17 films/series total (not including Hallmark films)
4 TV series
11 foreign films/series
Favorite Discovery:1% of Something
The Way Home (2023)– This Hallmark generational time-travel mystery series feel very un-Hallmark-like, in a good way. The mystery behind what happened to the Landry family, both in the disappearance of the son and the death of the father kept me guessing as the unraveling of it all was so unpredictable. The time travel element was really interesting, but I eventually tired of the obsession with the past that Kat couldn’t seem to make peace with. I did appreciate how it seemed to bring her closer to her daughter. Despite an interesting story and good performance by the cast, I’m not sure if I will watch the second season.
Madame Blanc Mysteries Season 2 – It’s so good to see Jean and friends on screen again. She is just so average but likable. It’s also nice to be back in the southern French village setting. I was able to guess some of the perpetrators of the crimes beforehand. And it was disappointing to see a major unresolved plot point and character from season one shoehorned in at the end of this season and then quickly wrapped up. But still, it’s a pleasant show and I appreciate all the various relatable characters.
Frasier (1993)– I started a much needed re-watch of this classic sitcom and had forgotten how funny it is! Niles is still my favorite character with his geeky insecurity, deadpan delivery and crush on Daphne. But Frasier’s facial expressions and dramatic reactions make me giggle too. I an thoroughly enjoying this delightful comedy.
Beyond Paradise (2023)– I’m enjoying this cozy mystery spin-off of Death in Paradise better than the original, mostly because of the English village charm I love so well. With an experienced cast leading the way, it’s really the relationships between the characters rather than the crime solving that held my interest. It was nice how the season finale paid homage to the original by bringing the two main characters full circle back to the island where they met.
Foreign Films & Series
A Private Affair (2022) – This highly stylized Spanish period series had moments of fun with its’ amateur female detective. Her partnership with the family butler made for a great friendship and the complex relationship with her brother the police chief, displayed all the hallmarks of the trend for portraying strong female characters at odds with societal expectations. Marina was smart and fearless, but also reckless and selfish. I thought her character was played with too much drama which was exhausting to watch. I honestly couldn’t figure out how the men who assisted her could put up with her as they did, despite her finer qualities. The revelation of the villain was a bit disappointing as the clues leading to him weren’t even dropped until the second to last episode. This made it feel like the villain was chosen more for shock value than good writing.
Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung (2019)– This is a historical series with very modern sensibilities, thanks to its’ focus on equality and a feminist heroine. These anachronisms didn’t bother me, especially as I felt the portrayal of the various conflicts was very thoughtful and balanced. In fact the final episode when the historians risk their life to stand up for truth had me in tears. The central romance between the two main characters, the overlooked prince and the historian of our title, was a little bit of a drawback. Their chemistry felt more like a friendship of soul mates than anything romantic. I just didn’t find it credible, but I did appreciate how they supported and helped each other. The principled second historian U-Won and the Crown Prince were by far my favorites and also the most compelling characters. Despite all these things, I was slow to warm up to this show, but it intrigued me more with each episode thankfully.
Moonshine (2021) – I had a hard time appreciating this historical drama for the first half of its’ run, mostly because I didn’t like Hyeri’s portrayal of the heroine as a course, reckless woman. But I stuck it out because I find lead actor Yoo Seung Ho adorable! And also because I was intrigued by the unique plot about bootleggers. I had no idea that Korea had its own prohibition era. I also found many of the supporting characters so fascinating, especially the mischievous crown prince, the kleptomaniac Lady Ae-Jin, and the mysterious but beautiful giseang. Somewhere around episode nine, I was won over by the heroine who turned out to be gutsy, caring and pretty much smarter than all the men. I was also won over by all the women banding together in an entrepreneurial spirit to take over the illegal alcohol supply and sales chain. They really were well written and awesome together! However, there were too many lapses in logic, repetitious plot points and poorly written male characters for me to find this anything but mediocre.
Crash Course in Romance (2023) – Despite high ratings, I must have missed what drew everyone else to this show. It’s not that it was bad, it just wasn’t great. The focus of the plot was divided among arcs on school bullying, a serial murder case and a romance. I don’t know why all K drama romances now seem required to add in the unnecessary murder plot. WHY????? And even though the bullying story line was well done, it’s so hard to watch and even harder to wrap my mind around how cruel it is. Is it really this bad in Korean schools? I also felt creeped out by the late blooming romance between the heroine’s best friend and autistic brother. It was just weird and unnecessary. The adoptive mother/daughter relationship between the female lead and her niece is definitely a highlight of the series. Their relationship feels so true to real life. And I adored Jung Kyung Ho as the male lead who is a super star math tutor. This is the second drama I’ve seen him in, both of which I find mediocre so the fact that he’s won me over with his talent is even more extraordinary. His awkwardly antagonistic then sweet interactions with the heroine were just delightful.
Find Me In Your Memory (2020)– Ooh, I loved the very pretty aesthetic of this romantic healing drama, especially how it bathes our two leads in different colors of light to reflect their personalities. Not to mention, all the uses of yellow for our female lead, which just happens to be my favorite color and not one you see often in K-dramas. The show reminded me of You Are My Spring with which it shares similarities including lead actor Kim Dong Wook. Although I think You Are My Spring is slightly better in writing and performances, I enjoyed Find Me In Your Memory more because the pacing was not quite as slow. I also thought Moon Ga Young was charming as the female lead who is an actress with a kind heart. The rapport between the two leads was sweet and I loved how they were able to help each other heal from a shared past trauma that they were unaware of in their first meeting. As a fan of Kim Seul Gi, it was a joy to see her as the supportive sister and manager of the female lead. Her slow developing romance with another character was so cute. Since this deals with trauma and mental health there are some triggers and I was extremely disturbed by the way the psychiatrists on this show did not value their patients’ privacy and even manipulated them and their relationship.
Cafe Minamdang (2022)– One of my faves, Seo In Guk, is wonderful as a former police profiler turned eccentric faux shaman who is determined to catch the serial killer who murdered his best friend. He’s joined by his hacker sister and another close friend and eventually by a policewoman and her team. This show does a great job blending humor with crime. The scheme and antics of this large cast of characters had me in hysterics and kept the darker aspects of the murder chasing from feeling too heavy. I especially loved how two small supporting characters who started out as bad guys end up supporting the wacky shaman and becoming comedic foils. There were a lot of night scenes which made it harder to see what was happening on screen. Another drawback is the length of the series. At eighteen episodes it feels a bit drawn out and I was starting to get tired of it all. I think they could have told the whole story in a shorter span without sacrificing anything important to the plot or character development.
1% of Something (2016)– This show is proof that strong chemistry between the two leads can overcome a simple plot, lack of secondary character development, and some occasional cheesy dialogue. Despite the story displaying some cliches however, keeping it relatively simple allowed for the spotlight to be on the development of the romance which I have no complaints about. I have not seen either actor in anything else, but they were fabulous together as two opposites who unwillingly find themselves bound by a contract relationship. He’s a rich heir running the family business who starts off as a big jerk with a penchant for being overbearing and physically aggressive and she’s a kind teacher who has enough backbone to stand up to him. It’s so fun to see him changing due to her influence. The two act so naturally together, that it is easy to believe they are a real couple, including their kisses which are pretty sexy. His micro changes in expression and the way he gazes at her are heart-melting. I absolutely loved this series and will make the time to re-watch it.
Fated to Love You (2014) – Two strangers end up in a marriage of convenience after an accidental one-night stand leaves her pregnant. The hero is surprisingly down to earth despite being a ninth generation heir. But his character is extremely quirky and played so over the top that he grated on my nerves at times. His surprise baby mama is a timid office worker played by Jang Nara who continues to impress me. She is so natural in her acting that I never feel like I’m watching a performance because she inhabits her characters so well they feel like real people. The way these two work towards love and understanding after such a rough start is rather sweet and inspiring. However, I have a major problem with the catalyst for their coming together in that they were both drugged at the time. The fact that this is conveniently glossed over as accidental because the perpetrators are bumbling idiots does not excuse it. I still find it violating and slightly horrifying. I also felt that once again the show ran too long. There were lots of brooding close-ups and unnecessary scenes. The section of time they spent apart also felt interminable. I was glad to eventually return to the series happy coupling and its’ uniquely campy brand of humor and how the lead actor’s hair is almost like its own character.
Start-Up (2020) -I struggled to engage with this show for at least the first ten episodes. Despite the characters’ individual emotional journeys, I still felt disconnected from them. But I’m glad I stuck with it, because it turned out to be worth it. And I found myself very emotionally invested by the last two episodes, even to the point of being in tears. The various relationships between all the characters ended up being my favorite part of this series. From friendships to family to co-workers, they all felt sincere and really drove home the message that those relationships are what make personal and career success even more valuable. I also appreciated the focus on following your dream, but that it involves a lot of hard work and passion to make it happen. It was rather fun to see all the drama play out in a start up business setting, especially since I haven’t seen this much before in television But also, because I have seen the process up close and personal myself, so I know how risky and grueling it can be. The actors delivered really good performances which only added to the overall world building of working in a high tech, high pressure environment. ln particular, I believe it is one of Kim Seon Ho’s best performances in a string of them. I really empathized with his lonely orphan whose success only made him feel more lonely.
Heartless City (2013) – I don’t often watch crime noirs, especially when they are this dark and violent, but everyone raves about this one. I can see why, because with the exception of the female lead/love interest, the performances by the main actors are all wonderful. They take shady, ambiguous characters and make them interesting and even sympathetic. This cops versus drug lords story had so many twists and turns, it was hard to keep up. Nobody and nothing is as it seems which made it enjoyably unpredictable. I particularly loved the coolly enigmatic and brooding anti-hero played by Jung Kyung Ho, as well as his adopted older sister. Her former hooker turned madame was extremely loyal to those she cared about which made me really like her despite her profession. In the last half of the series I struggled to see why the cat and mouse game mattered as so many of the “bad guys” turned out to be informants or undercover cops themselves which made the whole conflict seem futile. Especially since one of the messages is that it’s’ not about the person but the position, meaning even if you remove one person, someone else will just take their place. The worst of the villains who is only revealed towards the end really enraged me, not because he was outright evil but because of the way he manipulated many of the characters like chess pieces. All in all this is a pretty gripping watch, but one I wouldn’t revisit due to its’ excessive darkness.
Are You Human Too (2018) – When a woman’s son is kidnapped, she creates his equivalent in a robot she names after him, Namshin. Years later, the robot must pretend to be the human counterpart when he falls into a coma. I was drawn to this thanks to my love for I Am Not a Robot. And the early episodes started out very strong for me, with an interesting plot, decent cast and strong production values. Like I Am Not a Robot, it explores what it means to be human and how peoples’ treatment of things that are different reveals a lot about their character. However, as the show went on, I became somewhat disenchanted. Seo Kang Joon’s performance as the human Shin and robot Namshin is the best thing about this series. He is able to portray them so differently that it is instantly obvious who is who despite appearing identical. However, the other characters were drawn so unevenly and for the most part lost my respect and interest. The human version of Shin is so awful to his mom and the robot that he was impossible to root for. I also struggled with some of the moral questions and issues raised about robots and their relationships with humans. I disagree with some of the conclusions that are drawn..
It Happened One Valentine’s (2017)– A reporter decides to reconnect with a former crush and an old friend once they become celebrities in hopes of boosting her career. There wasn’t anything special about this formulaic story. It’s been done better and also done worse.
The Wedding Planner (2001) – It’s been years since I watched this and I still find it charming although not quite as much as I used to. I kinda miss Matthew McConoughey in rom-coms. I appreciate how even though the story between him and Jennifer Lopez could come across as an emotional affair, the writers made it plausible why it actually isn’t. It’s nice that they both fight their attraction instead of giving in to it. And it’s also nice that their significant others are decent people who don’t become possessive or jealous.
Hallmark: Unexpected Grace, The Cases of Mystery Lane
2022 was the year that Korean dramas took over my life. I pretty much stopped watching anything else mid-year. I justify this new addiction by telling myself that I’ve spent years bingeing classic films so that I don’t feel too guilty.
However, in the first half of the year, I made the effort to watch some classic film series such as Maisie, Dr. Kildare and Lassie. The Lassie films were my favorites. And thanks to my discovery of the Kanopy and Film Struck streaming apps as well as Youtube, I was able to watch some harder to find classic titles. Then of course, there was my foray into Shakepeare adaptations courtesy of The Hollow Crown series. I’ve found that his plays make more sense when I see them performed rather than reading them. Altogether I watched 363 titles, including re-watches. which is much less than last year’s 500, but right on par with previous years. Continue reading “2022 Film Year in Review”