Back at home I go to the cinema on a regular basis and that’s one interest I knew I wouldn’t lose in Seoul. Not long after I arrived, I started exploring what my movie-going options would be here…
I learned that Hollywood blockbusters are shown in English, with Korean subtitles, while animated movies are dubbed in Korean (to make it easier for kids to enjoy).
I also learned that a more local experience, featuring a Korean produced film, would be more challenging to find. Most Korean movies do not offer English subtitles. The exception, however, is when a movie is intended for international release. As luck would have it, Korea’s first zombie movie, Train to Busan, which premiered earlier this year with a midnight screening at the Cannes Film Festival, was produced with wider distribution in mind. One of my fellow movie-loving colleagues offered to accompany me for a viewing, so I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to see a local blockbuster. Here are five things I loved about Train to Busan, which opened on July 22:
- It introduced me to some top Korean actors and actresses, including the incredibly sexy Gong Yoo, the talented up-and-coming child star Kim Su-an, and the entertaining Ma Dong‑Seok, who I’ve since seen on local TV.
- Amidst digesting English subtitles, I got to hear some words and phrases I’ve learned in my short time here. Sure, it was only numbers (1, 2, 3) and common words like hello, thank you, please and beer, but it made me feel a little more connected.
- It was a totally entertaining zombie apocalypse flick. While I haven’t seen too many zombie movies, I loved World War Z and have a growing interest and appreciation for the genre. As I get older, I find horror movies less enjoyable and thrillers more so, so zombie flicks are perfect. I laughed, I cringed, I jumped out of my seat, and I even teared up a little. It was hokey at times, but what zombie movie isn’t? Overall it was totally entertaining.
- The movie chronicles a fast-paced, viral outbreak on a KTX (bullet train) ride from Seoul to South Korea’s second largest city, Busan (a trip I want to take). It’s a great setting to rethink a zombie thriller. Imagine Speed meets The Walking Dead.
- It’s playing in the United States, so my friends can (and should) go see it! I’m not sure what the appetite will be for an Asian zombie movie in the U.S., but I’d recommend it to friends living in cities big enough for distribution. It opened in 27 theaters including the AMC Van Ness in San Francisco.
What were the noticeable differences in the movie-going experience in Seoul vs. the U.S.? For one, fried squid was served at the concession stand. Also, all big movie theaters here (Lotte, CGV, Megabox) book reserved seating, in advance. You’ll rarely find first-come, first-serve seating here, which I still feel dominates the U.S. cinema landscape.
Of the movies released in 2013 that I have seen, there are so far three that I can say I loved and have either watched multiple times already or will likely watch again soon. Those three movies are World War Z, All is Lost and Inside Llewyn Davis.
I loved World War Z because it was suspenseful, action-packed, well-paced and contained a small dose of terror. I believe All is Lost, starring Robert Redford (and only Robert Redford) will go down in history as one of the best one-man films of all time and is certainly my pick for the best castaway, lost-at-sea movie. In case you didn’t know, there are only about a dozen words spoken during the entire film.
Inside Llewyn Davis, the Cohen brothers’ Grand Prix winner at the Festival de Cannes, is described generally as, “a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.”
I loved it for a variety of reasons:
- The music, obviously. There was so much great folk music including an original and quirky tune, Please Mr. Kennedy, which earned a Golden Globe nomination. Fare Thee Well was also a stand out song for me because of the faceless voice in the duet, Marcus Mumford, husband of Carey Mulligan, who also stars in the movie. (Listen in the trailer below.) I also loved that the songs were played in the movie in their entirety and all but one were recorded live.
- The supporting role played by Stark Sands was innocent and enjoyable and his performance was beautiful. Little do most viewers of the movie probably know that he was recently nominated for a Tony Award for his role in Kinky Boots on Broadway.
- Oscar Isaac’s hair.
- Cameos by Adam and Ray, from Girls.
- I have great respect for casting a cat in a movie because they are not obedient and can’t really be given much direction. I read that it complicated filming and that multiple cats had to be used. I loved the story of the cat and I don’t even like cats.
- This was by far my favorite movie appearance from Justin Timberlake. He belongs in movies that center around music.
- It ends when it should and doesn’t drag. I love a 100 minute movie.
I enjoyed this movie so much I decided to dedicate an entire blog post to it, which doesn’t happen always. So, go see it! And tell me what you think.
This weekend I saw Blackfish, a new documentary that examines how killer whales are held in captivity by entertainment-based companies like Sea World.
Many parts of this movie are heart breaking to watch. Like when the former whale catchers and whale trainers describe what it was like when they witnessed killer whale families being torn apart and the obvious grief they could see the whales experiencing. In the wild, killer whales stick together as families their entire lives.
The movie examines a number of other characteristics of these naturally friendly creatures, like how they are are among the most emotionally developed in the animal kingdom, how they have language, and how they live to 60-90 years in the wild. In their tiny tanks being held captive, however, forced to perform for food, killer whales on average only live about 25 years. (This discrepancy in life expectancy in wild vs. captive killer whales is one of many examples of Sea World denying blatant facts, in its ongoing defense.)
The sad truth is that there are dozens of killer whales and other intelligent, emotional mammals forced to live captive by humans for the sole propose of entertainment. In Blackfish, one of the former Sea World trainers states that he is sure in 50 years we will look back and be ashamed of and shocked by our actions — the way we treated some of the most intelligent animals on the planet, for so many generations.
Elephants too, still trained and forced to work for our entertainment in circuses, suffer the same ill treatment. Equally as beautiful as killer whales, elephants were the subject of another eye-opening documentary I recently saw, HBO’s An Apology to Elephants.
For any friends out there thinking of taking your kids to a circus or a theme park with performing sea mammals, I urge you to first take the time to watch one or both of these movies.
Blackfish will air nationwide on CNN on October 24.
There are so many things to love about Silver Linings Playbook. So much of it is unexpected. I left the theater feeling satisfied and surprised. Robert De Niro is a treat, Bradly Cooper is unexpectedly good (and good looking) and Jennifer Lawrence is strong, fit and commanding. I didn’t expect Bradley to ever become an Oscar-worthy actor but he’s on his way. And it’s almost crazy to think of Jennifer now as Katniss and for the next 2-5 years in the Hunger Game movies. This movie subtly reminds you that we all make mistakes and we are all flawed, but we are always trying to improve ourselves (and that’s what makes us beautiful). This is probably my favorite movie of the year (although with so many good ones on the horizon, who knows if it will end up on top). A.
And then there’s Skyfall which I saw last week during Thanksgiving. Being a movie lover I am embarrassed to admit that this was my first ever James Bond movie. Yeah yeah, there are some trains I just missed all together in life (ahem… Expanded Universe). There are a few things about this movie that didn’t work for me. I did not enjoy some of the special effects including those in the motorcycle chase scene and the short scene with the scorpion at the bar. I also think it was about 2o minutes longer than it needed to be. This seems to be a growing problem with movies lately. Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for many aspects of the movie — I love the casting (Javier Bardem, wow! and hello, Ben Whishaw) and the beautifully shot locations (Shanghai, Macau, Scotland). I’ll give Daniel Craig another chance, but I hope for a slightly more compact experience. C.
The best movies of the year have started to arrive. From now until mid-February you will be more likely to find me in a movie theater than just about any place other than home or work.
This weekend I couldn’t resist using the cold weather as an excuse to sit inside for 5 hours to enjoy a double header movie day. Katie joined me for The Sessions at the Embarcadero Cinema and then I made my way to the Century San Francisco to indulge in Lincoln, solo.
The Sessions – what I liked most about this movie was that it was for adults. To appreciate this movie and to be moved by it made me feel like more of an adult than I’ve contemplated in recent memory — in the sense that I have matured and I appreciate life everyday. There were great acting performances yes and there could be as many as three acting nominations come award season. What I thought was executed best was the steady balance of emotion and humor. This movie is far from a comedy and it might even make you cry, but it will also make you laugh out loud. And it will stick with you longer after the credits end. A-.
Lincoln – On the opposite end of the cinematic spectrum is Steven Speilberg’s new mega-biopic. Man, this guy is at the top of his movie making game. This film is precisely and beautifully crafted, and features the best of the best in cast, with an Oscar worthy performance from Daniel Day Lewis, no doubt. This movie made me want to go out and buy the best and most interesting books to refresh my mind with American history. It caused me to reflect on the recent election and the journey our country is on, not only short term but dating back to our founding. I love a movie that teaches me and makes me hungry to learn more. B+ because it felt like 3 hours despite being only 2.5.
Dragonette and their lead singer Martina have collaborated with several of my favorite dance artists including Kaskade and Martin Solveig, so they and she have been on my radar for quite some time. Dragonette is a Canadian electropop group that has had a handful of good songs over the years and they just released their new album Bodyparts. It came out yesterday and I’ve had it on repeat. Coincidentally I am going to see them tonight at Mezzanine! Enjoy this insanely addictive track.
Dragonette – My Legs
I have three Best Picture Academy Award nominees left to see. I never got around to watching The Help, which I have downloaded on my laptop, and War Horse and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close haven’t been playing in theaters all week. While I am bummed to not see the full list of nominees heading into the Awards tonight, I am happy because I had the opportunity to see two other movies this week, which are actually likely to take home trophies tonight. I saw Pina on Thursday (the favorite to win Best Documentary Feature) and last night, I saw what is likely to be crowned the Best Foreign Language Film, A Separation.
I first heard about A Separation a few months ago from a friend in New York City. A few weeks later in early January, the Iranian film surfaced in the previews before Pariah. A Separation opened in San Francisco a few weeks ago and last weekend I got a first hand review from a friend on my Yosemite trip. He gave it two thumbs up and pointed out that it was one of Metacritic’s most highly rated films of 2011.
Last night I saw it for myself. Did the movie live up to all the hype?
This is one of the those movies that has all the ingredients of a good film. A Separation features great acting with characters you empathize with and a story that keeps you interested for 120 straight minutes. With a bit of a cliff hanger ending, you leave the theater asking yourself (and your movie mate) questions but you also feel a sense of satisfaction with the way it all wraps up. A Separation takes place in Iran and is filmed in Persian. Yes it can be exhausting reading subtitles for 2 hours but this movie rewards you with a glimpse into modern Iranian life and leaves you with a better understanding of how and why justice in Iran is driven by truth, faith and religion.
A Separation is definitely one of the best movies of 2011.