Pick of the Litter – February 2018


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Black Panther

(Disney/Marvel) Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira. T’Challa has succeeded his murdered father as King of Wakanda, an isolated but technologically advanced African nation. Factions both from within his country and without challenge his leadership and threaten to drag Wakanda into a war they do not want. T’Challa must take up the mantle of Black Panther – guardian of his nation – to keep his country from tearing itself apart. February 16

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Above & Beyond Acoustic: Giving Up the Day Job

(Abramorama) Tony McGuinness, Jono Grant, Paavo Siljamaki. One of the world’s biggest electronic dance music bands, Above & Beyond have been able to sell out venues like Madison Square Garden and headlined festivals like Lollapalooza. Starting in 2014 they began experimenting with doing acoustic versions of their own songs, regressing back to their earlier days as musicians rather than DJs. This would lead to a watershed concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 2016. This film documents that journey from the dance clubs to the acoustic stage. February 2

Bomb City

(Gravitas Ventures) Dave Davis, Glenn Morshower, Logan Huffman, Lorelei Linklater. Loosely based on the true story of Brian Deneke, this is a tale about a group of punk rockers in a conservative Texas town who have had enough of a clique of well-to-do high school football players. This leads to a confrontation that has tragic consequences.. February 9

Entanglement

(Dark Sky) Thomas Middleditch, Jess Wexler, Johannah Newmarch, Diana Bang. A young man, despairing of making any personal connections in this world, attempts suicide but fails. While recovering, he falls in love with a girl who almost became his sister. That’s when things really start to get weird. The trailer is whimsical and charming; this could be a cliché-ridden indie dud or something really unique. February 9

Double Lover

(Cohen Media Group) Marine Vacth, Jérémie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer. A beautiful but fragile young woman falls in love with her psychotherapist. Eventually she moves in with him but soon discovers that he has been hiding a part of himself that he didn’t want her to see. This is the latest from director François Ozon who also helmed the erotic thriller Swimming Pool.  February 14

Tehran Taboo

(Kino-Lorber) Alireza Bayram, Sasan Behroozian, Zahra Amir Ebrahimi, Arash Marandi. This animated feature (which uses the technique of rotoscoping – drawing the animation over live-action film) follows the lives of four young people in Iran who are forced to break the taboos of their restrictive Islamic culture in order to find their own happiness. February 14

The Millionaires’ Unit

(Humanus) Bruce Dern (narrator).They came from wealth and privilege; everything had been handed to them their whole lives. Yet when the First World War loomed on the horizon, the members of the Yale Flying Club took it upon themselves to enlist. They became the first air unit to fly for the United States in the war; one of their members would be the first American airmen to die in the war. They were dubbed by the New York Times as The Millionaires’ Unit and their story is told through amazing archival footage, thrilling air combat re-creations and the recollections of their descendants. February 15

The Housemaid

(IFC) Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan, Svitlana Kovalenko. In 1953, a Vietnamese orphan is hired to work as a housemaid on a rubber plantation in French Indochina. She hears about tales of ghosts and haunting but she is too busy falling in love with the French Captain who owns the plantation. However their feelings for each other have awakened angry ghosts – including the vengeful first wife of the Captain. The trailer looks damn scary. February 16

Hichki

(Yash Raj) Rani Mukerji, Supriya Pilgaonkar, Ivan Rodrigues, Asif Basra. A young teacher with Tourette’s syndrome takes on a position at an elite prep school in India. First she must win over her students with her positive attitude; then she must win over the administrators. February 23

Mute

(Netflix) Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh. A bartender in a Berlin of the near future has been without a voice since a childhood accident. When the love of his life disappears, he goes up against the criminal underbelly of the city to find out what happened to her. This is the latest from director Duncan Jones and is said to be set in the same universe as Moon. February 23

 

 

 

 

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The Housemaid (Hanyo) (2010)


Beauty can be deadly.

Beauty can be deadly.

(2010) Thriller (IFC) Do-yeon Jeon, Jung-Jae Lee, Yeo-jeong Yoon, Woo Seo, Ji-Young Park, Seo-Hyeon Ahn, Jeong-min Hwang, So-ri Moon, Jin-ah Kim, Tae-back Chae, Shin-hwan Jeon, Sang-min Noh, Soon-kyu Jang, Yong-jae Cho, Hyun-Kyung Lim, Keum-yun Lee, Ji-sun Kim, Song-yi Han, Ju-sun Park, Sun-hye Yoon, Ha-young Seo. Directed by Sang-soo Im

This is described as a remake of a classic 1960 Korean thriller but there are enough differences to classify it as only a loose remake. Still, this stands on its own two feet quite nicely.

Eun-yi (Jeon) is hired as a housemaid for wealthy Hae-ra (W. Seo) who is very pregnant with twins. Eun-yi’s primary responsibility is to be a nanny for her daughter Nami (Ahn) but Byung-sik (Y. Yoon), the maid who has been with the family the longest, isn’t particularly happy to see her. Hoon (Lee), the man of the house, is ice-cold and like his wife a bit arrogant.

At first things run smoothly but eventually Hoon takes a liking to Eun-yi and begins flirting with her. The flirting turns into something else and before too long, Byung-sik witnesses Hoon and Eun-yi doing the horizontal lambada. And yes, no self-respecting wealthy Korean businessman would even think of using a rubber so Eun-yi soon finds herself in a family way.

By now Hae-ra’s mother (J-y. Park) gets wind of what’s happening – well, Byung-sik tells her. This just won’t do. It is her daughter who is supposed to be in the lap of luxury, not this upstart. Mommy the monster decides to take matters into her own hands and soon things spiral way out of control.

The original 1960 version was about the emergence of the Korean middle class and how those in the poverty class reacted to them. In that film, the maid was a little nuts and was the one who seduced the husband, not vice versa. Here, we’re seeing the results of Korean prosperity and how it has affected the upper classes and their relationship with those lower on the economic ladder. It’s not a pretty picture.

Jeon is a beautiful woman and is given a role which would be challenging for any actress, but gives us a fine performance. The issue here is not with her acting but how her character is written; at first she is the very model of a Korean servant, obedient and submissive but she changes. Not that people don’t change in a subservient position, but it is…let’s just say it’s quite the change and leave it at that. Park also does a convincing job as the conniving mother-in-law.

The movie is mostly set in the expansive mansion – estate would be more like it – of Hoon and his family but throughout it is shot beautifully, the setting bringing suspense when it needs to but at all times reminding us of the luxury of the privileged class.

Nearly everyone in this movie is devious and back-stabbing at one time or another – even the kid. It’s really hard to connect to a movie when you have nobody to connect with. Notwithstanding, this is a fascinating look at Asian class warfare in a situation Hitchcock would have understood and approved of.

WHY RENT THIS: Stylishly shot. An interesting look at Korean class values.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Hard to identify with anyone in this movie.

FAMILY VALUES: Sexuality, nudity and violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The chandelier in the main hall is a copy of the Young-whan Bae sculpture Song of Dionysus and is made up of broken shards of wine and soju bottles.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $14.8M on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

FINAL RATING; 7/10

NEXT: Jersey Boys

Four-Warned: January 2011


January 2011

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either. The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE GREEN HORNET (1.4)
2. COMPANY MEN (2.0)
3. THE RITE (2.1)
4. SEASON OF THE WITCH (2.3)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. ONG BAK 3 (2.1)
2. THE WAY BACK (2.3)
3. THE HOUSEMAID (2.4)
4. SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (2.5)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JANUARY 1, 2011

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (Giant Flick) Genre: Adventure. Sinbad must travel to dangerous distant lands to rescue the sultan’s daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 If it is as imaginative as the old Ray Harryhausen versions, this could be a winner.

JANUARY 7, 2011

SEASON OF THE WITCH (Relativity) Genre: Supernatural Action. A heroic crusader is charged with transporting a convicted witch to a distant monastery where the monks will perform a ritual to reverse the curse she’s placed on the land. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Oft-delayed, studio switched and early January release date usually spells disaster but I’m nonetheless intrigued.
THE TIME THAT REMAINS (IFC) Genre: Drama. A look at the creation of the state of Israel from its beginnings in 1948 up through modern times. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 I’m still not quite sure what the point of this movie is.

JANUARY 14, 2011

BARNEY’S VERSION (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. An ordinary man who’s lived an extraordinary life tells his version of the events in it. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.8 An extraordinary cast (Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver) in an ordinary movie that was a festival mainstay this year.
THE DILEMMA (Universal) Genre: Comedy. A man on the eve of the biggest deal of his career sees his best friend and business partner’s wife cheating on him and resolves to tell him about it. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Controversy over the use of the word “gay” in the trailer brought this movie into the public eye initially.
EVERY DAY (Image) Genre: Drama. A man in the throes of a midlife crisis deals with a flirtatious office worker, a crumbling manager and a sick and embittered father-in-law who is force to stay with them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Liev Schreiber, Helen Hunt, Carla Gugino and Brian Dennehy are an enviable cast; the trailer looked interesting.
THE GREEN HORNET (Columbia) Genre: Superhero Action. With the help of his late father’s confidante, a young ne’er do well determines to succeed his crusading newspaper publisher father as a more direct crimefighter. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.4 I have to admit I wasn’t so sure about casting Seth Rogen as Britt Reid but the trailer looks good.
ONG BAK 3 (Magnet) Genre: Martial Arts Action. The series concludes with an epic conflict between good and demon. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Some of the best martial arts movies of the last decade have been in this series.

JANUARY 21, 2011

THE COMPANY MEN (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. Three laid off executives must re-define their lives as husbands, fathers and men. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Moved forward from October to December to January, not a good sign.
THE HOUSEMAID (IFC) Genre: Thriller. A beautiful young maid for a wealthy family becomes pregnant by the husband, a secret which threatens to explode. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 This is a remake of a 1960 Korean film which is considered to be one of the best movies ever produced from that country.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED (Paramount) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A couple of friends develop a physical relationship but find that they want something more. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman make an attractive couple but the premise sounds a bit empty to me.
THE WAY BACK (Newmarket) Genre: True War Story. The true story of a group of soldiers who escape a Siberian gulag and make a long trek on foot to freedom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Peter Weir directs an outstanding cast in a film that won great accolades on the European festival circuit.

JANUARY 28, 2011

FROM PRADA TO NADA (Pantelion) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Two sisters living a life of luxury in Beverly Hills are forced to relocate to Boyle Heights after daddy passes away where they learn something of their Latina heritage. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 I think I may have seen this movie before, although not in Spanish.
IP MAN 2: LEGEND OF THE GRANDMASTER (Mandarin) Genre: Martial Arts. Martial Arts master Ip Man escapes the Japanese occupation only to run into the hard line British colonial rule of Hong Kong. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 This has been breaking box office records across Asia.
THE MECHANIC (CBS) Genre: Action. A professional assassin reluctantly takes the son of his mentor under his wing. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 A remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson film.
POETRY (Kino International) Genre: Drama. A free-spirited South Korean grandmother discovers she has Alzheimer’s as she is taking a poetry course. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 Sounds a bit schmaltzy but this could be another Korean cinematic gem.
THE RITE (New Line) Genre: Horror. An unorthodox priest introduces a skeptical novice to the nature of true evil, hidden in one of the holiest places on Earth. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 Hannibal Lecter as an exorcist? The mind boggles.
SECONDS APART (After Dark) Genre: Horror. A pair of murderous twins shares the power of telekinesis between them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 With After Dark shedding their horror festival format this year this is their first release as a distributor.
WHEN WE LEAVE (Olive) Genre: Drama. A Turkish woman flees an abusive relationship, only to have her family attempt to return her son to his abusive father. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.1 Said to be a meticulously researched look into the Turkish culture.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES

Season of the Witch, The Dilemma, The Green Hornet, The Mechanic, The Rite