June 15, 2017

Tunnel: Buried But Not Forgotten

I might be a little claustrophobic. Such was the realization I had while watching Tunnel, a relatively effective disaster pic about a kind-hearted salesman (Ha Jung-woo) whose car is buried deep in the earth after a poorly constructed tunnel suddenly collapses while he's driving home for his daughter's birthday. With boulders and dirt all around him and little more than a tin can with windows as his shelter, our Everyman is really caught between a rock and a hard place. Do you conserve energy? Do you strategize an escape? How do you stay sane alone? Such is his dilemma. At least at first. Eventually, he discovers another person and her adorable lapdog are also buried, and can be accessed via a large pipe conveniently connecting the two vehicles. Then later, I guess as further rumblings cause the rocks to realign, he's suddenly got a cave-like living-room right beside his car so he can get out an stretch, let the dog out to pee, and collect water dripping of a random bit of wire.

Why writer-director Kim Seong-hun undermines the initial, heart-stopping entrapment probably has a lot to do with how difficult it would be to sustain drama with little more than a birthday cake, two bottles of water, and a cellphone with a battery doomed to run out. Those above ground have an even harder time maintaining the drama as the rescue team leader (Oh Dal-su) drills a hole in the wrong location (couldn't they have pinpointed the location of the cellphone?) and the well-meaning wife (Bae Doona) sniffles, sulks, and fries eggs. But here's the thing with B-movies about life-threatening disasters. They don't have to be perfect to be perfectly fun.

What a disaster movie needs to do is pick a catastrophe and run with it. Pandora did it with a nuclear power plant malfunction, The Tower with a skyscraper going up in flames, and Tidal Wave with... well you can guess this one on your own can't you? Generally speaking the title gives it away. Next up: Flu!

June 11, 2017

The Drop Box: Fostering Good Will

Is it part of being middle aged and middle class that you throw yourself a pity party now and then? It sometimes looks that way yet my go-to response for such complaints is the question "Have you done any volunteer work lately?" Gainfully employed, healthy, able-bodied homeowners with a second place upstate and a robust 401K need to do a reality check next time they bring out their sad little noisemakers. One way to do that would be to watch Brian Ivie's humbling documentary The Drop Box which details the selfless, good samaritan work of Pastor and Mrs. Lee, two noble spirits helping to find homes for unwanted babies previously abandoned in the street. How they get these babies is a touch heartbreaking.

Although I'd never heard of such a thing before, evidently, there's this thing called a "baby box" or a "drop box" or a "baby hatch" (or in olden days, a "foundling wheel"). These repositories serve as a place for unhappy, unfortunate parents to discard infants that they simply cannot or will not raise. Drop boxes can be found everywhere from Pakistan to Germany to South Africa. Often they're run by churches but not always. In the USA, "safe haven laws" allow parents to turn over babies often at fire stations, no questions asked. But the Lees aren't just an exchange point. They're adopting a number of children, too — some of them with serious challenges.

The stories of some of those children should also act as a curative for any woe-is-me ailments. I was especially moved by their bespectacled son Ru-ri, a young boy with partially amputated fingers whose bright spirit, passion for Taekwondo, and respect for his father's life mission make you realize that nobler goals might be a good thing to start incorporating pronto. Considering all the meanness, corruption, and amorality in the world right now — right up to the US President — The Drop Box's message of kindness and caring is a welcome reprieve.

June 6, 2017

Twinsters: When You Spot a Facebook Lookalike That Is Your Long-Lost Twin

Twins who get separated at birth only to meet in life later on... Shakespeare used it twice in his Comedy of Errors. The TV scifi series Orphan Black took it even further with countless cloned-tuplets. But what about if this happened (on a more modest scale) in real life? Can you imagine the shock and delight that would come with finding out you had an identical sibling? Because that's the story at the center of Twinsters, a documentary that traces the reunion and quickly fostered relationship between Samantha Futerman, an actress in Hollywood, and Anaïs Bordier, an aspiring fashion-designer living in London. A chance discovery by Anais' friend of a comic viral video by Samantha's friend leads the two to Skype, meet abroad, bond, then eventually head back to South Korea in search of their foster mothers. (Their birth mother sadly denies her role in their very existence.)

Like most identical twins, sometimes these two look incredibly alike; sometimes, markedly less so. One's taller (Anais); one's livelier (Sam). One speaks French (Anais); one skateboards (Sam). But despite any cultural disconnects, they genuinely seem to click with each other almost immediately, developing a signature "pop" sound as a playful way of greeting and displaying a physical intimacy that feels like it has roots that go back for years. This is a doc with a lot of heart and the affection isn't just between the two young women but also through their very different families, their individual circles of friends, even co-workers. Suddenly, each of the women has extended their families that cross an ocean. Actually, make that two oceans, for the sisters seem to find yet another homeland when they take a joint trip to South Korea for a conference for adult adoptees originally from that country. How lucky for us that Sam wisely thought to put this all on videotape from their very first Facebook conversation. There's also a book version co-authored by the sisters entitled Separated @ Birth but the movie is more than enough.