LUCK KEY (2016) – Korean Film Review

Luck Key is one of those adorable, entertaining movies about identity and assumptions. The plot is simple – two very different men swap identities. One is faltering in life, the other is successful. How will they both fair when their circumstances are reversed?

Surprisingly, the answer is… exactly the same.  I say this is surprising because it subverts the usual trope of identity swapping. These sort of stories usually go like this… “Rich Man” is forced to live the life of poverty and learns valuable lessons about kindness and making genuine connections with people not based on monetary value. The “Poor Man,” by contrast, brings humanity and insight into positive working relationships with others to the cold, calculating world of wealth. Both learn the challenges the other faces and become better for it.

This is not the standard identity swapping story. Instead – it’s a humorous tale of two men whose personalities prevail despite circumstances. The hard working hit man and the train wreck youth.

Continue reading

Movie Review – The Villainess

The Villainess opens with one of the most exciting, intense action sequences I have ever seen. Entirely from the protagonists point of view, you rush through a multi story building on a killing spree – seeing what she sees. I guess they mounted a camera to the stunt double’s head but geesh is it intense! Like a live action video game – with guns and blades and blood splatter everywhere. And, honestly, as deeply unrealistic as a video game… but why knit pick? Who cares if the bad guys cue up to fight her? Who cares if randomly none of them have guns when she’s brandishing a knives? It’s so awesome – just enjoy it. Enjoy it for the fun, furious murder ballad it is.

The Villainess is one of those rare movies where I was pretty sure I was going to love it before I even started watching it. Why? Because it’s loosely based on one of my favorite stories of all time: La Femme Nikita! It all started with French film Nikita by Luc Besson, which was excellent. America remade it, with the film The Point of No Return, which was also excellent. The Canadians did us all a favor and created an unbelievably sexy, sinister television series out of it – called La Femme Nikita. Oh Peta Wilson… you will forever be my first serious girl-crush. America followed suit, again, and made their own tv show several years later called Nikita… which I didn’t watch, for some reason, probably out of loyalty to Peta Wilson… but I hear it was pretty good too.

The premise is simple. A young criminal girl is caught up in the seedy underworld and ends up caught by the police. She will surely be sentenced to life in prison or death for her transgressions. A shady government organization sees potential in her and offers her an option – work for us and live… or serve out your sentence. She gets a makeover, learns to pass as a classy lady, and the next thing you know she’s off on assassination assignments and living under an assumed identity. In all stories, her handler is obsessed with her. There’s betrayal and secrets and amazing action sequences. And that’s Nikita.

The Villainess is a new Nikita. And she’s a worthy addition to the cannon.

Continue reading

NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl

Every once in a while you stumble on a compulsively readable story. Sometimes it gets you right away, sometimes you don’t notice until you’re a hundred pages in, but you’re hooked – and you can’t stop. You literally can’t stop turning the pages. Exhaustion usually forces you – and you crawl into bed with your head swirling and wake up a few hours later feeling elated, thrilled about the prospect of jumping back into the story. You waste no time – you get yourself a cup of coffee and disappear into the page again.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl was a compulsive read. A heavy book, pages interspersed with journal articles, website screenshots, investigative notes, medical reports, and photographs. The pages were silky smooth, like quality printing paper. I picked it up randomly from my TBR pile last night… and read it until 2AM, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer… then picked it right back up this morning.

I was intrigued. I was haunted. I was picking up pieces of a puzzle, hearing echoes, listening to rumors and letting my imagination run wild. It’s a terrific mystery, in my opinion, changing shape as it gets bigger. Extremely fast paced and moving quickly around the chess board – you’re never sure if you’re the pawn or the queen. I loved it. I loved its rather ambiguous ending – What is true and what is myth?

Ironically, the characters are rather boring and cliche. In a way, this worked very well with the theme – that what we imagine, the stories we tell ourselves and are entertained by, reveal more of our true natures than our daily lives. None of the three main characters were that compelling – but what drove them, what caught them up in the mystery, how they each were pulled in by it and changed – that was fascinating. The people they encountered, the enigmas they attempted to decipher… the secrets, which often revealed themselves to be sour disappoints or shoddy ordinary events, doubled down on this theme – these things were dazzling and full of life. The mystery solved is boring. Answers do not enchant us – what ifs do.

So if you like mystery – and dark turns down darker passages – that don’t rely on descriptions of gore or horror, but rather the implication of such – then this book is for you.

Sovereign. Deadly. Perfect.

Continue reading

Movie Review – Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned

Vanishing Time: A Boy Who Returned is a slow paced, achingly beautiful movie about isolation and friendship. The cinematography alone would be enough to warrant a recommendation – but the plot, the acting, and the direction are equally exceptional.

There are images and sequences in this film that will stick in my brain for the rest of my life. Ideas that will continue to pick at me. Moments that will continually unravel.

Continue reading

Review: Kill It

Kill It is a twelve episode action-mystery drama that feels like it started out as a six episode drama that was handed over to an intern in editing who then chopped it up into a billion unnecessary flashbacks (flashbacks to what happened, literally, ten minutes before in the same episode) and excruciatingly long staring scenes where no one moves (did time stop? are there photographers on set? why do they keep doing this in dramas?).

It stars the handsome, tall Chang Ki-Yong as a brooding, introverted assassin… who is also a veterinarian. There are two ways to make scary men lovable, and that is to surround them with cute small children or cute fluffy creatures. This show chose the latter, as all children were too busy being horribly abused in this drama to enjoy even a  moment of cuteness.

Continue reading

EVERY EXQUISITE THING by Matthew Quick

Every Exquisite Thing is about a teenage girl whose teacher gives her a book – and how her obsession with that book, and the ideas inside it, drastically change her life.

Like all Matthew Quick novels, it’s a story about figuring out your head space, about determining who you are and making peace with it. The man knows what it is to be human – and that’s a glorious, horrible mess of experiences and horrors and monotony and expectations and hopefully some really nice moments where you have an epiphany or two.

Continue reading

BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

Bone Gap is a quiet and masterful tale of two brothers living in a small town whose lives are changed by the mysterious appearance of a beautiful Polish immigrant. Roza is a friend and beacon of hope to 18 year old Finn, known for his dreamy, absentminded behavior – and a spark in the heart to older brother Sean, who gave up his dreams long ago after their mother abandoned them. Just as suddenly, Roza is gone again – abducted by a stranger Finn can’t describe.

The town of Bone Gap puts its head together and murmurs – was it foul play? Did she abandon them too, fly away as fast and thoughtlessly as their mother? Does Finn know more than he’s letting on?

Continue reading

MAGONIA by Maria Dahvana Headley

art by Artem Rhads Chebka

Just finished Magonia by Headley – which had excellent characters, families, and a surreal and highly unusual fantasy world floating above our own. In this book, there is a  world above the clouds, filled with shapeshifting birds and other surreal creatures who have long roamed the secret spaces of the air. These creatures aren’t quite human, though many can transform themselves into humanoid forms. Unable to breath in the lower atmosphere, they have a strange relationship with the human world – basically “fishing” out food and supplies when needed. I must say – it was intriguing.

Unfortunately… it had two severe draw backs. The antagonist was shockingly undeveloped- which was unfortunate. And my biggest qualm, the two main characters were stupidly smart.

Continue reading

BURNING (2018) – a meditation in isolation

Burning, a Korean film starring Yoo Ah-In, Jeon Jong-Seo, and Steven Yeun, is a bleak, atmospheric examination of the modern man. And by man I mean mankind, both men and women. It’s based on the short story Barn Burning from The Elephant Vanishes by author Haruki Murakami.

Yoo Ah-In, one of my all time favorite Korean actors, plays a young man who is struggling. In every way imaginable. He struggles to find work. He struggles to come to terms with his upbringing. He struggles to relate to people. He struggles to piece together sentences. You can almost hear the wheels creaking as he struggles to form his own thoughts. It’s ironic that he considers himself a writer, even though there is little evidence of this aspiration around him. Yet perhaps it is most telling that he yearns to find a way to express himself, as this seems to be the insurmountable task of life.

Continue reading