Watched This Month: October – November 2016

Hello! Welcome to Watched This Month. It feels good to be on time and caught up again. I managed to average a couple of movies a week over October and November, which isn’t too bad considering I’ve had my face glued to Pokemon Sun since it came out. The majority of my viewings this time are South Korean, which I have neglected for far too long. About half a decade ago, most of what I watched was Japanese or Korean, but last year I barely saw anything foreign. Get that shame bell out. Anyway, I’m very happy to return to the fold, as South Korea is home to a wonderfully assorted and absorbing filmography.

Previous: June – September

Film Rating
3-Iron (Dir. Kim Ki-duk)

Kim Ki-duk swaps the alluring Cheongsong County for a miscellany of apartments in 3-Iron, but with seeming effortlessness, he molds the commonplace into imagery that is both mesmerizing and wholly memorable. 3-Iron is an enchanting think piece in which the main character (who doesn’t have a single piece of dialogue) breaks into the homes of strangers to quietly live their lives whilst they’re away. It’s stacked with beautiful aesthetics and the spiritual third act gratifyingly concludes one of the most spellbinding and unique pieces of cinema I have ever seen.

★★★★☆
A Bittersweet Life (Dir. Kim Jee-woon)

South Korea has an exceptional catalogue of revenge thrillers, with A Bittersweet Life a fine example of the genre. The action is incredibly tense and well choreographed – with an inventive use of POV shots – and I enjoyed the tinges of tragedy and melancholy in the main character. However, I thought it lacked a genuine emotional pull, which prevented it from becoming truly remarkable.

★★★☆☆
Captain Fantastic (Dir. Matt Ross)

A touching comedy-drama about a zany family man who lives an unorthodox life with his children in a North American forest, withdrawn from society. It’s a lovingly crafted piece that brings into question topics of society, education and upbringing, with Viggo Mortensen giving a stunningly evocative performance as the tough loving patriarch. It suffers from some expected tropes, but comes together beautifully and felt very balanced in its conversation, avoiding biased commentary despite basking in nonconformity, allowing audiences to ponder the finer details.

★★★★☆
Doctor Strange (Dir. Scott Derrickson)

More of the same from Marvel. A fine popcorn flick that doesn’t deviate from the formula – you know what you’re in for. The effects were great, though the action was more martial arts than magical sorcery. The climax and confrontation with Dormammu was interesting, but slightly anti-climatic and I thought the comedy was pretty woeful. The characters were very hit-or-miss for me, but the cast did a good job with the material they were given.

★★☆☆☆
Memories of Murder (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

An engrossing police procedural in the same vein as Zodiac. Memories of Murder is based on the real-life story of South Korea’s first modern serial killings, which took place between 1986 and 1991. The case was never solved, but the film does well to command the viewers attention, displaying many facets of the investigation and presenting what feels like an authentic insight into the culture and handling of the case by local detectives. It’s a meticulously constructed picture, with the dialogue smart and convincing, but also surprisingly witty. Amongst the tension and drama, there are ingenious moments of respite, delivered with ease by the cast. It’s slow at times, but entirely worth it come the end, which is extremely poignant and haunting.

★★★★☆
Silenced (Dir. Hwang Dong Hyuk)

A distressing and intensely dramatic film based on a true story, in which children at a hearing impaired school in South Korea were found to have been repeatedly sexually assaulted by members of the staff. I have such admiration for the child cast, who are absolutely vivid and powerful in their roles. It’s an unsettling subject tackled bluntly by the director, but for all the evil in the world there is also compassion and beauty, with Gong Yoo delivering a very tender and determined performance. The real-life case was swiftly reopened following the films release, which led to the permanent closure of the school, a number of convictions and the abolition of the statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors and the disabled.

★★★★☆
Snowpiercer (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

An outstanding post-apocalyptic fable that doubles up as a political allegory. Snowpiercer is not to be taken too seriously, it’s more a think piece, heavy on metaphors and symbolism, striving to open a dialogue on society and capitalism. Wonderfully, though, it never gets bogged down by political ramblings or intellectual jargon. On the surface, it’s a fierce and flashy action piece that hardly relents, but underneath it’s rich in analysis and interpretation, with many having wrote in depth about its deeper meanings. A great film for an attentive viewer, with some exquisite cinematography, intense action and gripping scenarios.

★★★★☆
Suicide Squad (Dir. David Ayer)

I found Suicide Squad fine as a brainless piece of light entertainment, but ultimately very bland and by the numbers. There are a couple of vaguely interesting characters, but nothing remotely thrilling or inventive ever happens. There’s an obnoxious music cue for what seems like everything and the action was so free of tension that it became tedious, but there’s a drinking game in there somewhere.

★★☆☆☆
The Chaser (Dir. Na Hong-Jin)

The Chaser is a brutal thriller in which a shady ex-detective turned pimp tries to track down several missing prostitutes who had all visited the same client. It’s one of the most riveting films I have watched in recent memory and an incredible accomplishment for a directorial debut. Shot almost entirely under the cover of night, the Seoul streets are beautiful but bleak, with the bitter conflict between the two vicious leads absolutely relentless. Toying with your tender emotions, rarely allowing you a moment of respite or even a fleeting sense of ease, The Chaser is a tiring, but wholly memorable and truly remarkable film. An absolute must see if you’re at all interested in Korean cinema or crime thrillers.

★★★★★
The Terror Live (Dir. Kim Byung-woo)

The Terror Live has a great premise, with a radio host attempting to make some personal gains after landing an exclusive with a terrorist. The first half an hour was very absorbing, but somewhere along the way it seemed to get lost in its own tempo, skipping essential details and leaving plot holes. Overall, it’s a slightly ostentatious movie that needs a little refining, but if you can overlook certain elements there’s an interesting story in there and Ha Jung-woo gives a fine performance.

★★☆☆☆
The Wailing (Dir. Na Hong-Jin)

Having loved The Chaser, I was eager to explore more of Na Hong-Jin’s work. The Wailing was a pleasant, but completely unexpected surprise. It had all the twists, turns and thrill of the directors debut, but was seeped in symbolism and had some very dramatic tonal shifts, starting as a sort of mystery thriller, but ending as a supernatural horror. It’s absolutely gripping – with a number of bewitching scenes that stick with me to this day – but also slightly mystifying and thus a film that feels like it would grow on the observer more with time and repeat viewings.

★★★☆☆
The Wolverine (Dir. James Mangold)

The Wolverine is a mixed bag, but is saved from becoming wearisome by its lead actor an interesting setting. While the story becomes more generic as it progresses, the premise and first act were very intriguing and the action scenes throughout were a lot of fun. However, the romance felt rather stilted and underdeveloped and the villains weren’t very memorable. It also skimps on details as superhero movies tend to do, but Hugh Jackman is always very watchable and gives it his all.

★★☆☆☆
Train to Busan (Dir. Yeon Sang-Ho)

I’m not the biggest fan of horror cinema, let alone zombie apocalypse stories, but found myself completely enamored with Train to Busan. It’s extremely well paced and manages to maintain a solid emotional connection throughout. The characters are quite typical, but at the same time so endearing, that even the most over-done and seen before zombie tropes appear effortlessly riveting.

★★★☆☆
Tunnel (Dir. Kim Seong-hoon)

A superb, multifaceted disaster movie from South Korea in which a man becomes trapped inside a road tunnel after it collapses around him. Certain parts were a little predictable, but the film has some very powerful moments and really shines in its portrayal of events following the catastrophe, balancing sensationalist, personal and political viewpoints and ultimately depicting what feels like a very human and true-to-life story.

★★★★☆
Z for Zachariah (Dir. Craig Zobel)

A beautifully shot drama, with a low-key love triangle and post-apocalyptic setting. Craig Zobel succeeds in creating a very intimate picture, exploring human relationships with a delicate touch, but the film lacked a real impact and was surprisingly void of tension. It’s an intriguing piece that feels like it could have been so much more, but Chiwetel Ejiofor was terrific.

★★★☆☆

That’s it for October and November. Just one month left before two-thousand-and-seventeen. Anybody else still pronouncing the years like that? Twenty-seventeen just doesn’t sound as nice. I remember reading how Stanley Kubrick wanted people to pronounce 2001: A Space Odyssey as two-thousand-and-one (A Space Odyssey) in hopes that – should it become popular – it would influence the pronunciation of the year. That man had plans. Anyway, thank for dearly for stopping by and I do hope you’ll visit again.

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