Train to Busan

I’ve been in a zombie mood lately. Not sure if it’s because the zombie army in Thor: Ragnarok whetted my appetite, or because I’ve just been paying too much attention to the news. Whatever the reason, I felt it was high time to check out this Korean flick.

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Train to Busan
Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Writers: Sang-ho Yeon and Joo-Suk Park
Starring: Yoo Gong and Su-an Kim
Music by: Young-gyu Jang
Not Rated

Seok-woo is a recently-divorced businessman who’s too busy to spend much time with his young daughter, Su-an. She wants to visit her mother for her birthday, so he reluctantly agrees to take her on the long train ride from Seoul to Busan–partly to make up for missing her recital the day before. Unfortunately for everyone, the day they choose to board the train happens to be the same day the zombie apocalypse breaks out in Korea. Pretty soon a father-daughter jaunt across the country turns into a life-or-undeath race to what might be the only safe place left.

Out of the zombie movies I’ve seen (which, admittedly, is a relatively small number), this is easily one of the best. It’s got quiet suspense and explosive action. It’s got ghoulishly convincing zombie actors and even better regular actors (particularly the little girl who plays Su-an). Most importantly, it’s got all the moral dilemmas and emotional turmoil that really flesh out every decent tale of the living dead.

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Heh, get it? “Flesh” out? I’m hilarious.

That being said, there were a few things that took me out of it a bit. This is the first Korean film I’ve seen, so this may have partly stemmed from my unfamiliarity with the style, but it felt a bit long to me, even at just under two hours. The pacing is very episodic: the survivors get through one intense action scene, get a minute to catch their breaths, and then go into a completely different intense action scene–usually in a different location, since the train is always moving. While there is certainly a dramatic climax, we don’t get the gradual build-up to that climax that I’m used to in movies, and I think that made this one seem longer than it was. Also, while the acting is good throughout and the script is well-written (as far as I can tell from the subtitles, anyway), the movie is not exactly subtle. A few of the emotional moments struck me as ever so slightly over the top.

But these are minor issues, which might have more to do with my expectations than the movie’s quality. Train to Busan is not trying to say anything super philosophical or revolutionise the zombie genre or anything like that–it’s just intended to be a fun, scary, emotional thrill ride. And it does that extremely well. One reason it works so well is that it really takes time to develop the characters. It can be hard for me to care about the people in a story like this, when I go in expecting most of them to be zombie food by the end. But here, long before things start getting bitey, the filmmakers give us a solid glimpse into the lives of our father-daughter duo, the short-tempered beefy guy, the pregnant mother, the two elderly sisters, the shy teenage baseball player, and his maybe-girlfriend. As a result, by the time the insanity hits, I’m invested in their stories and want them to survive.

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Also because some of them are awesome.

The movie also avoids the common horror trap of making its characters stupid. The survivors we follow for most of the movie are constantly coming up with smart, creative ways to stay alive. Poor decision-making is at a minimum, except among characters who are clearly painted as evil and/or insane. But awesome zombie-killing is at a maximum, whether the weapons of choice are a baseball bat, a riot shield, or an entire freaking train. With fast zombies, rapid infection, and not a single gun in sight, the set-up really puts our heroes at a disadvantage, but they still manage to overcome obstacle after obstacle in spectacular fashion.

For me, the most important conflict in any good zombie story is not the heroes’ struggle to survive, but their struggle to retain their humanity. This movie is no exception. Every character who lives long enough reacts to the zombie apocalypse in a different way. Some show their true colours as selfish cowards, particularly one loathsome train attendant who causes most of the problems in the latter half of the movie. Others rise to the occasion and become heroes. At first, Seok-woo is only out to protect himself and his daughter, but as the film goes on, he starts to realise the importance of helping others, even at great cost to himself. And thanks to the zombies, he finally gets the chance to prove himself as a father.

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“Happy birthday!”

Overall, despite some minor issues I had with the pacing, I had a ton of fun with this movie. It’s an intense, emotional rollercoaster with lots of well-filmed action and a great cast of characters.

Also, I really miss train travel.

Grade: A


Hunt for the Wilderpeople

After watching this movie, one question is uppermost in my mind: WHY DON’T I LIVE IN NEW ZEALAND??

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Director and Writer: Taika Waititi
Adapted from: the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump
Starring: Sam Neill and Julian Dennison
Released: 2016
Rated PG-13 (in the U.S.)

The movie begins when Ricky Baker, a rotund foster kid who fancies himself a gangsta, is placed with a kindly old couple in the New Zealand countryside. Well, the wife is kindly. Her husband, Hector, is kind of standoffish and grumpy, seeing the new kid as a nuisance. So naturally, circumstances conspire to leave Ricky alone with Hec. Afraid of being dumped back into the foster care system (since Hec can’t be expected to raise him on his own), Ricky runs away and gets lost in the bush (New Zealand code for pristine, gorgeous wilderness). Hec rescues him, but a series of misunderstandings conspire to make it look like he’s kidnapped the boy. Pretty soon, the two find themselves outlaws in the wilderness, with the police, the army, and one dangerously obsessed Child Welfare agent hot on their trail.

First, let me talk about the scenery in this movie. I’ve never been there, but between The Lord of the Rings and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, I’m now convinced that New Zealand is the most beautiful place on earth. And here we see tons of panning shots of mountains, forests, lakes and flats that seem utterly deserving of Hec’s made-up word, “majestical.” The soundtrack, made up of delightfully quirky techno-pop by the band Moniker, only adds to the beauty of the atmosphere. I’d say it’s worth watching for the scenery alone.

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“It’s majestic.” “That doesn’t sound very special. Majestical’s way better.”

But that’s not all the movie has going for it. It’s also hilarious. Hec and Ricky play off one another wonderfully, and I got a lot of laughs out of their often prickly relationship and their different ideas of what it takes to be a tough guy. Then there’s Paula, the Child Welfare agent, who does such an over-the-top Inspector Javert impression throughout the movie that it’s impossible not to chuckle at her. The pair of outlaws run into several other quirky characters on their adventure, from a spacey priest who keeps mixing his metaphors to…”Psycho Sam,” who dresses like a bush to hide from the government. They are all amazing. Especially Psycho Sam.

But even though I laughed out loud several times during it, I’d hesitate to call this movie a straight-up comedy. In between the laughs, there are several extremely sad moments, and some that tug at the heartstrings for different reasons. Underneath the exaggerated action and adventure, this is a movie about two outcasts who decide to run from a society they feel has rejected them. It’s not just about Ricky teaching Hec what it means to be “skux” (sort of like being a “playa” here in the States) or Hec teaching Ricky how to survive in the wilderness. It’s about both of them helping each other to deal with the different sorrows they’re carrying from equally tragic pasts. Eventually, by becoming “wilderpeople,” they learn that they’re not alone and that the world doesn’t have to be as bad a place as they thought it was before the movie started. Their unlikely friendship is as heartwarming as it gets.

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All the best father-son type relationships start with hunting wild boar.

I was reminded of several other movies while watching this one. The relationship between Hec and Ricky is a lot like the one between Carl and Russell in one of my favourite Pixar movies, Up. The humor and some of the more surreal elements of the story remind me of the Coen brothers’ work, especially O Brother, Where Art Thou? But at the same time, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is very much its own story. I’ve seen quirky comedies before, but never one whose quirks were quite like these. I’ve seen epic, scenery-driven movies before, but not many whose stories seemed so perfectly fitted to the landscape. And I’ve seen plenty of father-son bonding type movies, but this one is so unconventional that it affected me a lot more than most.

Also, I loved Sam Neill in Jurassic Park, obviously, but I didn’t realise what serious acting chops he had until this movie. And I keep forgetting he’s from New Zealand.

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And if you even recognised him under that beard without being told, kudos.

Another note: This movie contains a beautiful Lord of the Rings reference, and I saw it coming a mile away. And it still made me geek out.

The only complaint I can think of is that the movie starts off a bit slow. We’re a good 20-30 minutes in before the plot really gets going. But even then, I’m not sure if I can complain, because so much of that beginning was used to develop an important character without whom the movie wouldn’t be the same. The tone is all over the place, with deeply tragic scenes constantly being followed up by something goofy and over the top–but that just makes both the humour and the emotion even more effective. It’s a masterfully told story with a great script. And the director’s next project is going to be Thor: Ragnarok, which gives me an enormous amount of hope for that film.

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If he can do action like this on a $77,000 budget, imagine what he’ll do with Marvel’s bajillions!

So in the end, I think it’s only proper to sum up my feelings about this movie the way Ricky would. In haiku.

Ricky and Hector
Outlaws living the skux life–
Grade A adventure.



Monthly Movie Rant: Chicks in flicks

I can’t let Women’s History Month go by without a little rant about women in the movies.

The way I see it, Hollywood has a problem. The problem is that at least 80 percent of all its writers, directors, and producers are male, while 50 percent of the audience they’re trying to reach is female. And generally speaking, men tend to be not so great at telling stories for or about women. So there just aren’t as many female characters as male ones on the big screen, and when they do appear, they’re much more likely to be one-dimensional and bland. And movies marketed specifically to women are a lot more likely to suck.

Of course, this is changing. We no longer live in a world where it’s okay for the hero’s girlfriend to do nothing but scream, look pretty, and get rescued (with…certain exceptions). We even live in a world where it’s possible for a woman to be the main character in a hugely popular action franchise without ever putting on a bikini! And on television it’s even better. Some of the most popular, acclaimed series currently airing are centred around women, or at least have a lot of them doing awesome things.

So instead of complaining about how often movies have gotten women wrong (there are plenty of other places to find that on the Internet), I’m going to list my favourite times when movies and shows got women right.

But first, let me clue you in on what I’m looking for. I don’t personally think any “type” of female character is necessarily better than any other. Hardcore action girls can  still be sexist caricatures, and dress-twirling girly girls can be interesting and complex. What I want from female characters in movies is…well, character. I want them to have serious flaws that they overcome (or don’t) in relatable ways. I want them to have heroic qualities I can root for. I want them to be goofy, serious, smart, stupid, angry, kind, hopeful, depressed, and every other personality trait you can think of. I want them to have dreams and goals, and to fight to achieve them. I want them to be protagonists, villains, comic relief and supporting characters, and in every role I want them to come across as three-dimensional human beings. You know…all those things male characters have been allowed to do since the beginning of film.

So here are some ladies who achieve that for me.

Dana Scully

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Scully is my TV hero. Her no-nonsense attitude, her determination to find The Truth in the most scientific way possible, and her fierce loyalty to the people she holds dear are all inspiring to me. Thanks to great acting and (mostly) great writing, I can relate to her struggles–whether it’s trying to reconcile her faith in science or God with all the crazy stuff she sees, or just trying to fend off the monster and/or psycho of the week. And while The XFiles couldn’t exist without Mulder, the smartest, scariest and most heart-breaking episodes always seemed to centre around Scully. When you’ve got a woman who’s five feet tall in heels, has the face of a 15-year-old, and is still a believable threat to The Conspiracy, you know you’ve stumbled on a good female character.


Doesn’t really matter which adaptation we’re talking about–most of them are good for the same reasons. (I am partial to the 2009 BBC miniseries, though.) Emma Woodhouse is basically a terrible person. She’s an arrogant, spoiled, naive, self-righteous busybody, but she’s also quite charming and funny, which is one of the reasons she gets away with so much crap (the other being that she’s rich). And if you’ve never met anyone like her, you don’t get out much. Her flaws are so human and so familiar that they make it all the more satisfying when she starts to grow out of them at the end. That’s how you get me to enjoy a love story: make the ultimate triumph about becoming a better person, not just “finding that special person.”


The next trilogy of Star Wars movies could not be in better hands, protagonist-wise. Rey is, of course, a powerful Jedi in the making, but that’s not what makes her special. What I really like about her is the sheer joy and wonder she brings to the screen. Here’s a kid who grew up alone on a desert planet, but never let her depressing life dim her hopes for the future. And when she finally gets to see what the rest of the galaxy is like and discovers her powers, her excitement simply oozes off the screen. She keeps her optimism, her joy, and her determination to do right, no matter what the movie throws at her. And that’s a very likeable trait in a Star Wars hero, especially considering some of her whiny predecessors. Combine that with some awesome lightsaber action, and you get the best thing about the new Star Wars films so far. (And this is coming from someone who liked Rogue One better than The Force Awakens.)

Madame Gao

The Marvel/Netflix TV shows have given us a wide range of villains, of both genders. But Madame Gao has always been the most intimidating of them all.  She’s a little old lady with a pronounced limp, yet she always seems to be in control of whatever situation she’s in, and she’s clearly the smartest and most ruthless villain in the ‘verse. There are indications that she’s not quite human, she’s able to take down a trained fighter with a single blow, and her whole demeanour is just plain creepy. It’s rare to see a female villain whose primary weapon is something other than her sexuality, and Madame Gao gets things done without ever resorting to that.

Mrs. Incredible/Elastigirl

Wonder Woman has a chance to change my mind later this year, but as of right now, my favourite female superhero ever to hit the big screen is Mrs. Incredible. She’s funny. She has some of the movie’s best action scenes. Her powers are awesome. And her struggle is one that a lot of non-super-powered women can relate to: balancing her calling as a hero with her equally important calling to be a wife and mother. She embodies the kind of down-to-earth conflict you don’t see enough in superhero movies, and she does it in a uniquely feminine way.

The entire female cast of Mad Max: Fury Road

Now, obviously, my favourite character in Fury Road is Furiosa. But she’s not the first hardcore, no-frills action heroine I’d ever seen in a movie, so she wasn’t what set this film apart. What I had never seen before was an action movie of this caliber where the women with speaking roles outnumbered the men. In most action movies, Furiosa would be the only good female character, and she’d have to be awesome because otherwise feminists would complain about misrepresentation of women. But because there are so many women in Fury Road, no one of them has to stand in for the entire gender, so they’re all allowed to have different personalities. Some of them are wimps. Some of them are strong in a physical way, and some in a more emotional, brain-powered way. Some of them look like supermodels and some look like old ladies. But they’re almost all memorable in some way, and they’re all vital to the story. This movie is a perfect representation of how I would like women to be portrayed in all genre films. They’re not all amazing, but there are more of them, and they’re all characters, not sex objects or plot devices. In fact, the whole story is about them trying to escape from being sex objects and plot devices! I love this movie.

There are so many more I could list, but that should give you an idea of the kind of variety I like in my female characters. Fortunately, good characters like these are becoming more common, but there are still some genres where they’re hard to find–like superhero movies, for example. Wonder Woman, please be good.

I don’t think we’ll see truly equal portrayals of men and women at the movies until there are more women calling the shots behind the scenes. Although there are some sad exceptions (*cough* Twilight *cough*), women are generally better than men at telling things from a female perspective, and that’s a perspective we need to see more often in movies. So I’m hoping to get out and see some more movies with female directors and writers this year.

Who are some of your favourite chicks in flicks? And why?

The Best and Worst of 2016

What a year, right? The main theme of the Internet right now seems to be that 2016 sucked. And most of the movies contributed to, rather than alleviating, the general suckage. But we shouldn’t forget that this year had its bright spots. There were even a few good movies. Here’s a list of my favourites from 2016.

But first, let me list my least favourites.

3. The Jungle Book

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I am morally opposed to live-action remakes of Disney cartoons. Especially when they aren’t really even live-action. Everything in this movie was CGI, except for Mowgli (which actually makes his acting pretty impressive). It was pretty great CGI, to be sure, but it was still incredibly unnecessary, since we already have the cartoon version. And it turned the fun King Louis song into a vaguely disturbing scene with a giant gangster orangutan.

2. Ghostbusters

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It’s not that I hated this movie. I actually found it pretty entertaining. It’s just that it was so forgettable. It’s only been a few months since I saw it, and I’ve already forgotten almost everything about it. There was just nothing special or unique that stood out to me. My feelings about it are a solid “meh.”

  1. Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

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I am still amazed by how terrible this movie was. Like, I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but I thought that a movie starring the two most iconic, beloved superheroes of all time couldn’t help having a few fun moments, even if it was directed by Zack Snyder. But no. It’s not even bad enough to be fun–except for the “Martha” scene. That was gold. I laughed my head off. But everything else was either boring or incredibly obnoxious (lookin’ at you, Lex). Between this and Suicide Squad (which I still haven’t seen, due to not wanting to spend money on it), I think it’s about time DC cut its losses and took a break from making live-action films. They can start again in a few years when they hire some decent writers and directors.

Okay, good movies now!


5. Doctor Strange

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It’s weird. It’s fun. It’s got amazing effects. It’s got Benedict Cumberbatch and the Cloak of Levitation (and if I’m being honest, I find those two equally attractive). Most importantly (spoiler alert), the titular hero saves the day by annoying a cosmic being so much it goes away. Plus, everything in the movie has an awesome name, like the Eye of Agamotto. I don’t care if it has all the usual Marvel problems, plus a nasty case of white-washing and a lot of plot ripped from Iron Man. I still love it, and no one can take that away from me.

4. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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John Goodman deserves an Oscar. Actually, with the number of movies he’s been in, I’m amazed he hasn’t won one already. But he definitely deserves one for this movie.

3. Kubo and the Two Strings

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It’s the most beautiful film of the year. The music is beautiful, the animation is ridiculously beautiful, and the story is beautiful. Pixar is spinning swiftly down the drain, but I think Laika is poised to become their successor in the “making amazing animated movies” category.

2. Arrival

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If I were a professional film critic with a degree in Film Studies or something (I’m not), I would probably say this was the best movie of the year. It’s artsy without being pretentious, surprising without being gimmicky, and understated without being boring. It’s full of great performances, great music, and fantastic cinematography. And it has arguably the most intelligent script of any movie in 2016.

  1. Rogue One

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But, because I don’t have any film-related degrees and my taste in movies is anything but sophisticated, this was the 2016 movie dearest to my heart. It was so exciting to see a Star Wars movie on the big screen that actually lived up to its predecessors’ standards. I had never experienced that before, and it was glorious. Besides, we lost Carrie Fisher this week. With the state my emotions are in right now, I would give this movie the top spot even if it were only half as good as it is.


TV bonus: Stranger Things

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Everyone’s seen this show by now, so I don’t need to tell you why it’s so great. Except I do need to say that Millie Bobby Brown deserves every acting award ever invented, because that can’t be said often enough.

B0nus bonus: Moon

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This movie didn’t come out this year, but I did watch it for the first time this year. I just wanted to mention it because it’s freaking amazing, and not enough people have seen it. 90 percent of it is two actors (one of whom is never actually seen, because he’s voicing a robot) in a space station on the moon, and it’s the most mind-blowing sci-fi movie you could hope to see. I can’t say anything about the plot, except that there are at least two or three times when I, the viewer, realised I wasn’t watching the movie I expected to be watching. And in this day and age, it’s hard to pull off more than one huge movie surprise that actually works.

See? 2016 wasn’t that bad after all! But let’s hope 2017 is still better. At least in terms of movies. Lord knows we’re going to need some distraction.