In the Aisles (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A dryly humorous human drama at supermarket


German film “In the Aisles”, which was released here in South Korea in last November but somehow eluded me around that time, is a dryly humorous human drama to be savored for the sweetness and poignancy behind its deadpan attitude. Although it may require some patience at first due to its slow, episodic narrative which initially seems to be going nowhere, the movie gradually engages us letting us get to know more about its main characters while observing them living through their mundane worktime day by day, and we find ourselves caring about them more than expected as getting some laughs from its small funny moments.

Mainly set in a big supermarket located in the middle of some remote area, the movie unfolds its story via the viewpoint of a lad named Christian (Franz Rogowski), who recently gets hired as a new employee and is assigned to work with a senior employee named Bruno (Peter Kurth). Although he is understandably awkward and clumsy as trying to get himself accustomed to many procedures and regulations, Christian is willing to learn more about his new job, and we see how Bruno calmly supervises Christian’s apprenticeship process with tactful patience and avuncular attention.

Although Christian does not talk much about himself to Bruno and other employees, we get to know a bit about Christian’s private life. While living alone in a small apartment, he does not seem to have many friends or acquaintances around him, and, considering many tattoos on his body, it looks like he once had a rather rough time in the past. Whenever he is about to begin to work, he always makes sure that his tattoos are hidden behind his clothes, and we come to sense his quiet need to restart his life as watching this moment again and again throughout the movie.


As Christian gets used to his new job bit by bit, we become immersed in his static work environment along with him, and the movie gives us a number of amusing moments as closely observing how Christian and other employees of the supermarket work from afternoon to late night. Whenever the supermarket is closed at early night after last customers leave, the mood becomes a little relaxed around the corners and aisles of the supermarket as classic pieces of music are played in the background, and the employees of the supermarket come to show their livelier side, while following their routine work schedule as usual.

In the meantime, Christian finds himself gradually attracted to an employee named Marion (Sandra Hüller), who works in a section right next to the one belonging to him and Bruno. It does not take much time for her to notice the attention from him, so she actively approaches to him at one point, and he subsequently responds to her approach in a hilariously modest way you have to see for yourself.

As Christian and Marion interact more and more with each other, it looks like they may move onto the next step for them, but Christian later comes to learn that she is married to some guy, and then he becomes more troubled after learning about how unhappy she has been in her marriage. Not knowing what to do with his problematic romantic situation, he gets himself drawn to his old way of life when Marion suddenly takes a break from her job with no particular reason, and Bruno is not so pleased about what is happening to his apprentice.


Later in the story, Bruno opens himself more to Christian, and he even invites Christian to his residence for their private drinking time. As he confides to Christian about how much he missed those good old days when he actively worked as a trucker, the deep melancholy and loneliness inside him feel palpable to us, and that is why we are shocked but not so surprised when he did something quite unexpected not long after that.

As leisurely moving from one episode to another, the screenplay by director Thomas Stuber and his co-writer Clemens Meyer phlegmatically moves back and forth between humor and pathos in a way reminiscent of the works of Roy Andersson and Aki Kaurismäki, and I enjoyed its numerous deadpan moments shining with wit and insight. While I could not help but smile when “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II was drolly played during the opening scene, I was also amused by an uproariously gory education video shown around the middle of the film, and I was alternatively tickled and agitated as watching Christian’s initial attempts to operate a forklift.

The three main performers in the film are all engaging in their respective parts. Steadily sticking to his low-key appearance, Franz Rogowski, who will probably be more prominent thanks to his lead performance in Christian Petzold’s “Transit” (2018), deftly conveys to us his character’s awkward state of mind, and Sandra Hüller, who has been more familiar to us since her appearance in “Amour Fou” (2014) and “Toni Erdmann” (2016), and Peter Kurth are equally solid while ably functioning as the counterparts for Rogowski.

In conclusion, “In the Aisles”, which won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury award when it was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival early in last year, is packed with enough charm and interest for recommendation, and it sort of grows on me as I reflect more on its many good moments. In short, this is a little overlooked gem surely deserving more attention, and I urge you to check it out as soon as possible.


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Kursk (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): The subpar presentation of a devastating underwater tragedy


Before watching “Kursk”, you have to know in advance what it is about. In 2000, a Russian nuclear submarine named Kursk sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea due to an unfortunate explosion accident, and most of its crew instantly died when that accident happened. While 23 crew members managed to survive at that moment, but, as some of you may remember, they were not rescued in time due to the incompetent handling of the situation by the Russian Navy and government, and it was too late for all of them when President Vladimir Putin finally authorized to accept British and Norwegian offers of assistance.

Besides realistically presenting how things went wrong during and after this devastating incident, the movie also attempts to give us a sincere, respectful human drama, but it fails to engage us due to its rather superficial storytelling and thin characterization. While it is understandably quite dour and depressing at times, the movie does not generate enough narrative momentum or human interest for holding our attention, and we only come to watch its story and characters from the distance without much emotional investment.

In the early part of the movie, which is presented in the screen ratio of 1.66:1, we are introduced to a bunch of crew members of the Kursk including Captain-lieutenant Mikhail Averi (Matthias Schoenaerts). After the opening scene showing Mikhail’s happy family time with his pregnant wife Tanva (Léa Seydoux) and their young son Misha (Artemiy Spiridonov), we see Mikhail and his comrades hurriedly preparing for the upcoming wedding of one of them, and there is a little amusing moment showing them collecting money together and then trying to buy enough food and booze for the wedding party as soon as possible.


Anyway, they all come to have a pretty good time at the wedding party while joyfully congratulating the groom, and we subsequently see them getting on their nuclear submarine and then getting ready for the upcoming naval exercise. Now shown in the screen ratio of 2.35:1, the movie gives us a number of nice wide shots showing a group of Russian Naval ships commanded by Admiral Vyacheslav Grudzinsky (Peter Simonischek), and we also get some fluid moments as cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s camera smoothly moves around the crew members of the Kursk.

While everything seems to be going well in the Kursk at first, a small but alarming thing occurs in one of the compartments containing torpedoes at one point, and, mainly thanks to the negligence of its commander, that happening eventually escalates to a big explosion which is then followed by another one. Quite damaged as a result, the Kursk crashes down to the bottom of the Barents Sea, but Mikhail and several other crew members around him luckily survive mainly because of being far from the explosion site.

Once they perceive their current emergency circumstance, Mikhail and other surviving crew members try to stay alive as long as they can while waiting for the rescue by the Russian Navy, but the Russian Navy turns out to be quite unprepared for the rescue mission. For instance, it has only three salvage vehicles, but two of them are unavailable at present, and the remaining one turns out to have a serious mechanical problem when it later attempts a docking onto the Kursk.


As Admiral Grudzinsky gets frustrated more and more about this problematic situation, the British Navy, which is mainly represented here in the film by David Russell (Colin Firth), is willing to provide its salvage vehicle, but the Russian Navy and government refuse that in the name of nation pride and security. Even while their salvage vehicle fails again and again in its docking attempt, they falsely maintain in public that everything is under control, and that surely exasperates the concerned families of the crew members of the Kursk.

As juggling its several plotlines, the screenplay by Robert Rodat, which is based on Robert Moore’s nonfiction novel “A Time to Die”, tries to draw a big picture showing the complex situation surrounding the Kursk submarine disaster, but it is rather underwhelming in terms of story and characters. While most of its main characters are more or less than broad archetypes without enough human quality, the story comes to lose more of its narrative pacing especially as it approaches to its inevitable finale, and the following epilogue scene, where the movie goes back to the screen ratio of 1.66:1, does not feel that impactful on the whole.

In case of the main performers in the film, they try as much as they can do for filling their respective roles. While Matthias Schoenaerts diligently handles his part, Léa Seydoux manages to leave some impression despite her thankless role, and the same thing can be said about the other notable performers in the film including Colin Firth, Michael Nyqvist, Peter Simonischek, August Diehl, and Max von Sydow.

While it is competent on the technical level, “Kursk” does not impress me much on the emotional level, and it is a minor disappointment compared to director Thomas Vinterberg’s previous works such as “The Hunt” (2012) and “Far From the Madding Crowd” (2015). To be frank with you, these two films are better works in my inconsequential opinion, and I assure you that you can have a better time with either of them.


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I Dream in Another Language (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two old men and a fading language


Mexican film “I Dream in Another Language” is a haunting story about two old men and a fading fictional language shared between them. As gradually revealing the past between them, the movie provides several mesmerizing moments of poetic beauty and dreamy myth along with vivid local atmosphere to be savored, and the result is certainly one of the most gorgeous films I saw during recent years.

At the beginning, the movie shows us the arrival of a young linguist named Martín (Fernando Álvarez Rebeil) in a small rural village. He comes here for studying and preserving a local language called Zikril, but there are only three people in the village who can speak Zikril at present, so he wants to get as much as from these people before they pass away.

Two of these people are willing to help Martín. Because Isauro (José Manuel Poncelis), an old man who has lived alone at the fringe of the village for more than 50 years, cannot speak Spanish, Flaviana (Norma Angélica), an old lady who can speak both Spanish and Zikril, accompanies Martín for translation, and we soon see Martín enthusiastically recording a conversation between Flaviana and Isauro.

However, Flaviana suddenly dies not long after that, so Martín has to seek for help from Evaristo (Eligio Meléndez), an old grumpy guy who is now the only village resident who can speak both Spanish and Zikril. Because Evaristo previously refused to get involved with Martín’s research due to the longtime personal animosity between him and Isauro, Martín tries to be tactful as much as possible in his request, but Evaristo firmly rejects Martín’s courteous request again, and that certainly frustrates Martín a lot.


At least, Martín gets some help from Evaristo’s granddaughter Lluvia (Fátima Molina), who has ironically taught an English lesson on a local radio program. While Martín is willing to spend more time in the village for getting to know about its culture and language, Lluvia has been eager to get out of the village and go to US, but that personal difference between them does not inhibit much the growing mutual attraction between them, and they soon go to the next logical step not long after Martín eventually manages to get the agreement from Evaristo thanks to Lluvia, though Evaristo strictly forbids Martín to get closer to her.

When Evaristo finally comes to Isauro’s small shabby cabin along with Martín, it looks like the animosity between them still remains strong as before. Isauro seems to be willing to talk with his old friend, and it looks like Evaristo has some regret over Isauro, but Evaristo eventually walks away from the scene without saying much while Martín feels baffled and frustrated again with this failure to communicate between these two old men.

While getting closer to Martín, Lluvia confides to him what exactly happened between Isauro and Evaristo more than 50 years ago, and the movie accordingly gives us a series of flashback scenes showing when they were young and wild. During that time, Evaristo and Isauro had been quite close to each other, but, not long after a pretty girl came into the picture, they had a big fight for a reason I will not describe here in details, and then Isauro came to live alone while Evaristo subsequently married that girl.

Anyway, Martín later manages to persuade Evaristo and Isauro to meet each other again, and it seems they can get along well with each other again once they speak with each other in Zikril. Although their conversation is not translated to us, whatever is being exchanged between them feels clear to us, and it looks like they finally overcome their old bad feelings for restoring their friendship and, of course, helping Martín.


Not so surprisingly, the movie later takes a melodramatic plot turn, and that is where it becomes a little more conventional and predictable than before. There is an emotionally devastating moment as Isauro and Evaristo come to find that hate is strong as love between them, and that is naturally followed by a bitter moment for them and others around them.

Despite that weak aspect, the movie keeps holding our attention via its palpable local mood mixed with a touch of magic realism. Thanks to cinematographer Tonatiuh Martínez, the movie is constantly filled with crisp sceneries to appreciate for their natural beauty, and it sometimes segues into a realm of fantasy via the effective utilization of sounds and images.

And the movie never loses its human dimension thanks to the unadorned performance from its main cast members. While Eligio Meléndez and José Manuel Poncelis effectively complement each other during their scenes, Fernando Álvarez Rebeil and Fátima Molina have a nice low-key chemistry between them, and Norma Angélica is also solid in her small but crucial supporting role.

Overall, “I Dream in Another Language”, which won the Audience Award in the World Cinema Dramatic section when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival early in 2017, is an engaging human drama to be admired for several good elements. Yes, I initially thought it was just another lofty arthouse flick, but it turned to be more accessible and enjoyable than expected, and I think you should give it a chance someday.


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Prospect (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A western tale on an alien planet


“Prospect” is an interesting juxtaposition of two different familiar genres. Mainly set on an alien environment in the distant future, it initially looks like your average old-fashioned science fiction tale with some rustic sides, it gradually becomes a western tale equipped with spacesuits instead of cowboy hats and boots, and I enjoyed its eclectic mood and style enough to forgives its several notable shortcomings.

As reflected by its very title, the early part of the movie focuses on the prospect process of a guy named Damon (Jay Duplass) and his young daughter Cee (Sophie Thatcher). During the opening sequence, we see them spending some time in a space pod attached to a big freighter, and we come to gather that they are about to arrive in an alien planet which contains a considerable amount of something called aurelac. Although the movie does not explain much about that material, it seems to be as precious as gold, and that makes it quite worthwhile to prospect for despite the toxic dust in the atmosphere of the planet.

Once their space pod is detached from the freighter after the arrival in that alien planet, Damon and Cee land on a remote forest area, and then they immediately work on a spot near their landing site while wearing their spacesuits. Like their space pod, their spacesuits look shabby and jaded, and these and other details shown on the screen certainly contribute more to the decidedly old-fashioned style of the movie.

The movie pays some attention to how they prospect for aurelac. At first, they dig the ground for searching for a sticky alien biological matter, and then they carefully handle it step by step for extracting aurelac from it. With Cee’s assistance, Damon peels it off with uttermost caution for a good reason, and he eventually succeeds to extract aurelac, which looks like a smooth, translucent glass ball.


Not long after that, something unexpected happens while they separately are going around in the forest. Damon happens to encounter a couple of other prospectors who are also looking for aurelac, and he instantly warns to his daughter via their walkie-talkie. If he and Cee are not careful, they may get killed for what they are currently prospecting for, so he tries to handle tactfully the increasingly tense situation between him and these two guys.

I will not tell you what happens next, but I can tell you instead that Cee eventually finds herself in a very desperate situation. While she manages to get back to the space pod, she unfortunately fails to launch the space pod due to a mechanical problem, and it looks like there is no other way for her to get out of the planet before the freighter leaves.

And then there comes Ezra (Pedro Pascal), one of those two guys encountered by her father. Although Cee understandably does not welcome him much, Ezra makes a good point on why they need to help each other for their common goal while putting aside their mutual hostility, and Cee agrees to accompany him because there is clearly no other option for her besides that.

What follows after that point is a typical western tale of survival. While connected with each other via an airline, Cee and Ezra begin a risky journey to a certain spot where they may be rescued, and, of course, they go through several bumpy moments during their journey. At one point, they happen to encounter a group of people who have settled there for many years, and they receive some modest hospitality from these people, but then, not so surprisingly, it turns out that these people want something from Ezra and Cee. When Ezra needs some medical treatment later in the story, Cee shows that she is a lot more resourceful than she seems, and we accordingly get the grisliest moment in the film, which is thankfully presented with considerable restraint.


Although the screenplay by directors/writers Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell, which is developed from their 2014 short film, often trudges along its rather thin narrative, the movie mostly works as steadily establishing its alien environment around its main characters. Also working as the cinematographer of the movie, Earl provides a number of impressive visual moments packed with vivid, palpable atmosphere to be appreciated, and I was a bit surprised to learn later that those countless toxic dusts shown in the film are not CGI but real dusts.

It surely helps that the movie is supported well by its main cast members. Although her character feels a little too flat, Sophie Thatcher brings enough life and personality to her character at least, and her strong performance is complemented well by a more colorful performance from Pedro Pascal, who did a good job of making Ezar likable to some degree despite his untrustworthy aspect. In case of the other notable performers in the film, Jay Duplass is adequate in his substantial supporting role, and so are Sheila Vand, Anwan Glover, and Andre Royo.

Although it is not entirely without flaws, “Prospect” is a solid feature film debut from Earl and Caldwell. I must point out that it occasionally looks like they stretch their original story a bit too long, but they show here that they are good filmmakers who know how to engage us via mood and storytelling, and I admire the ambition in this small result of theirs. Yes, it is a modest start for them, but it may lead to more good things in their career.


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The Mule (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): An old horticulturist who becomes a drug runner


Clint Eastwood’s latest film “The Mule” gave me a mixed impression. During its first half, it seems to want to be a low-key crime comedy drama about one unlikely drug runner, and there are several small amusing moments as it leisurely observes how its hero manages to get away with his criminal activity. During its second half, it comes to take a more serious tone along with somber sentimentalism, and I was a bit disappointed as watching it slouching toward its lackluster ending.

Eastwood, who looks more fragile and resigned than when he appeared in “Gran Torino” (2008) and “Trouble with the Curve” (2012), plays Earl Stone, a Korean War veteran who has devoted himself to horticulture for many years in Peoria, Illinois. During the prologue scene set in 2005, we see his career and business thriving along with another glorious moment for him, and we also observe what a lousy human being he is to his ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and their daughter Iris (Alison Eastwood). Just because he has to attend an important horticultural convention instead, he does not come to his daughter’s wedding, and we are not so surprised to learn that he disappointed and frustrated his family many times before while mostly occupied with his work.

The story subsequently moves forward to 2017, and we see how things have become quite difficult to Earl. Probably because of sticking to his old way of life and business too much, not only his house but also his business get foreclosed by a bank, and he is still not welcomed much by his family when he comes to a house party celebrating the upcoming wedding of his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga), who is more generous to him compared to her mother and grandmother.


When he bitterly leaves the party, Earl is approached by a Latino guy who is one of party guests, and that guy has a small business proposition for Earl. Although he is not so interested in that proposition at first, Earl comes to accept it mainly because he really needs money now, and that is how he gets himself involved with a group of Latino thugs operating in El Paso, Texas. All they ask him to do is simply driving his old shabby truck from El Paso to Chicago with a certain bag put in the trunk of his truck, and he does not ask too much because, well, he gets paid as well as promised. As he receives more money through this supposedly simple job, he buys a new truck, and he also regains his house and business in addition to helping his family a bit.

While there later comes an inevitable point where he comes to face what he is exactly doing for his new business associates, Earl does not mind that at all, and the movie generates some dark amusement from how he does his job well as a drug runner. As a plain Caucasian octogenarian who always drives safely along the road, he does not draw any attention from the police, so he keeps doing the job without any particular trouble, and he soon comes to be regarded well by a Mexican drug organization for which he is working. At one point, he is even invited to the big mansion belonging to the boss of that drug organization, and he has some fun with two sexy and beautiful ladies in the middle of a hedonistic party held at that mansion.

Of course, as his criminal reputation grows day by day, Earl’s criminal activity comes to draw the attention of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). While DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) is quite determined to delve into the case as much as he can, he and his colleagues are still baffled about how more than 100kg of cocaine has periodically been delivered from Texas to Illinois without getting noticed by them at all, and there is an absurd moment when they fail to notice Earl even when he is operating right near them.


When the circumstance later becomes a bit more tense, the screenplay by Nick Schenk, which is inspired by Sam Dolnick’s New York Times article “The Sinaloa Cartel’s 90-Year-Old Drug Mule”, attempts a sentimental melodrama associated with its hero’s important personal choice, but the result is not that satisfying mainly because it does not establish enough emotional ground to engage us. While the expected moments of reconciliation between Earl and his family members feel rather contrived, the following anti-climactic finale is a little too loose and pedestrian to hold our attention, and we watch Earl from the distance without much care even at the end of the film.

Anyway, Eastwood, who is soon going to have the 89th birthday, carries the film well like Robert Redford recently did in “The Old Man and the Gun” (2018), and a number of notable performers around him fill their respective spots as much as they can, even though most of them are not utilized well on the whole. While Bradley Cooper, Michael Peña, and Laurence Fishburne are stuck with their thankless supporting roles, Alison Eastwood, who is Eastwood’s daughter, and Taissa Farmiga are also seriously wasted due to their underdeveloped characters, and Andy Garcia and Dianne Wiest manage to leave some impression as doing a bit more than required.

Although I often felt impatient during my viewing as constantly aware of its sluggish narrative pacing as well as its incoherent storytelling, “The Mule” is not as dull and tedious as “The 15:17 to Paris” (2018), Eastwood’s another film in last year. While I was not entertained enough for recommendation, I was not entirely bored at least, and I can assure you that you will not waste your money if you just want to watch what may be the last movie performance from Eastwood on the screen.


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Triple Frontier (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): They go for money this time…


“Triple Frontier”, which was released on Nexflix yesterday, is fairly watchable but not that satisfying on the whole. While often gritty and intense as required, the movie does not bring anything particularly new to its genre territory, and it is often hampered by its several weak aspects including uneven narrative pacing and thin characterization. Although I was entertained to some degree while watching it at last night, it is not distinctive enough to rise above many other similar action thriller films out there, and it did not leave much impression on me in the end despite the considerable efforts from its cast and crew members.

At the beginning, we meet Santiago “Pope” Garcia (Oscar Isaacs), a military guy who has worked for a private military outfit in Brazil. The opening sequence, which is unfolded in a rural border region among Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina (That is where the title of the movie comes from, by the way), shows him and a group of local police squad members attempting a raid on a certain spot where a bunch of local drug organization members are operating, and we are not so surprised when the situation becomes quite tense and perilous with lots of bullets and explosions shortly after Santiago and his men confront their targets.

Santiago has pursued the elusive leader of the drug organization for years, and, shortly after the raid, he comes to learn of that drug lord’s whereabouts through a young woman named Yovanna (Adria Arjona), who has been his informant and also desperately wants to get out of the drug organization along with her dear brother. After learning from Yovanna that the drug lord in question has a huge amount of money stashed inside his hideout which is located somewhere in the border region, Santiago decides to not only eliminate him but also steal his money, and Yovanna agrees to assist Santiago because he promises her money and freedom for her and her brother.


Santiago subsequently approaches to his four colleagues, and they are William “Ironhead” Miller (Charlie Hunnam), who has recently worked as a motivation speaker for soldiers; Ben Miller (Garrett Hedlund), who is William’s younger brother and is currently a mixed martial art (MMA) fighter; Francisco “Catfish” Morales (Pedro Pascal), a skillful pilot whose license is recently revoked for some serious transgression; and Tom “Redfly” Davis (Ben Affleck), who is Santiago’s close friend/comrade. As a guy who has been trying to be content with the less eventful life of a plain realtor since his retirement, Tom is understandably reluctant at first, but he agrees to join his colleagues because he really needs the money to support his ex-wife and daughter and, above all, he cannot resist another possible chance for thrill and excitement.

As observing how these five guys prepare for their plan step by step, the movie slowly dials up the level of tension, and we accordingly get a number of well-made scenes such as the one where Santiago and his comrades carefully go through their reconnaissance process around their target’s hideout. It may be easy to get inside that place, but they must do everything necessary for their operation within a short period of time, and, as emphasized by Tom at one point, there is no police or government agency to protect them this time.

Not so surprisingly, they eventually find themselves in a situation far complicated than expected, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that they later come to face a series of troubles due to a few unwise decisions. For example, they should have stuck to their original plan from the start, and they also should have been practical about how much they were going to steal from their target.


During its second half, the movie tries to build up its narrative momentum further as its main characters try to get away with what they manage to steal, but the screenplay by director J. C. Chandor and his co-writer Mark Boal does not provide much human depth to its story and characters, and it merely lurches from one predictable plot point to another while not generating much interest for us. As being more or less than broad genre elements, the main characters in the film are not that compelling enough to engage us, and we become rather distant to their circumstance while not caring much about what will happen to them in the end.

Anyway, the main performers of the movie are solid as filling their respective positions as demanded. While Oscar Isaac, who previously collaborated with Chandor in “A Most Violent Yea” (2014), is dependable as usual, Ben Affleck stoically holds the ground with Issac, and Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Pedro Pascal, and Adria Arjona are well-cast in their supporting roles. I especially enjoyed how Hunnam and Hedlund interact well with each other besides looking quite similar to each other, and it is rather amazing that nobody thought of casting them as brothers before.

In conclusion, “Triple Frontier” is not a total waste of time at all, so I will not stop you from watching it if you have free time to spend, but I have to remind you that it is several steps down from Chandor’s previous works such as “Margin Call” (2011) and “All Is Lost” (2013), which was incidentally one of my best 10 films of 2013. Sure, it is competent in technical aspects, but the movie is not so distinguished in terms of story and characters, and you will probably not remember a lot from it once it is over.


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The 15:17 to Paris (2018) ☆☆(2/4): A dull, tedious tale of American heroism


During recent years, Clint Eastwood gave us a number of interesting movies about American heroism. While “Flags of Our Fathers” (2006) is a haunting World War II movie revolving around three soldiers in that iconic photograph shot during the battle of Iwo Jima, “American Sniper” (2014) is the fascinating observation of the life of a real-life Iraq War veteran, and “Sully” (2016) is a thoughtful drama focusing on a resourceful pilot who saved the life of many people including himself via his dutiful professionalism.

Considering the common themes shared among these films, it is no surprise that Eastwood came to direct “The 15:17 to Paris”, which is about three brave young American men who stopped a terrorist during the Thalys train attack in 2015. Here in this film, he tries to examine its three main character’s life and bravery as maintaining his usual dry, simple storytelling approach, but, unfortunately, the movie is marred by the lack of substantial drama and tension to hold our attention, and it turns out to be the most disappointing work in Eastwood’s filmmaking career during last two decades.

After the brief introduction of its three main characters at the beginning, the movie instantly moves onto their childhood years in Sacramento, California, and we see how they became close friends during that time. Not long after they are transferred together to their new school due to a trouble in their previous school, Spencer Stone (William Jennings) and Alek Skarlatos (Bryce Gheisar) meet Anthony Sadler (Paul-Mikél Williams), and these three boys soon come to hang around with each other while sharing their enthusiasm about wars and guns. At one point, Spencer proudly shows his several toy guns to his new friend, and we later watch them and Alek playing a mock shooting game in a nearby forest.

The movie also provides a little glimpse into the hardships of Spencer’s mother Joyce (Judy Greer) and Alex’s mother Heidi (Jenna Fischer), who have raised their respective sons alone. Although not exactly knowing what to do with their sons, they try to do their best anyway while firmly sticking to their faith, and Greer, who has shown more of the serious side of her talent since her hysterically funny supporting role in TV sitcom series “Arrested Development”, and Fischer, who has been mainly known for TV sitcom series “The Office”, bring some life and personality to their rather underdeveloped parts.


Spencer wants to find a purpose in his life someday, and that wish of his only grows stronger several years later. After his accidental encounter with a US marine solider at his current workplace, Spencer, who is now played by himself from this point, decides to be ready for becoming a solider, and we accordingly get a quick montage sequence which shows him exercising very hard for losing his weight for necessary fitness. He eventually passes all the fitness tests, but, alas, he is disappointed to learn that he cannot be a paratrooper due to his poor depth perception, and he has no choice but to go for one of other options left to him.

While Spencer goes through his training course in the US Air Force, Alek and Anthony, who are also played by themselves from this point, go on each own way. After enlisting in the US Army, Alek is deployed to Afghanistan, and we see him going through another mundane day of his tour in Afghanistan. In case of Anthony, he goes to a college, but he keeps corresponding with his two friends via Skype, and they later decide to have some fun together in Europe when Alek says he will soon go to Germany for visiting his girlfriend.

What follows next is a series of episodic moments showing how these three young guys enjoy themselves in Europe. As spending a few days in Venice, Spencer and Anthony go here and there around in the city, and we get a little introspective moment when Spencer comes to muse a bit on where his life is going. After they join Alex in Germany, they decide to make a little excursion in Amsterdam, and they and Alex surely have fun as much as expected at a local nightclub.


However, none of these moments is not particularly engaging without providing any significant depth to the story and characters, and the adapted screenplay by Dorothy Blyskal, based on the nonfiction novel “The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes” which is written by Jeffrey E. Stern, Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos, continue to suffer from its bland, superficial narrative. When the story eventually arrives at the expected sequence showing that fateful moment for its three main characters, we only come to observe them from the distance without much care or interest, and, to make matters worse, the sequence itself is too dry and loose to generate any suspense on the screen.

While bringing some sincerity and authenticity to their respective roles, the main three performers of the movie, who incidentally never acted before, are merely adequate at best and hopelessly monotonous at worst, and that reminds me that playing oneself in front of the camera is not as easy as it seems to us. Compared to his two co-performers who look rather stiff on the screen, Sadler feels more comfortable and natural, and it is a shame that the movie does not delve much into his life and personality (His parents are shown only at the end of the story, by the way).

Overall, “The 15:17 to Paris” is a dull misfire which is only notable for some thematic connections with recent works in Eastwood’s filmography. It is a curious attempt, but the result did not interest me much, and I am ready to move onto his next film “The Mule” (2018), which is released here in South Korea today. Yes, I heard from others that it is not that good, but it will probably not be as boring and mediocre as “The 15:17 to Paris” at least.


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