Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Michelle Yeoh in the Madness of the Multiverse

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” is definitely one of the most wildly imaginative films of this year. While its story premise involved with multiple alternative universes is not exactly new to many of us due to several recent films such as “Doctor Strange in the Madness of the Multiverse” (2022), the movie is willing to push its story promise as much as possible for more awe and entertainment, and the result is often dazzling and enthralling while also firmly held together by the strong performance from its lead actress.

Michelle Yeoh, a Malaysian Chinese actress who has been known well to us for a number of various films ranging from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) to “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018), plays Evelyn Quan Wang, a plain Chinese American lady who has struggled to run her laundromat along with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) for many years. So busy with handling a recent big trouble with Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Evelyn cannot pay much attention to Waymond and other family members, and that certainly frustrates her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) a lot. Joy really wants to present her girlfriend formally in front of her family, but Evelyn prevents her from doing that because she believes that will not be approved at all by her aging father.

After another busy period at her laundromat is over, Evelyn goes to a local IRS building along with her husband and father for meeting an IRS inspector assigned to their auditing, but then something strange occurs not long before the meeting. Waymond suddenly acts oddly as if he were someone else, and then he gives Evelyn a weird instruction on what to do next during the meeting. As understandably bored and frustrated during the meeting, she casually follows that instruction, and, what do you know, quite an unbelievable thing happens to her within less than one second.

While Evelyn subsequently tries to grasp what is happening around her, the movie quickly establishes its story setting via a series of hurried explanations. Among millions of alternative universes, there is the one which is called ‘Alpha Universe’ because of its ground-breaking technological development for exploring those other alternative universes, and Waymond from the Alpha Universe, who can control Waymond in Evelyn’s universe from time to time, has been looking for the right version of Evelyn who may stop a huge threat to the entire multiverse once for all.

Because she is just an unremarkable woman without any particular set of skills, Evelyn is naturally flabbergasted about her ongoing circumstance, but the situation quickly becomes quite more serious and dangerous than she can ever imagine. Regardless of whether she is really the one to stop a certain figure behind the plot against the multiverse, she is now placed at the center of the multiverse, and that figure in question is already coming to confront Evelyn.

Now I should be a bit more discreet about describing the plot because most of fun stuffs in the film come from a bunch of unexpected moments of wild imagination and a wacky but inspired sense of humor. For example, when a certain black object is shown at one point early in the film, you may wonder whether this object actually comes from a sex shop, and you will be both surprised and amused by how this object is used later in the story.

Relentlessly and breathtakingly throwing lots of comedy and action into its increasingly loony narrative, the screenplay by directors/writers/co-producers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who previously drew my attention for their decidedly offbeat debut feature film “Swiss Army Man” (2016), also brings enough gravitas to its story and characters. As briskly shuffling between many different moods and elements as demanded, the movie sometimes becomes surprisingly introspective and touching while never becoming less funny, and I particularly enjoyed a part which is virtually a comic homage to the works of a certain famous Chinese filmmaker.

Above all, Yeoh is simply superb as dexterously gliding across many different versions of her character. While playing her character as straight as possible in front of many absurdities in the film, she also gives some sly humorous touches to be savored, and I do not think I will ever forget a part where she casually acts with rather outrageous prosthetic limbs. Besides being quite hilarious, she ably grounds this part with enough seriousness just like she did in the other parts of the film, and that is why the main reason why this part comes to show much more emotion than expected.

In case of several other main cast members in the film, they all have a ball in each own way as bringing extra spirit and personality into the movie. While Stephanie Hsu does more than holding her own spot well during her several key scenes with Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan and James Hong are delightful in their colorful supporting performances, and Jenny Slate and Jamie Lee Curtis are also equally enjoyable in their respective supporting roles.

Overall, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is worthwhile to watch for many reasons including Yeoh’s commanding presence, and Kwan and Scheinert surely advance a lot from what they demonstrated in “Swiss Army Man”. Although I must point out that it is a bit too long besides occasionally feeling overstuffed, the movie is a lot more ambitious and imaginative than those soulless Hollywood blockbuster flicks, and that is more than enough for me at present.

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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Cage goes wild again…

Nicholas Cage has been one of the most interesting actors working in Hollywood during last four decades, and there are good reasons for that. Sure, he appeared a bunch of bad films during several recent years just because of his difficult financial status, and he is understandably ridiculed and criticized a lot for that, but he has seldom phoned in his performance while always prepared for any interesting challenge for him. Yes, we all shook our heads as watching him appearing in crummy flicks like “Left Behind” (2014), but then, as shown from “Joe” (2013) and “Pig” (2021), he has always demonstrated that he is still a good actor to watch and enjoy.

In case of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”, Cage is often required to be quite silly and outrageous as its main target for comedy, and, not so surprisingly, he magnificently rises to the challenge for our entertainment. As deftly juggling many different comic elements hurled at him from here and there, he gives one of his better recent performances here in this film, and the movie cheerfully bounces along with him as generating many uproarious moments to be appreciated by millions of his fans and admirers out there.

The early part of the film quickly sets how things have been difficult for Cage’s fictionalized version in the story. Like many other performers in Hollywood, he tries hard to get good roles, but nobody is particularly interested in working with him due to his fading star status. Feeling quite frustrated and disillusioned, he accordingly begins to consider quitting his acting career for spending more time with his adolescent daughter, but he has been estranged from her for years, and he only comes to ruin her birthday party in front of her and others including his ex-wife.

And then there comes an odd offer via his agent, who is wryly played by Neal Patrick Harris. Some rich foreign guy named Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) wants Cage to spend some time with him just because of his birthday, and he offers no less than one million dollars. While naturally flabbergasted by this offer, Cage eventually accepts it mainly because he really needs to pay off a considerable amount of debt right now.

Cage subsequently arrives at a foreign area where Gutierrez’s big mansion is located, and he is soon greeted by Gutierrez, who turns out to be a huge fan of all those notable movies in Cage’s career. While the more famous ones including “The Rock” (1996) and “Con Air” (1997) are naturally mentioned, I must tell you that I laughed hard when Gutierrez later tell others about how he became closer to his recently diseased father via a certain forgotten comedy film in Cage’s career (No, it is not “Vampire’s Kiss” (1989)).

Although he does not regard his rich employer that highly at first, Cage comes to like Gutierrez more than expected as spending more time with Gutierrez. At one point, they happen to discuss about which is the greatest film of all time, and we surely get a big laugh when Gutierrez tries to persuade Cage to change his opinion on a certain popular film which is absolutely great in Gutierrez’s viewpoint (My opinion: this film in question may not be great, but it is quite likable to say the least).

Of course, as shown from the opening scene, the situation surrounding Cage and Gutierrez is a lot more serious than it seems on the surface. As a matter of fact, Cage was already approached by a couple of CIA agents played by Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish, and these agents expect him to extract some certain information from Gutierrez, who turns out to be on the top of a big criminal organization.

The screenplay by director Tom Gormican and his co-writer Kevin Etten comes to lose some of its comic momentum during the last act where the movie shifts itself on action mode, but Cage, who also served as one of its producers, ably keeps supporting the film while gleefully oscillating between absurdity and seriousness. In case of several comic where his character talks with an alter ego as wild as he was in “Wild at Heart” (1999), he surely has lots of fun as going back and forth between two different comic modes, and my only complaint is that they did not provide him that snake skin jacket from “Wild at Heart”.

Around Cage, several main cast members in the film have each own small fun, though they are relatively under-utilized in comparison. Pedro Pascal, who has been more prominent since his supporting turn in the fourth season of HBO TV drama series “Game of Thrones”, plays his character as earnestly as demanded, but I think he could be a little more menacing for extra laughs for us. In case of Haddish and Barinholtz, they surely know how to be funny as seasoned comedians, but they are often limited by their thankless supporting roles to my little dissatisfaction.

On the whole, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is an enjoyable showcase of Cage’s comic talent, which has unfortunately not been explored that often except a few notable cases including his brilliant Oscar-nominated turn in “Adaptation.” (2002). I have no idea on how he actually feels about his immense talent, but I can say that his talent has been a treasure for me and many other movie audiences for decades, and I am sure that he will keep entertaining us as before during this decade.

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Rise (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A wholesome family sports drama

“Rise”, which was released on Disney+ on last Friday, is a wholesome family sports drama based on the inspiring true story of one Nigerian immigrant family. While it is often quite predictable in many aspects, the movie is balanced well between enough realism and those feel-good moments, and you will surely come to root for its main characters more than expected while also touched a lot by how they stick together for a better life.

In the beginning, we are introduced to Charles Antetokounmpo (Dayo Okeniyi) and his wife Veronica (Yetide Badaki), and the opening part of the film depicts their difficult journey to Greece in 1990. After leaving Nigeria together, they stay in Istanbul, Turkey for a while, but then they almost get caught by the police along with many other illegal immigrants at one night. Even after they manage to pass the border between Turkey and Greece, they remain quite nervous, because there is still the big possibility of getting arrested and then deported at any moment.

Anyway, Charles and Veronica subsequently come to settle in Athens during next two decades. While their first son still remains in Nigeria, they come to have no less than four more sons, and they keep trying their best for giving a good life to their sons, though both they and their sons still cannot get legal citizenship in Greece. As shown from one sudden tense moment, they may get promptly arrested if they are not very careful outside, and Charles and Veronica become more frustrated when they belatedly come to learn from their local lawyer that they have been systemically blocked from their goal from the very start.

Meanwhile, two of their sons, Giannis (Uche Agada) and Thanasis (Ral Agada), happen to become interested in playing basketball as discovering their considerable athletic potential. They eventually attempt to join a local basketball team later, and Charles is not so pleased about this mainly because this will possibly expose them more to the police, but he comes to support them anyway as a guy who had to put aside his professional football career in the past.

Of course, things do not look that hopeful for Giannis and Thanasis at first. While their team coach is quite supportive from the first day, they are often disadvantaged in many aspects besides still being quite inexperienced, and there is a little painful personal moment between them when one of them has to take off his sneakers for the other during a practice.

Nevertheless, Giannis and Thanasis do not give up at all under the full support and encouragement from their parents, and then there eventually comes a point where they begin to draw the attention of local scouts. Although they are frustrated again due to their status as illegal immigrants, they later get an agent at least, and their agent turns out to be much more loyal and resourceful than he seems at first.

While being a bit too conventional, the screenplay by Arash Amel constantly maintains its narrative momentum, and it also imbues enough life and personality to its main characters. Several small intimate moments between Charles and Veronica show us more of how enduring their relationship has been for many years, and it surely helps that Dayo Okeyniyi and Yetide Badaki click well with each other throughout the film. In case of Charles and Veronica’s four sons, we can discern why they brighten up their parents’ life everyday, and it is also engaging to watch how Giannis and Thanasis often lean on each other as they hone their athletic skills more and more along the story.

Under director Akin Omotoso’s competent direction, the prevalent optimistic spirit of the movie is counterbalanced by the harsh and dangerous reality surrounding Charles and Veronica and their sons. While they are usually happy together, their life also frequently goes through many ups and downs, and that aspect of their hard life is exemplified well by when they are suddenly prevented from entering their little residence due to failing to pay the rent in time. When Giannis comes to get an opportunity of lifetime later in the story, he and his family are certainly well aware of the considerable risk accompanying it, but they eventually decide to take a chance because they all know how important that opportunity is for Giannis.

In the end, everything in the story eventually culminates to the point where Giannis and his family desperately hope for the best, and the movie deftly handles this part on the whole. Even if you do not know that much about its main characters than me, you can easily see what will happen in advance, but the movie still holds our attention up to its expected dramatic moment, and it surely earns all the cheers and tears accompanying this moment.

Overall, “Rise” is a standard feel-good Disney flick, and I can think of several better basketball films such as Steve James’ great documentary film “Hoop Dreams” (1994) right now, but its story and characters are presented well with enough skill and emotion at least. Because Giannis Antetokounmpo serves as one of its executive producers, I was not so surprised by its positively clean-cut presentation of his family story, and I still wonder whether the movie can be improved via more realism and honesty, but I could put aside my small complaints while appreciating the good efforts from its cast and crew members – and that is fairly enough for me, folks.

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Dog (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): His journey with a military dog

“Dog” is a simple road movie which handles its story and characters with enough care and sensitivity. Right from when its two main characters begin their journey, you can instantly discern how much they will be changed via their rather bumpy journey, but this little modest movie still engages us mainly thanks to not only its solid storytelling but also its believable depiction of the dynamic relationship development between its two main characters along the story.

At the beginning of its story, the movie succinctly establishes the troubling status of Jackson Briggs (Channing Tatum), a US Army Ranger who has apparently been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to his recent combat experience. Despite his problematic mental condition, Briggs applies for a rotation position in Pakistan, but he is not accepted due to some serious brain injury, and then he becomes more depressed when he is notified that a close comrade of his died due to a car accident.

Not long after that, Briggs’ commanding officer gives him an offer he cannot refuse. He is instructed to take over a military dog working along with that dead comrade of his, and all he will have to do is taking this military dog, named Lulu, to the funeral of that dead comrade in Arizona before eventually having it euthanized at a nearby military base. Because it is apparent that Lulu has serious behavioral problems due its combat experience, Briggs is initially reluctant, but he comes to accept this little mission because his commanding officer promises that he will help Briggs getting that rotation position in Pakistan if Briggs accomplishes the mission.

Of course, once he hits the road along with Lulu, Briggs soon discovers that Lulu is quite a problematic dog in many aspects. Besides frequently barking a lot, it ruins the interior of his vehicle without hesitation, and that certainly annoys and frustrates Briggs, who has no choice but to handle its problematic behaviors as much as he can.

Anyway, he and Lulu continue their journey as going through one spot after another, and the movie accordingly gives us a series of episodic moments to amuse us. At one point, Briggs drops by a bar during one evening, and, after several failed attempts to seduce young women, he finds himself getting associated with a couple of ladies who are somehow charmed by Lulu as dog owners. When they later take Briggs to their cozy residence, they turn out to be quite willing to do a little sexual experience along with him, but, not so surprisingly, things do not go that well thanks to an unexpected happening involved with Lulu.

The most amusing part in the film comes from when Briggs and Lulu happen to run into a little farm located in the middle of a remote forest. Although his subsequent encounter with an eccentric couple living there is not exactly cordial at first, it does not take much time for both Briggs and this couple to bury the hatchet thanks to Lulu, and Briggs and Lulu find themselves a bit more relaxed than before.

While they spend more time together, Briggs comes to care about Lulu more than he expected. As looking into a scrapbook dedicated to Lulu’s battlefield activities, he becomes more connected with Lulu, and Lulu seems to appreciate Briggs’ sincere companionship – especially when they attempt a little naughty thing together at a posh hotel in San Francisco.

Around the point where these two main characters are approaching to the end of their journey, the screenplay by co-director Reid Carolin, who wrote the story with co-producer Brett Rodriguez, becomes more sentimental as expected, but it still makes us care about how its two main characters will arrive at the end of the journey. Yes, there eventually comes a dramatic moment when Briggs must decide on what he should do for Lulu as well as himself, but this moment is presented with tactful restraint at least, and we become more aware of the growing sense of healing between Briggs and Lulu.

While serving as the co-director of the film along with Carolin, Channing Tatum diligently holds the ground with his earnest acting, and his performance here in the film reminds me again of how he has matured as a good actor during last several years. On the opposite, three different dogs who play Lulu in the film are convincing as one character, and their effortless interactions with Tatum on the screen is one of the main reasons why the movie works. In case of several notable performers in the film including Jane Adams, Kevin Nash, Q’orianka Kilcher, and Ethan Suplee, they dutifully provide extra personality to their respective scenes, and Suplee, who has recently looked quite thinner compared to his goofy supporting turn in TV sitcom series “My Name Is Earl”, demonstrates a more serious side of his talent as a comrade who manages to become more well-adjusted to normal life than Briggs.

In conclusion, “Dog” is pretty familiar to the core in terms of story and characters, but it has some sincerity and personality to distinguish itself a bit from many other similar films out there. I exactly knew what I would get, and the movie does not exceed my expectation much, but it did its job as well as intended at least, so I will not grumble for now.

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Civil: Ben Crump (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): A lawyer against racial injustices

Netflix documentary film “Civil: Ben Crump”, which was released on last Sunday, mainly revolves around one African American civil rights lawyer who has fought against the racial injustices in the American society for many years. As observing how he handled a number of cases, the movie gives us close glimpses into his considerable professional dedication, and it is certainly nice to see that his tenacious efforts of many years actually lead to some significant social progress in the end.

At the beginning, the documentary introduces to us its titular hero Ben Crump, and then we listen to the recorded conversation between him and a close family member of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man who, as many of you know, was asphyxiated to death due to the unjustly harsh response from a local police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After listening to this close family member of Floyd with real care and empathy, Crump comes to represent Floyd’s family, and then he gives some advice on all those slanders to be hurled against Floyd and his family sooner or later.

While observing how he prepares for his case, the documentary lets Crump talk about his past as well as several notable cases which brought more prominence to his small but respectable law firm. Although he was born to a poor family living in Lumberton, North Carolina, he grew up fairly well under his grandmother’s care, and he eventually went to a law school thanks to her steady encouragement. Shortly after he graduated, he came to establish his law firm along with his close friend/colleague, and Crump reminisces with some amusement about how willing they were to take any injury case good enough for financing the law firm during those years.

In the meantime, he also put considerable efforts into many civil rights lawsuits coming into his hand. Before the Floyd case, he already handled a lot of similar lawsuits associated with police brutality such as the one involved with Breonna Taylor, and he also represented the family members of Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death by a guy named George Zimmerman in 2012. As many of you still remember, Zimmerman was eventually acquitted at the following trial, and this exasperating injustice was certainly another devastating blow to Martin’s family members, though they received a considerable amount of settlement thanks to Crump’s efforts at least.

Crump has been criticized by some people for usually demanding a high amount of settlement for his clients, but he argues that it is a right thing to do for not only his clients but also the legal system itself, which has inherently been biased against African American citizens for years. Through those big settlements from his lawsuits, he intends to give some hard lessons upon the system, and this strategy of his has actually worked because many cities around the country come to start the reformation of their police departments.

However, there are always considerable possibilities of danger around Crump as he becomes more prominent in public. Not so surprisingly, he and his law firm have frequently received numerous anonymous death threats, and he surely takes some necessary cautions. During his many business trips around the country, he is always accompanied by his longtime bodyguard, and this dude later tells us a bit about the long history between him and Crump, who willingly gave him a second chance despite his criminal past.

The documentary also shows many other cases to be handled by Crump besides the Floyd case. While some of them are as serious as the Floyd case, others seem less significant in comparison, but every case feels important to Crump nonetheless. In case of one African woman, she experienced a small but undeniably infuriating case of racism at a local bank, and that surely reminds us of how millions of African Americans have been disadvantaged in many aspects.

As busily handling all these and other cases day by day, Crump often finds himself separated from his dear wife and daughter, and he naturally regrets not being there for them many times. At least, both his wife and daughter understand and appreciate what he has tried to do outside everyday, and we get some sweet intimate moments as he talks with his wife and daughter via video call.

Meanwhile, the documentary comes to focus on the Floyd case again. When the Floyd case was eventually going through its last chapter, Crump and his colleagues worked harder than before for getting the best result, and, to their surprise, the outcome turned out to be much better than they cautiously expected. While the city council of Minneapolis unanimously agreed to a historical amount of settlement for Floyd’s close family members, the jury of the trial on that police officer found him guilty of all charges, and Crump and everyone around him rejoiced at that.

Overall, “Civil: Ben Crump”, directed by Nadia Hallgren, is an engaging documentary for anyone who has paid attention to its important social issues. I must point out that it becomes rather scattershot at times as trying to handle a bit too many elements within less than 100 minutes, but it still holds our attention with Crump functioning as its strong human center, and, in my humble opinion, he is surely one of admirable figures which remind me that there is still hope in the American society. Even at this point, he is working on a bunch of cases as shown at the end of the documentary, and I sincerely hope that he will keep going as before.

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I am More (2021) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Meet More

I like documentaries presenting people different from me with care and empathy, and South Korean documentary film “I am More” is one of such cases. While its transgender heroine surely draws our attention right from the beginning due to her cocky flamboyance on the surface, we also come to see her hard-earned will and resilience behind her showy appearance as following her little human story, and you may come to respect and like her more than expected – if you are open to more tolerance and acceptance.

At first, the documentary looks into a certain club located in the middle of the Itaewon-dong neighborhood of Seoul. To be frank with you, I actually passed by this club more than once as looking for any suitable gay bar for me in August 2016, but I never entered this club although it is still there, so I was a bit intrigued as watching the camera gliding into this club and then showing here and there inside it.

We soon see several drag queen performers dancing on the stage one by one, and one of them is a transgender female named “More”. It is apparent that she is pretty popular among those club customers, and we are accordingly served with several exciting moments as she goes through a series of dynamic dance performances on the stage. At one point, she presents herself as a beautiful ballerina, and we are not surprised when we come to learn that she actually studied ballet many years ago.

After that, the documentary observes her daily life outside the club. More recently applied for the audition for a certain important stage performance to be held in New York City, and we subsequently observe how much she prepares once she gets a role. Although she is around 40, her lean body is a lot more agile and flexible than my chubby (and clumsy) body, and I was actually impressed by how easily she can lift her leg above her waist.

When the camera looks into More’s little residence, it seems that a pet cat is her only companion, but it soon turns out that she has been in a relationship with a Russian guy for around 20 years. Although they still cannot get married legally, they look pretty much like a married couple as they bicker with each other a bit over a bad habit of More’s boyfriend, and we later get a little sweet moment as they try to sleep on the bed together. Although the past between them was a little complicated, they have loved and understood each other a lot during those many years, and I must confess that I envy and admire their relationship as a dude who have failed to have any serious romantic relationship in his private life during last several years.

While More and her boyfriend do not have any problem in showing their relationship outside, More is well aware of how hard and difficult things can be for her and many other sexual minority people out there in South Korea. She still remembers how she was cruelly bullied by one senior student during the first days at his art high school just because she looked too feminine, and she actually attempted to commit suicide once a long time ago, though she luckily survived in the end.

After that, More became more determined to be alive as herself, and we are served with a number of bold and colorful moments as she bravely shows off her colorful sexual identity. In case of one certain moment, she boldly marches alone as a part of the annual queer parade in Seoul, and even those hateful bigots gathering around the parade, most of whom are incidentally Christians, cannot rain on her parade.

While the documentary never directly points out, it is clear that More’s longtime endurance partly comes from how her family has accepted her sexual identity without much objection. When she visits her family living in her rural hometown, her mother greets her dearly, and her father has no particular problem with her even though he did not say much. After all, he supported young More’s artistic passion from the very beginning, and he is certainly much better than many South Korean fathers cruelly rejecting their sexual minority kids.

In the meantime, More’s life happens to have several small ups and downs. When she meets a certain famous American queer figure in person, she is quite excited for good reasons, and she surely feels honored when this figure later pays a personal visit to where she practices dance moves for the upcoming New York City performance. When she subsequently comes to New York City, she and this figure come to have a brief private meeting, and, though not being able to see her performance due to the busy schedule, this figure gives her a very special gift which means a lot to her (Hint: It was released by Criterion several years ago).

In case of More’s boyfriend, he is surely delighted about More’s little success in New York City, but, sadly, he cannot be there for her because his labor visa happened to be expired and had to go back to Russia after that. The documentary later gives us a very poignant personal moment between them, and you may find yourself hoping that everything turns out to be all right for this loving couple in the near future.

Overall, “I am More” is a lively and touching documentary to be appreciated, and director Lee Il-ha did a superb job of vividly presenting the vibrant humanity and personality of his interesting human subject. Although I am quite different from More in many aspects, I was often touched as closely observing his private thoughts and feelings from the documentary, and that is more than enough for my wholehearted recommendation.

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Please Make Me Look Pretty (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Her lovely caricatures

South Korean documentary film “Please Make Me Look Pretty” looks into the plain but lovely artistry of one young disabled woman who simply loves to draw. While her numerous drawings are its main attraction, the documentary also presents a frank and intimate human portrayal to be appreciated, and we come to see her life and personality more besides her disability.

When the documentary shows us Jeong Eun-hye for the first time, we can clearly recognize her developmental disorder right from her distinctive appearance. Due to Down’s syndrome, she looks like a big chubby child with the apparent signs of relatively low intelligence, and she certainly depends a lot on the care and attention from her mother, who often has to handle Eun-hye tactfully whenever they begin another day of their life.

Because there was no one to give her a job after graduating from her special school, Eun-hye had no choice but to work as a janitor at a local kindergarten, but then she came onto something to interest her a lot. After watching those kids freely drawing pictures, she decided to try to draw for herself, and that was the beginning of her artistic passion.

While subsequently working at a local rehabilitation center for the disabled, Eun-hye started to draw caricatures of people at a local market which is held in her hometown once a month. While constantly accompanied with her mother or her carer, she quickly drew the caricatures for many customers willing to pay her a bit, and, what do you know, her caricatures became pretty popular within a short period.

Although she needed some more practice at first, it did not take much time for Eun-hye to improve and then hone her skills. As she kept drawing, her caricatures came to have more artistic qualities, and we see how she can draw one caricature within around 20 minutes. While she often becomes exhausted as she and her mother receive more and more requests, she keeps going nonetheless, and that is not changed at all regardless of whether it is too hot or cold outside. She remains mostly cheerful, and everyone in the market is happy to see her whenever she walks here and there in the market during her occasional free time.

When she came to more than 1,000 caricatures with her mother’s full support, Eun-hye had a little exhibition of her works. Although she and her mother clash with each other a bit on her attire for the opening event, they eventually come to the exhibition under good mood, and the opening event turns out to be fairly successful as many people come to see her works.

Meanwhile, as shown from the early part of the documentary, Eun-hye also applied for the workshop for disabled artists in Seoul. Fortunately for her, she got accepted into the workshop without much difficulty, and we subsequently see her cheerfully joining her fellow disabled artists. At one point, the camera shows her assigned to a little private place of her own for artistic activities, and she is certainly delighted about that.

After she advanced more with her artistic talent, Eun-hye came to have a joint exhibition along with several other disabled artists at an abandoned factory. At first, the factory merely looks dirty and shabby with all those broken machines and some other stuffs strewn around here and there, but then we see how its interior and exterior are changed step by step. In case one wall of the factory building, the big photographs of Eun-hye and one of her fellow disabled artists are pasted on it, and we can sense how special this exhibition is for them and several other disabled artists.

When the exhibition is opened to its visitors, the documentary looks around their various artworks for a while, and this reflective moment is further enhanced by the open performance of a local dance troupe. To be frank with you, I have no idea on how their dance is connected with those exhibited artworks, but it surely enhances the mood inside the factory, which looks and feels quite different from how it did at first.

One of the most touching moments in the documentary comes from when the camera shows how Eun-hye subsequently became much more active about her artistry after the exhibition. She eventually quit her job at that rehabilitation center for pursuing her artistic passion more, and then she begins to work at a little local art academy for young kids. We see her sincerely guiding one boy on how to draw his favorite superheroes, and I must say that I could not help but smile a bit as watching the final result.

On the whole, “Please Make Me Look Pretty”, directed by Seo Dong-il, is a plain but sincere presentation of one interesting artist to observe, and I admire how it handles its human subject with care and respect without any distracting condescension. As watching Eun-hye’s irrepressible artistic spirit and the wholehearted support and encouragement behind it, I came to reflect more on the importance of the social inclusion of the disabled, and the documentary is certainly all the more relevant considering how harsh and ignorant the South Korean society has been to the disabled for many years. In short, this is another good South Korean documentary of this year, and I assure you that you will want to get a caricature of yours from Eun-hye.

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Good Luck to You, Rio Grande (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two different persons in the room

It is alternatively amusing and touching to observe the genuinely human interactions between the two very different lead characters of “Good Luck to You, Rio Grande”, which was released on Hulu in last week. Although most of the story is unfolded within one small place, the movie is constantly buoyed by the effortless chemistry between its two lead performers, and I appreciate how it deftly swings back and forth between comedy and drama from the beginning to the end.

Consisting of four chapters, the movie is about the relationship between a 52-year-old British widow played by Emma Thompson and a young handsome sex worker played by Daryl McCormack. As she confides to him during their first meeting, she, who presents herself as “Nancy Stokes”, has never experienced orgasm throughout her whole life in addition to having no fun or excitement with her deceased husband, and that is why she came to approach to this youthful sex worker, who works under the name of “Leo Grande”.

During her first meeting with Leo, Nancy often cannot help but become stiff and nervous for understandable reasons. Yes, she wants to explore sex and orgasm much more than she ever imagined before, but she was also afraid of only becoming silly and pathetic without success or satisfaction. As an experienced professional who has probably seen many women like Nancy, Leo tactfully and generously handles the situation while being ready for, uh, the next step, but she is still not so sure about whether this is really what she wants.

Anyway, though she keeps hesitating, Nancy manages to open herself to Leo bit by bit. Even before her unsatisfying married life with her rather boring husband, she was sexually repressed just like many other women of her generation, and she is also struggling with those cumbersome moral questions on her current circumstance. While she has really needed sex, she has also wanted to taste some youth, so that is why she hired Leo, but paying him to have sex with her still bothers her a lot.

In contrast, Leo is quite casual and confident about how he has earned his living. While not crossing the line between him and Nancy, he listens to Nancy with some care and understanding, and then, for leading Nancy more into her undiscovered territory, he comes to opens himself a little to her in response. Regardless of whether he is really sincere or not, he surely does as much as paid, and that eventually helps Nancy take her first small but significant step toward sexual pleasure and liberation.

As Nancy and Leo tentatively push and pull each other, the screenplay by Katy Brand often shines with wit and insight as carefully developing its two main characters step by step. I was particularly amused by how deliberately Leo uses some sophisticated words to impress and comfort Nancy, and I was also tickled a lot by how Nancy struggles to be more practical and straightforward about her sexual goals to be attained.

Under director Sophie Hyde’s skillful direction, a number of key scenes associated with sex in the film are handled with enough sensitivity and honesty. While you may laugh as observing Nancy fumbling after her growing desire, her bumpy quest for sexual quest is balanced well between humor and drama, and we come to care more about whether she can handle her tricky situation with Leo well enough to satisfy herself.

Things become rather complicated between Nancy and Leo when she is eventually quite enraptured as well as empowered by the happiness she has never experienced. She becomes more interested in getting closer to Leo in addition to getting more fun and excitement from him, and that is where Leo becomes a lot more guarded than before.

While it comes to lose some of its narrative momentum during its last chapter where it expands its small background a bit, the movie is still steadily held together by Thompson and McCormack, who dexterously complement each other’s acting without any misstep. As bringing considerable human qualities to her character, Thompson, who recently had her 63rd birthday, gives another stellar performance to be added to her long and distinguished acting career, and she also shows here that she can be as daring as, say, Helen Mirren. I will not go into details on one particular moment involved with nudity, but I can tell you instead that Thompson absolutely rules as conveying to us how her character comes to feel a lot better about herself than before.

On the opposite, newcomer Daryl McCormack is equally impressive as ably holding the ground for his co-star with graceful ease and confidence. Considering Thompson’s much more prominent status, it must have been pretty daunting for this young emerging Irish actor to act along with her in front of the camera, but he keeps surprising us as flawlessly interacting with Thompson throughout the film, and his character accordingly comes to us someone more than a hunky object of desire.

On the whole, “Good Luck to You, Rio Grande” is a delightful two-hander thanks to its two lead performers’ commendable efforts, and its frank and sensitive approach to its main subjects will surely remind you that sex matters to anyone regardless of age and gender. After all, it is never late as long as you are alive, isn’t it?

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Watcher (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Is somebody watching her?

“Watcher” is a modest but effective psychological thriller film driven by one little insidious possibility. Although you will not be surprised much by what it will serve you along the plot, the movie did a fairly competent job of maintaining the sense of dread and anxiety till the expected climactic part, and I was entertained enough by that even though I could easily guess where the story is heading along with its terrified heroine.

The opening scene quickly establishes the circumstance surrounding a young married woman named Julia (Maika Monroe), who moves to Bucharest, Romania along with her Romanian American husband Francis (Karl Glusman) due to his company work. Although she cannot speak Romanian that much, she tries to adjust herself to this foreign environment as much as she can during her first several days in Bucharest, and she is also glad to live in a nice and cozy apartment along with her husband.

As her husband is often busy due to his work, Julia finds herself usually spending time in their apartment alone by herself. While she keeps trying to learn Romanian more, she is still a foreign woman frequently isolated by the language barrier, and the only consolation besides her husband comes from Irina (Madalina Anea), a young single woman who happens to be living right next to Julia and Francis’ apartment. Although their first encounter is not exactly pleasant, Irina later invites Julia to her residence, and Julia feels a little more relaxed than before thanks to Irina’s sincere hospitality.

However, Julia still cannot help but unnerved by something which has disturbed and annoyed her since her first day. Whenever she looks outside the big front window of the apartment after daytime, she feels like being watched by somebody out there, and this uneasy feeling seems to come from a mysterious figure living in the other apartment building facing hers. This figure simply stays still and quiet as looking outside, but Julia becomes more aware of this figure’s presence day by day, and her anxiety is all the more increased when she seems to be followed by this figure outside their neighborhood at one point.

Of course, Julia’s husband tries to be reasonable while calming her down as much as possible, but she only finds herself thrown into more anxiety and paranoia due to a certain dark possibility. Not long after she and her husband moved into the apartment building, one of the tenants, who happened to a young woman, was brutally murdered, and it looks like this terrible incident is connected with a certain local serious killer who has not been arrested yet. Is it possible that the figure supposedly stalking her is actually that serious killer in question? If so, is she actually the next target to be killed?

While the screenplay director/writer Chloe Okuno, which is developed from the story by co-producer Zack Ford, toys with these scary possibilities, the movie rolls out one creepy moment after another for increasing the level of tension around its heroine. In case of one suspenseful sequence unfolded outside the apartment building, we come to brace ourselves more and more as our heroine comes closer to possible dangers, and then there comes an unexpected moment of relief to our little amusement.

In addition, Okuno and her crew members including cinematographer Benjamin Kirk Nielsen gradually convey to us Julia’s increasingly isolated status whenever she is in her apartment, which looks quite open on the surface but then comes to feel more suffocating as she is more unnerved along the story. As watching her thrown into more panic and dread alone, you may be reminded of Roman Polanski’s several notable thriller films including “Repulsion” (1965) and many other thriller films influenced by them.

Although it becomes less engaging during the third act where everything is revealed and explained as expected, the movie still makes us care about what may happen in the end, and Maika Monroe, who is no stranger to being stalked and terrorized because of her breakthrough turn in David Robert Mitchell’s “It Follows” (2014), ably carries the film to the end. Besides conveying well her character’s accumulating fear and desperation to us, Monroe also fills her archetype character with enough presence and personality to hold our attention, and that is the main reason why the finale works despite some plot contrivance.

In case of the three main cast members surrounding Monroe, they are adequately cast in their respective functional roles. While Karl Glusman and Madalina Anea provide some necessary relief as required, Burn Gorman, who looks much more subdued here compared to his exaggerated comic supporting turn in Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” (2013), exudes an ominous vibe right from his first appearance in the film, and you can easily discern why Monroe’s character is so disturbed by his character.

On the whole, “Watcher” is a solid genre piece which plays well in its familiar genre territory, and Okuno, who previously participated in horror anthology film “V/H/S 94” (2021), made a satisfying feature film debut here. As far as I can see from the overall result, she is a good filmmaker who knows how to handle genre elements well for our thrill and excitement, and it will be interesting to see whether she can scare and entertain us more in the future.

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Mad God (2021) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): The mad imagination of Phil Tippett

To be frank with you, I don’t think I really understand everything presented in “Mad God”, but, boy, what a wild work of grotesque imagination it is. I must warn you in advance that there are lots of disturbing and gruesome moments to make wince or cringe more than once, but they are so striking in terms of mood and details that they will linger on your mind for a long time even though you wonder what it is exactly about.

The film, which is a stop-motion animation film mixed with some live action elements, is a longtime passion project of Phil Tippett, who has been known for many notable special effects including the Oscar-winning ones for Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993). Although he actually started to work on this project from 1987, he later put it aside due to the rise of CGI via “Jurassic Park”, but, after two decades, he eventually came to resume the project thanks to the encouragement of his close colleagues, though it took another several years for him and his crew members to complete the film. According to him, he often had to depend on rather inexperienced volunteers willing to work for him during weekends, but he managed to draw the best efforts from them in addition to getting his projected partially funded by Kickstarter donations.

The overall result looks rather shabby and uneven at times, but Tippett and his crew members deserve all the praises they have received. It is more or less than a series of individual moments of sheer grotesque, but these individual moments, which all look deliberately ugly and hideous, are filled with mood and details to be savored, and I gladly go along with that even while struggling to follow its rather elusive narrative.

At first, the film shows a grim post-apocalyptic world ruined by some big war, and then it focuses on a diving bell slowly descending from somewhere up in the sky. The diving bell contains an unnamed humanoid figure, and the film follows this figure’s very long descent into the underground world, which is incidentally full of unnerving sights to disturb you in one way or another.

When the diving bell eventually arrives at the bottom of the underground world, the figure comes out of the diving bell, and the film continues to shock and disturb us more as following the figure. Along with the figure, we behold various sights and figures which will strike you hard with their outrageously and repulsively ungainly appearances, and I still remember a grisly moment which shows a bunch of masked figures constantly tortured as being bound on their torture chairs.

One of the most horrific sights during this part is involved with how tiny anonymous figures are exploited in one way or another. Once they are ‘created’, they are forced to do many kinds of risky works, and they are utterly expendable to say the least. I wonder whether this is the exaggerating depiction of the evil of capitalistic exploitation, but the movie does not tell or explain anything while letting us to process and interpret this and many other disturbing moments for ourselves.

It later turns out that the figure has a certain mission to be accomplished, but then the figure is taken to somewhere right before getting the mission accomplished. We soon see the figure savagely eviscerated by some mad doctor and his nurse, and the film goes all the way into blood and guts without hesitation. This is surely gory and horrendous, but it is presented via stop-motion animation at least, so we observe it with morbid fascination even while horrified by its extreme goriness.

Around that point, we see some human figures including the one played by Alex Cox, who has been mainly known for his several cult films including “Repo Man” (1984) and “Sid and Nancy” (1986). Cox’s character turns out to be the one who sent the figure down from somewhere up in the sky, but the film does not clarify whatever Cox’s character has actually tried to do, except that he has plenty of other figures to be sent down there.

We keep getting more of Tippett’s mad imagination, which continue to serve us one crazy grotesque moment after another as usual. At one point later in the film, Tippett and his crew members give us an unexpected moment of colorfulness to relieve us a bit, but, not so surprisingly, this moment does not last long as they strike us again with another disturbing moment. This and many other moments are certainly quite unpleasant on the surface, but they are driven by style and imagination besides having some naughty sense of black humor, and it is evident that Tippett, who handled many aspects of the production in addition to writing and producing the film, and his crew members had lots of fun together.

In conclusion, “Mad God” is a singular piece work to be admired for many reasons, and it is certainly something you cannot miss if you are looking for something different from usual Hollywood blockbuster animation films. Sometimes we overlook the fact that the world of animation is not just for kids, and those uncompromising adult animation films like “Mad God” remind us of why animation is still a fertile ground for more style and imagination. While I am not going to recommend it to young audiences for now, I hope they will check it out when they grow up a bit later.

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