Shadow is a film that fulfills generic expectations while simultaneously, inexplicably, seemingly defies them to create something wholly unique, or at the very least revolutionary in its ability to revise a genre. We saw this before with the widespread success of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; a subtitled film which saw unprecedented success with Western audiences. Fittingly, Crouching Tiger was surpassed by Zhang Yimou’s Hero as the most profitable foreign film to be released in
(much of this success owed
to Lee’s film paving the way, as well as Quentin Tarantino’s name attached as a
seal of quality). Yimou’s career has rarely since met the same cultural
response, though he has had varied success with the critics. Shadow seems to
mark a return for both. America
Following a tradition of blending the romantic genre narrative with icons and story devices from the science-fiction and fantasy genres (a trend that seems particularly prominent within Asian cinema in recent years), How Long Will I Love U is a refreshingly original idea, even if there remains a great deal of predictability/familiarity in its execution. In many ways, this has been the complaint about Danny Boyle’s Yesterday by critics, but the audience for romantic comedies is rarely one clamoring for creativity over the base enjoyments of the genre, and How Long Will I Love U makes certain not to sacrifice these expected elements, even if they counter the unpredictability of the science-fiction elements in the narrative.
The Island has a premise that cleverly blends the apocalypse-paranoia themes common recently with a narrative that filters “Lord of the Flies” through an office hierarchy. It is an entertaining modern parable about a group of flawed individuals who could easily stand in as representatives for the variety of people existing in society together today. Each have their roles in civilized society, but once the office workers think that the world has been destroyed by an apocalyptic event, it alters their inherent civility.
I almost feel bad for modern South Korean filmmakers. This generation is following one of the most innovative and prolific in the nation’s entire cinematic history, and many of the latest endeavors simply pale in comparison. The Swindlers is a perfect example of how South Korean cinema has learned from the successes of
while also retaining very distinct national themes (revenge narratives are
common across multiple genres). There is no difference between the way that
Chang-Won Jang adopts the Ocean’s 11/Now You See Me/The Italian Job formula for Korean audiences and how Chan-Wook Park
did the same with 90s thrillers (specifically Fincher films, The Game and Se7en) for his iconic ‘Vengeance Trilogy’ (Oldboy being the most influential in the West), other than the
familiarity with this structure and the quality of the films imitated. The
reason I feel bad for Jang is the same that I felt bad for every Tarantino-hack
in the late 90s, but it isn’t enough to make The Swindlers a more memorable film. Hollywood
Buster Keaton’s most remembered and technically accomplished feature films is, without a doubt, The General (featured in Volume 1 of the Buster Keaton Collection). If we are talking about innovation within the medium, however, few films have contributed quite so much as the accomplished Sherlock Jr., which is featured in Volume 2 alongside The Navigator, which displays Keaton’s endless creativity with slapstick and comedic timing. Sherlock Jr. is not only a great early slapstick film, it is one of the first films to really expand on the potential discovered in Georges Méliès’ ‘magic show’ shorts.
There were so many diverging plots in Ip Man 3, one would be forgiven for forgetting the place Cheung Tin Chi (Max Zhang) has in the series, despite his being given the first spin-off film in the franchise. With that being said, Master Z: Ip Man Legacy lives up to its name, and earns the honor of carrying ‘Ip Man’ in the title, despite his complete absence in physical presence from the film. For those eager for the upcoming Ip Man 4, Master Z is a welcome deviation in the meantime.
When a horror film’s social or political subtext becomes more important than the logic of the narrative and the characters within it, it is somewhat like being able to see behind the curtain. The surface narrative of horror should be strong enough to support the themes, not the other way around. While The Intruder is clearly playing upon some real American fears, with an aggressive white landowner as the villain against a newly arrived/assimilated black couple, it does so with zero subtlety and consistently illogical behavior written into each character as a lazy way of moving the story (and its racially-driven themes) forward. Taking the home invasion narrative away from the post-9/11 terrorist anxieties and replacing it with fears of white nationalists refusing to surrender ‘their’ America to the minorities they consider to be ‘less American,’ all that The Intruder is missing is a good film to go with its themes (ones already visited in the last installment of The Purge franchise).
American faith-based films love their child-in-peril narratives like no other, with the possible exception of underdog sports stories. They also love cherry-picking the ones in which the child recovers despite all medical professionals predicting otherwise, making them films more interested in encouraging the belief in miracles than a need for faith itself. In other words, American Christian-made movies tend to celebrate wish-fulfillment rather than faith in God’s plan, leaving audience members having suffered real loss with unsavory questions about why their faith wasn’t rewarded in the same way. Breakthrough almost addresses this troubling question through the filter of the central survivor, but quickly sacrifices it for easily digestible messages of inspiration and repaired relationship.
When I heard the title of the 2018 South Korean musical, Swing Kids, my first thoughts were of the 1993 American film with the same name. Despite both being backstage musicals set during wartime, I assumed that similarities would end there and the re-used title was merely a coincidence rather than a reference. Though it may be true that the filmmaker did not directly intend to make a connection between the two films, the similarities are also impossible to ignore. Swing Kids (’93) is a film about German youths attempting to grow up and enjoy ordinary lives appreciating swing music during an era of the Nazi regime and war that was anything but ordinary. Similarly, Swing Time (2018) is about a group of people finding simple pleasures in dance during wartime. Even more remarkably, while Swing Kids (’93) is an American film with German protagonists, Swing Kids (2018) is a South Korean film with North Korean characters as the primary focus. Most importantly, both films (along with the French Joyeux Noel) celebrate the empathetic powers of music and artistic expression during wartime, specifically considering those on the opposite side from the country in which the film is made.
Americans notoriously avoid foreign films. The sad reality is that even those deemed the best of all imported cinema (subjectively determined by year-end lists and awards), are often ignored by a large majority of audiences in this country. The rare exception of a financially successful foreign film is often completely distanced from the idea of what wins awards, and tends to exist within a familiar genre convention. In the past, horror fans have flocked to the notoriously gruesome offerings of different cultures, but I have noticed the genre most influenced by foreign markets in recent years has been the action/martial arts movie. Ironically, while Furie’s major selling point is the casting of a Vietnamese actress already successful in
Hollywood (Veronica Ngo from Star Wars: The Last Jedi), it is a film
that will likely be an introduction to Vietnamese action for most in . And for many
it will be the first Vietnamese film they have seen; in fact, it was the first
ever to be released theatrically in the Hollywood , in any genre. United States
Between the Lines feels as though it must have had its finger on the pulse of the counter-culture movement of the seventies, while simultaneously serving as an awkward reminder of how much even the liberals and progressives of that time were politically incorrect by today’s standards. The film follows a group of employees working at an alternative newspaper in
which is on the verge of a buyout from a major publishing company. Leaning
heavily on the idea that selling out means a lack of integrity, Between the Lines feels laughably dated
in its sensibilities (which would have been completely dismissed had the film
been made a few years later, in the 1980s), but even worse is the awful
treatment of female characters amidst the illusion of ‘free love.’ Sadder yet
is the fact that this incredibly misogynistic film was directed by the rare
female director. Boston
Hype is a dangerous thing in the entertainment industry. One way this can take form is when fans have expectations set from previous success. Just ask any fans of “Game of Thrones” what they thought about the final season, and you will get a taste of the effects of this. No matter what the medium, following up an initial success is always a difficult task. The greater the success, the harder the task of following it up will be, so Jordan Peele was taking something of a risk when he decided to return right to the horror genre after the Academy-Award-nominated Get Out.
Captain Marvel marked the arrival of the first female-led superhero film from Marvel Studios, a fact that would have been far more impactful if it weren’t for that other superhero franchise getting there first and the fact that it took Marvel so many years (and sooo many movies) to finally release one themselves. The film itself, with some distance from its theatrical release, is likely to be best remembered for the petty online bickering between its star and internet trolls (from which neither emerged looking great) rather than any content in the movie itself. This seems especially true now that Avengers: Endgame has made Captain Marvel’s contributions to the franchise almost inconsequential, save a cheesy female-pride sequence during its final battle.
As rare as a non-Disney/Pixar animated success story is in
, it is not surprising that those
which are successful inevitably parlay it into additional films. How to Train Your Dragon first captured
the attention of audiences in 2010 (released by Paramount Pictures), followed
by a sequel in 2014 (released by 20th Century Fox), with the final
installation being this year’s How to
Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (released by Universal Pictures). With
a fitting close to the story of Hiccup and Toothless (the most unlikely of hero
names) found in the last chapter of the trilogy, it looks as though Dreamworks
is in the market for a new animation franchise to compete with. Hollywood
Godzilla is a franchise larger than life (both in terms of the title character and the breadth of films made with the iconic daikaiju-hero), and this makes the largeness of the spectacle something special in the right format. This could not be truer of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which has a collection of monsters to behold, as homage to the original Toho Studio films that the Legendary has adopted into their “MonsterVerse” (Kong is absent from this one, to be seen in a show-off teased during this film’s post-credit sequence), including King Ghidorah, Rodan, and Mothra. Along with the integration of additional giant monsters from the Japanese counterpart, the film cleverly includes the use of the original weapon used to destroy Godzilla in the classic 1954 film
Part of the excitement of a new cinematic format is the discovery of its potential, and these are often dependent on the creativity and innovation of their use. With 4DX, part of the expansion of limits comes with the choice of films to pair the technology with. Before attending a screening of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum in 4DX, it occurred to me that four out of the four films I had previously seen in the format had belonged to the superhero genre. This is certainly due in part to the tendency to utilize the format with high-profile Blockbusters, and the industry’s simultaneous obsession with the ever-profitable comic-book-adaptation franchises. Whatever the reason, I had already spent a great deal of time in the moving seats of 4DX theaters as they simulated flight, underwater exploration, and spider-web swinging. In John Wick 3, I found an entirely different experience; one that was much more grounded, even to the point that the practice of being thrown to the ground was repeatedly simulated.
Unbreakable was somewhat of a disappointing film for audiences, especially after the extreme success M. Night Shyamalan saw with The Sixth Sense. Looking back now, it is clear that Unbreakable was ahead of it’s time, but the conclusion in Glass feels equally dated and unnecessary. This may have something to do with the 19-year-gap between the films, not to mention the onslaught of superhero films that have saturated the market in the meantime.
It is strange to see Steve Carell in a film as contrived and emotionally manipulative as Welcome to Marwen in the same year that he made Beautiful Boy. Both are based on true stories and deal with sincere pain, and somehow Welcome to Marwen still feels like it was thought up by a studio executive capitalizing on someone else’s suffering. No matter how much Carell has been able to make odd characters loveable onscreen in the past, Marwen’s Mark Hogancamp mostly just made me uncomfortable.
Peter Bogdanovich has repeatedly proven his interest in film history through the subject choices in his narrative films (Nickelodeon, The Cat’s Meow), but fascination turns to adoration in The Great Buster: A Celebration. The film celebrates (as the title implies) one of silent film’s greatest stars, Buster Keaton. Bogdonavich clearly has a passion for the subject, and it is contagious, but the documentary may be better titled “An Introduction” rather than “A Celebration.” In other words, die-hard fans of Keaton are likely to be disappointed by the rudimentary nature of much of the information provided by the film.