Sorry to Bother You (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A wild, morbid social satire

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“Sorry to Bother You” is a wild, morbid social satire I will not easily forget. Although it took some time for me to get accustomed to its outlandish satiric approach which is alternatively baffling and amusing, I could not help but tickled by a number of broad but acerbic moments in the film, and I came to be quite impressed in the end by how far the movie is willing to go for its crazy satire.

During the opening scene, we meet Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), a black lad who has struggled to get out of his unemployed status. While he has been allowed to live in the garage of his uncle’s house, he has been already behind several weeks in paying the rent to his uncle, and we see him trying as much as he can during his job interview at a big telemarketing company.

It turns out that Cash is not that honest during his job interview, but, to his surprise, he promptly gets hired, and then he finds himself working in a drab office space along with a bunch of other employees including his friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler), who got employed before him. As instructed by his direct boss, Cash calls potential customers one by one while sticking to the script provided by the company, but, not so surprisingly, he only gets rejected again and again, and the movie further accentuates the absurdity of his situation as having him appearing right in front of potential customers he talks with.

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Due to his continuing failure to get his potential customers interested, Cash becomes more frustrated day by day, but then he gets a useful advice from an old, seasoned black guy named Langston (Danny Glover). He advises Cash that he should find a ‘white voice’ inside him and then use it for persuading potential customers, and he briefly demonstrates to Cash how effortlessly he can sound like your typical white guy. At first, Cash is not so sure about whether he can sound like a white guy, but, what do you know, he soon comes to find his own white voice, and he is excited as getting his first moment of success thanks to his white voice.

As he keeps getting more good results, Cash is eventually sent up to a department where ‘Power Callers’ works, and he is told that he always has to use his white voice while working in this department, but he does not mind that much because, well, he cannot possibly resist that sweet smell of success – even when he learns of what exactly he and other Power Callers sell around the world in the name of profit. Thanks to his rising status in the company, he becomes a lot more affluent than before, and now he lives in a big, comfortable apartment which is certainly better than his previous residence.

Meanwhile, many of Cash’s former co-workers decide to start a strike as they have been sick of their unfair work condition. While Cash’s artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) is sympathetic to their cause after working with them for a while, Cash does not care much about that, and he only tells his former colleagues that he will support them from the distance even though he continues to work as a Power Caller as usual.

Of course, Cash soon comes to see the price of success via his outrageous encounter with Steve Lift (Armie Hammer), the CEO of a big corporation which has profited from having thousands of people stuck with a lifetime labor contract. After his wild evening party, Lift shows Cash how much he is willing to go further for more profit, and that is a shock to the system for Cash, who comes to realize how he has let himself oblivious to what is going on around him just because of money and success.

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Around that narrative point, the movie becomes quite more outrageous than before, and some of you may not like that, but I admire how the movie goes all the way for more barbed laughs. With its deliberately exaggerated visual style which is established well on the screen by cinematographer Doug Emmett, the movie constantly emphasizes the warped reality surrounding its characters, and we come to observe its story and characters from the distance, but we cannot help but amused as it cheerfully keeps hopping from one preposterous moment to another. Although it is not always successful in its attempts (the sequence involved with Detroit’s art exhibition is rather superficial), the movie mostly works thanks to its considerable wit and energy, and the propulsive electronic score by Tune-Yards and The Coup adds extra humor and excitement on that.

The main cast members of the movie are effective in their respective broad archetype roles. As Lakeith Stanfield, a talented actor who has steadily advanced since his memorable supporting turn in “Short Term 12” (2013), diligently holds the center, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, and Armie Hammer have each own fun moments around him, and I also enjoyed the wry voice performances from several well-known performers (Some of them provide those white voices in the film, by the way).

“Sorry to Bother You” is the first feature film from director/writer Boots Riley, who has been mostly known for his music career. As far as I can see from the film, he is a good filmmaker who knows how to engage and entertain audiences, and it will be interesting to see what will come next from him. I must emphasize again that the movie may be too wild for some of you, but it is surely one of the most notable debut films of this year, and I think you really should check it out as soon as possible.

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Hearts Beat Loud (2018) ☆☆1/2 (2.5/4): Father and daughter’s band

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“Hearts Beat Loud” is a mildly charming music drama movie which plays familiar notes while not bringing anything particularly new to its genre territory. Although it is often middling as being hampered by its predictable storytelling and thin characterization, its weak aspects are compensated to some degree by its nice soundtrack and its two likable lead performers, and the overall result was not a total waste of time for me at least.

The story of the movie mainly revolves around the relationship between Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) and his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons). Since his wife died several years ago, Frank has raised his daughter alone, and they have lived happily together in a neighborhood area of Brooklyn in New York City, but now Sam, who grows up to be a smart, confident young woman, is soon going to the West Coast for studying pre-med in UCLA. She is often busy with preparing for her upcoming education course, but that does not prevent her father from urging her to play music with him as usual, and she cannot possibly say no as a daughter who likes music as much as her father, who was once a band musician before beginning to run a local vinyl shop for supporting his family.

While they casually play music together, Sam shows Frank a song she recently wrote, and they instantly begin to work further on that song, which is titled, of course, “Hearts Beat Loud”. After their several hours of recording and mixing, the song sounds far better than before, and, quite impressed by the final result, Frank decides to upload it on a popular music website without getting his daughter’s permission. He does not expect much at first, but, what do you know, the song becomes quite popular within a few days, and he cannot help but excite about this unexpected success.

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Frank suggests to Sam that they should start a band together (He has already named it “We’re Not a Band”, by the way), but, of course, Sam does not want that as she really wants to become a doctor, and there is also the other matter she has to deal with sooner or later. She has been in the relationship with a young woman named Rose (Sasha Lane), and she even writes a new song inspired by her feelings toward Rose, but both of them know well that their relationship will probably be over once Sam moves over to the West Coast.

Meanwhile, Frank has to deal with his own matter. His vinyl shop business has not been as lucrative as before due to its dwindling sale, and he has seriously considered closing down his vinyl shop. His sympathetic landlady Leslie (Toni Collette) suggests that they run the place together while bringing some changes into it, but he is not so eager about that, and that leads to a small conflict between him and Leslie.

While leisurely moving from one expected narrative point to another, the screenplay by director Brett Haley and his co-writer Marc Basch does not exceed our expectation much. Yes, we get a bitter scene where Sam and Frank argue with each other for their different opinions, and then we get your average music montage sequence to give them some time to think, and then we get a little moment of reconciliation, and then we get a big moment showing them playing music together in front of others (Is this a spoiler?).

I also must point out that many of supporting characters in the film are rather bland. Although I appreciate the unadorned depiction of Sam’s relationship with her girlfriend (Frank is well aware of his daughter’s sexuality, by the way), her girlfriend remains more or less than a plot element to function, and so are several other supporting characters in the film including Frank’s senile mother Marianne (Blythe Danner), who does not have many things to do except looking, well, senile.

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Anyway, the movie is supported well by its two engaging lead performers. Nick Offerman, who drew my attention for the first time via his deadpan supporting turn in TV sitcom “Parks and Recreation”, constantly provides small laughs while imbuing his character with life and personality, and he also has a good chemistry with his co-performer. Kiersey Clemons, who previously played one of the main characters in “Dope” (2015), holds her own place well besides her co-performer, and she and Offerman always generate something interesting to watch whenever their characters push and pull each other.

In case of several notable performers surrounding Offerman and Clemons, they fill their underdeveloped supporting roles as much as they can. While Sasha Lane clicks well with Clemons during their few intimate scenes in the film, Toni Collette and Blythe Danner are criminally under-utilized in their thankless roles, and Ted Danson brings some extra humor to the movie as a local bar owner who is also Frank’s old friend.

Overall, “Hearts Beat Loud” is not good enough for recommendation, but it is not without charm, and its soundtrack will not disappoint you at least. Although they are not that memorable, the title song and other three original songs in the movie are fairly enjoyable, and Offerman and Clemons handle well their music performance scenes in the movie. I give the film 2.5 stars for my dissatisfaction with its story and characterization, but I will not deny that I was entertained as watching these two talented performers steadily carrying the movie together, and I hope that they will soon move onto better things to come.

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The Children Act (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): An intelligent adult drama on law and ethics

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“The Children Act” is an intelligent adult drama which actually made me muse on its subjects during my viewing. While thoughtfully presenting a difficult legal/ethical matter of life and death during its first half, the movie lets us understand how its heroine comes to make a hard decision on that matter in question, and then it becomes more interesting with her tricky emotional situation during its second half. Although it is not entirely without flaws, the overall result is still fairly absorbing thank to its smart screenplay, competent direction, and solid performance, and its several powerful moments will linger on you for a while after it is over.

The heroine of the movie is a middle-aged judge named Fiona Maey (Emma Thomspon), who has worked at the High Court of Justice of England and Wales for many years. During the opening scene, we see her focusing on her latest case, which is about whether a separation surgery on two conjoined twin brothers should be allowed or not. While both of them will eventually die if the surgery is not performed on them, one of them will definitely die because of the surgery, and their parents believe that it is not right to perform the surgery on them. As the case has drawn lots of attention from the media and the public, Fiona certainly feels lots of pressure, but she sticks to her firm legal belief in the end, and she soon moves onto other cases to be handled.

And then there suddenly comes an urgent case which must be handled as soon as possible. It is about a 17-year-old leukemia patient named Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), and he has been refusing a blood transfusion because he and his parents are Jehovah’s Witness followers. Although blood transfusion is absolutely necessary for treating his severe case of leukemia, Adam remains adamant about his decision, and his parents respect their son’s decision even though they do not want to lose their dear son.

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While presiding over the case, Fiona makes an impromptu move at one point. For confirming what is really best for him, she decides to meet Adam for herself, so she soon goes to a hospital where he is at present. At first, their conversation feels strained as Adam keeps sticking to his position as before, but then the mood becomes a little softened as he plays guitar and she sings “Down by the Salley Gardens”, whose lyric comes from a poem by William Butler Yeats.

After her meeting with Adam, Fiona eventually makes a decision. Judging that children’s welfare comes first above all things, she grants Adam’s blood transfusion, and Adam immediately receives a blood transfusion. When he approaches to Fiona some time later, he looks much better, and he shows some gratitude to her, but it also seems that he wants something from her. Clearly confused about his new life, he keeps coming to Fiona as emphasizing how meaningful their meeting was to him, and Fiona gradually feels nervous as trying to cope with this unexpected complication.

And she has other problem to deal with. As she has been constantly busy with her work for years, Fiona’s relationship with her husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) has been quite estranged, and he even suggests that she should allow him to have an affair. Although he is stuck in a thankless role, Tucci ably supports his co-star during their scenes, and we can sense many years of life between their characters even when they do not say much.

As Fiona feels conflicted about her growing private matters, the movie slowly dials up the level of emotional tension on the screen, and its drama eventually culminates to a crucial moment later in the story. While Fiona is attending a meeting held in Newcastle, Adam comes to her again, and she comes to see more of how Adam feels about her. As she steadily maintains her usual unflappable appearance, he tries hard to articulate whatever is churning inside his mind, but he only comes to make the situation more complicated in the end, and she is not so pleased about what just happens between them.

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The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Ian McEwan, who also adapted the novel for the film. I have not read the novel yet, but his adapted screenplay is mostly engaging with considerable wit and intelligence, though there are several parts which do not work as well as intended. Besides its rather underdeveloped supporting characters, his screenplay is often hampered by some ham-fisted moments such as the one associated with a silly joke which is not that funny to me.

Anyway, the movie is supported by its two excellent main performances. Emma Thompson, a wonderful actress who has always delighted us for many years, is superb in her nuanced acting, and she is particularly terrific when her character cannot help but swept by her emotion in the middle of an important annual event. Fionn Whitehead, who drew our attention for the first time via his breakthrough turn in “Dunkirk”, is devastating when his character makes a certain active choice around the end of the story, and he confirms here again that he is a new talented actor to watch.

“The Children Act” is directed by Richard Eyre, who previously directed “Iris” (2001) and “Notes on a Scandal” (2006). Like these two previous films of his, “The Children Act” is a good film equipped with strong performances worthwhile to watch, and it is too bad that the movie was quickly forgotten shortly after it was released in US during last month. It is not flawless at all, but it is more interesting than many of those superficial blockbuster films out there, and I think you should give it a chance someday.

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In the Fade (2017) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): After her terrible loss

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The first two acts of German film “In the Fade”, which won the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film early in this year but did not get nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar despite being included in the category’s short-list in last December, is so absorbing that it is disappointing to see the movie fizzling out during its middling third act. I like how the movie steadily builds up its emotional tension via a number of harrowing moments of raw emotions during its first two acts, but I am dissatisfied with how it stumbles with blatantly contrived moments during its third act, and that is a shame considering its strong lead performance, which surely deserves a better film in my trivial opinion.

Diane Kruger, a German actress who has been mainly known for appearing in several major Hollywood films including “Troy” (2004), “National Treasure” (2004), and “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), plays Katja Şekerci, a married German woman who has lived happily with her ex-con husband Nuri (Numan Acar) and their young son Rocco (Rafael Santana). As shown from their wedding video, she and Nuri had to have their wedding in a prison where he was incarcerated for his drug crime, but that inconvenience did not matter to both of them as they were deeply in love with each other, and Nuri subsequently changed himself a lot. After getting a college degree and then being released from the prison, he has been a model citizen running a legitimate business in Hamburg, and he has also been a good husband and father to his dear family.

When Katja drops off their son at Nuri’s office and then spends some free time with her close friend, things look all right as usual, but, when she is returning to his office several hours later, she belatedly comes to realize that a horrible incident happened while she was away from her husband and son. Not long after she left Nuri’s office, a homemade bomb, which was hidden in the travel compartment of a bicycle, was exploded right in front of the office, and both Nuri and their son were killed as a consequence.

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Quite devastated by this sudden terrible loss, Katja becomes more morose and sorrowful day by day. As she does not get much support or help from her mother or her Turkish parents-in-law, she tries to numb her growing pain through drugs, but drugs alleviate her pain only for a while, and she eventually goes down and down to her bottom of despair while becoming more distant to everyone including her close friend.

And then there comes a good news from the police. Two suspects are arrested, and, as Katja suspected from the very beginning, these two suspects turn out to be Neo-Nazi members. In addition, one of these two suspects is a woman whom Kajta witnessed parking that bike right in front of Nuri’s office shortly after she left Nuri’s office.

Katja is certainly ready to testify at the upcoming trial, but the trial becomes more complicated than expected. Although Katja tries to look calm as much as possible, she cannot help but agitated as watching two people who are apparently responsible for her husband and son’s death, and she becomes all the more agitated as the lawyer defending them ruthlessly undermines the arguments of the prosecution step by step. While constantly emphasizing that there is not any strong evidence against his clients, he presents their alibi via a rather shady guy, and then he thoroughly tarnishes Katja’s testimony as pointing out the police record of her recent drug use.

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As her character trembles more and more behind her barely composed façade, Kruger fully demonstrates her considerable acting ability to us, and it is no surprise that she won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival in last year. While quite convincing in her character’s dramatic emotional arc along the story, she is also superlative in a number of small moments in the film, and I particularly like a brief scene showing her character’s accidental encounter with a witness who willingly testifies against two suspects. The mood between her and that witness in question is awkward to say the least, but they show some understanding and compassion to each other, and the result is one of the most poignant moments in the film.

As eventually entering its third act, the movie attempts to shift its gear onto a different mode, but its attempt is not successful because the screenplay by director Fatih Akin, which is based on the story he wrote with his co-author Hark Bohm, hesitates to go further along with its heroine around that narrative point. As feeling the need for justice more than before, Katja comes to decide to do something drastic for herself, and we certainly come to wonder what will happen next, but we are just served with several glaring moments of plot contrivance, which only lead to a half-baked finale which does not resonate much with what is told to us before the end credits.

On the whole, “In the Fade” does not work as well as intended, but it is not a total failure at least, and it will be probably regarded as a curious misfire in Akin’s admirable filmmaking career. I must confess that I only watched “The Edge of Heaven” (2007) and “Soul Kitchen” (2009), but these two different films were more than enough for me to see that Akin is a very interesting filmmaker, and, to be frank with you, I am now considering revisiting both of them someday.

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Support the Girls (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): Let’s cheer for Lisa!

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As a little comedy drama revolving around a “sports bar with curves”, “Support the Girls” is more thoughtful and humorous than you may expect. Mainly focusing on one eventful day of its heroine who works at that sports bar, the movie gives us a number of funny moments coupled with some sharp insights to muse on, and the overall result is entertaining enough to forgive its several notable flaws including its rather uneven last act.

When we meet Lisa Conroy (Regina Hall) in the beginning, she is crying in her car for some unknown reason, but then she stops crying and then regains her composure because she is soon going to be pretty busy as the general manager of a sports bar named Double Whammies. Besides doing her usual jobs including managing and checking other employees in this modest sports bar, she has to interview and then educate several young women who want to work there, and she is also going to hold a little fundraising event for one of current employees working under her, though her boss will not approve of that.

Not so surprisingly, things do not go very well right from the beginning. Not long after Lisa starts her working hour at Double Whammies along with other employees including Maci (Haley Lu Richardson) and Jennelle (Dylan Gelula), they hear a cry for help from somewhere, and it turns out that some guy attempted to break into the place for stealing money but then only found himself stuck in a ventilation duct for the whole night. He is subsequently rescued and then arrested by the police, but that process inadvertently damages TV cables around the ventilation duct, and Lisa must take care of this big problem before customers come.

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While trying to get TV cables fixed as soon as possible, Lisa gives those new potential employees a brief lecture on how to behave properly around customers, and that is one of the most frank and insightful moments in the film. Clearly recognizing the sexual aspect of their service job, she also emphasizes what is allowed and what is not allowed at all, and she surely makes a good example when she later happens to handle a customer who was rude to one of new employees.

As Lisa busily works on one thing after another, we come to see more of how good Lisa is at handling people around her. When Janelle happens to need a little help from her, Lisa helps her without hesitation, and then she asks Janelle to help her a bit for buying a home theater system at a cheaper price from a nearby store. All Janelle has to do is going to that store along with Lisa for persuading a guy working there, and we accordingly get a small funny moment as that guy eagerly demonstrates the home theater system to Lisa and Janelle.

When Lisa and other employees of Double Whammies begin their fundraising event, the result turns out to be as good as she hopes, but then she finds herself facing another trouble when her boss happens to drop by Double Whammies. As talking more with her boss, Lisa only gets frustrated more than before, and that is the point when the movie takes a sudden narrative turn along with her.

Around that point, the movie loses some of its narrative momentum, but it remains firmly anchored by the strong lead performance from Regina King, a veteran actress who has been mainly known for her notable performances in several popular comedy films including “Scary Movie” (2000) and “Girls Trip” (2017). While deftly handling many humorous moments in the film with flawless comic timing, King brings lots of life and personality to her character, and we come to root for Lisa a lot as watching her trying to cope with her accumulating frustration and exasperation. Although I still remember well that hilarious movie theater scene in “Scary Movie”, the movie shows me an unexpectedly serious side of King’s acting talent, and I certainly wish that we see more of that in the future.

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The other main cast members in the movie are also solid in their respective supporting roles. While Haley Lu Richardson, who has been more prominent thanks to her breakthrough turn in “The Edge of Seventeen” (2016), has her own moment when her character entertains her customers while TV cables are fixed, Dylan Gelula gives a number of little deadpan moments to be savored, and I like how they instantly establish a strong sense of sisterhood along with King right from the start. As we observe more of the dynamic interactions among these three good actresses on the screen, the bond among their characters feels more palpable to us, and that is the main reason why the last scene of the movie works well despite a few narrative hiccups preceding that scene. As Lisa’s unlikable boss, James Le Gros gives a small but effective supporting performance, and Lea DeLaria, who has played one of various female prisoner characters in TV series “Orange Is the New Black”, steals the show as a longtime patron of Double Whammies.

“Support the Girls” is directed and written by Andrew Bujalski, who previously made “Results” (2015). I was mildly impressed by that film, but I had a fairly good time thanks to the nice comic performances from Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, and Kevin Corrigan, and I accordingly became a little more interested in the filmmaking career of Bujalski, who, according to Wikipedia, has been called the “Godfather of Mumblecore”.

Although I think its last act could be polished more for more fluid narrative flow, “Support the Girls” is still an enjoyable work for many good reasons including King’s lively performance, and I was cheered up a lot by its considerable spirit and optimism. It is ‘flawed’ indeed, but it surely earns its emotional moments, and you will come to cheer for Lisa a lot in the end.

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The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): Poetry and obsession

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The heroine of “The Kindergarten Teacher”, which was recently released on Netflix in US, is very unhappy for a reason most of us are familiar with. While she has aspiration for what she likes to do, she unfortunately lacks talent for that, and she knows that too well. When she happens to discover someone far more talented, she cannot help but obsessed with the talent of that person in question, and the movie later becomes darker than expected as she is further driven by her evidently unhealthy obsession.

The movie opens with another usual day of Lisa Spinelli (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a kindergarten teacher working in a neighborhood area of New York City. After carefully preparing for her time with the kids in her kindergarten class, she handles them with care and attention while usually accompanied with her assistant teacher, and we come to see that she is a good professional who does know how to interact with kids.

After her working hour is over, Lisa goes to an evening poetry class taught by a teacher named Simon (Gael García Bernal). As watching her listening to every helpful word from Simon, we come to sense how much she aspires to write good poems, but, alas, she has been struggling to write anything good enough to impress her teacher and classmates. When she recites the result of her latest attempt, it only gets criticized by her classmates for what it lacks, and she naturally feels daunted and frustrated as returning to her suburban home.

At her home, Lisa does not have anyone to talk with her on poetry. Her husband Grant (Michael Chernus) is a nice guy, but he does not seem to be much interested in poetry, and neither do her two teenage children, who are mostly occupied with each own private matter and do not interact a lot with their parents. At one point, we see them having a pizza dinner with their mutual friend while their parents look at them from the distance, and we can feel the growing generation gap between them and their parents.

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One day, Linda happens to witness something extraordinary at her kindergarten. When one of the kids under her supervision, a boy named Jimmy Roy (Parker Sevak), is being left alone in the classroom due to the late arrival of his divorced father’s girlfriend, he casually mutters some words, and Linda instinctively recognizes that he has just made a poem for himself. I must confess that I do not have enough understanding of poetry, but his poem is so simple and beautiful that I can still remember it now: “Anna is beautiful/Beautiful enough for me/The Sun shines her yellow house/It is almost like a sign from God”

Impressed by Jimmy’s natural talent for poetry, Lisa comes to feel the need to get more from him, and she also becomes determined to get his talent more promoted and nurtured, but she only comes to see that Jimmy does not get much support from others close to him. While his father’s girlfriend does not pay much attention to Jimmy, his father is usually busy with his nightclub business, and he simply wants his son to enjoy more ordinary things like baseball.

Lisa decides to draw some attention and support from Simon, but she chooses to do that in a wrong way. At the poetry class, she presents Jimmy’s poem as her latest one, and she certainly impresses not only Simon but also others in the class. Surprised by her unexpected ‘talent’, Simon wants to get more from Lisa, so she steals more from Jimmy, who comes to trust her a lot as she shows him more care and attention than before.

Lisa eventually gets invited to a poetry recital meeting, but the situation becomes disturbing as she becomes more fixated on Jimmy’s talent. Later in the story, she crosses the line without any hesitation just because she wants to show Jimmy’s talent to people who will probably appreciate his talent as much as her, and we later get an alarming moment as she lets herself driven further by her obsession.

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Although her character accordingly becomes less sympathetic than before, Maggie Gyllenhaal, who also participated in the production of the film, keeps engaging us as before, and the result is another solid performance from a wonderful actress who has consistently impressed us with numerous good performances including her Oscar-nominated supporting turn in “Crazy Heart” (2009). As she subtly conveys to us her character’s thoughts and feelings, we come to understand her character more even when we observe her character’s wrong deeds from the distance, and Gyllenhaal is particularly good when her character struggles with conflicting emotions at the aforementioned poetry recital meeting.

In case of several substantial supporting performers surrounding her, Michael Chernus and Gael García Bernal are also fine in their respective roles, and young performer Parker Sevak holds his own place well besides Gyllenhaal while functioning as another crucial part of the movie. Like many smart kids, Jimmy can clearly discern what is going on around him, and we are not so surprised when he does what should be done for him around the finale.

Thanks to the competent direction of director Sara Colangelo, who also wrote the screenplay which is adapted from the acclaimed Israeli film of the same name, “The Kindergarten Teacher” is a small but absorbing character drama, and I enjoyed its many sharp, sensitive moments. Its achievement is modest, but it distinguishes itself with thoughtful storytelling and commendable performance, and that is more than enough for recommendation in my opinion.

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The Happy Prince (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): Last years of Oscar Wilde

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“The Happy Prince” is a somber and melancholic drama about last years of Oscar Wilde, a famous Irish poet and playwright who was fallen to the bottom of misery and destitution just because of his love. While it is not that pleasant to watch him slowly lurching down to the end of his ruined life, the movie works as an elegiac tale of loss and despair, and I admire its several poetic moments although I observed its story and characters from the distance.

In the beginning, the movie gives us a little piece of background knowledge on how Wilde’s life was ruined by a scandalous legal trouble in 1895. Around that time, Wilde, played here in this film by director/writer Rupert Everett, was in a romantic relationship with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Colin Morgan), and Lord Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry, was certainly not so amused by what was going on between his son and Wilde. When the Marquess of Queenbeery accused Wilde of sodomy in public, Wilde had him prosecuted for criminal libel, but that only led to the humiliating public exposure of Wilde’s homosexuality, and he was subsequently arrested and then sentenced to two years of hard labour.

After released in 1897, Wilde left for France, and the opening part of the movie shows us how desperate his situation becomes a few years later. His health condition has been quite bad, but he frequently drinks while often depending on the kindness of strangers including a British lady who happens to recognize him and then gives him some money. While he gladly accepts it from her, their brief encounter only reminds him of what is gone forever from his life, and that leads him to more bitterness and, yes, more drink.

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The movie subsequently flashes backward to when his situation was relatively better. While many of Wilde’s friends and colleagues abandoned him after the scandal, Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), his literary executor who was once his lover, and Reggie Turner (Colin Firth), an author who was a very close friend of Wilde, have tried as much as they can for their ruined friend, and they provide Wilde a place to stay when he arrives in France as Sebastian Melmoth, an alias derived from Saint Sebastian and “Melmoth the Wanderer”, a gothic novel incidentally written by Wilde’s great uncle Charles Maturin,

As days go by, it seems Wilde may be able to restore his life to some degree while also continuing his writing career. Although still feeling quite hurt about his ‘gross indecency’, his affluent wife Constance (Emily Watson) provides him some weekly allowance while also hoping for his repentant return, and Wilde is willing to do that for reuniting with his two young sons, for whom he used to tell fairy stories including that famous one about a swallow and the statue of a prince.

However, Wilde soon comes to change his mind when Lord Douglas comes to see Wilde again. As one his loyal friends, Ross sincerely warns to his dear friend that Lord Douglas will bring nothing but trouble as before, but Wilde is adamant about meeting Lord Douglas again because, well, he is still helplessly in love with Lord Douglas despite what happened because of their romantic relationship. While looking handsome as required, Colin Morgan brings considerable sexual charge into his scenes, and we can understand why Wilde still yearns for Lord Douglas even though it is apparent that his lover is your average narcistic prick who usually cares about himself above all things.

When Lord Douglas suggests to him that they run away together to Italy, Wilde is initially reluctant, but, of course, he cannot possibly say no to his lover. As they begin to stay in some beach area of Italy, Wilde feels happy and content, and they often throw themselves into hedonistic moments including an amusing orgy scene with a bunch of local young guys.

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Not so surprisingly, their fun time does not last that long as they come to run out of money. Just for regaining his affluent and comfortable lifestyle, Lord Douglas comes to leave Wilde in the end, and Wilde becomes bitterer than ever as being tumbled into more despair and misery. He eventually goes back to France, and that is the beginning of his long, miserable progression to death.

While it becomes less interesting around that narrative point, the movie is still held well together by Everett’s diligent lead performance. Although I must point out that his screenplay often trudges mainly due to its pedestrian narrative pacing which is further exacerbated by non-chronological storytelling, he did a fairly good job of establishing a nice period atmosphere to engage us, and I also appreciate how ably his performance conveys his character’s deteriorating status while never resorting to begging for pity and sympathy from us.

Everett also assembles several good performers around him. While Morgan is alternatively charming and despicable as demanded, the other supporting performers in the film including Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Edwin Thomas, and Tom Wilkinson are cast well in their respective roles, and Watson has a few juicy moments as bringing life and personality to her seemingly thankless role.

Overall, “The Happy Prince”, which was in fact Everett’s passion project for no less than 10 years, is an arthouse film driven by mood and emotion rather than plot, and I think you will enjoy it more if you have some background knowledge on Wilde’s life and career. Sure, the movie was not exactly entertaining to me, but it was an interesting experience at least, so I recommend it with some reservation.

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