Train to Busan

(Distributed by Next Entertainment World; Image Downloaded from NME April 20, 2020)
(Originally posted on on April 20, 2020)

Release Date: July 20, 2016
Runtime: 1hr 58m
Director: Yeon Sang-ho

The genre of zombie movies rarely appeals to me, however like many in cinema, I can make exception to quite a few, including Shawn of the Dead (which its writer Edgar Wright praised Train to Busan as being the best zombie movie he had seen in years) and Zombieland. The common element those two films share is comedy, which does not influence my love for Busan as it relies more on pathos, relatable characters, and never-ending action from the first few minutes to the end. 

Our main protagonist is a father (Gong Yoo) who is a fund manager, busy enough that he rarely spends it with his daughter (Kim Su-an) and has been accused of being selfish. In a time no better to prove people wrong, he finds himself frequently at the center of needing to help people when most begin setting aside their differences of class, working status, and self-importance. On trek to Busan to drop Su-an off at her mother’s home, Seok Woo realizes that Busan is the only city en-route considered safe, as the apocalypse has already taken over many cities on the way there.

Most movies take time for an infection to spread through bites, although this one takes the route of making infection nearly instantaneous depending on location of the wounds. This results in a fast-paced adventure, as zombies can easily move through the train cars, on land, and anywhere they can see human. Their only weakness is sight, which when they can’t physically see a human, their only reliance is on sound. Not necessarily a clever kryptonite, but it suffices.

Numerous characters, especially the most-likable ones, begin going out one-by-one, with one particular villain who sees his wealth as a reason he needs to survive, and pushes any human out of his way into disaster to spare his life. Trust becomes the ultimate weapon against the horde of fast-moving monsters, even as it becomes unclear by the end which ones will see Busan, just to find out if it really is safe.

The jinx are set fairly high in Train to Busan, and it might be the only zombie literature where I feel a connection to its main cast. The Walking Dead couldn’t even do that for me, and it’s been on for way longer than anyone has time for. Train to Busan in its nearly two-hour runtime is a non-stop adventure where time is of the essence, and it relies well on its characters, no matter their time on screen.



(Distributed by Magnolia Pictures; Image Downloaded from BFI April 16, 2020)
(Originally posted on on April 16, 2020)

Release Date: March 11, 2017
Runtime: 1hr 28m
Director: John Carroll Lynch

In a slight opposite of the previous review (Big Time Adolescence), this is now a look at an ending-of-life dramedy. The final role of character actor Harry Dean Stanton (The Green Mile), he stars as Lucky, a 90-year-old existentialist living a routine life of doing yoga, watering his plants, going to the local diner, and ending his evenings at Elaine’s Bar. Day in, and day out. There’s nothing necessarily exciting about its plot, and that’s somewhat the point.

Lucky is unusually healthy for his age, continuing to smoke a pack of American Spirits against his doctor’s wishes (although the doctor admits in his luck, taking them away may do more harm than good) and keeping a fairly sharp mind by doing crossword puzzles. In a moment that shouldn’t come up as out of the ordinary to the audience is his pondering over the seven-letter word, realism. “Realism is a thing now,” he states as he looks its definition up in the dictionary.

Realism becomes part of the film’s existential theme, with Lucky perceiving it, along with the truth, as being perceived only through the eyes of one person in how they see reality. At the end of it all, his thoughts on death are like everyone else’s at any age, young or old, as he mentions that he’s scared of “nothing.” The movie spends time focusing on the thoughts of the old man, knowing he could go at any time, and going through the process of a seemingly empty passing.

In a poignant scene that I won’t spoil, Lucky begins looking at the meaningless definition of death, and ultimately the universe a place where no one is in charge, and everyone dies. His solution? Smile. A minor B-plot that at first seems to have nothing to do with the main story, later gives the audience more of a chance to reflect on what their thoughts of the afterlife is. A tortoise named President Roosevelt has gone missing, with another old man at Elaine’s sorry he cannot find it, even discussing with a lawyer (Ron Livingston) that he would like to will his wealth to the missing tortoise. 

The tortoise symbolizes a sense of growing old, and how it may have a mind of its own, in escaping from its owner, and the fact it will likely outlive the residents of the small Colorado town for another century. It will grow old too, eventually go to the same place as those people. In Lucky, everyone in their own way is afraid of going into eternal oblivion, as is nature’s way of biological beings unable to comprehend what could be going back to nothing. The messages are many, not a single one can be picked out of the pile to say “this is what Lucky is about,” and instead, it gives us a chance to reflect on our own lives, and how we may live the next few minutes, or the next several decades.



Big Time Adolescence

(Distributed by Hulu; Image Downloaded from Decider April 3, 2020)
(Originally posted on on April 3, 2020)

Release Date: March 13, 2020
Runtime: 1hr 30m
Director: Jason Orley

Coming-of-age dramedies were probably in their heyday in the 1970s and 80s, with the best remembered ones such as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, while less-remembered but still prevalent at one point movies like Breaking Away all carried similar tropes. Youth is a particularly interesting focus in movies as there is a diverse amount that can be explored when humans are in a rapidly-developing phase of life. Some films become highly endearing such as the ones mentioned above, or they become a weird mix of messages such as All the Bright Places, another direct-to-streaming movie that recently released that I do not plan on reviewing as I would be required to watch more than what I could stomach.

Big Time Adolescence is a unique look at its subject, focusing on protagonists Mo (Griffin Gluck) and Zeke (Pete Davidson) as a pair of opposites. Mo is the younger brother of Zeke’s ex-girlfriend Kate (Emily Arlook), who for nearly seven years past their breakup and despite the large age difference has continued looking up to Zeke as his best friend, and importantly, his only true friend. Zeke has not grown up much since the breakup, and in turn, it seems his immaturity could stunt the development of Mo’s. 

In numerous situations, Mo begins to emulate many of Zeke’s attitudes when it seems like good advice, rather than pick up on anything his fellow classmates do given that he feels out-of-touch with his age group. This sends him down a predictable, downward spiral, although this film takes a chance to look at the situation differently than most of its genre, and moves the story along with consequences.

Unlike the films I’ve listed above, Big Time Adolescence is not a “kid gets down on his luck, but wins the girl and saves the day at the end” kind of movie. It instead takes the opposite route, but not far enough that it takes away from the realistic outlook of Mo’s future. His experiences with drugs becomes immediately apparent to his parents, with his father (Jon Cryer taking a realistic approach to the wary father role) attempting to bar Mo’s Eddie Haskell from continuing to steer him the wrong direction without being overbearing. This fails, although Mo loses nearly everything with meaning in high school, including school itself for a period of time, the film doesn’t end with him just accepting it’s over.

I won’t give away how it ends, but it ends on a note that is neither bleak, nor happy. It is not the ending that immediately gives us what happens to either protagonist after the story we have watched is over. Instead, it allows the audience to ponder where they see those characters and how much they relate to them, then how their own life story has gone. There’s enough of Mo that I can find similarities with in personality that doesn’t feel like typical, and many characters in the story are thankfully written with more than two dimensions so the story has enough sides to last several rewatches. 

The biggest thing I take away from this movie is that the coming-of-age genre isn’t necessarily dead, but it’s somewhat of a lost art in cinema. You don’t have to necessarily be in the age group to enjoy it, as for many adults it gives them a chance to see what the writer and director sees. They were kids once too, and sometimes that never leaves. The kids just get taller as they get older. 


Special thanks to my childhood best friend, Sam Hyde, for recommending this to me. This review marks a change on my site, in which I will be reserving reviews for more obscure movies, and for discussing various topics relating to cinema that can involve both blockbusters and small movies that make it to YouTube.



(Paramount Pictures; Linked from Entertainment Weekly 11 Aug, 2017)
(Originally posted on 20 Dec, 2017)

Release Date: December 22nd, 2017
Runtime: 2hr 15m
Director: Alexander Payne

Due to the plot of the film, any puns that may seem overused or intended are not. They are simply how I will describe this film.

When scientists discover a way to potentially save the planet and save resources, they literally downsize the overpopulated human race and create a self-sustaining ecosystem that will help the planet for generations. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is the film’s attractive average Joe who runs into constant frustration into trying to keep his marriage to Audrey (Kristen Wiig) a happy one, and ends up losing her in the process of what they think will make her happy.

Selfishly, Audrey backs out of the downsizing project (which would aid in their housing and wealth status when transformed) and rejects Paul, admitting that she feels that she needs to think about herself. “How do you think I feel? I’m five fucking inches tall!” exclaims Paul, in the only scene where Damon seems to strike a chord with the frustrating protagonist in the film.

While the films starts off appearing that it will follow Damon’s character in this new utopia, a subtle 180 takes place and the plot becomes unclear. Paul eventually downgrades from his riches during the divorce, and gains new riches in his neighbor and eventual girlfriend. Even then, the film begins taking the story outside of that utopia and back to the original colony in Norway where this project began.

Turns out this race of tiny people isn’t working out after all and must go underground to keep their lives running or they will go extinct. I’m usually good at paying attention to a movie, but about 2 hours in, I was still focused on what could be happening in that utopia we left halfway through the movie. This point, however, I lost my attention. The humor ran out, but made a decent comeback before wrapping up the story.

Since seeing this at SCAD Savannah Film Festival 2017, I had the opportunity to stick around for the Q&A session with writer Jim Taylor. I tried to think of a few questions, but each question I had come up with, I also had a reasonable answer for. The one question I would have for Mr. Taylor that I couldn’t answer on my own was how could such a 180 happen to the plot?



Get Out

(Universe Pictures; Linked from Genre November 27, 2017)
(Originally posted on March 7, 2018)

Release Date: February 24, 2017
Runtime: 1hr 44m
Director: Jordan Peele

It took over a year until I finally watched this film. Unlike most hype built around theatrical releases, this was a film I truly wanted to watch in a theater. No open-minded soul would go to the theater with me, so at home I sat broken-hearted.

A year later, I began watching several horror movies to aid me in a writing project, and here I am after just watching Get Out. If you want to watch a movie where you root for a strong protagonist, watch this movie. If you want cheap jump scares, one-dimensional characters, and unsatisfying plot points, please watch Mama or The Conjuring. Good news, I hear The Nun is coming out soon!

Unlike most modern horror films, the layers of genre in this film are apparent. Comedy comes about through dialogue, situation, and almost simply, the plot itself. However, the thriller aspect dominates the audience’s perception of the film to the point that you really hope something good happens at the end. 

The film is also provocative in relaying stereotypes and placing people of color in an institutionally racist setting. In Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, he establishes a satirical horror film that ends up being both a political statement and an easily enjoyable film for everyone. Then there’s protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), the only protagonist in any horror film or setting that I rooted for from beginning to end. 

Without giving too much away, this film is a modern breath of fresh air from typical horror conventions. We don’t have boogeymen, or people wearing masks. Instead, the darkest characters are everyday unassuming people, almost a Scooby-Doo-esque message. If you are uncomfortable watching the film, give it a chance, and don’t get out.



Lights Out

(Warner Bros. Pictures; Downloaded from Art with Impact  July 7, 2018)
(Originally posted on on July 7, 2018)

Release Date: July 22, 2016
Runtime: 1hr 21m
Director: David F. Sandberg

During the 2010s, and up until thought provoking films such as Get Out and Hereditary were released, Hollywood went through a phase of releasing many horror films with good potentials for stories, but poor execution. It does not help that Hollywood frequently slaps a James Wan label on films that he either produced or consulted. This is one of those films.

I tend to agree with critical consensus on a lot of films, but this is not one of them. Lights Out was a box office success, and received positive reviews. So when I watched the film, I was intrigued by the concept in the film. It’s simple. A ghost follows you when the lights are out. So, similar to It Follows, with an added exception of light distribution, right? Not exactly.

Instead, this is the kind of horror film where all the tropes are obvious.There’s a cheesy backstory on how the evil entity formed, and why it ruins lives. Okay, great. Some horror films need this. If you are going to setup an ongoing problem, this opens up the possibilities for many solutions. Picking “suicide is the clear option” choice is what the film grabs from the hat, and like I would expect, it is poorly executed.

Suicide should never be an answer to a problem, whether in the real world, or the horror world within any story. It’s cheap, causes more pain that it intends, and only encourages an ongoing problem to continue, rather than look for actual solutions.

Unlike many horror films though, this one provides a great solution, and that is within the film’s title. Lights Out, isn’t just an easy phrase turned into a sinister name for a horror film, it is a word of caution. Advice. In America, many citizens use up energy for several every day tasks. This film advises viewers not to spend 81 minutes of the grid’s energy to turn the lights out for this miserable experience.