Endless Poetry (2016) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): The wild second chapter of Jodorowsky’s life

“Endless Poetry”, which is supposedly the second part of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film autobiography, is as wild, bold, and weird as you can expect from his work. Like his previous film “The Dance of Reality” (2013), the movie freely mixes his real-life episodes with many surrealistic touches to strike and then impress you, and the result is not only as accessible as its predecessor but also alternatively poignant and compelling, even though it often make you wonder how much of it is actually true.

The movie starts right at where “The Dance of Reality”, which mostly focuses on Jodorowsky’s childhood period in a rural northern Chilean town named Tocopilla, ends its story. Young Jodorowsky, played by Jodorowsky’s grandson Jeremias Herskovits, leaves Tocopilla along with his parents Jaime (Brontis Jodorowsky, who is one of Jodorwosky’s sons and also appeared along with his father in “El Topo” (1970)) and Sara (Paemle Flores), and then they settle in a urban neighborhood of Santiago where Jaime starts to run a small store. Although he had a cathartic moment of penance and redemption in the previous movie, Jaime remains to be mean and abusive as before, and that certainly hurts young Jodorowsky as well as Sara, who still delivers her lines via operatic singing as before.

Although his father strongly expects him to become a respectable doctor someday, young Jodorowsky comes to have more aspiration of being a poet, which is certainly not approved by his father at all. At least, he later encounters someone who can understand his sensitive artistic soul as sharing their common frustration with those cumbersome family expectations and pressures on themselves, but, unfortunately, he cannot respond much to the sexual longing from that person in question due to their very different sexualities.

As young Jodorowsky struggles to follow his artistic passion despite his father’s objection, Jodorowsky often throws a series of weird and crazy moments as expected. There is a grisly moment which reflects how harsh and violent his neighborhood was at that time, and then there is also a painful scene where Jaime cruelly humiliates a couple with disability in front of many others just because they dared to steal from his store.

Anyway, the movie subsequently moves forward to several years later, and now we see Jodorowsky as a young grown man, who is now played by Adán Jodorowsky, who is another son of Jodorowsky and previously played a supporting role in “The Dance of Reality” (He was also young Fenix in “Santa Sangre” (1989), by the way). While yearning to be a great poet more than ever, Jodorowsky is still not sure about himself and his artistic talent, but that does not stop him at all from hanging around a number of offbeat local artists, and he comes to gain confidence on his art after a certain small act of art from him leads to an unexpected good opportunity for fully exploring his potentials.

Meanwhile, like many other young heterosexual male artists around his age, Jodorowsky finds himself madly in love with one woman who happens to draw his attention at one night. She is a real-life poet named Stella Díaz Varín (Pamela Flores, who looks quite different from her other role in the film), and she turns out to be as wild and passionate as she looks on the surface. When Jodorowsky is quite drunk and mad about her at one point, she promptly shows him how much she actually loves him, and then they come to have an odd carnal moment together at her shabby residence, though their relationship subsequently turns out to be not as strong as it seems at first.

The other important person in Jodorowsky’s young and wild years is a fellow poet named Enrique Lihn (Leandro Taub). When Jodorowsky approaches to him, Lihn has some reservation on Jodorowsky, but it does not take much time for them to form a friendship between them, and there is an amusing scene where they cheerfully attempt something to test their artistic integrity but then hilariously fail in the end.

As the movie bounces from one wild episode after another, Jodorowsky holds our attention while supplying more of his richly embellished personal moments including the one where his younger self happens to interact with him during some weirdly spiritual moment. Thanks to his cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who has been mainly known for his acclaimed collaboration with Wong Kar-Wai, many key moments in the film shine with striking color scheme to be appreciated, and we gladly go along with their resulting surrealistic mood even when we are shocked and baffled.

Eventually, the movie culminates to a dramatic moment between Jodorowsky and his father, who still objects to his son’s pursuit of art and poetry even when his son is about to leave for Paris. As admitted to us by Jodorowsky, he would never see his father again after that, but he tries to have a reconciliation with the memories of his father here in this movie, and we come to see that the movie is a therapy session for him just like “The Dance of Reality”.

Overall, “Endless Poetry” is another interesting film from Jodorowsky, and I am glad that I finally watched it, though I recently came to regard him with less admiration than before thanks to his “exaggerated” claim on how he shot the rape scene in “El Topo”. Considering that he is 91 at present, I am not sure whether he will be able to make three more autographic movies as planned, but “The Dance of Reality” and “Endless Poetry” show that he has lost none of his talent yet, and I am ready for what may come from him next.

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Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Borat returns

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”, which is also known as “Borat 2”, wants to be as bold, shocking, and outrageous as its predecessor, but the overall result feels rather mildly amusing in comparison. Although there are several uproarious moments in the film as expected, they are not enough to compensate for its weaker parts, and I found myself becoming a bit nostalgic about how much I was jolted and tickled by its predecessor.

As many of you know, its adamantly vulgar and indecent comic hero Borat Sagdiyev is one of those infamous characters created and performed by Sacha Baron Cohen. After the considerable commercial/critical success of Oscar-nominated feature film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (2006), Cohen decided to retire Borat, but now he gets Borat back to the screen for exposing and illuminating the absurd and ugly sides of the American society as before, and he surely finds a bunch of various targets to be lampooned here and there in US.

In the beginning, the movie tells us what happened to Borat after his crazy and preposterous journey depicted in the 2006 film. He initially enjoyed lots of success and fame thanks to his movie, but, alas, the people and government of Kazakhstan were not so amused at all, and he was eventually sent to a labor camp where he came to be incarcerated for next 14 years.

And then there comes an unexpected reversal of fortune for Borat on one day. He is released under the order of the Premier of Kazakhstan, and the Premier personally orders Borat to deliver a very special monkey to US because, well, the Premier wants to please US Vice President Mike Pence, who may help the Premier be liked and admired by US President Donald Trump just like many other notorious tyrants around the world such as Kim Jong-un.

This looks like a very easy mission at first, but, unfortunately, things do not go that well for Borat from the beginning. After arriving in Texas, he waits for the arrival of that monkey in question, but the monkey turns out to be dead under a rather suspicious circumstance, and he only ends up being stuck with Tutar Sagdiyev (Maria Bakalova), a 15-year-old girl who is incidentally a daughter whose existence he never knew before.

While Borat is initially at a loss in front of this disastrous situation, an outrageous idea soon comes to him. As reflected by the very long subtitle of the film (“Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”), he decides to deliver Tutar to Pence instead of that monkey, and the first half of the movie mainly revolves around his clumsy attempt to turn Tutar into a woman looking good enough to be the new bride of Pence. First, he takes Tutar to a social influencer willing to give some useful advices, and he also buys some fancy clothes for her before taking her to a local evening event for débutantes. At that evening event, Borat and his daughter surely deliver a deliberately gross moment to remember, and you may laugh a bit as the camera captures the clearly disgusted faces of the attendees watching them.

After that, Cohen keeps finding other targets to be ridiculed on his way, though Borat often has to disguise himself because of his well-known status. At one point, he wears a Donald Trump mask for drawing Pence’s attention at a local conference for hard-core conservatives, but that does not generate much reaction from Pence, who just looks mildly annoyed by this prank.

One of the more effective comic moments in the film comes from when Borat happens to stay in a cabin belonging to two QAnon believers later in the story. Although I am not that sure about whether these two nutty dudes are real or not, I assure you that you will roll eyes as listening to what they say in front of Borat without any ounce of shame at all, and this moment is later developed into a disturbingly absurd scene where Borat performs a song full of racism and xenophobia in front of cheering Trump supporters.

However, the movie remains deficient in surprise, which is always a crucial factor for effective comedy. Because of its predecessor, we all know from the beginning that Borat will do lots of vulgar and outrageous things on the screen, so we are not so surprised at all no matter how much he and the movie try to surpass the level of shock and awe displayed in “Borat”. In the end, we only become more aware of the inherent political incorrectness of his nasty stereotype image.

Anyway, the movie is not entirely a total failure at least thanks to the committed comic acting from not only Cohen but also his co-star Maria Bakalova, a Romanian actress who did a good job of holding her own place well besides Cohen while ably demonstrating her considerable comic talent. Like Cohen, she willingly hurls herself into more vulgarity and preposterousness, and she is certainly hilarious when she happens to be with Rudy Giuliani, who has already been getting embarrassed a lot after the movie was released on Amazon Prime in last week.

Overall, “Borat Subsequent MovieFilm”, which is directed by Jason Woliner, is more or less than the repetition of its predecessor, and I simply observed its many moments of outrageousness without enough amusement and entertainment. Considering that I was not as enthusiastic about “Borat” as some other critics, I may not be an ideal audience for the movie, but I will not deny that I had some laughs during my viewing, so I will not stop you from watching it.

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Babyteeth (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Her imperfect romance

As a coming-of-age comedy drama film revolving around a sick young heroine and her unlikely lover, Australian movie “Babyteeth” is much more matured than expected. While it will surely remind you of other similar films such as “The Fault in Our Stars” (2014) or “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (2015), the movie distinguishes itself well as balancing itself well between comedy and drama with considerable humor and sensitivity, and it is certainly a better alternative to the two aforementioned movies.

At the beginning, the movie opens with a Meet Cute scene between its two lead characters. While she is waiting for a train to come into the station along with her two schoolmates, Milla Finlay (Eliza Scanlen), an adolescent high school girl who has been quite ill due to a serious case of cancer, comes across a lad named Moses (Toby Wallace), and something clicks between them as he shows some little kindness to her. Although he is a junkie recently evicted from his family house by his mother, Milla becomes curious about him, and she even invites him to her family residence for a dinner after letting him cut her hair.

Milla’s parents, Henry (Ben Mendelsohn) and Anna (Essie Davis), are understandably perplexed with their daughter bringing a stranger into their house, but they try to maintain their cool composure as much as they can, though they have struggled a lot to process the impending possibility of their daughter’s early death. As a psychiatrist, Henry tries to have frank communications with his wife as reflected by their private session in his office, but Anna prefers to be medicated with various types of drugs to suppress her grief, and she is already high when she and others are going to have a dinner.

While well aware of how much her imperfect but caring parents are concerned about her, Milla cannot help but feel suffocated and frustrated – especially when she has to go through another chemotherapy period. She wants to live her life as fully as possible, and Moses looks like someone to bring fun and excitement into her gloomy status in addition to being a possible boyfriend for her, though, as he admits at one point, he is a little too old for her considering their age difference.

In case of Moses, well, he also seems to be interested in getting closer to Milla, but, of course, drugs usually come first to his addicted mind. Not long after his first meeting with Milla’s parents, he breaks into their house for stealing a bunch of drugs in the house, and that leads to an amusingly embarrassing moment between him and Milla’s parents, who eventually let him sleep in the house for one night.

Anna strongly demands to Moses later that he should not see her daughter again, but Moses comes to the house again. While it is apparent that he needs drug again, Milla does not mind spending more time with him, and their mutual attraction becomes stronger when she later elopes with Moses during one evening just for having a big fun just like any young girl around her age, though the following romantic time between them does not end that well thanks to Moses’ carelessness.

While certainly more worried about what is going on between Milla and Moses, Henry and Anna also come to realize that their daughter really needs Moses, so they let Moses stay in the house after making a deal with him. “This is the worst possible parenting I can imagine”, says Anna, but she and her husband are happy to see their dear daughter brightened up by her growing romance with Moses.

Of course, there later comes an inevitable narrative point where the main characters of the movie come to face the hard truths they have tried to overlook, but the screenplay by Rita Kalnejais, which is adapted from her play of the same name, never resorts to sappy melodrama while clearly recognizing their pain, confusion, and sadness. As a result, they come to us as believable human figures struggling to deal with each own issues, and we come to emphasize more with them even when amused by their human flaws.

The main cast members of the film are all engaging in their respective colorful performances. Eliza Scanlen, who drew our attention with her breakthrough supporting role in HBO TV miniseries “Sharp Objects” and then impressed us again in Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” (2019), is simply marvelous as ably conveying to us her character’s poignant emotional journey along the story, and Toby Wallace, who received the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress when the movie was shown at the Venice International Film Festival in last year, is utterly convincing in a committed performance to remember while also having a palpable chemistry with his co-star on the screen. In case of Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn, their nuanced supporting performances remind me again of why they are two of the best performers from Australia, and Emily Barclay and Eugene Gilfedder are also fine in their small but substantial supporting roles.

“Babyteeth” is directed by director Shannon Murphy, who previously made a few short films before making a feature film debut here. In addition to drawing good performances from her main cast members, she did a competent job of handling mood, story, and characters, and I particularly admire how she skillfully and thoughtfully delivers the expected finale without any excess. In my inconsequential opinion, she is another new talented filmmaker to watch, and I guess I can have some expectation on what will come next from her.

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Time (2020) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Her time without her husband

Documentary film “Time”, which was released on Amazon Prime several days ago, gives us a somber but powerful presentation of the personal reflections from one seemingly ordinary but remarkably resilient American woman. As freely alternating between her past and present, the documentary often touches us via a series of intimate moments quietly shining with sincerity and poignancy, and we come to muse more on those social injustices in the America society, which are clearly and painfully reflected by her long and difficult struggle for her husband and children.

At the beginning, the documentary shows us a series of old home video clips shot by Sibil Fox Richardson, an African American woman who is also known as Fox Rich. We see her younger self being optimistic about her future, and we also observe how happy she was with her husband Rob and their children at that time although they struggled a lot in their attempt to run a local clothes shop in their neighborhood. Whey they subsequently found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy, Sibil and Rob came to resort to bank robbery, and he received a 60-year prison sentence for that while she received a far less severe prison sentence after accepting a plea bargain unlike her husband.

While her husband still does not have much opportunity for parole at all, Sibil was fortunately allowed to be released only after 3.5 years, and the documentary gradually shows us how much she has been changed since that. While never hiding or making any excuse on what she and her husband did, she often gives public speeches for helping and advising others in her neighborhood, and she has also actively worked as an activist/entrepreneur.

Above all, Sibil has put considerable personal efforts on getting her husband released from the Louisiana State Prison for more than 15 years, though there has not been much progress for them. As a matter of fact, she already lost a substantial amount of saved money more than once because of those unreliable lawyers she happened to trust too much, and the chance seems to be decreasing year by year, but she has never given up her hope while frankly admitting to us that she cannot help but cling to the expectation on her husband’s release whenever another year is begun.

At least, Sibil has gotten lots of supports from other people around her mainly thanks to her longtime efforts toward not only her reformation but also social justice, and her mother is certainly someone to lean on besides her children. As your typical no-nonsense old lady, Sibil’s mother is not oblivious at all to what her daughter and son-in-law committed in the past, and we can clearly sense that she has always been a strong moral support for Sibil throughout her life.

And we see how Sibil and her husband’s six sons, most of them were incidentally born after that bank robbery incident, have grew up well under their mother and grandmother. Although the long absence of their father has always been a painful fact in their life, their grandmother and mother have taken care of them fairly well, and one of the most touching moments in the documentary comes from when one of Sibil’s sons becomes a certified dentist in front of Sibil and her other sons, who are all very proud of him.

In the meantime, the documentary keeps focusing on Sibil’s latest attempt to get her husband released from his prison. Although she does not expect that much this time, she comes to call to the state court more than once just for checking whether the judge assigned to her husband’s case has submitted the decision, and her accumulating agitation feels palpable when the camera closely observes her concerned face.

As steadily maintaining its calm and meditative attitude, the documentary keeps casually flowing back and forth between Sibil’s past and present as before, and director/co-producer Garrett Bradley, who deservedly received the US Documentary Directing Award when the documentary had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, did a commendable job of generating an organic narrative flow from that. As we see more of how much Sibil is different from her younger self in the past, we come to sense more of the long passage of time between two different selves of hers, and the resulting sense of time and life achingly resonates with one unexpectedly poetic visual moment around the end of the documentary.

By the way, I will not go into details on the outcome of Sibil’s latest attempt for her husband’s release, but I can tell you instead that I was really caught off guard by a short but surprising scene of private intimacy. It is clear to us that Bradley gained considerable trust from Sibil from the beginning, and I appreciate how Bradley presents this moment with tactful restraint while never looking away from its emotional intensity.

On the whole, “Time” is rather unconventional in its artistic approach, so you may need to have some patience at the beginning, but it will leave you a lasting impression via many haunting moments, which are often beautifully shown in its black and white presentation. In short, this is a plain but undeniably moving tale of human hope and resilience, and it will be a very rewarding experience for you once you give it a chance.

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All In: The Fight for Democracy (2020) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Even one vote does matter

Documentary film “All In: The Fight for Democracy”, which was released on Amazon Prime in last month, is a passionate argument on the importance of voting in the American democracy. Via its sobering presentation on the long history of voter suppression in the American society, the documentary effectively raises a big alarm to its main audiences, and you will find yourself becoming more concerned about the upcoming result of the 2020 US Presidential Election, which will certainly affect the voting right of numerous American citizens out there in one way or another.

One of the enlightening parts in the documentary is the one which shows us that the origin of the voter suppression in US was already there when the American government was established in the 1780s. When George Washington became the first US president, the only citizens eligible for voting were white male land owners, and that was only a few percent of the entire population at that time. Of course, more citizens were allowed to vote as time passed by, but women and black slaves were still blocked from voting in the early 19th century, and even the addition of three amendments to the US Constitution after the Civil War did not help much.

In case of millions of Southern black slaves who became liberated after the Civil War, they were mercilessly oppressed once the US government decided to lessen the control over the Southern states. During the reconstruction period following the war, the freed black voters in the Southern states willingly voted for the black politicians representing them, and that led to the entry of a bunch of black congressmen and senators to Washington D.C., but the following rise of KKK, which was incidentally glorified by D.W. Griffith’s notoriously racist classic film “The Birth of a Nation” (1915), completely wiped out this brief progress. As a consequence, less than 5% of the black population in these states were registered voters in 1945.

Nevertheless, the demand for the changes in the American voting system gradually grew over the time. The voting right for American female citizens came to be recognized and protected in the early 20th century, and the documentary makes a small but acerbic point on how black female activists were unfairly marginalized despite their considerable contribution to the American female suffrage movement during that time. As the American society entered the 1950s, its black population came to demand more freedom and rights including voting right as headed by a number of prominent activists including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the whole nation soon became shaken by their protests and the following backlashes from numerous racist politicians and authorities in the Southern states.

The key moment in King and his fellow civil rights activists’ political movement happened on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7th, 1965. When hundreds of unarmed and peaceful demonstrators including late John Lewis tried to march across the bridge on that day, the local policemen were already on the other side of the bridge as being ready for suppressing them by any means necessary, and what inevitably occurred between these two opposing groups, which happened to be recorded and reported by many journalists around that spot, shocked the whole nation.

The considerable efforts and sacrifices of those Civil Rights movement demonstrators eventually led to more political power for President Lyndon B. Johnson and his government to get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law. During next several decades, the act was expanded and prolonged more for the inclusion of not only black citizens but also many other minority groups in the American society, and we see how this significant progress received bipartisan supports from both Democrat and Republican politicians.

This progress ultimately led to that historic moment at the end of the 2008 US Presidential Election, but, unfortunately, the dramatic triumph of President Barak Obama caused far more backlashes than before. In 2013, the US Supreme Court virtually nullified the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and this controversial legal decision led to more voting suppressions committed here and there around the nation under superficial excuses including the prevention of voter fraud, which has actually happened far less frequently than many American right-wing pundits and politicians claim. As a result, millions of citizens were denied of their right to vote, and, not so surprisingly, this was one of several big factors contributing to the shocking political rise of the current US president.

While clearly and grimly recognizing the ongoing crisis of the American democracy, the documentary also shows the continuing efforts of many good American people fighting against voter suppression, and that is particularly exemplified well by two different interviewees in the documentary: Desmond Meade and Stacey Abrams. While Meade has fought for the voting right for ex-cons like him in Florida, Abrams ran for the 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial election as the first African American female major-party gubernatorial nominee in US, and we come to sense considerable spirit and defiance form them as watching them trying to bring changes into their society. Although she eventually lost due to many obstacles set by her Republican opponent in advance, Abrams, who also participated in the production of the documentary, does not lose her spirit at all, and she keeps emphasizing to us on why even one vote does matter.

In conclusion, “All In The Fight for Democracy”, which is directed by Liz Garbus and Lisa Cortés, is not only informative but also compelling in its skillful presentation of the main subject, and I sincerely hope that the documentary has really motivated more potential voters out there in the American society. Yes, there is still hope for the American society to restore its democracy as well as sanity, but things remain uncertain and alarming as before, and we can only wish the best for its good citizens.

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Nocturne (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A sibling rivalry

“Nocturne”, which was released on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago, is a psychological horror film which has some little fun with its familiar story and characters. Here is a young heroine very eager to go further for her artistic success and satisfaction, but can she possibly accept the price for that, no matter what will happen to her in the end because of that heavy price? Although it is hampered at times by several weak aspects including its rather thin characterization, the movie draws our attention via its good mood and performance, and the overall result is one of better offerings from the partnership between Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Studios.

The story mainly revolves around the rivalry between an adolescent music high school student named Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) and her twin sister Vivian (Madison Iseman), who has studied along with Juliet in the same music high school during last four years. When they became interested in playing piano during their childhood period, Juliet seemed more promising than Vivian, but, after some point, Vivian became more prominent than Juliet, and now she is going to study in the Julliard School after her final year at her music high school.

In case of Juliet, she decides to take a post-graduation break after not getting accepted by the Julliard School, but she still feels unhappy in addition to becoming more jealous of her twin sister, who seems to have everything for becoming a great pianist someday. Besides her considerable talent, Vivian is more confident and outgoing than Juliet, and their parents often show more attention to Vivian while unintentionally overlooking Juliet.

Meanwhile, Vivian and Juliet happen to participate along with other students in an unexpected audition for a crucial part in the upcoming school concert for senior students. Several weeks ago, a very talented student suddenly committed suicide for no apparent reason, but the teachers of the school decide to hold the concert anyway, and they need somebody good enough to fill the spot which originally belonged to that dead student.

Because this looks like the final chance to distinguish herself more than Vivian before the graduation, Juliet chooses to play the same piece of music to be performed by Vivian, but she only finds herself becoming more nervous than before, and her routine medication for suppressing her nervousness does not help her much. Sure, she wants to beat Vivian, but she cannot help but feel inadequate and uncertain as the day of the audition approaches, and she fears that she will only end up embarrassing herself a lot in front of others including Vivian.

On one day, Juliet happens to acquire a mysterious notebook which belongs to that dead student, and then she looks into it just because of curiosity. In addition to the hand-written copy of a certain famous piece of music, the notebook contains a series of disturbing sketches, and, according to what is written on the first page of the notebook, they seem to suggest what will happen along a journey toward artistic greatness.

As she somehow becomes more obsessed with this suspicious notebook, Juliet finds herself a lot more motivated and improved than expected. At the audition, she surprisingly excels herself, and that makes her more confident than before. After clashing with her teacher during their private lesson, she chooses to study under Vivian’s teacher instead, and Vivian is certainly not amused at all as Juliet seems to be rising up to her level.

While it looks like she is finally able to outshine Vivian, Juliet becomes more agitated and pressured as often experiencing strange moments associated with those disturbing drawings in that notebook. After discovering what they may suggest, she is more convinced that she is indeed heading toward artistic greatness she has yearned for, but the death of the notebook’s original owner still remains as an inconvenient fact, just like a missing page in the middle of the notebook.

You can easily guess the content of that missing page in question if you are a seasoned movie audience like me, but the movie steadily holds our interest even while being apparently reminiscent of many other similar films such as “Black Swan” (2010). Although its heroine’s viewpoint becomes more unreliable especially during the second half, director/writer Zu Quirke skillfully dials up and down the level of tension along the story, and we accordingly get several effective moments including the expectedly dramatic finale, which feels eventual instead of predictable.

As the main center of the movie, Sydney Sweeney is convincing as ably conveying to us her character’s increasingly unstable state of mind, and Madison Iseman complements Sweeney well throughout the film. They are particularly good when their characters fully reveal their longtime resentment to each other later in the story, and that is one of the main reasons why the finale works as well as intended.

“Nocturne” is the third Amazon/Blumhouse movie I saw during this month, and its level of achievement is somewhere between “Black Box” (2020) and “Evil Eye” (2020). I must point out that it falters in several aspects including the flat depiction of its mostly functional supporting characters, the movie is still a fun horror flick to be savored for its strong elements, and you may appreciate that as much as I did.

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Evil Eye (2020) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Mother is quite worried…

“Evil Eye”, which was released on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago, works to some degree despite its preposterous story premise. During its first two acts, the movie builds its psychological tension well as focusing on the believable personal relationship between its two main characters, and I enjoyed this process while also caring about what may happen next between them, but then I was quite disappointed with its contrived last act, which made my eyes rolls more than once for good reasons.

In the beginning, we get to know a bit about a middle-aged Indian woman named Usha (Sarita Choudhury) and her daughter Pallavi (Sunita Mani). Shortly after Pallavi was born, Usha immigrated to US along with her husband and daughter, but now she and her husband are back in Delhi, India due to his new position, and Pallavi is living in New Orleans, Louisiana as looking for a chance for breakthrough as a writer. Like any caring but overprotecting mother, Usha often calls her daughter, and Pallavi does not mind having a conversation with her mother on the phone, though she is annoyed with how her mother has constantly pushed her toward marriage these days.

When her mother arranges another matchmaking meeting for her on one day, Pallavi is not so eager to say the least, but then something quite unexpected happens when she comes to a spot for her meeting. Although the man she is supposed to meet has not come yet, there is a guy who instantly draws her attention, and this guy also seems to be attracted to her once their eyes meet. After they subsequently approach to each other, their mutual attraction feels more palpable than before, and then Pallavi decides to leave along with him instead of waiting for her possible match.

At first, Usha is not so pleased to learn that her daughter did not meet that guy recommended by her, but she is sort of relieved to know that her daughter finally meets someone who may marry her someday, and, boy, her daughter’s boyfriend looks like an ideal match sent from heaven. Besides being kind and handsome, Sandeep (Omar Maskati) is from a wealthy and respectable Indian family, and, as his relationship with Pallavi becomes more serious day by day, he even provides her several expensive stuffs including sapphire earrings and a bigger residence where she can focus more on her writing without any worry on her finance. Pallavi naturally feels awkward about her rich boyfriend’s overwhelming generosity, but she accepts his offerings anyway, and it looks like they will soon head to engagement.

However, Usha comes to feel more uncomfortable about Sandeep, though she only contacts him on the phone. Although she is told that he is really a good match for her daughter in more than one aspect, there is a growing discomfort somewhere in her mind, and it tells her that her daughter should not marry Sandeep at any chance. While it is quite possible that Usha is simply not accustomed to the unexpected change in her daughter’s life, she cannot help but agitated more and more as her mind is taken back to a traumatic incident in the past again and again.

Later in the story, it is revealed that there was a very bad man in Usha’s life before she ran away from him and then married her husband. Although he died not long before her daughter was born, Usha comes to believe that he was reincarnated right after his death and Sandeep is that man in question, and she becomes more convinced as finding several suspicious things about Sandeep, who may be not so different from that man.

Now this sounds pretty outrageous to say the least, but the screenplay by Madhuri Shekar, which is based on Audible Original audio play of the same name, keeps, remains serious as before. As nobody around her believes her words, Usha desperately tries to persuade her daughter not to marry Sandeep, and Pallavi cannot help but become more frustrated and exasperated in addition to being flabbergasted by her mother’s sudden changed position. She still loves her mother, and Usha knows that well, but the gap between them grows more due to Usha’s accumulating suspicion toward Sandeep, who still looks like a nice dude to Pallavi even at that point.

Compared to what has been established well during the first two acts, the last act of the movie is a letdown because of several plot contrivances, but the solid performances from Sarita Choudhurry and Sunita Mani are still engaging to watch. Although they do not share the screen during most of the movie, their interactions on the phone are convincing enough for us to accept the emotional bond between their characters, which remains to feel as strong as before despite the weak ending.

“Evil Eye”, which is directed by Elan and Rajeev Dassani, is another product coming from the partnership between Amazon Studios and Blumhouse Productions. It is not boring at all thanks to its competent direction and good performance, but its flaws are too glaring to compensated by those enjoyable moments in the film, and I was left with dissatisfaction when it was over. Although I cannot wholly recommend it, it is not as bad as you might think, so I let you decide whether you will watch or not.

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The Trip to Greece (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Coogan and Brydon’s last trip

“The Trip to Greece”, which is supposedly the final installment following “The Trip” (2010) and two sequels, is another delight from Michael Winterbottom and his two engaging lead performers. Yes, they simply serve us a series of jokes, conversations, dishes, and sceneries as they previously did, but it is still as witty and entertaining as expected, and it also surprisingly feels bittersweet with unexpected moments of melancholy and poignancy around the end of their trip.

As before, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play the fictional version of themselves, and the opening part of the movie shows them beginning the first day of their weeklong trip in Greece. They are in one of those numerous islands in Greece, and they are going to go around here and there around several other islands while also having some good time at a number of local restaurants.

While waiting for dishes to be served to them one by one at the first restaurant in their schedule, Coogan and Brydon cannot help but throw jokes and other verbal jabs at each other, and that surely reminds me of how much I have gotten accustomed to their respective comic personas since I watched “The Trip” in 2011. While he showed the more serious side of his talent via several recent films including his Oscar-nominated movie “Philomena” (2013), I still remember Coogan for his goofy performance in “Around the World in 80 Days” (2004), and I certainly enjoyed how he hilariously played along with Brydon in “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” (2005), which is about making a movie based on one of the nuttiest works in the history of British literature. As a matter of fact, that movie was so funny and outrageous that I was surprised to learn later that the novel in question, “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy”, does exist – and I managed to read it several years ago, by the way.

Although they already had so much fun from playing against each other in the previous three films, Brydon and Coogan keep finding something fun to say to each other as usual. One of the most amusing moments in “The Trip” is when they try to imitate Michael Caine’s distinctive voice, and, this time, they attempt to imitate several other famous performers. For example, when they talk about Alexander the Great at one local restaurant, their conversation somehow leads to “The Godfather” (1972) and Marlon Brando, and that leads to an impromptu competition on imitating the iconic mumbling voice of Brando in that classic gangster film.

My personal favourite moment comes from the other restaurant scene where Coogan and Brydon happen to compete with each other again on the imitation of famous figures. This time, it is Dustin Hoffman, and their imitation attempts begin with “Midnight Cowboys” (1969) and “Tootsie” (1982) and then end with “Marathon Man” (1976), on which they end up discussing a bit on that infamous scene which is mainly known for that intimidating question thrown at Hoffman’s character in that movie more than once.

Of course, the camera occasionally observes how those delicious local dishes are cooked before eventually served to Brydon and Coogan. They surely look, well, yummy as cooks are working on them step by step, and I particularly enjoyed watching the preparation of a certain seafood dish, which looks delicious with a colorful sauce poured onto raw oyster.

In case of sceneries, the movie does not disappoint us at all. Besides those wide and crisp views of the Aegean Sea, we are treated with other beautiful sights by which Coogan and Brydon drop during their trip, and Winterbottom also gives a brief nod to the social/political issues at present when Brydon and Coogan get a glimpse on a local camp for refugees thanks to an accident encounter with a guy who appeared along with Coogan in Winterbottom’s previous film “Greed” (2019), which is incidentally also set in one of the main islands in Greece.

Meanwhile, the movie gradually presents what has been going on in its two lead characters’ respective personal lives. As they become more conscious of getting older day by day, Coogan and Brydon want to be reminded that they are still fine and all right as before, and there is a silly scene where they try a small swimming competition between them. Observing how clumsy they are during their swimming, I was reminded of how slow I have been in my swimming these days, and that led me to a brief musing on the fact that I am not as young as I was once in the 2000s.

Anyway, mortality still remains an unavoidable fact for both Brydon and Coogan, who, as reflected by several short dream scenes, becomes more agitated after hearing the news of his father’s recent illness and following hospitalization. What follows in the end will not probably surprise you much, but the last shot between Coogan and Brydon in the film will linger on your mind for a while for its melancholic aspects, and you will come to sense that they and Winterbottom really arrive at the end of their 10-year journey.

Overall, “The Trip to Greece”, which is actually edited from six TV episodes just like its predecessors, is a nice finishing touch to what was begun with “The Trip”, and I enjoyed many playfully barbed moments between Brydon and Coogan. They do not reach to that sublime qualities of Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn in “My Dinner with Andre” (1981), but they have been never boring at all in their effortless comic interactions, and I will not mind if they ever try an encore with Winterbottom someday.

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Samjin Company English Class (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): As they try to do the right thing

We need some healthy dose of spirit and optimism these worrisome days of COVID-19, and I am happy to report to you that South Korean comedy drama film “Samjin Company English Class” has plenty of that. While sharply recognizing the various hardships with which its three female main characters have to deal everyday, the movie cheerfully follows their risky journey for doing the right thing, and we come to root for them a lot as observing how they come to find inner strength not only from themselves but also others around them.

Set in Seoul, 1995, the movie initially shows us the daily work routines of Lee Ja-young (Go Ah-sung), Jung Yoo-na (Esom), and Park Hye-su (Shim Bo-ram), three young female office employees of a big local corporation named Samjin Company. Like many of other female office employees in the company, they are usually disregarded and overlooked by male office employees while often tasked with doing menial jobs which do not help their nascent career much, and there is a little amusing moment showing them and other female office employees competing on the fast and exact serving of several cups of coffee for their bosses and other office employees.

At least, things do not seem that bad for them and other female office employees. As the new CEO of the company emphasizes the advance into global business, learning English has become quite important for everyone in the company, and the company provides a daily English class for its female office employees, while also offering the opportunity of promotion for anyone scoring at least 600 points at the TOEIC (Test Of English for International Communication) class. Although some of them are understandably skeptical for good reasons including sexism, they all attend the class anyway, and their class scenes take me back to those good old days when I struggled to speak in English.

And then Ja-young happens to notice something suspicious on one day. She and one of her male co-workers come to a local factory of their company for handling some trivial personal business of a recently promoted executive who is incidentally the son of the company chairman, and then she happens to discover the disturbing sign of environment pollution at a nearby river. When she indirectly reports this to her direct boss, it looks like everything will be soon rectified while those local people living near the factory are going to get some compensation, but, of course, Ja-young subsequently discovers a cover-up attempt in the company, and she comes to feel quite conflicted about what she should do about that.

The situation accordingly becomes quite more serious for not only Ja-young but also Yoo-na and Bo-ram once they eventually decide to delve into this tricky matter together, but the screenplay by director/writer Lee Jong-pil continues to maintain its lightweight tone while generating some necessary gravitas in the story. As our three heroines investigate a number of figures in the company more, they come to discern that there is something more suspicious behind the supposedly simple cover-up attempt, and we accordingly get several playfully suspenseful moments including the one unfolded inside a hotel room into which they break for getting more information.

This may sound like your average Nancy Drew stuff, but the movie steadily develops its three main characters along with the story as also providing some surprise and poignancy. Ja-young, Yoo-na, and Bo-ram have each own concern and conflict as they go further in their increasingly daunting internal investigation, and they often ask themselves on what they really should do under their ongoing situation. Yes, they can just stop without looking back at all, but they still cannot ignore what is happening inside the company, even when they find themselves cornered hard against the wall later in the story.

Besides presenting these three main characters as three-dimensional human figures, the movie also did a commendable job of establishing the mood and details of Seoul during the 1990s. I could not help but amused by several authentic period details in the film, and one brief scene at a subway station reminded me of how simple the subway system in Seoul was during that time (They only had five lines, by the way). Although the supporting characters in the film are mostly broad, they are believable in their vivid office background while bringing some extra personality to the story, and that is one of the main reasons why the expected feel-good finale works.

And the movie is anchored well by the terrific trio performance from its likable three lead actresses, who are flawless in their interactions on the screen. While Go Ah-sung, who previously appeared in “A Resistance” (2019), steadily holds the middle point, Esom, who was alternatively sad and funny in “Microhabitat” (2017), has an acerbic fun with her forthright character, and Park Hye-su really surprised me for looking and feeling quite different from her irrepressible breakthrough turn in “Swing Kids” (2018).

Overall, “Samjin Company English Class” is a funny and pleasant film which is occasionally uplifting and moving as going forward along with its endearing three heroines, and I found myself caring about them more than expected at the end of their story. I must say that, considering the national economic crisis in 1997, the ending does not feel that bright and optimistic to me and many other South Korean audiences, but the movie is still entertaining in its well-balanced mix of comedy and drama, and we also appreciate it a lot for giving strong and colorful female characters to remember and cherish. Yes, girls can do anything, and they surely demonstrate that to us pretty well.

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The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): An angry and passionate courtroom drama by Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin’s new film “The Trial of the Chicago 7”, which was released on Netflix in last week, is an angry and passionate courtroom drama which takes us into one of the most infamous court trials in US during the late 1960s. Although the real-life story depicted in the film happened more than 50 years ago, its infuriating tale of legal injustice and civil rights infringement still feels relevant as resonating with the ongoing social/political crisis of the American society at present, and the overall result is powerful enough to compensate for a number of weak aspects in the film.

At the beginning, the movie introduces us to a bunch of main figures who came to Chicago in late August of 1968 for their respective political causes. While their political backgrounds are quite different from each other, they are all hoping that their respective political demonstrations against the ongoing war in Vietnam will get considerable public exposure as being held near the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and it seems they will be fine as long as they stick to non-violence in front of those local policemen who are already ready to pounce upon them at any point.

However, as many of you know, their supposedly peaceful demonstrations unfortunately lead to a disastrous outcome which shocks the whole nation, and the movie moves forward to several months later. Shortly after Richard M. Nixon enters the White House as the new US president, the US Justice department quickly embarks on charging these various activists with several crimes including inciting riots during that time, and a young promising prosecutor named Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is assigned to the case although he has some reservation on the upcoming trial from the beginning.

Schultz is quite concerned about the possibility of the trial turned into a political one for both the US government and the defendants of the trial, who are called the Chicago 7 although the actual number of the defendants is eight due to the last-minute inclusion of a Black Panther member named Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Although he simply dropped by Chicago to attend a local meeting there during that time, Seale was wrongfully tacked on the group just for giving more bad impression to the members of the jury, and he is not even allowed to be defended by his lawyer, who unluckily cannot be at the court due to his sudden serious illness.

In case of Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his close colleague Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), they are ready to fight and resist against the corrupt legal system quite willing to make a big example out of them in public, and their radical attitude often clashes with the more discreet attitude of the other defendants including Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne). While certainly as frustrated and exasperated as his fellow defendants, Hayden tries to look moderate and reasonable in front of the members of the jury, but their efforts are frequently hampered by Hoffman and Rubin’s blatant acts of defiance, and William Kunstler (Mark Rylance), one of the two lawyers representing them and the other defendants except Seale, often finds himself struggling to get things under control among his clashing client, in addition to searching for any possible chance to avoid the guilty verdict on his clients.

Not so surprisingly, Kunstler soon faces a series of small and big obstacles thanks to not only Schultz but also Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), who does not hide his personal contempt toward the defendants at all right from the first day of the trial. Looking stern and regal all the time, Judge Hoffman frequently blocks Kunstler’s no-nonsense tactics while also deliberately helping Schultz in more than one way, and there is a little amusing moment when he makes clear to the jury that he is not related to one of the defendants despite their same surname.

As the trial is continued during next several months without much progress, the defendants and their lawyers understandably get more frustrated and exhausted, and they come to discern more that the eventual outcome of their trial is already determined by the US Justice department. Even Kunstler cannot help but lose his temper after trying to maintain his phlegmatic attitude as much as he can, and Judge Hoffman is certainly ready to strike him more than once for contempt of court.

The movie comes to lose its narrative pacing while trudging toward its inevitable finale during the second half, but Sorkin’s screenplay still crackles with well-written dialogues. Although these dialogues sometimes feel a bit too polished for dramatic purposes, they are deftly delivered by the main performers of the movie, who are mostly effective in their fine ensemble performance. While Eddie Redmayne and Sacha Baron Cohen dutifully hold the center as required, a group of various notable performers ranging from Mark Rylance and Frank Langella to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jeremy Strong have each own moment to shine, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who recently won an Emmy for his excellent supporting performance in HBO TV miniseries “Watchman”, is particularly terrific during a powerful scene where his character is unjustly restrained and gagged as ordered by Judge Hoffman.

On the whole, “The Trial of Chicago 7”, which is the second feature film directed by Sorkin after “Molly’s Game” (2017), is recommendable mainly for good dialogues and solid performances, and I had a fairly good time even during its several heavy-handed parts such as the ones showing how the riots happened via a series of redundant flashbacks. I wish Sorkin trusted his main performers more, but the overall result is still engaging nonetheless, so I will not complain for now.

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