lifestyles. The extremely good performances, however, soon become the focus and attire of the film. James Gandolfini couldn’t be more at home in this context and excels with his usual menace, yet somehow relatable presence. Tom Hardy, however, surprises in unfamiliar grounds, sharply portraying a vulnerable character, whose vulnerability you will keep doubting.
The Drop is consistent from start to finish, and with jaw-dropping moments here and there, it is both an interesting and enjoyable film.
In rural Korea a policeman starts to investigate peculiar and violent events that most of the people in his village attribute to the arrival of a new Japanese resident. As the occurrences keep multiplying, and different perspectives in the film are shown, you start to lose touch with reality in the face of what can only be described as genius film-making. As critic Jada Yuan puts it, the film operates on a level “that makes most American cinema seem clunky and unimaginative”. For this reason, and while The Wailing is a true horror flick with a great premise, it’s also more than just that: it boosts a mind-boggling, interesting plot that will have you thinking about it long after the credits roll. Protip: grab the person next to you and make them watch this movie with you so you can have someone to discuss it with after!
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