The Witch starts out with a bang – including eerie opening credits that feature archival (real or fake, who knows?) images of human experiments and cruelty: witch hunts, the Holocaust, and more. As if that didn’t set the tone enough, you’re then greeted with a ridiculously bloody aftermath scene. There is blood splatter galore, but all seems quiet… men with bats catch their breath as something or someone twitches underneath a tarp. You quickly deduce this facility has been experimenting on children and that one of them has escaped. A cold, cruel-seeming woman shrugs it off, saying the child won’t live long anyways… and a blood soaked girl runs through the night.
The Witch quickly shifts from the dark, bloody, and tension filled opening to a misty morning on a small farm. An older man spots the runaway sleeping and scoops her up, calling for his wife as he runs towards the house.
Eight years later and our runaway is now a teenager. The country town is bright and filled with lovable characters. The movie is now about a young lady who is trying to help her aging parents as they deal with financial and medical problems. Our teen witch seems perfectly ordinary, a nice young woman who jokes around with her best friend and cares for her parents. Yet there is tension in the air, built with small hints that something dreadful is just around the corner… her increasingly crippling headaches… her unexpected participation in a national singing contest… her mysterious abilities. You know something is about to happen… but what? When? What sort of experiments were they doing in that creepy building from the opening scene? What sort of powers does our innocent girl have…?
I’ve watched this three times now and each time I marvel at how well crafted this film is. The balance of action and humor, the dark scenes and the light ones. Like a Cohen Brothers movie, this film is packed with side characters and each one of them is memorable. They’re given small character quirks, signature elements that make them distinctive. And they’re all drawn together at the end for a high stakes showdown between multiple parties with multiple interests. It’s bloody and violent without being shockingly so – and the end is satisfying while also leaving you wanting more.
Rating: 5 stars. Go watch it.
More musings on The Witch including SPOILERS…. so you are warned….
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.
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.
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.
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.
Movie Review – Alice: Boy From Wonderland
What a surreal, moody, broody, twisted little movie. I adored it, as I have always been a fan of ghost stories and haunted houses. Especially with tragic tales (but aren’t they always?) as back stories. This was a strange piece of work… definitely not a mainstream film. It reminded me of Werewolf Boy (which is far, far superior in every way), in that it’s so odd, so touching, so horrible, that I know it will stick with me for a long time. It’s basically about a young woman whose nightmares have become so thick they’re blurring into reality – and threaten to take her, and her family, to the grave. With the help of her aunts, she goes to an inbetween-world, Wonderland, an estate that burnt to the ground but is, mystically, available to our Alice for a few precious days while she sorts out her past and the souls lost that are still pulling at her life.
Jung So-Min plays our lead female – and she was perfect as the surreal, beautiful, dreamy girl caught between worlds. Hong Jong-Hyun was lovely as the tragic soul who clings to her side, helping her navigate the strange world she now inhabits.
Eerie. Romantic. Bloody. Confusing. A dream within a dream in a dream world. Not a bad way to spend an evening. If you liked movies such as… The Others, The Girl In A Swing, or Skeleton Key or even something like Virgin Suicides or The Dreamers, you’ll probably like this one.
Movie Reviews – Pure Love & My Annoying Brother
I was on a Do Kyung-Soo kick… or maybe just a crying kick, I’m not sure… but I ended up watching two Do Kyung-Soo tearjerkers back to back yesterday. They were both lovely films – full of outstanding performances from all the actors involved. Pure Love was a story about a group of teenage friends who are home for the summer in 1991, enjoying their beautiful coastal village and the pains and joys of growing up. One of the girl’s has a genetic problem with her legs and struggles to walk – while secretly hoping for an operation that will cure her. The boys in the group all love her, in their own ways, but in particular one sensitive young man who follows her around like a lost puppy. It’s a gorgeous film… a thoughtful, nostalgic piece about youth and also about the betrayal of coming of age. I ain’t gonna lie… I cried. A lot. They really did not intend for anyone to leave this movie with dry eyes and I’m sure succeeded…. cause a lot of it tore my heart out.
My Annoying Brother was, in my opinion, even better. I’m a total sucker for redemption stories. The youngest brother is a Judo champion who looses his sight during an accident. The eldest brother is a petty criminal who uses his brother’s misfortune to get out of prison on parole early. The two have been estranged for years – ever since the older brother ran away from home as a teenager. And yet, slowly, wonderfully, these two are able to come back together… and restore hope and meaning to one another’s lives. Cho Jung-Seok was genuine and hysterical as the unruly brother (seriously, I laughed a lot over this guy and his ridiculous behavior… I have an older brother, and let’s face it… they’re kind of jerks most of the time but also your heroes)… and Do Kyung-Soo was outstanding as the young man struggling to find the will to live with his new disability. This is also a melodrama… and it’s pretty freakin’ sad, too. But I also felt good at the end, hopeful even… my faith in humanity restored a little bit.
Anyways, check ’em out if you’re in the mood. Quality stuff.
Movie Musings – Haunters
So, finished HAUNTERS – a movie about a man who can control people en masse with his mind, and the one dude who is immune and thus fated to stop him. It kinda reminded me of Unbreakable, in a strange way. And of Kilgrave from Jessica Jones… except even he didn’t throw a baby at a speeding subway train. Anyways, it was visually stunning and creepy but there really wasn’t much more to it than a showdown between two dudes. With some character development, this could have been stellar… cause if we knew anything about these guys, we might care a bit more who won in the end.
I just watched the trailer for The King, though honestly I didn’t have to. My movie ticket was sold the second I found out who the leads are. Jo In-Sung and Jung Woo-Sung? Sign me up, please.
Though the movie does actually look good. Nah, that’s a total lie. The movie could just be Jo In-Sung and Jung Woo-Sung sitting across the table from each other playing Go and recalling childhood experiences and I would watch it for hours. I love these guys! They’re two of my favorite actors.
Wonder how long until we get a nice sub version of this in the States?