Tell Me Who I Am (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Forgotten and then remembered

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There are several unforgettable moments in Netflix documentary “Tell Me Who I Am”, which revolves around the past forgotten and then remembered two twin brothers. While it simply observes and listens to its two human subjects, their sense of loss and pain is palpable to us as we get to know more about how their life was shattered and then reconstructed more than once, and it is poignant to see how they come to confront their past through their deep bond and love.

At the beginning, we hear about how things were suddenly turned upside down for Alex Lewis, who had a motorcycle accident on one day of 1982 at the age of 18. When he later awakened at a hospital, he could not remember anything about his whole life except his twin brother Marcus, and Alex and Marcus respectively tell us how much Alex relied on Marcus during that difficult period. For example, he had to learn many things again including how to tie shoestrings, and he also had to get accustomed to being with his parents, who did not try to help him much while refusing to accept the nearly blank state of his mind.

Anyway, the situation got gradually improved for Alex as Marcus kept helping him everyday. He showed Alex a number of old photographs from their childhood years, and he also told his brother a lot about how happy they were with their parents during that time. Although he still did not remember anything at all about his last 18 years, Alex had no problem with believing whatever was told to him by his brother, and he soon became ready to begin his life again with his brother always standing by him.

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However, as time went by, it turned out that there was some invisible gap between Alex and Marcus. When their father, who was often quite stern and irascible to his sons, was about to die several years later, he asked for forgiveness from his two sons, and Alex was willing to forgive his father, but Marcus flatly refused to do that. When their mother died around 5 years later, Alex felt sad for her death, but, as he frankly admits in front of the camera, Marcus did not shed any tear for her at that time.

When Alex and Marcus subsequently sorted out many things left by their mother, Alex was perplexed to come across the hidden sides of their mother which Marcus had never told him. For instance, he discovered a stack of gifts for him and Marcus in the attic of the house, and it was evident that their mother took away them from her sons and then hid them in the attic for a long time. In addition, he also found a hidden spot in his mother’s bedroom, and he soon came to see something quite disturbing to say the least.

For avoiding spoilers, I will now be more discreet on describing the second part of the documentary, which mainly focuses on what Marcus did not tell to his brother – and how that turned Alex’s life upside down again. Trying to cope with this changed circumstance of theirs, they subsequently wrote an autobiography, and then they moved onto the next step of their respective lives, but they have always felt a gap left to be filled between them, and their mutual bitterness is evident to us as they individually talk in front of the camera.

And we see how much they have been damaged in one way or another. While he luckily managed to restart his life again, Alex has been more obsessed with what he still cannot possibly remember, and he wants Marcus to tell everything to him, but Marcus is understandably not so willing to do that. Although he knows well that he cannot run away forever from what happened to him and his brother at a certain point of their childhood years, he does not want to go through it again while telling Alex about it, and his face full of reluctance and agony conveys to us a lot on why he chose not to tell Alex anything about it after Alex’s memories of past were completely wiped out by that accident.

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During the last part of the documentary, Alex and Marcus eventually face each other, and we observe how they tentatively take the first steps toward closure and healing. Although Marcus still remains reluctant to talk anything about what Alex wants to know, he respects his brother’s demand nonetheless, so he has his brother watch a video clip in which he confides everything to the camera in front of him, and we soon see Alex watching the video clip alone as Marcus looks at him from the distance.

Even during what can be regarded as the emotional highpoint of the documentary, director Ed Perkins, who was recently Oscar-nominated for his short documentary film “Black Sheep” (2018), steadily maintains its calm, restrained attitude, and he also did a skillful job of mixing Alex and Marcus’ interview clips with archival footage and a series of recreated moments. As Alex and Marcus tell more and more about what was forgotten and then remembered between them, we come to emphasize more with their respective emotional wounds, and then we are touched to see how they come to make peace with their past in the end.

On the whole, “Tell Me Who I Am” is worthwhile to watch for its intimate and harrowing examination of memory, trauma, and love, and it is certainly another solid Netflix documentary film of this year. It may look plain at first, but its earnest presentation of healing process is undeniably powerful, and the last moment between Alex and Marcus in the documentary will linger on your mind for a while when it is over.

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The Laundromat (2019) ☆☆(2/4): How they laundered money

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Steven Soderbergh’s new film “The Laundromat”, which was released on Netflix on last Friday, does not inform me much beyond what I learned a bit from a number of newspaper articles on the Panama Papers, a massive amount of leaked documents which led to the disclosure of a huge and complex network of money laundering revolving around one Panamanian law firm in 2016. Although I was occasionally amused by the game efforts from some of its impressive main cast members, the movie merely hurls one bit of information after another without any focus and momentum to hold our attention, and I found myself more frustrated and confused in the end.

At first, the movie starts with Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep), a middle-aged American lady who recently lost her dear husband due to a horrible boat accident but then is notified of something quite outrageous. She expects that she is soon going to receive a considerable amount of money from insurance companies, but, alas, those insurance companies supposed to pay the money to her turn out to be connected with offshore shell companies out there, and it looks like there is nothing she can do about this infuriating circumstance.

As she tries to pursue the origin of her financial problem, the movie shows us the other end of her financial problem via Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), two senior partners of a Panamanian law firm named Mossack Fonseca. They directly explain to us on how they have helped those numerous rich people around the world avoiding tax, and one of the most absurd moments in the film comes from one of their employees who has functioned as the chief executive of 20,000 offshore shell companies.

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One of such people associated with Mossack and Fonesca is Malchus Irvin Boncamper (Jeffrey Wright), a corrupt accountant who has managed a certain shell company associated with Mossack and Foneca in the West Indies. All he has to do is signing his name on a bunch of documents at which he is not particularly interested in looking, but then he senses a trouble coming to him when he happens to come across Martin. Although he manages to evade Martin and then run away to Florida, it soon turns out that the situation has already been way over his head.

Meanwhile, things are getting a bit complicated for Mossack and Foneca due to a particular client of theirs, who turns out to be a very notorious criminal in Mexico. They certainly regret over this serious matter, but, as they admit to us, they never ask anything while always providing their dirty service to many clients around the world, and that is how they have been able to gather a considerable amount of wealth over more than 20 years.

And we see how one of their big clients takes care of a big private problem thanks to their service. When this client in question happens to be seen by his daughter while he is having an affair with a certain person she knows, he offers her the ownership of one of his shell companies, which is supposed to have 20 million dollars. After some hesitation, she comes to accept her father’s offer, but, of course, it later turns out that there is a loophole for him just in case.

As busily juggling these and other elements in the story, the screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, which is adapted from Jake Bernstein’s nonfiction book “Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers Investigation of Illicit Money Networks and the Global Elite”, attempts to inform us as much as it can, but it unfortunately fails to draw our attention due to its scattershot storytelling. While Martin initially seems to be the center of the story, her plotline is eventually put aside as the story hurriedly jumps from one spot to another, and the one associated with Mossack and Foneca feels mostly superficial even though it is supposed to show their, uh, complicated position.

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As usual, Soderbergh did a slick and competent job on the whole while also working as the unofficial editor and cinematographer of the movie, but his lean and economical approach often clashes with the dense, complex aspects of the subject of the film. We are demanded to fill gaps and connect dots between individual moments, but the movie does not help or guide us much, and I must say that I come to appreciate again the achievement of “The Big Short” (2015), which does a far more entertaining presentation of its complex financial subject in comparison.

While Meryl Streep is reliable as usual, the movie does not utilize her considerable effort on the screen much, and that is why her last scene is not as dramatically effective as intended. Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas are surely having a fun with their deliberate overacting, but their characters remain to be flat caricatures who are sometimes annoying. In case of the other notable main cast members of the film including Sharon Stone, David Schwimmer, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeffrey Wright, Larry Wilmore, Robert Patrick, Nonso Anozie, and James Cromwell, they do not have much to do from the beginning, and it is really disappointing to see them merely coming and then going without leaving much impression.

In conclusion, “The Laundromat” is a messy misfire in many aspects, and I would rather recommend you Soderbergh’s previous Netflix film “Higher Flying Bird” (2019) instead. Although I did not know much about its subject, that film intrigued and enlightened me a lot in contrast to “The Laundromat”, and, to be frank with you, I feel an urge to revisit it now.

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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Maleficent strikes again

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Angelina Jolie is one of the most elegant and charismatic actresses working in Hollywood, and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”, the sequel of “Maleficent” (2014), works as a vehicle for her undeniable star quality to some degree. Although the movie is not that satisfying mainly due to its weak plot and characters, she ably holds it together whenever she appears on the screen, and she is surely having a ball here as before.

The story starts at the point which is several years after the ending of the previous film. After saving Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) through her reluctant but sincere motherly love, Maleficent, played by Jolie, has been the protective fairy godmother to Aurora for several years, but she has still been regarded as an evil and fearsome entity by many humans out there, and she does not seem to be particularly willing to show her good sides to them as her kingdom, which is full of magical creatures, has been constantly threatened by humans from a kingdom right next to hers. When Aurora, who has been the queen of Maleficent’s kingdom, recently accepts the proposal from the prince of that kingdom, Maleficent is not very amused, but she eventually agrees to accompany Aurora when they are invited to the court belonging to the prince’s parents.

However, as already shown to us in advance, there is a conspiracy against Maleficent and her world. While the prince’s father is willing to welcome Maleficent as well as Aurora for peaceful co-existence, his wife, Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) is filled with hate toward Maleficent and what she represents, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that she has been developing a diabolical plan for eliminating Maleficent and her kingdom once for all. When Maleficent and Aurora come to her court, she does not try that much to hide her malice, and she surely goads Maleficent in several vicious ways while smiling as much as possible in front of others.

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Not so surprisingly, the mood becomes quite tense when Maleficent finally decides that enough is enough, and then the situation gets far worse when the prince’s father suddenly becomes unconscious. When she is blamed for this unexpected happening, Maleficent promptly escapes from the scene, but then she gets seriously injured while flying away from the court, and then she is rescued by Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a member of her tribe who has been hiding in some remote place with many other tribe members including Borra (Ed Skrein). While Conall believes there is still hope for co-existence between humans and his tribe, Borra thinks otherwise, and he strongly argues for battling against humans as many other tribe members listen to him.

Meanwhile, Ingrith goes further with her evil plan. Thanks to one of her cronies who has been experimenting a lot somewhere inside her castle, she now gets a powerful weapon which can wipe out all the magical creatures in Maleficent’s kingdom, and she is definitely going to use it on the day of Aurora’s wedding. Gleefully savoring every mean moment of hers, Michelle Pfeiffer is another enjoyable element in the film besides Jolie, and she surely reminds us that she has not lost any of her talent yet.

Unfortunately, the movie does not utilize Jolie and Pfeiffer’s strong presence well, and their characters are often hampered by its deficient narrative. Maleficient’s circumstance between Conall and Borra is not particularly developed well before it is eventually pushed toward the climactic part as demanded, and the same thing can be said about Ingrith’s bitter personal motive, which is only explored once and then discarded away without much care.

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In addition, a number of substantial supporting characters in the film are mostly bland and uninteresting while merely functioning as plot elements. For instance, Aurora does not seem to be emotionally attached to Maleficent as strongly as she was in the previous film, and her prince charming remains anonymous as usual. At least, Elle Fanning fills her thankless role as much as she can, and the other notable cast members in the film including Sam Riley, Ed Skrein, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Warwick Davis, David Gyasi, and Chiwetel Ejiofor manage to leave some impression despite their broad supporting characters.

In the end, the movie bombards us with heaps of CGI actions coupled with lots of noises as expected, but we do not get much fun and excitement from that while observing all these sounds and furies from the distance, and it is a shame that the movie does not let Jolie and Pfeiffer clash with each other as much as, say, Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge during the climax scene of “Johnny Guitar” (1954). Yes, it certainly gives us a big moment of confrontation between them, but the resolution of this moment is quite contrived to say the least, and so is the following ending, which disappointed me a lot for its lukewarm handling of Pfeiffer’s character.

In conclusion, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is not so tedious mainly thanks to Jolie and Pfeiffer, but it is still dissatisfying compared to the previous film, which is also problematic in terms of story and characters but is interesting nonetheless because of some strong feminist moments to be appreciated. Yes, it was surely amusing for me to watch Jolie and Pfeiffer opposing each other on the screen, but, folks, they deserve better in my humble opinion.

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Little Monsters (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Nyong’o could do it alone, I think

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“Little Monsters”, a little zombie comedy film from Australia, works whenever its lead actress appears on the screen, and it is a shame that the movie does not utilize her undeniable talent and presence as much as expected from its trailer. I can easily imagine its better version in which she takes the main stage alone by herself, but, alas, the movie often pays too much attention to two relatively uninteresting main characters in the story, and we always sense its spirit going down whenever it looks away from its heroine.

At the beginning, the movie introduces us to Dave (Alexander England), a young struggling musician going through a stormy breakup with his girlfriend. While he finally leaves her and then comes to stay at his sister’s house, he still wants to mend his damaged relationship with his girlfriend, so he goes to his girlfriend’s residence along with his young nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) for fixing his problem, but, alas, things do not go as well as he wanted.

When his sister, who has raised her only son alone, asks Dave to take Felix to his elementary school instead of her, Dave reluctantly agrees to do that, but, when he comes to the school along with his nephew, he finds himself quite attracted to Felix’s school teacher Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), who looks beautiful, charming, and, above all, sexy in her bright yellow dress. When Caroline later happens to need somebody who will supervise Felix and other young students in her class along with her during an upcoming field trip to a farmland park, Dave gladly volunteers, and he certainly expects to get an opportunity to get closer to her during the field trip.

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Anyway, everything goes well for them and those young students on the day of their field trip except a minor problem with their bus, and Felix and his classmates are more excited when they find that Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), the host of a very popular children’s TV show, comes to the farmland park, but we soon see that a big trouble is coming upon them. At a nearby military base belonging to the US Army, zombie outbreak happens due to some botched biological weapon experiment, and the farmland park is subsequently swarmed with a bunch of zombies mindlessly craving for any fresh meat.

Fortunately, these zombies are as slow as the ones shown in Geroge A. Remero’s zombie films instead of being as fast as the ones in the recent zombie movies such as “28 Days Later…” (2002), so Dave and Caroline can easily avoid the zombies along with the young students under their care. For not making her students scared, Caroline lies to them that they are playing a sort of tag game, and they all believe her words without any doubt while doing whatever they are instructed to do by their dear teacher.

Eventually, Dave, Caroline, and her young students find a temporary shelter inside the souvenir shop located in the middle of the farmland part, but the situation still looks pretty bad to say the least. The souvenir shop remains to be surrounded by lots of zombies eager to eat them alive, and Dave and Caroline also have to take care of McGiggle, who was hiding alone in the souvenir shop before they came. While not so cooperative to Dave and Caroline, McGiggle reveals his less pleasant sides in front of her young students, and one of the most amusing moments in the film comes from how Caroline tactfully coerces McGiggle to behave well in front of her young students.

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The movie has some fun with how Caroline is much more courageous and resourceful than two bumbling dudes who happen to be stuck with her, and Lupita Nyong’o, who has steadily advanced since her heartbreaking Oscar-winning supporting turn in “12 Years a Slave” (2013), demonstrates another side of her talent. While looking as serious as possible in her no-nonsense attitude, she also willingly hurls herself into blood and gore for laughs and chuckles, and I also like a small quiet scene later in the film where she effortlessly conveys to us the life and personality of her character without any false sentiment.

However, the screenplay by director/writer Abe Forsythe does not support Nyong’o’s good efforts well on the whole. Despite its rather short running time (94 minutes), the movie often lags especially during its middle act, and it frequently loses its focus and tension during a number of redundant scenes unfolded outside the farmland park. As a result, we become more aware of its weak aspects including thin narrative and superficial characterization, and Alexander England and Josh Gad are hopelessly stuck in their respective one-note roles. While England manages to acquit himself well despite his colorless character, Gad is constantly pushed into bad cases of overacting, and that made me miss his low-key supporting turn in “Jobs” (2013), where he happened to be one of a few saving graces.

In conclusion, “Little Monsters” is funny and entertaining at times, but it does not bring anything particularly new or fresh to its genre territory beyond its whimsical story premise, so I would rather recommend you to watch “Dead Alive” (1992) or “Zombieland” (2009) instead if you want to watch a really funny zombie flick. Yes, it is certainly nice to see Nyong’o doing something quite different from her chilling dual performance in “Us” (2019), but the movie could simply let her do her bloody job alone for more fun and excitement, and I still feel grouchy about that.

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Mister America (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): His silly and pathetic campaign

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“Mister America” is a mockumentary film about the silly and pathetic campaign of a guy who is not a very likable person to say the least. He is so vain, obnoxious, delusional, and narcissistic that you cannot help but shake your head as watching him bumping from one failure to another in his loony quest for personal revenge, and the movie tries to generate some vicious laughs from that, though it is not as successful as its makers intended.

Mainly through the camera held by a small bunch of documentary film crew members not seen on the screen, we see Tim Heidecker, who is playing here the fiction version of himself from “On Cinema at the Cinema”, embarking on his campaign for the upcoming election for the San Bernardino district attorney. Although there is not anyone to assist him besides a woman who recently got hired as his campaign manager, he is confident that he will win the election in the end, and you may roll your eyes as observing how woefully he is unprepared in many aspects. For example, he is not a lawyer, and he is not even a resident of San Bernardino, but he remains pretty oblivious to these and other problems while staying in some posh hotel room, which he uses as the headquarters of his campaign.

It is soon revealed to us that his campaign is motivated by a very petty and impertinent reason. Around the time when he was the co-host of TV movie review show “On Cinema at the Cinema”, Heidecker also dabbled in a number of questionable enterprises, and one of them was a music concert which turned out to be quite disastrous for a massive incident of drug overdose. As that incident resulted in the death of 20 people in addition to the serious injury of more than 100 people, he was subsequently charged for this incident, but, despite his many moments of insolence at the court, he was eventually released because of a certain jury member insisting on his innocence, and now he is determined to get his revenge on Vincent Rosetti (Don Pecchia), the incumbent district attorney of San Bernardino who pressed that charge on him.

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With his campaign manager, Toni Newman (Terri Parks), Heidecker discusses a bit on how he gets more exposure and attention in public, but, not so surprisingly, he turns out to be his worst enemy. He tries social media for exposing him more to those potential voters out there in San Bernardino, but he only comes to make a fool of himself, and neither Rosetti nor Rosetti’s main opponent gives any attention to him at all. When he tries to approach to the residents of San Bernardino for himself, nobody is particularly interested in him, and many of them still remember well how he managed to avoid the responsibility for that tragic incident.

The documentary film crew members are later approached by Gregg Turkington, who is also playing the fiction version of himself from “On Cinema at the Cinema”, and he certainly tells them a lot about how silly and pathetic Heidecker is. In short, Heidecker is more or less than a plain and shabby version of Donald J. Trump, and he does not have any reflection or thought on his continuing series of failures while often blaming others.

And this tendency of his becomes more evident in front of the camera as there is not much time left for Heidecker and Newman. Frequently mired in morose self-pity, Heidecker often lashes out at Newman, but Newman, who incidentally turns out to be as goofy and incompetent as her boss, keeps sticking to him as his sole moral support, and she continues to try her best – or her worst, perhaps. When he decides to do something illegal for making him a legitimate candidate, she hesitates a bit, but she eventually goes along with that, and we get some laugh as they attempt to concoct a number of false names for their illegal deed.

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Newman later manages to hold a meeting where Heidecker is supposed to debate with Rosetti in front of the residents of San Bernardino, but, again, they disastrously fail right from the beginning. Rosetti does not appear, and only a few people come to the meeting, probably because they are curious or do not have anything else to do. Furthermore, Turkington also comes to the meeting for revealing more of Heidecker’s checkered past, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Heidecker finally comes to lose his temper as trying to handle this increasingly messy circumstance.

All these and other moments in the film are dryly and monotonously presented one by one, and that aspect of the movie is further accentuated by the deliberately flat filmmaking approach of director/co-writer Eric Notarnicola, who wrote the screenplay along with Heidecker and Turkington. It looks like they attempt a deadpan political satire here, but many of supposedly humorous moments in their movie feel pale compared to what we witnessed from Trump’s presidential election campaign in 2016, and we only come to watch its incorrigible hero from the distance without much care and attention.

Although it mildly amused me at times, “Mister America” does not have enough wit and humor to compensate for its rather stale story and characters, and its only genuine surprise for me comes from an old Disney movie mentioned by Turkington at one point. I initially thought it was just a fictional joke, but, right after watching the movie, I checked Wikipedia, and then, what do you know, I discovered that the movie does exist. To be frank with you, that tickled me more than anything else in the film.

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The Iron Giant (1999) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): His big robot friend

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During last few years, a substantial number of various films have somehow been re-released in South Korean theaters, and I and other local audiences were delighted by the opportunities to watch some good movies again on big screen. I did not hesitate at all when I could watch “Yi Yi” (2000) at a decent arthouse movie theater in my hometown Jeonju, and I was quite impressed again by those memorably chilling moments of “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) and “No Country for Old Men” (2007), and I am now eager to revisit “Blood Simple” (1984), which is being currently shown in South Korea at this point, and “Maurice” (1987), which will be re-released here around next month.

One of the films which recently happen to be shown again in South Korean theaters is “The Iron Giant”, the first animation feature film of Brad Bird. It was previously released here in 2000 May, but the film did not receive much attention just like when it was released in US in the previous year. To be frank with you, I came to learn of its existence only after coming across an enthusiastic 4-star review from a local movie critic named Djuna several years later. (Although remained anonymous for many years, Djuna has been one of the most dependable South Korean movie critics in addition to writing a series of fabulous science fiction stories, and I must say that this person’s numerous movie reviews taught and influenced me as much as Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin).

Not long after I entered the screening room of a local multiplex movie theater with some concern (I tried to watch the film at the same place in the previous week, but, to my and other few audiences’ annoyance and disappointment, the screening was belatedly canceled due to some ridiculous technical problem), my memories of the film got quickly refreshed right from its very first shot, and I admired again its superb mix of style and substance. Sure, the story may look simple and familiar on the surface, but it is presented quite well with humor and poignancy as indirectly delivering messages to muse on. Furthermore, the film still looks great as brimming with mood and details to be savored, and it never feels dated at all with its timeless qualities.
Set in a small coastal town of Maine, 1957, the movie begins with a premise not so far from “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982). During one dark and stormy night, a big, mysterious entity crashes down into the sea, and the entity in question turns out to be a humongous robot coming from the outer space. It disappears shortly after being witnessed by a scared local fisherman, but, on the next night, it happens to draw the attention of Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal), a smart and perky 9-year-old kid who has lived with his young widow mother in their cozy house located at the fringe of the town. Once he notices something strange going on outside his house while his mother Annie (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) is absent due to her work, Hogarth bravely ventures into a nearby forest, and he soon comes to behold the robot as it attempts to eat some metal from a certain facility in the forest.

Although their first encounter is not exactly pleasant, Hogarth meets the robot again on the next day, and the film depicts the beginning of their unlikely friendship with humor and tenderness. After discerning that the robot is not as threatening as it seemed at first, Hogarth teaches it several things including how to speak, and, to his delight, the robot is eager to learn and become his best friend. He has always wanted to have a pet to befriend and play with, and now he gets his wish in a way beyond his imagination.

Thanks to Dean McCoppin (voiced by Harry Connick Jr.), a kind beatnik artist who also runs a local junkyard, Hogarth gets a temporary shelter for his friend, but, of course, the situation has already become quite serious with the arrival of Kent Mansely (voiced by Christopher McDonald), an arrogant and obnoxious federal government agent who comes to the town for investigation after the aforementioned local fisherman reported on what he saw at that night. Although he is understandably skeptical at first, it does not take much for him to realize the possibility of unknown threat to his country and government, and, as your average Cold War paranoid, he becomes quite determined to find and then eliminate it by any means necessary.

As briskly and smoothly advancing from one narrative point to another along with its main characters, the film pays considerable attention to its mood and style. Apparently evoking the paintings of Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper in its intimate and nostalgic presentation of a small New England town in late autumn days, the film is strewn with numerous recognizable period details such as a bunch of comic books shown to the robot by Hogarth at one point, and it also throws sharp, humorous japs at the dark sides of its background period. As mainly reflected by Agent Mansely’s frequent neurotic behaviors, the American society during that time was churning with fear and paranoid due to the increasing political tension between US and Russia, and one of the most amusing moments in the film comes from a brief scene where Hogarth and his classmates watch a silly education film on a certain kind of national emergency.

The film is also interesting in its eclectic animation style. As a cell animation film, it is clearly reminiscent of those classic animation films of Don Bluth and Hayao Miyazaki for its painstaking efforts on rich backgrounds and details, but Bird and his animators also used computer graphic animation for drawing the robot in the film. Looking as alien as required but being seamlessly incorporated into cell animation, the robot in the film never feels like merely being tacked on the screen, and that is one of the main reasons why the climactic action sequence later in the story powerfully works amidst lots of actions.

Above all, we are amused and touched by how the friendship between Hogarth and his robot friend is developed along the plot. As they get connected more with each other step by step, the screenplay by Bird and his co-writer Tim McCanlies, which is based on Ted Hughes’ acclaimed children’s book “The Iron Man”, deftly swings back and forth between comedy and drama, and I particularly appreciate how it organically delivers its anti-gun message during a certain key scene clearly influenced by “Bambi” (1942).

As a matter of fact, during the pre-production stage of his film, Bird presented the story to those executives of Warner Brothers as saying “What if a gun had a soul, and didn’t want to be a gun?”, and he and his animators did a commendable job of making the robot look as if it really had heart and soul inside its metallic appearance. It may look a bit too obtuse on the surface at first with the thick, ponderous voice performance of Vin Diesel, but it gradually becomes as endearing as the robot hero of “Wall-E” (2008). Like the robot hero of “Wall-E”, it comes to learn much from the better sides of humanity, and it is really moving to see how it comes to overcome its inherent nature and then choose to do what should be done for Hogarth and many others in the end. Compared to it, those big ugly robots in “Transformers” (2007) and its abominable sequels are nothing but disposable metal objects about which I do not give a damn at all.

At this point, it is rather hard to believe that, despite lots of praises from many critics, the film was a big commercial failure at the time of its theatrical release. Mainly due to the insufficient promotion from Warner Brothers, which was not so eager about another attempt to catch up with Disney after the disastrous failure of “Quest for Camelot” (1998), the film did not draw enough attention from the audiences, and then it was quickly overshadowed by more commercially successful films like “The Sixth Sense” (1999). At least, it has steadily risen during last 20 years as more loved and admired than before, and it still remains as the best achievement in the fruitful career of Bird, who subsequently gave us “The Incredibles” (2004), “Ratatouille” (2007), and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011).

Overall, “The Iron Giant” is a superlative work full of spirit and imagination as well as heart and soul, and it grows on me more after I watched it again at my residence. Quite surprised by the crisp and vibrant video quality of its recent blu-ray special edition, I belatedly came to realize how lousy the screening condition was at that time, but, what the hell, it was a mostly nice experience on the whole, and I did not regret at all taking a half-day off for that. In short, this is indeed one of the best animation films of all time, and it should be watched by more audiences out there.

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El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): An epilogue he deserves

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I remember well how much I was intrigued and thrilled by “Breaking Bad”, one of the best American TV drama series I have ever watched during last 10 years. While wryly observing its ordinary hero’s increasingly disturbing criminal journey with a biting sense of dark humor, this acclaimed TV drama series also works as a powerful moral tale on actions and consequences, and it was really entertaining for me and other constant viewers to see how everything culminated to the superlative finale during its last season.

Because everything was wrapped up so well during the final episodes of “Breaking Bad”, I was rather skeptical when I heard about the production of “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” some time ago, but I am now glad to report to you that “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”, which was released on Netflix on last Friday, is better than I expected. While it is intended mainly for the constant viewers of “Breaking Bad”, the movie is often compelling and riveting in terms of mood, performance, and storytelling, and, above all, it also serves a satisfying closure to one of the most interesting main characters in “Breaking Bad”.

For some people who have not watched all of the 62 episodes of “Breaking Bad”, I will give you the brief summary of what Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) endured because of his criminal partner Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a high school chemistry teacher who once taught Pinkman. When he was diagnosed to have a lung cancer which might be terminal, White, who was a brilliant and promising chemist when he was younger, decided to try producing and selling methamphetamine for getting some money for his family, so he subsequently enlisted Pinkman in his criminal business because Pinkman knew well local drug dealers as your average junkie lad, and then, what do you know, they soon found themselves on the top of local drug business as producing and supplying methamphetamine in unprecedented high quality. Of course, the situation became quite darker as they got involved with some of the most dangerous criminal figures in their New Mexico area, and Pinkman became a lot more conflicted than before as his mentor/partner was gradually transformed from a desperate family man to a ruthless drug kingpin.

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At the end of the final episode of “Breaking Bad”, Pinkman was fortunately released from his captive status under a deplorable white supremacy gang, which had exploited his particular set of skills for a while but then was eventually eliminated thanks to a vengeful act of White. While White died shortly after that, Pinkman quickly left the scene by a car, but, as shown from the beginning of the movie, he is now being hunted by the police, and he really needs to escape from his town as soon as possible. He manages to find a temporary shelter thanks to his two junkie friends, but time is running out for him minute by minute, and he must act quickly before the police track him down.

As Pinkman desperately tries to find any possible way out, his mind is often haunted by the hurtful memories of his captive status, and a number of flashback scenes show us how much he suffered because of Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) and other members of that white supremacy gang. At one point, we see Alquist taking Pinkman to his seemingly normal residence in the town, and the movie alternatively amuses and jolts us as revealing what Alquist intends to do with Pinkman, who is reminded again of what a cold-blooded psychopath Alquist is behind his mild, casual appearance.

At least, that horrid experience gives Pinkman a piece of knowledge which may help his escape, and the movie deftly balances itself between humor and suspense during a sequence revolving around Pinkman’s desperate search. There is a funny moment involved with an old busybody who may notice anything suspicious around him, and then there comes a tense moment as Pinkman may have to confront a couple of unexpected figures who come to interrupt his ongoing search.

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As skillfully accumulating narrative momentum along the plot, director/writer Vince Gillian, who is also the creator/producer of “Breaking Bad”, did a competent job of filling the screen with considerable atmosphere and details. Like many of the best episodes of “Breaking Bad”, the movie is visually impressive for its thoughtful camera work and scene composition, and I particularly like how Gillian and his crew members effectively utilize widescreen for delivering several dramatic shots including the one which slowly and calmly reveals something quite ghastly on the floor.

As the center of the movie, Aaron Paul, who won three Emmy awards for his performance in “Breaking Bad”, is solid as before, and he is also supported well by a number of various performers including the ones who memorably appeared in “Breaking Bad”. It is certainly nice to see Matt Jones, Jesse Plemons, Charles Baker, Krysten Ritter, Kevin Rankin, Larry Hankin, Tess Harper, Michael Bofshever, Robert Forster, Jonathan Banks, and Bryan Cranston again, and Forster’s brief appearance in the movie feels particularly poignant because he passed away shortly after the movie came out.

Overall, “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” is as competent and entertaining as intended, and I think it is good enough to stand alone by itself although you need to watch “Breaking Bad” first for fully enjoying and appreciating it. Yes, this is basically a 2-hour special episode, but it is done fairly well in many aspects, so I recommend it despite some understandable hesitation.

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