When director Bong Joon-ho won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film for “Parasite”—he’d later take home four Academy Awards, including one for Best Film—he told Americans: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Here are seven films and TV series, all worthy of your attention. Don’t think about the work your eyes will have to do, rather, think about them being opened to a whole new world.
Also, please remember: subs over dubs, always. Dubbed movies are often horribly translated, awkward and distracting in their storytelling. Subtitles might seem a labor but, sooner than later, you won’t even notice the words for the story they are telling.
Logan Crow, Long Beach Cinematheque/Frida Cinema | The first thing you need to know about this incredible German sci-fi drama/thriller is, it’s definitely one of those shows you can’t be watching while playing Words with Friends or scrolling through your Twitter.
Like “Twin Peaks” and “Broadchurch,” it’s a mystery that takes place in a small town populated by a large cast of diverse characters, but even more than those two—and really, more than any other show I can think of—their lives, backstories and motivations are so integral to the show’s expanding plot and universe that it’s easy to get lost if you haven’t been paying close attention.
What starts as a whodunnit about two missing children ends up being a mind-bending puzzle that takes place across 165 years of the town’s history, made all the more complex by a mysterious cave in the woods that’s exploited by various characters alternately looking for answers, revenge, love, destruction, and salvation.
The first two seasons of this highly addictive show—the first German-language Netflix original series—are now streaming, with a third on the way.
AMORES PERROS (Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Tubi)
Debarati Byabartta, Film and Electronic Arts lecturer at Cal State Long Beach | The films that come to my mind are the Mexican film directors Alejandro González Iñarrítu’s Amores Perros/Love is a Bitch (2002, Mexico), Guillermo del Toro’s El laberinto del Fauno/Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Spain, Mexico), and Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu mamá también/And Your Mother too (2001, Mexico).
These films heralded a new age in Mexican Cinema popularly known as the New Mexican Cinema Wave/la ola del Nuevo Cine Mexicano. A post-modernist, neoliberal era that began in Post-NAFTA Mexico in the 90s, was taken forward by this trio’s cinema that portrayed a very gritty and edgy realism based in urban areas of the country, something that would resonate with the audience all across the world.
This was, however, just the beginning, as the trio goes on to make more films and cross the border, and since then, their films became transnational or global. In other words, they became a moving, borderless cinema.
Intelligent allegories, stylized film-making, an intriguing fusion of the local and the global, and the European esthetics (specifically, Italian Neorealism) and the Hollywood esthetics, urban themes and symbolisms, class structures, and their honest portrayals, social critique, etc. became characteristics of these films. While having a deep root in Mexico, these films exhibited a sharp Supranational tendency. I recommend these films very much. I am completely in love with them, especially because of their fantastic execution and portrayal of social realities. The products are highly polished despite having been made with very low budget. The narratives and story-telling modes are truly fascinating.
AMELIE (Amazon Prime, Hulu)
JJ Fiddler, the562.com | Amelie will change your life. I guarantee it.
The 2001 French dramedy immediately became my favorite foreign film when I watched it alone in my Long Beach State dorm room. I was applying for film school at the time, and approached the viewing as homework. Amelie and its playful soundtrack ended up being far more influential. It’s a resoundingly positive message delivered by the touching story of a young woman making the world a better place—one neighbor at a time.
THE CORDILLERA OF DREAMS (The Art Theatre’s Virtual Cinema)
Kerstin Kansteiner, The Art Theatre | A “heartbreaking depiction” of Chile’s struggles with democracy, the documentary is both beautifully shot and educational, Kansteiner said. The film homes in on the Andes and the protective, yet isolating mountain range they form along the country’s eastern border, “The Cordillera,” as filmmaker Patricio Guzman speaks to artists, writers and documentarians on Chile’s grappling with its national identity.
“What I look for in a film is to take me away,” said Kansteiner. “I go to movie theaters to be taken away to another world, to be placed in situations I’ve never encountered. It’s been difficult for me to do this from home, but this film totally did that.”
Through a handful of distributors, Kansteiner and her husband Jan van Dijs (who own the Art), as well as the theater’s board, are careful to select films that are not in general distribution, that you wouldn’t be able to find on Hulu or Netflix or other major streaming sites, and that are as thought-provoking as they are cinematic. “The Cordillera of Dreams” is just that.
To watch, find “The Cordillera of Dreams” under the “Now Playing” column at arttheatrelongbeach.org and click the “Watch from Home” button to purchase a $12 “ticket.” Fifty percent of ticket sales go toward supporting the Art.
TERRACE HOUSE: TOKYO 2019-2020 (Netflix)
Asia Morris, Long Beach Post | I’m only three episodes into watching Terrace House for the first time—its Tokyo-based iteration now streaming on Netflix—and I’m without a doubt hooked. It may seem slow to some, but its focus on the beautiful mundane and the relationships that blossom between six housemates going about their daily lives, not to mention, the cast of insightful and comedic commentators responding to the reality show’s guests throughout, makes me feel less alone during stay at home orders.
When I searched to find out more about the brief history of the show, which originally aired on Fuji Television before Netflix picked it up to produce Terrace House: Aloha State in 2016, I found this 2018 Eater article on navigating what many watchers accustomed to reality experiments like MTV’s The Real World might expect.
“Is this basically the Japanese version of The Real World?
Sure, if The Real World were an exceedingly polite and gentle exploration of the richness of the human experience, rather than its current dumpster fire of tear-streaked profanity and swinging dicks. If anything, Terrace House more closely resembles the original iteration of The Real World, which paved the way for reality TV sagas to come.”
I’m not sure about you, but I’ll take a gentle exploration of the human experience over swinging dicks any day (no judgment here if you’re the opposite).
There’s one such scene that really blew my mind and actually gave me hope for mankind, where an honest exchange between two of the show’s participants who had both voiced they were into the same woman, is up front and cordial about having asked her out before the other, followed by smiling, nodding and emotional check-ups regarding the other’s feelings.
Maybe that’s why I’m so obsessed, it’s how I’d imagine a more functional society, one where honesty is more prized than lying and getting ahead at the expense of others. At least, for these first three episodes.
LA CASA DE PAPEL (Netflix)
Gregory Woods, Long Beach media specialist | This show is in its fourth season, and it is absolutely amazing. The writing is superb, and the action is nuts. I swear it had me on the edge of my seat as I continue to try and pass away time waiting for the government to lift the quarantine.
The crazy part is, I only watched the show because I was so bored that I ended up scrolling through Netflix trying to find something to watch that I hadn’t already seen. I like action, suspense and thriller mixed all in one so, when I saw the word heist I thought, well I might as well give it a shot. One episode led to another, and before I knew it, it was 3 a.m. and I was still up, watching.
From the first episode, it jumps straight into the action and establishes the storyline, which was another thing I liked about the series. Many times, you have to wait a few episodes for a show to get good, but not this one. The first episode jumps right in.
I’d definitely recommend this show as a quarantine binge.
SHOW ME LOVE (Amazon Prime)
Mike Guardabascio, the562.com | “Show Me Love” is a late-90s high school comedy set in a small town in Sweden and features two girls trying to explore their sexuality in the repressed town of Amal.
It’s very much a product of its time, and it has a wicked sense of humor. The town of Amal, by the way, is real, and the mayor was so furious about the way his domain was portrayed that he tried to get it banned. That’s actually how I first heard about the movie, so good job, guy!
It’s a really sweet story about how kids try to figure out how they are and what their life will be like as they launch into adulthood, and I’ve recommended it to many people and not yet heard a bad word back about it. The town of Amal, by the way, has since embraced its fame as the setting for one of Sweden’s most acclaimed movies.
Brian Addison, Long Beach Post | Joon-ho’s contemporary masterpiece—the first non-English language film to ever win best picture at the Academy Awards—is, like all of Joon-ho’s work, a deeper examination into class systems.
It brightly reflects the work of his two previous films—”Snowpiercer,” his first English film that can be streamed on Netflix and “The Host,” a monster movie that some have called the best of all time and can also be streamed on “Hulu”—by using a metaphor and inverting it.
“Parasite” comes off as, initially, the parasitic nature of humanity; the way in which we manipulate and abuse others to get a few steps ahead. But, in reality, the real parasite is money, greed and the power structure we’ve created which—no matter the amount of mental manipulation or hard work—puts humans into a hierarchy that force many to remain at the bottom.
Darkly comedic, beautifully directed and captivatingly acted, “Parasite” is one of those movies that linger with you far after the ending credits.
CRASH LANDING ON YOU (Netflix)
Cheantay Jensen, Long Beach Post | I’ll admit, I was pretty hesitant to dive into Korean drama, “Crash Landing on You.” Despite the growing popularity of the K-drama not just in the U.S. but all over the world, I was well-aware of the drawbacks that come with the genre. Specifically, all the scenes where the protagonist lovers just stare, doe-eyed at each other for inordinate amounts of time (I mean that just must be so awkward for the actors to film).
That’s not to say you won’t find those moments of cringe in “Crash Landing on You,” because there are plenty, but it’s all superseded by the absolute charm of the show.
“Crash Landing on You” is basically a modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet (Yoon Se-ri) is a strong-willed, millionaire businesswoman from South Korea and Romeo (Ri Jeong-hyeok) is a soft-spoken, deeply principled North Korean military captain. Yoon Se-ri, our heroine, literally crashes in North Korea after a freak paragliding accident, whereupon our hero comes across our heroine stuck in a tree. The rest is a whirlwind of hilarity and absurdity with a beautiful romance that left me red-eyed and sniffly.
Of the many things this show does brilliantly, the most —I think—is to humanize North Koreans and their way of life. Through the many characters heroine Yoon Se-ri befriends while residing in the country, we learn that no matter what part of the world you’re in, we’re all, ultimately, going through the same relationships and emotional battles. Aside from that, it’s got some gorgeous heart-wrenching scenes that just feed my sappy, romantic heart.
Not convinced? Just know it’s the second-highest-rated Korean drama in cable television history. So if you’ve been unsure whether or not to dip your toe into the world of K-drama’s, this one is a fantastic start.
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