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Seoul Searching: Stereotypes, Authenticity, Diversity

Seoul Searching (directed by Benson Lee) starts in black and white, old reels and footage of Korea as a narrator gives a quick historical background to give us the setting for the film. After a devastating war, many Koreans left the peninsula in search of a better life, bringing their young children to America and Europe. As so often happens in immigrant stories, the children inevitably experienced a distinct loss of heritage and understanding of Korean culture. In an attempt to mitigate this, the South Korean government implemented a program during the ’80s to bring children of immigrants to Korea for a summer camp to learn about their Korean heritage. This movie revolves around a set of these kids — Sid (Justin Chon), Klaus (Teo Yoo), Sergio (Esteban Ahn), Grace (Jessika Van), Kris (Rosalina Leigh) to name a few — going to this camp.

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The Not So Old West: The Magnificent Seven Updated

Though there were some notable cinematic disappointments to come out of 2016 (I’m looking at you Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), this year we, at least, saw everyone’s favorite regal blue tang overcome her short-term memory loss to be reunited with her family and Ryan Reynolds finally redeem himself from the atrocity that was Green Lantern. After the release of Suicide Squad in August, I was expecting the box office to be relatively light on major blockbuster releases until early November, when Marvel’s Doctor Strange will grace screens. After all, seeing the world get devastated three different times in three different movies (see: Independence Day: Resurgence, X-Men Apocalypse and The 5th Wave) gets cumbersome. Even I, an action movie connoisseur, needed a break from the carnage and violence. But rising up from the dust coming in out of nowhere comes Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, an explosive remake of the 1960 film of the same name (which, in turn, was a remake of the 1959 film Seven Samurai).

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A Shipwreck of a Film

The Wild Life, alternately titled Robinson Crusoe, is an animated film coming from Belgium. Illuminata and nWave Pictures produced it, while Studiocanal and Summit Entertainment distributed. As its Belgian title suggests, it’s loosely based off of the classic book Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. I emphasize “loosely.” I must make clear that I’m not opposed to adaptations in principle if they’re done well. Heck, even the old Disney movies, which are infamous for botching up their source material, were at least good films in themselves that also acted as segues for people to experience the real stories later on.

Courtesy of A24

The Lobster: You’ve Been Warned

If you haven’t seen Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, you may be under the impression that it is a dark comedy about modern romance. At least, that’s how the movie’s social media accounts and many reviewers portray it. “Still haven’t seen the year’s wildest comedy?” asks a tweet in @LobsterFilm’s stream. An out-of-context gif of Ariane Labed twirling in the forest accompanies the post. This representation, bolstered by trailers that cut out any mention of the movie’s most disturbing aspects, needs to be corrected.

The Witch Casts a Disturbing Spell

Until it goes off the rails in its third act, The Witch maintains an unnerving, tense aura of creepiness and dread. The dread comes not from gore or bloodshed, but from the overwhelming threat of violence that seems inevitable in a 1630s Puritan setting. That is Puritan, not puritanical. These folks in bonnets and heavy cloth seem like the real witches; they would be willing to sacrifice their children if commanded to do so. The Witch occurs in an environment where religious devotion and the desire to avoid the hot place approach insanity.

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The Coens Take Hollywood: Hail, Caesar!

The abundance of non-sequiturs and throwaway scenes in Hail, Caesar! is not unusual as these are the trademark characteristics of the Coen brothers’ work. As A.O. Scott put it, a Coen brothers movie is “a brilliant magpie’s nest of surrealism, period detail and pop-culture scholarship.” While this is true, you must understand before going to Hail, Caesar! that you are basically paying to watch the Coens lovingly recreate all the different styles of Hollywood product from the 1950s — westerns, noirs, swimsuit musicals and melodramas. Their new film is merely a vehicle for them to outright mimic all the films they have paid homage to previously — the Busby Berkeley dance number from The Big Lebowski, the non-self conscious roving landscapes of True Grit, the musical numbers from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Woodstock's Groovy Glamour

This summer marked the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, considered a pinnacle event in American popular culture and the latter half of the 20th century. The festival was billed as three days of peace and music, and featured numerous musical groups from Jefferson Airplane and The Who to Jimi Hendrix, CCR and Sly and the Family Stone, all of whom — amidst rain and upstate New York’s humid summer weather — played to 500,000 people on a 600 acre field. No concert like it had ever been attempted, and the name Woodstock to this day is synonymous with the 1960s, hippies and the Flower Generation, as well as a lofty bar for live music events and culture-changing phenomena involving massive numbers of young people.

A Poet on Celluloid

At an hour and forty-five minutes, this documentary might not be long enough to do justice to Patti Smith, this poet and musician whose career has spanned 40 years. But Patti Smith: Dream of Life, the culmination of 10 years of filming and shown last week at Cornell Cinema, provides a captivating look at the life and work of this artist of the spoken word. We accompany her as she tours to Japan, India and Israel, performing her poetry with a rock band. But we’re also there for her quieter moments, when she’s riding in a car, visiting her parents, or sitting in a corner amidst a pile of her belongings. Her voice is strong, sharp and deep. Her poetry is raw and un-frilled. And physically, Patti Smith presents herself in the same “what you see is what you get” manner.