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Based on the Korean musical Roh Gi-soo, Swing Kids is a war drama filled with lots of tap dancing directed by Kang Hyeong-Cheol. It's the 1950's, the Korean War is raging on and we take a look inside the Geoje prison camp in South Korea, under command of the American army. The African-American Sergeant Jackson (Jared Grimes) gets constantly discriminated by caucasian soldier and feels less and less that he belongs here. What many also don't know is that he's a talented tap dancer who used to "Happy Feet" his way around Broadway. He's also of perfect use to the general, who wants him to create a dance group out of prisoners to show the public nothing is as bad as it seems.
Auditions start not soon after, and although Jackson isn't that confident he will succeed in finding a group of talented individuals. The successful applicants are more or less discovered when he least expects is. The few individuals he brings together, consist of Yang Pan-rae (Park Hye-soo) who's been helping Jackson translating, Kang Byung-sam (Oh Jung-Se), a man who accidentally got imprisoned when looking for his wife, Chinese soldier Xiao Fang (Kim Min-Ho) surprises with his moves but has acute angina which makes him not as strong as he could've been. The other main character, who later also joins our group of dancers, is Roh Gi-soo (Do Kyung-soo), a man so loyal he never knows what to do to make his country and family proud, but loves to dance.
Swing Kids shifts genres multiple times and succeeds. It's very different from Western cinema, where genres tend to stick to one thing and don't divert. Having recently watched Parasite (who might just end up being the best film I've seen in 2019), I think genre bending can be done if done in the right way with a proper vision and script. The film is heavily influenced by music, a high dose of tap dancing and often funny too. The dancing is impressive and I found myself tapping my feet multiple times throughout the film - it is that infectious. Kyung-soo and Grimes coming from a professional dance background, are perfectly cast in their roles. On the other hand, the story does go very dark - especially in the second half - when Korean prisoners fight back in order for freedom.
The film gets a bit messier in the more action-filled scenes which are related to the raging war. I knew nothing about the film and I think that's for the better. It surprised me on multiple occasions, which is why I do recommend watching it, even just for the many talent you see on screen. Swing Kids taps its way into your heart.
Review by Seth Eelen for novastreamnetwork.com
Screened at KOFFIA (Korean Film Festival in Australia)
French director Pascal Laugier (Martyrs) dives into "the home invasion" sub genre, amping it up with a dose of psychopaths that aren't here to just cause havoc - they're here to move in.
Incident in a Ghostland follows teenage sisters Beth (Emilia Jones) and Vera (Taylor Hickson) driving toward their new home in the middle of nowhere with their mom, Pauline (singer Mylene Farmer). When stopping at a gas station along the way, the first page of a newspaper addressing another family murdered in the area, sets the mood for what's to come. When a menacing candy truck honks at them, it's clear they might not be so alone after all..
The director's first feature was the extremely disturbing Martyrs, which was released around the time the first chapter of the Saw franchise played in theatres. Although Martyrs took torture porn to a level only snuff films could go, it did have an interesting take on eternal life. Ghostland takes a different route and blends a home invasion with a slasher flick. The girls get attacked by a couple of psychopaths, soon after they arrive at their new home. The mother gets stabbed violently while the girls have to fight off some sort of manlike "ogre", who puts them through a series of brutish punishments.
The abuse goes deeper than just physical and starts to damage their mental health. We never get an explanation on why all of this happens and where these two killers come from. The story takes a massive turn halfway through, that makes you question everything you just witnessed. The viewer's mind gets put to the test once again when the line between flashbacks and the present gets blurred and we no longer know what is real and not. A very bold way for Laugier to tell this gruesome story. The atmosphere gets set perfectly with the help of production designer Gordon Wilding and cinematographer Danny Nowak. For me it worked perfectly and made me more alert on what the more underlying message of this story could be. These girls subconsciously try to escape the torture they have to endure.
Or is it all just a nightmare that happened many years ago? The now adult Beth (Crystal Reed) wakes up screaming in her loft like apartment. Happily married and raising a young boy, she is also a bestselling author who has just released her new book "Incident in a Ghostland". After receiving a distressing call from her sister Vera (Anastasia Phillips), she decides to go back to the house that still haunts her dreams. Her mother and sister never moved out after that horrifying event, which cause for Beth's memories to slowly poor back in and materialise once again.
Farmer's acting is decent, yet her dialogue is tough to understand with a heavy French accent. The women who play Vera and Beth, both the younger and adult-versions, do an amazing job at showing the emotional trauma these characters go through and how deep this gets embedded into their psyche. Very impressive work.
The women get put through so much torture, it's at times a tad bit too cruel to see them suffer - even for a horror fan like me. The sadistic ways the mentally handicapped ogre torments these girls, gets pushed even further when it all becomes a bit too pedophilic when his companion dresses them like life size dolls who he can "play" with and toss around as much he pleases.
Incident in a Ghostland can be at times too tough to sit through, because of its subject matters. It's however worth checking out, even just for the great acting and production design. Another reason not to move to the middle of nowhere, before "Home Alone"-ing your entire house.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn't just about the Manson Family and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). It's actually about a fading TV star and his stuntman. Everything that happens around them is taken into consideration, but most of all, this film is an ode to Hollywood and Los Angeles in the 1960s.
Like a true fairytale bedtime story, Quentin Tarantino's newest film has a happy ending. What that exactly is, I'm not going to spoil. It might actually be one of Tarantino's sweetest films he's ever made. Does that mean "Once Upon a Time" isn't as graphic or violent as, for example Inglourious Basterds? Not really, I'd call it mainstream independent cinema, in a way. It's funny from the get go and that's all thanks to the formidable performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.
Both actors have never shared the screen before, but they're hitting it off just fine. It depends on whose character you like most, because they have an equal amount of moments in which they get to excel. Pitt and DiCaprio make for an enjoyable duo of goofballs, with the former playing his stunt double and handyman around the house while the latter tries to stay relevant while drinking and smoking himself into a frenzy. Flashbacks tell the backstory of each one of them, tying into certain scenes that will for sure make audiences laugh out loud.
The story gets told the way Tarantino always tells his stories, with lots of smart music choices and heavy dialogue filled scenes. Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) tries to find his way in Hollywood, after realising his TV success as the star of a bounty hunter show is something from the golden ages. Meltdowns come and go, while Cliff Booth (Pitt) goes home to relax in his trailer and feeds his dog raccoon-flavoured food. He also meets the much younger hippie Pussycat (Margaret Qualley in a rise-to-stardom-performance) which leads him to Spahn's movie ranch where he'll meet the Manson Family.
The synopsis that was released early on, already told us where Sharon Tate would fit into this story. Sharon and Roman (Polanski) are Rick's new neighbours. Confronted with modern Hollywood driving up and down the driveway, Rick can only wish to get re-discovered by the talented Polanski and get cast for one of his films. Margot Robbie portrays Sharon Tate in a humble way. The way Tarantino decided to depict her in his film, is done with much respect and one can only hope Robbie someday comes back to depict Sharon in a biopic.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a film about... Hollywood. The constant movie references - some real some not - are scattered throughout the entire film and make you want to check out certain classic spaghetti westerns and films you're not yet familiar with. Tarantino knows how to make films and the cinematography in particular is so different from his previous film The Hateful Eight, I can't believe his next film is supposed to be the last of his career. (Tarantino has always said to only be making 10 films in his career.) Genre bending is a craft not many filmmakers try to tackle, but Tarantino has perfected it. The scene on the ranch halfway into the movie - that's pure suspense. Hitchcock felt that in his grave.
Tarantino delivers his most "Hollywood" film ever, that feels like a love story to the long gone Los Angeles of the '60s. It's different and more relaxed than anything he's ever done before and although Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a long sit, the performances and captivating scenes make this an experience that can't be missed.
Review by Seth Eelen for novastreamnetwork.com
Ari Aster's follow-up to his surprise hit Hereditary, once again deals with grief. This time not so much in a supernatural way, but a more ritualistic one up north in Sweden. In Midsommar, Dani (Florence Pugh) tries to overcome an unthinkable family tragedy. Her rocky relationship with Christian (Jack Reynor) was about to completely fall apart, but when they decide to join his college buddies on an ill-considered trip to a remote commune in Sweden, that's when everything truly gets put in perspective.
Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) invites his fellow grad students to his former community under a midnight sun. Folk horror and tradition lean against outdated superstition. Our American group of friends doesn't really fit in with these white robed, strangely calm Swedes. From their arrival, their destiny has been forebode in the illustrations and paintings on the wooden walls of the community's cabins. Without really paying attention to it, these guests have signed up for a one-way journey to death.
Lots of clues and unnecessary imagery get scattered throughout the film. Nothing ever gets an explanation, it's just there. As if the director expects audiences to know about runes and most of all, why there's a bear in a cage that no one really addresses. Aster mostly succeeds in keeping the eeriness steady yet flowing throughout the entire film. His Hereditary cinematographer, Pawel Pogorzelski, is once again gifting us with extraordinary imagery that is unique on screen. While his previous film had lots of nightly shots, Midsommar takes place in broad daylight. The pastels and soft lighting give a really soothing look, that is unknown to this genre.
The acting overall is strong, with Pugh being a standout. After watching her in Fighting With My Family earlier this year and soon to be seen again in Greta Gerwig's adaptation of Little Women, one can definitely say - 2019 is the year of the Pugh. Her Dani makes you feel for her loss and she owns the screen. Reynor is a pretty new face for me, but I'm curious to see him take more challenging roles like this, where he gets to shine and push himself even more.
Midsommar is nonetheless entertaining. Its first two acts are interesting and you want to see where this is going. The final act feels a bit stretched at a certain point and could've used a bigger punch when everything sizzles down at the end. As for the characters, it's a bit too unrealistic to see them all just go along with everything without asking the real question - "what is going on?". By the time this question does get asked, it's already too late and we're closer to our somewhat underwhelming finale. Midsommar is ambitious, unsettling and trippy. Can't wait to see where Ari Aster takes us next.
Review by Seth Eelen for sodaandtelepaths.com
A coming of age comedy about girls/women, written by women, directed by a woman and starring two talented women. To the guys out there questioning if this is something they should check out, I shout: FUCK YEAH! I've seen some critics calling this a "female version" of Superbad, but Booksmart is a comedic classic in the making that doesn't need to be compared to anything else. It stands on its own just fine and with pride.
Two high school besties are ready to show their classmates they're more than just smart boring nerds who are all about grades and getting into college. Molly (Beanie Feldstein), prepping to become the Supreme Court's youngest justice ever, and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), who's too afraid to challenge herself. And after being out for the last two years, she still hasn't kissed a girl. Molly will do anything to change their image and that is gonna get both of them in the most insane situations, the night before graduation.
Thinking they couldn't get into those elite universities if they'd party all through high school, Molly gets the shock of a lifetime when she finds out that her group of energetic partying classmates got accepted to a wide range of highly regarded universities, just like she did. The graduation party to be, is that of Nick's (Mason Gooding), vice president and senior chick-magnet. And to Amy's surprise, Ryan (Victoria Ruesga), an androgynous skater girl who Amy has been crushing on for ages, will also be attending. It doesn't take long for Molly to convince her bestie to embark on an adventure that will change their young lives forever.
The road to the party doesn't come without challenges. They get to spend time with supporting characters that at first hand look like unnecessary screen fillers. But even these additional scenes are full of life, and flesh out characters that usually get pushed aside. The most interesting of the bunch are by far awkward rich duo Jared (Skyler Gisondo) and Gigi (Billie Lourd). Jared thinks he can buy people's attention and Gigi gets all clingy when crowning herself as Amy's new best friend, popping up at the most unexpected times and places, "jumpscaring" our two heroines. Just to be clear, there is no weak character in the entire ensemble. Everyone is here to leave a mark and I'm so excited to see a cast this talented. The energy and realness they exude is so infectious, you can't help but applaud and laugh at the sheer brilliance they bring to each one of their performances.
Feldstein and Dever must be best friends off screen, because the chemistry they share on screen is unreal. The compliments they throw at each other are funny in their own way and their comedic timing is off the charts. Stars in the making. Feldstein reminds me of Emma Stone starting her career in comedies such as Easy A, shooting her into stardom by getting nominated for a Golden Globe, later winning an Oscar for a musical (La La Land).
Where other female driven comedies tried to be just funny and very "girly", this story shows a different side and that women act out just as much a guys do, if not more. A high school comedy for millennials, in which anxiety and expectations are put at the forefront and dealt with in the most realistic way possible. This makes Booksmart stand out from other comedies that take place in high school.
The screenwriters did a great job to let our two leading ladies have some time of their own to explore who they are as individuals and deal with their insecurities and fears in the final act. You can tell this is when first time director Olivia Wilde is having a blast, playing with different styles of
techniques and blending genres. She knows how to pull these genre bending scenes off and still push it to a next level with every scene passing, surprising us with joke after bold joke, with unexpected empowering effects. This is also the moment where Molly and Amy's friendship gets tested and defines how strong they really are as BFF's.
Booksmart will be remembered years from now, it feels and looks like a classic and I haven't enjoyed a film this much in quite a while. Seeing my emotions change during certain scenes on a rewatch, really confirms how strong the writing and performances in this film are and deserves more than just praise. It deserves to be seen and acknowledged as a game changer for the genre. Respect.
Review by Seth Eelen for novastreamnetwork