One of the many purposes of this blog is to raise awareness about valuable cultural products (books and movies, mostly) which are worthy of your attention. I see more than one hundred movies every year. Most are soon forgotten. Many others are worthwhile but you already know about them since they have big budgets and are playing at the local multiplex. But other films never receive the attention they are due (at least in North America). They may play a smattering of festivals and perhaps they make it to your local art house theatre for a week or two. But blink and you miss them.
It’s those movies to which I feel a special responsibility. I reviewed one of the best from 2016 just last week: Gleason. In this article I’ll briefly mention a few others.
I love Sing Street. Of my four entries here, this is the one you have most likely seen (or at least heard of). It came out last spring but I first encountered it a month ago on Netflix and wow, am I glad I did.
Set in 1980s Ireland, Sing Street will help you relive the joyous 1980s as an awkward teenager founds a rock band with the intention of wooing a girl. Complemented with a great soundtrack of retro-sounding new songs, Sing Street has an excellent sense of humor and a genuine affection for its all-too-human characters. It reminded me of a mashup of Once and The Way, Way Back, and if you loved those films (and you should), you’ll definitely enjoy Sing Street.
Just over twenty years ago the Korean government initiated a program of government subsidies to develop and sustain Korean popular culture in film, television, and music. Since then K-pop and K-cinema have become dominant forces in much of the world. And The Wailing is one of the latest and greatest examples of the latter. This dark tale brings together the best of mystery, thriller, and supernatural horror into an unforgettable and disorienting mix. (And good news, The Wailing was recently added to Netflix … albeit just after I watched it on pay-per-view.)
Under the Shadow
Over the last few years I’ve grown to have a deep appreciation for the brilliance of Iranian cinema. The 2011 film A Separation remains one of my all-time favorites. And like that film, Under the Shadow exemplifies the best of Iranian films: a stripped down narrative driven by situation and powerful acting. Under the Shadow is set at the end of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and combines the looming existential threat of a military invader with the traditional fears of djinn (demons). The result is a taut, psychological thriller.
Train to Busan
From Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) with its powerful indictment of consumer culture to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) which offers a Lord of the Flies indictment of the human species, zombie films have long been a rich repository of thematic content and cultural commentary.
This brings us to another entry from K-cinema. Train to Busan unfolds on a high speed train between Seoul and Busan and in the process it breathes new life into the tired genre of zombie films. As in 28 Days Later, the horror is increased by high-speed zombies while its “zombie tidal waves” call to mind World War Z. You might call it Unstoppable with zombies.
But after all, the most memorable part of the film may be the love of a father and his daughter. And also the zombie Bambi.