Tag Archives: my review

Five reasons I loved Train to Busan

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:

Korea's first zombie movie

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall

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.

A Separation

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?

Yes, definitely.

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.


I’ve always had an above average respect and admiration for dance. Dancing is obviously a major part of musical theater, which as most of my friends know is something I adore, and I have always liked the dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance. Hey, I even saw Twyla Tharp speak once when I interned at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts.

With that being said, Pina, a new documentary about German choregrapher Pina Bausch, opened my eyes to a whole new side of dance. The performances in this documentary were beautiful, fascinating, confusing, weird and all together entertaining. The film features stunning performances of some of her most important dance pieces, performed in some of the most stunning settings in the world. (seriously, watch the trailer below.)

Pina Bausch was obviously a talented and creative force. Her choreography pushed the boundaries of what people consider dance and blurred the lines between performance, theater and dance. Bausch’s work showcased the powerful things you can do with the human body.

This movie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. You don’t need to be a self-admitted dance fan to receive my recommendation to see this movie. As long as you have an open mind and can appreciate art in many forms.

Word on the street is that Pina is the front runner for the best documentary feature Academy Award this weekend. I will certainly be cheering it on.

The Artist

The Academy Awards are less than a week away and I still have 4 Best Picture nominees to see. The next 5 days are going to be like cramming for an exam. Tonight, I kicked off my extended movie marathon with The Artist. Was it cute? Yes. Was it unlike any movie I have ever seen? Yes. Do I think this uniqueness will be rewarded with the Best Picture Academy Award? Yes. Was it my favorite film of the year? Not so much.

Sure it put a smile on my face but the story was on the simple and predictable side. Who said silent films need to be uninspired? Just because there are no words doesn’t mean you can’t give us a meatier story. I get the whole paying homage to silent film and the history of cinema but compared to the creativity and thoughtfulness behind Hugo, which paid a similar homage, I thought The Artist was a bit dull.


Haywire Movie PosterHaywire is a new spy thriller by one of my favorite directors, Stephen Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Solaris). As is the case with the Ocean’s trio of movies and his other recent film Contagion, Haywire features a rock star cast including Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum (yum), Bill Paxton and Michael Angarano. Ok, maybe you’ve never heard of Michael Angarano, but if you were a fan of Will & Grace you will remember him as Jack’s son on a handful of episodes.

The real star of the movie however is Gina Carano. You’ve probably never heard of her either, but she’s a retired mixed martial arts fighter and full of kick ass. (She was also “Crush” in the revival of American Gladiators.) In Haywire she’s basically the only female cast member and spends most of her time whooping butt. I found the movie slightly hard to follow for the first 45 minutes (lots of twists and turns), but eventually explanations unfolded and by the end it was clear what was going on.

This move is a heck of a lot of fun, especially the fighting scenes, most of which are comprised of long sustained shots without a lot of editing. These scenes go from calm to violent in a shockingly quick instant. There were a bunch of moments where I couldn’t help but blurt out “daaamn,” like when Gina’s character suffocated a guy with her thighs and when she shot a guy in the face (covered by a pillow) point blank.

I definitely recommend this violently enjoyable and easily digestible 90 minute movie!

Florence, Gotye, Girls, The Black Keys

This weekend I returned from a 10 day trip to Hawai’i. I went mostly off the grid, solo, independent and ready to be resourceful. I got to know a handful of really interesting people and saw some beautiful sights. As inspiration for this post, I listened heavily (while driving more than 1,000 miles on the Big Island) to four albums released over the last few months. I picked these albums for a variety of reasons which I explain below and also because the artists are all slated to play at Coachella this year.

Here are my thoughts and favorite songs from my Hawai’i soundtrack:

Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials

Florence and the Machine, CeremonialsWhat’s great about this album? It’s better than their first album, which was pretty damn good. What’s cool about this album? It was recorded in Abbey Road Studios.

I saw Florence and the Machine perform live at the Greek Theater in Berkeley last summer (the day after I finished the AIDS Lifecycle). She is an amazing, powerful singer and her band is a very talented group of musicians. I think all of that becomes quite obvious on this new album. There isn’t a song on the album I don’t like, and knowing how great they were live, I would love to see them on tour this summer. I highly recommend this album.

Here’s my favorite song, Spectrum, being performed live (in dramatic Florence fashion) on an episode of the X Factor.

Florence and the Machine will be playing in Davis, CA at the Mondavi Center on Wednesday, April 18.

Gotye, Making Mirrors

Gotye, Making MirrorsI first heard Gotye from my friend Lukasz. He is obsessed with KCRW which I haven’t had a chance to listen to much, but he insists features a lot of great up-and-coming music acts. He shared a Gotye song with me, Somebody That I Used To Know, back in November, which was long before the video garnered 55 million views on YouTube. It’s a great song if you haven’t heard it.

As for the rest of the album, it’s good and it definitely features what I deduced to be three different sounding sets of songs. I loved songs #1-5 and thought these defined his style best. These songs sound the most current, are a tiny bit alternative, and feature meaningful lyrics. The second set of songs have an upbeat vibe but more to the tune of Michael McDonald or Taylor Hicks. The final set of songs are a bit darker and more electronic.

My favorite song from the album is called Eyes Wide Open (#4), which I must have listened to 50 times during my trip. Here’s a really great movie he released on YouTube with the song.

Gotye will be performing at The Independent in SF on Thursday, April 12.

Girls, Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Girls, Father, Son, Holy GhostYes I like Girls because they are a San Francisco group. And yes I have great respect for Girls because their lead singer speaks open and honestly about drug abuse. Their new album, which I chose based on a sky-high review from Pitchfork (they gave it a 9.3), is good, but made less of an impression on me than the other three albums. Music snobs would probably say I didn’t get it. Maybe not. I definitely think they’re original (albeit retro) but perhaps just not for me.

It’s not like they don’t have a rabid following. It’s already been highlighted on their Wikipedia page that they recently sold out Terminal 5 in New York City. (That’s a sign they’ve made it right?)

My favorite song is probably their second single from the album, Honey Bunny, because it’s light and fun, and because it takes me to the 1950s, when Buddy Holly might have been playing a concert in Santa Cruz.

Girls will be performing in Santa Cruz on March 1 at the Coconut Grove Ballroom.

The Black Keys, El Camino

The Black Keys, El CaminoI have to be honest, I’ve been pretty oblivious to The Black Keys. I picked this album because I knew nothing about it, yet it was on the top 10 most popular album list in iTunes before I left and because they’re headling Coachella, for crying out loud.

Boy have I been missing out. The Black Keys are a talented band and likely enjoy appeal from a wide variety of fans. I know plenty of friends with good music taste that have liked them for some time (but never pushed them on me apparently) and I know plenty of different people that would appreciate this album to. Like my dad, or my sister and her fiance, for example. (Congrats again Jaime!) It’s good music and it feels good to listen to it.

Stop Stop isn’t necessarily my favorite song from the album but it stands out most for me. I had it stuck in my head throughout several points on the trip and I think it gives a good sampling of the album’s overall sound.

The Black Keys will be performing big at Oracle Arena on May 5. I don’t doubt they will put on a great show leading the marquee on Friday night at Coachella.