Mothers (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): As they become a family

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South Korean film “Mothers”, which is released as “Your Request” in South Korea, is an intimate character drama about the emotional journey of two different characters who happen to live together by accident. While calmly establishing the emotional distance between them, the movie sensitively depicts how they come closer to each other bit by bit, and then it surprises us with some unexpected plot developments which certainly reflect its English title.

In the beginning, we get to know a bit about Hyo-jin (Im Soo-jung), a 32-year-old woman who has run a small academy for elementary school kids along with her pregnant friend/co-worker Mi-ran (Lee Sang-hee). Summer has just begun, and Hyo-jin has been considering moving her academy to some other place, but she is not so sure about whether she really wants to continue her business. In fact, she frequently seems tired and disinterested, and it is looks like she has not completely recovered from the death of her husband, who died around 2 years ago.

And then there comes an unexpected change into her mundane life. A long time ago, her husband married some woman and then had a son between them, and now her husband’s family asks Hyo-jin to take care of that boy because there is not anyone in the family who can take care of him after his maternal grandmother is sent to a facility for old people due to her senility. Although she only saw Jong-wook (Yoon Chan-yong) a couple of times before and does not know much about this adolescent stepson of hers, Hyo-jin agrees to take him to her home anyway, and that is the beginning of their rather uneasy relationship. While she tries to be as nice as possible, Jong-wook mostly remains sullen and passive except when he reluctantly shows some appreciation to her, and this often frustrates her a lot.

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As Hyo-jin and Jong-wook respectively try to deal with their changed circumstance, the movie slowly lets us get to know more about them via several supporting characters in the story. When Hyo-jin happens to spend some time with her busybody mother, it is apparent that they have not got along well with each other for many years, and we later get a bitter moment when Hyo-jin and her mother come to hurt each other’s feeling more than expected. Although she is mostly occupied with her upcoming delivery, Mi-ran is usually someone to listen to Hyo-jin, and their scenes are the most cheerful part in the film. In addition, Hyo-jin has been close to a psychology graduate student who works in her frequent coffee shop, and he is clearly interested in moving their relationship to the next level, though she has so far been content with being his ‘patient’.

In case of Jong-wook, it turns out that he has a personal matter which he has kept to himself. He wants to find someone who was very important to him during his childhood, and we soon see him searching around in some beach town along with his friend Joo-mi (Seo Shin-ae), a plucky female schoolmate who understands his motive well probably because her status is not so different from his. While she still needs to grow up more as your average teenager girl, Joo-mi turns out to be more matured and thoughtful than him, and that aspect of hers is exemplified well by when she later notifies him of an unexpected news.

The movie could easily slip into sentimental melodrama, but the screenplay by director Lee Dong-eun wisely avoids unnecessary sappiness as constantly providing intimate emotional moments to cherish. For instance, the scene in which Jong-wook eventually comes to meet that person in question is presented with considerable restraint, but what is churning below the surface feels palpable to us nonetheless, and that is why it works as a quiet but dramatic point in the story. I also appreciate how thoughtfully the movie handles the subplot involved with Joo-mi, and I was particularly touched by a small but poignant scene where she sticks to her certain pragmatic decision regardless of whether she actually regrets it or not.

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Like any good character drama films, the movie is supported well by the solid performances from its cast members. Ably holding the center with her nuanced low-key performance, Im Soo-jung, who has been one of the most prominent South Korean actresses since “A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003), subtly conveys her character’s thoughts and feelings while never emphasizing them too much, and young actor Yoon Chan-young holds his own place well as another main part of the story. Thanks to their believable interactions on the screen, we gradually come to sense the tentative relationship development between their characters, and they surely make a lasting impression on us as the camera looks at them from the distance during their last shot.

The supporting performers in the film are also wonderful in their respective roles. While Lee Sang-hee, who previously drew my attention via her breakthrough performance in “Our Love Story” (2016), enlivens her every scene in the movie, Oh Mi-yeon imbues her busybody character with considerable personality, and Han Joo-wan did a good job of balancing her character well between humor and sympathy.

“Mothers” is the second feature film directed by Lee, who previously made “In Between Seasons” (2016). Although I could not get a chance to watch that film when it was released in South Korea two months ago, I heard some good words about it, and, considering his modest but commendable achievement in “Mothers”, I think I should check it out someday. He is a good storyteller in my inconsequential opinion, and it will be interesting to see whatever will come next from him.

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Hostiles (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): A somber but brutal Western drama

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“Hostiles” is a somber but brutal Western drama about a man with the long history of violence and a risky journey he goes through along with a bunch of various figures. Now you get a pretty idea about what you will get from the movie, and it does not exceed our expectation a lot, but it is still an interesting genre piece thanks to its vivid period mood, engaging storytelling, and admirable performance. Phlegmatically observing a wild world which is still violent and ruthless despite the ongoing advance of civilization, the movie gives us a stark moral drama to linger on our mind, and it is often sad and poignant while also tense and melancholic as expected.

After the shocking opening scene in which a family living in a remote area of New Mexico is suddenly attacked by a group of local Native American gangs, the movie shows us another kind of brutality. It is 1892, and the American Indian Wars is almost over, but nothing seems to be changed much for Captain Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) and his men at Fort Berringer in New Mexico. We see them mercilessly handling several Native Americans they have just cornered, and then we observe the helpless and hopeless status of Native American prisoners incarcerated in Fort Berringer.

During his private time at night, Blocker drinks with his old comrade Master Sergeant Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane), and they come to reflect morosely on their violent past. Although they survived the war, they have been haunted by what they experienced as following orders and trying to survive, and the only possible consolation for Blocker is that he is soon going to get retired.

And then there comes an unexpected order sent directly from the US government. Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), a Cheyenne war chief who has been incarcerated at Fort Berringer along with his family for several years, is going to be released mainly due to his terminal illness, and Blocker is ordered to escort the chief and the chief’s family to the chief’s native province in Montana. Because he has a bad history with Yellow Hawk, Blocker initially refuses to follow the order, but he has no choice but to follow it, as his direct superior reminds him that he can not only be court-martialed but also lose the pension for his disobedience.

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As Blocker assembles his detail for what will probably be his last mission, we get to know a bit about several other members of the detail besides Metz. They are 1) a loyal black soldier who is also a devout Christian, 2) a lieutenant who recently graduated from West Point, and 3) an awkward young soldier who is clearly much less experienced than other members of the detail. It goes without saying that they are your average stock supporting characters, but they are presented with distinctive personality at least, and the same can be said about other supporting characters including Yellow Hawk’s family members, who are depicted with care and respect even though they are usually put in the background.

As going through the first day of his mission along with others, Blocker shows no mercy or consideration to Yellow Hawk and his family, but he soon comes to see that he and his old enemy should stick together for a while during their increasingly perilous journey. There is always the possibility of danger around their long route, and that aspect is exemplified well by when they and others get caught off guard by a sudden ambush at one point.

Meanwhile, Blocker and his soldiers encounter Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike), a young widow who has been quite devastated since she lost her whole family during that Indian attack shown in the opening scene. While she still struggles to process what happened to her, she slowly begins to recover as being under the protection of Blocker and his soldiers, and we subsequently see the possibility of romance between her and Blocker, though they are later reminded again of how harsh their world can be.

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Leisurely rolling along with its characters, the movie continues to dole out nice individual moments, and we are accordingly more absorbed into its characters’ journey. There is a welcoming moment of respite when they drop by a fort in Colorado, and then it is followed by a bitter moment of irony when Blocker comes to escort a prisoner with whom he once fought during the war. The mood becomes a little more peaceful around the expected end of the journey, but then, not so surprisingly, there comes another harsh dose of reality, and Blocker comes to face more of his dark side.

As the master of intense stoicism, Christian Bale is perfectly cast in his lead role, and director Scott Cooper, whose screenplay is based on the manuscript of late Donald E. Stewart, surrounds Bale with a heap of good performers. While Rosamund Pike is convincing in her character’s dramatic arc along the story, Wes Studi effortlessly imbues his character with serene dignity, and the other notable supporting performers including Rory Cochrane, Jesse Plemons, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher, Timothée Chalamet, Peter Mullan, Ben Foster, Stephen Lang, Bill Camp, and Scott Wilson are also fine in their respective supporting roles.

Although it is a little too long in my inconsequential opinion, “Hostiles” handles its genre elements well enough to engage us during its journey, and I enjoyed its excellent technical aspects including the crisp cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi and the moody score by Max Richter. Yes, this is surely a familiar genre stuff, and it did its job as well as required, and I do appreciate that.

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Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Behind Wonder Woman

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It is no secret that there are indeed kinky aspects in Wonder Woman, one of the most famous superheroes in the American comic book history. Look at many obviously fetishistic elements such as her famous lasso of truth, and you will understand why she had been regarded as an unwholesome influence on children since she made her first appearance in October 1940.

Digging into the unconventional personal life of a man who created Wonder Woman and two women surrounding him, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” is an engaging romantic drama which also gives amusing and fascinating insights into the inspiration behind Wonder Woman. While it sometimes falters especially during its second half, the movie mostly works well thanks to a trio of good performances at its center, and the result is interesting enough to watch along with, yes, “Wonder Woman” (2017).

After opening with Dr. William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) facing an important interview with the representatives of the Child Study Association of America in 1945, the movie cuts back to when he was a psychology professor teaching at Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges in 1928. As an expert on a behavioral theory called D.I.S.C. (Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance), Marston is particularly interested in developing lie detector along with his wife and co-worker Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall), and they are about to hire one of his female students as their new research assistant.

The student in question is Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), and this young, beautiful woman comes to interest both Marston and Elizabeth more than they expected. At first, they amusedly observe her tricky interaction with male students from the distance, but then they become more fascinated as getting to know more about her. Besides being quite intelligent, Olive is frank and forthright in her unadorned attitude, and Marston and Elizabeth are delighted to learn that Olive’s mother and aunt are in fact renowned figures well known for their feminist activities.

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As these three main characters come to spend more time together, a certain complicated mutual feeling is gradually developed among them. Elizabeth correctly sees from the beginning that her husband is smitten with Olive, but then she is surprised to realize later that she is also attracted to Olive, and Olive turns out to have feelings toward both Marston and Elizabeth. Not long after they come to have a breakthrough in their lie detector development, there accordingly comes a moment of truth for all of them, and they soon find themselves happily beginning their very unconventional relationship.

Of course, the rapturous mood among them does not last long as their relationship is regarded as something immoral and perverted by many others. Marston soon gets fired, so Elizabeth has to work as a plain secretary for supporting not only them but also Olive, who agrees to live with them as Elizabeth’s ‘companion’ and subsequently gives birth to Marston’s first child.

While they continue to maintain their necessary façade of normality with more children, Marston struggles to publish his academic books on the DISC theory, but then there comes an odd moment of inspiration for him around 1940. After taking a brief look into a fetish shop owned by Charles Guyette (JJ Felid), he takes Elizabeth and Olive to the shop when Guyette gives his several customers a kinky presentation involved with bondage, and he comes to imagine a female superhero as watching Olive try a fetishistic experiment in front of him and Elizabeth. When he suggests this comic book idea of his to Max Gaines (Oliver Pratt), the publisher of National Periodical Publication (It is DC Comics at present, by the way), Gaines is not that enthusiastic, but Marston pushes his idea as hard as he can, and, as shown from the following exuberant sequence, his superhero figure, renamed as ‘Wonder Woman’ after Gaines’ small suggestion, turns out to be a big hit comparable to Superman and Batman.

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However, Wonder Woman soon comes to receive criticism for its apparent sexual undertone, and that is where the screenplay by director Angela Robinson becomes shaky and contrived in terms of storytelling. While the scenes involved with the Child Study Association of America are more or less than obligatory narrative hangers, a dramatic conflict among our three main characters later in the story feels artificial especially during its eventual resolution, and that is why the epilogue part does not feel as emotionally resonant as intended.

Nevertheless, the movie is still entertaining on the whole thanks to the commendable acting of its three main performers. Although his performance is the weakest one in the bunch, Luke Evans maintains his rather neutral character well in his position, and Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote shine whenever their respective characters have to deal with their emotional matters. Thanks to Hall and Heathcote’s strong performance, we can really sense how much Elizabeth and Olive inspire their man’s creation, and we come to agree with Marston when he shows his sincere appreciation to them around the ending of the movie.

Overall, “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women”, which goes straight to DVD/Blu-ray here in South Korea, handles its intriguing subject well with enough respect and intelligence, and I was alternatively amused and touched by the complex emotional dynamics among its three smart, intelligent main characters. Considering the enormous box office success of “Wonder Woman”, this small but interesting movie deserves more attention, and I guarantee you that you will come to observe Wonder Woman with more understanding and amusement.

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Eyelids (2015) ☆☆☆(3/4): A Requiem for Sewol

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Calmly isolating itself within its small solitary background, South Korean independent film “Eyelids” presents an austere but haunting poetic requiem for the victims of one horrible incident which shocked the whole nation a few years ago. Although the incident in question is briefly mentioned only once in the film, that is more than enough for me and other South Korean audiences, and the deep sadness glimpsed from the final scene of the movie lingered on me for a while as I walked out of the screening room.

The movie mainly revolves around the ascetic daily life of an old man who has lived alone in a remote sea island. While not revealing much about himself, the old man silently leads a self-sufficient life in his isolated nature environment, and that reminds me of similar isolated nature environments shown in several notable works of Kim Ki-duk such as “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring” (2003).

As slowly getting us accustomed to its hero’s small world, the movie gradually reveals his main job. Not long after the phone in his shabby house rings at one point, an angler comes to the island, and the old man is ready to prepare a piece of rice cake for the angler, who turns out to be a recently diseased man and is soon gone from the island once the rice cake is ready for him.

Now this sounds pretty preposterous to some of you, but the movie keeps its attitude straight as before. Although still not explaining anything to us, it engages us via its vivid natural atmosphere and some interesting things to observe, and we come to accept the unrealistic aspects of its premise. While I was amused a bit by several animals in the island including a black goat who seems to be under the old man’s care, I observed a few abandoned small stone statues with curiosity, and I liked how one of these stone statues is effectively used for dramatic purpose later in the movie.

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The mood becomes a little tenser when a storm comes, and then the old man hears a tragic news from his radio. A ferry ship named Sewol was sunken at a spot not so far from the island, and the old man is visibly agitated by that. Not long after the news came out, a rat comes into the island, and then there also comes a mysterious red suitcase. When the old man brings the suitcase to his house and then opens it, we only see water inside it, but the old man seems to feel something else from it. He tries to ignore the suitcase, but it constantly draws his attention nonetheless, and he feels exasperated because of that.

And then there comes a young teacher and her two students, who apparently represent many unfortunate victims on that ferry ship. Like that angler who came before them, they wait for rice cake to be served to them, but, alas, the situation becomes not so good for the old man due to one accidental reason, and that results in more frustration and exasperation for him.

In the end, the movie strikes us hard with its final sequence, and that made me reflect again on how horrible that real-life sinking incident was. When the sinking of Sewol was reported in the morning of April 16th, 2014, the situation seemed to be under control at first, but then it turned out that many passengers on the ferry ship were drowned mainly due to the incompetent handling of the situation by President Park Geun-hye and her corrupt government. After she was eventually impeached and then sent to a trial in early 2017 thanks to our mass public demonstration, we came to learn more of how ineffectual and irresponsible she and her government were during that time, and I must tell you here that I do not have any pity on her imprisoned status at present.

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The movie is written and directed by Meul O, who previously impressed me with “Jiseul” (2012). Although I was initially not as enthusiastic about that movie as other critics because of its glacial narrative pacing and minimalistic storytelling, I admired how thoughtfully and beautifully it handles the tragedy of the Jeju Uprising in 1948, and I appreciated its strong elements more during my second viewing. In fact, I later added it to my list of notable South Korean films of 2013, and it is certainly one of those good films I am willing to re-evaluate someday.

Compared to “Jiseul”, “Eyelids” is relatively modest in comparison, but it is still an interesting work accompanied with several good things to admire. Besides working as the editor of his movie, Meul O also worked as one of the co-cinematographers of the movie, and he gives us a number of stunning shots of unadorned natural beauty. I particularly remember well one brief shot of sea urchins slowly moving together, and I am still tickled by several funny moments associated with that rat.

Although it was shown at the Busan International Film Festival in late 2015, “Eyelids” had been somehow held in limbo for next several years, and I am glad that it finally gets a chance for more audiences in South Korea during this week. Although I am not that sure about whether it will work as well as for the audiences outside South Korea, the movie fulfills its purpose while also working as a solid arthouse film to be admired for its mood and poetic beauty, so I guess the audiences outside South Korea can also appreciate its achievement just like me and other South Korean audiences. Yes, it surely requires considerable patience as your typical ‘slow film’, but you will not easily forget it after watching it.

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A Quiet Place (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Be Silent – Be Very Silent

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Rarely have I been so constantly quiet like I and several audiences were during the evening screening of “A Quiet Place”, a small horror film which is seemingly modest on the surface but undeniably intense and terrifying for many good reasons. Thoughtfully and efficiently rolling its horror story premise via its economic narrative, the movie provides a number of truly scary and suspenseful moments which will hold you tight in your seat, and I admire how successfully it achieves its goals while never resorting to cheap tactics and clichés.

In the beginning, we come to get to know a bit about one desperate family and the gloomy circumstance of their constantly perilous world. Due to a sudden unknown threat which is gradually revealed to us along the story, the human civilization has been driven near to its end for several months, and remaining survivors must be quiet and silent as much as they can for continuing their survival. Any single noise to break silence can lead to certain death, and the opening scene observes how cautiously Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) and his family are as they stay for a while in a deserted town. Besides usually using sign language instead of talking, they are always wary of any possibility of loud noise, and that is exemplified well by when Lee does not allow his youngest son Beau (Cade Woodward) to have a toy too loud for them.

After the opening scene, the movie moves forward to around one year later, and we observe how the Abbotts have settled well in one abandoned farm. They look well-adjusted to their ongoing circumstance while being silent and cautious as usual, and everything seems nice and cozy when they quietly gather together for a dinner in their house, but then the mood becomes quite tense and ominous when their silence is accidentally broken at one point. Deftly playing with our expectation, the movie smoothly dials up and down the level of suspense during this scene, and the eventual moment of shock and awe at the end of this scene is as precise and effective as intended.

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While keeping trying to search for any possible help via radio communication, Lee focuses on finding any potential solution for that menace out there, but the situation remains as gloomy as before, and there is also a serious impending matter for him and his family. His wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is soon going to give birth to their new child, and it goes without saying that their new child may seriously threaten the safety of the family. Although Evelyn will probably be able to prevent herself from making any noise during her delivery, the baby can inadvertently be very noisy at any point, no matter how much they are prepared for raising their new child.

In the meantime, their deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) becomes more willing to get closer to her father and help him, but she is disappointed when her father chooses to go outside along with her younger brother Marcus (Noah Jupe) instead. As feeling quite disappointed, Regan defiantly goes outside alone while her mother is busy with domestic works, and we accordingly get a few nice, sensitive moments as Regan spends some time alone by herself.

Of course, the movie inevitably shifts its gear into full-throttle mode later in the story, and director/lead performer/co-writer John Krasinski, who wrote the screenplay with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, pushes further what has been palpably established on the screen. There is a frightening moment involved with a seemingly abandoned house in a nearby forest, and then there comes a sequence which has a series of striking moments which will surely overwhelm you with sheer terror and suspense.

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Although he has been mainly known for his acting works in American TV comedy series “The Office” and several notable comedy films such as “Leatherheads” (2008), “It’s Complicated” (2009), and “Away We Go” (2009), Krasinski also started his directing career with “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” (2009) and then made “The Hollars” (2016). I have not seen these two previous works of his yet, but “A Quiet Place” shows me that he is a competent filmmaker, and I appreciate the superlative achievement from him and his technical crew. While cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, who previously worked in “The Hunt” (2012) and “Fences” (2016), frequently generates nervous ambience around the characters in the film, the editing by Christopher Tellefsen, who was Oscar-nominated for “Moneyball” (2011), succinctly delivers several impactful moments to jolt us, and Marco Beltrami’s menacingly dissonant score always keeps us on the edge whenever it is played on the soundtrack.

Besides demonstrating well his acting range beyond his familiar comic persona, Krasinski also draws convincing performances from his fellow cast members. While he and his wife Emily Blunt are natural and intimate in their characters’ private scenes, three young performers in the film are solid as other crucial parts of the story, and Millicent Simmonds, a young deaf performer who previously appeared in “Wonderstruck” (2017), is particularly excellent as bringing considerable pluck and authenticity to her character.

Overall, “A Quiet Place” is a superlative genre piece which is definitely better than many lesser horror movies out there. I still feel excited and shaken as remembering its many well-made moments, and that is far more than enough for me to recommend it wholeheartedly to you. Believe me, you will be very silent within its first 15 minutes – and you will get one hell of experience to remember.

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You Were Never Really Here (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Brutal and feverish

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Often brutal and feverish, Lynne Ramsay’s new film “You Were Never Really Here” grabs our attention right from the very beginning with its vivid, striking mix of unnerving character study and grim noir thriller. Firmly sticking itself to its deeply disturbed and traumatized man who is somewhere between Lou Archer and Travis Bickle, the movie alternatively unnerves and fascinates us with a number of tense, harrowing moments of human darkness, and the result is one of the most unforgettable films of this year.

The movie begins at the point not long after its hero, named Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), finished his latest job. While living with his aging mother in their cozy house located somewhere in New York City, Joe works for a private detective, and his specialty is finding missing young girls who are usually caught in sex trafficking business. Although the movie does not show us much of how he got things done in his latest job, the close-up shots of a hammer and several other stuffs he subsequently discards are more than enough for us to sense the violent aspects of his current occupation, and we later notice a bruise and old scars on his body when he takes some rest in a sauna.

While Joe looks rather mild and tender when he is with his mother, there is always the gloomy intensity hovering around him, and the movie occasionally suggests his boiling inner struggle through brief flashback shots. He was apparently very unhappy due to his father’s domestic violence onto his mother, and we gather that there was also a traumatizing experience during his military tour in Afghanistan. Furthermore, it is apparent that he has seen many ghastly things as hurling himself into criminal world, and there is a brief but striking moment when a group of young girls on the street happen to evoke one of his unpleasant memories.

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As Joe continues to struggle with his personal demons, there comes another case to be handled. The adolescent daughter of a prominent local politician has been missing for several days since she ran away from her home, and it is quite possible that she is caught in sex trafficking business. Because he is about to take a major forward step in his promising political career, her father wants to get back his daughter as soon as possible without making any fuss, and he gives some useful clues to Joe during their private meeting.

Although it takes some time, Joe eventually locates a clandestine place where the girl is possibly being held, and he immediately prepares for whatever should be done. Again, he buys a hammer and other usual stuffs which may be necessary for his job, and he patiently waits for an opportunity to break into that place in question. When he finally gets the chance and then goes into his usual violent mode, the movie phlegmatically and succinctly depicts his brutal actions from the distance while never allowing any cheap thrill or excitement, and the result is a sort of antithesis to “Taken” (2008) and other similar action thriller filcks.

When Joe finds the girl and then takes her to a safe place in the end, it looks like his job is done well, but, of course, he soon finds himself in a situation more dangerous than expected. I will not go into details here, but I can tell you instead that Ramsay’s screenplay, which is adapted from Jonathan’s Ames’ novella of the same name, will serve you with a series of chilling and devastating moments, which will definitely hold your attention tightly to whatever is going on around Joe.

As desperately trying to get out of this perilous circumstance, Joe’s mind becomes more agitated and disturbed than before, and Ramsay and her technical crew never hesitate to emphasize his increasingly unhinged psychological state. While cinematographer Thomas Townend subtly establishes nervous ambience on the screen, the editing by Joe Bini is superlative in its economical handling of actions and moods, and Jonny Greenwood’s atmospheric score provides extra nervousness to several key scenes in the film.

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Joaquin Phoenix, who received the Best Actor award for this film at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year (the movie also received the Best Screenplay award, which it shared with Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017)), is simply compelling to watch. Especially since his memorable Oscar-nominated turn in “The Master” (2012), Phoenix has shown more skill and confidence as shown from several recent films including “Her” (2013) and “Inherent Vice” (2014), and he demonstrates here again that he is indeed a very talented actor to watch. While effortlessly embodying his character’s tortured soul, he is flawless in conveying his character’s vulnerability to us, and we come to care about not only Joe but also his relationship with a few other characters in the film.

As Phoenix diligently carries the film, several notable supporting performers hold each own small place around him. As Joe’s mother, Judith Roberts brings some genuine sweetness to her scenes with Phoenix, and that is the main reason why a certain scene later in the movie is quite poignant. As a girl who turns out to be much more than what she seems on the surface, Ekaterina Samsonov is solid with her elusive appearance, and Alessandro Nivola is suitably sleazy in his small but substantial supporting role.

Like Ramsay’s previous film “We Need to Talk about Kevin” (2011), “You Were Never Really Here” is an edgy and uncomfortable piece of work, but it is also quite absorbing mainly thanks to Ramsay’s top-notch direction and Phoenix’s electrifying performance. While it is essentially your typical arthouse film, it is a lot more interesting than those brainless action movies out there, and I think you will appreciate it a lot especially if you are looking for something new and different.

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6 Balloons (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A problematic day with her addict brother

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Movies about addiction are usually uncomfortable to watch, and “6 Balloons”, which is currently available on Netflix, is no exception. As closely observing its heroine’s problematic relationship with her addict brother, the movie gives us several unflinching moments which will make you cringe for good reasons, but it also presents some sharp, honest insights on how addicts often drag down not only themselves but also others caring for them to another bottom to hit, and it surely helps that the movie is supported well by two solid lead performances to remember.

As the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to Katie (Abbi Jacobson), a young woman who is in the middle of her preparation for the surprise birthday party for her boyfriend. As she goes to a store along with her mother for buying several stuffs for the party and then comes back to her residence full of other guests, everything seems fine on the surface, but there is one small problem. Her brother Seth (Dave Franco) has not come yet, and she eventually goes to Seth’s residence for herself.

As it is gradually revealed to us, Seth is an addict recovering from his latest relapse, and Katie comes to find that Seth has just relapsed again even though he tried to restart his life with his young daughter Ella (Charlotte Carel and Madeline Care). Looking helpless and confused, Seth pleads for help, and Katie comes to decide to help him as much as she can because, well, she cannot possibly say no to her dear brother.

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However, as some of you already expected, their circumstance becomes more complicated. Katie’s initial plan is simply taking Seth to a nearby detox center and then going back to her residence along with Ella, but, alas, it turns out that the detox center does not accept Seth’s new insurance company. Because she cannot pay $ 5,000 in cash for his detox treatment right now, she has no choice but to send Seth alone to another detox center far away from her neighborhood.

When Katie eventually comes back to her residence along with Ella after sending Seth away to that detox center, the circumstance seems to be under control, but, of course, Seth soon comes to pull her toward himself again as struggling with acute withdrawal symptoms. With Ella in the backseat of her car, she drives back to him while not telling anything to others including her parents, and she tries her best for handling the situation as quick as possible, but then she finds herself bending to her brother’s agonized need. At one point, she is demanded to get drug for him, and that leads to a dark, disturbing scene where she has to go around alone in a slum area strewn with junkies and drug dealers.

As Katie is gradually dragged down into the darkness of her brother’s addiction, the movie often inserts the excerpts from her self-help audiobook. Although this feels rather blatant at first, it works better than expected as juxtaposed with the recurring watery images of Katie being literally sunken along with her brother, and we subsequently get a nice dramatic payoff moment when Katie must make an important decision for not only her brother but also herself.

Although her screenplay occasionally feels like a short film extended a little too long, director/writer Marja-Lewis Ryan keeps her two main characters’ circumstance rolling along expected narrative points, and she maintains well the level of verisimilitude on the screen. Although we do not get to know a lot about Katie and Seth, they come to as nuanced human characters who are engaging enough to observe, and I also appreciate that Seth’s daughter is presented as another substantial character in the story instead of a mere plot element.

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Above all, the movie gives its two lead performers a chance to do something different, and they did a fabulous job with their respective characters. Effortlessly conveying to us her character’s growing frustration and exhaustion, Abbi Jacobson, who has mainly been known for her comic performance in TV comedy series “Broad City”, is commendable in her unadorned acting, and I like how naturally she and her co-star suggest the long history between their characters. As watching their dynamic interactions on the screen, we come to sense the strong emotional bond between Katie and Seth, and we come to understand why Katie lets herself pushed or manipulated by her brother.

On the opposite, David Franco, who has mostly been known for several notable comedy films such as “21 Jump Street” (2012), is surprisingly convincing in his demanding role. Looking quite gaunt as required, he deftly alternates between his character’s helplessness and selfishness, and we often feel sorry for his character’s miserable status even though we usually observe him from the distance. When Seth tries to be jolly and pleasant with his daughter during one particular scene, we get the glimpse of his likable side, but his addiction is still on his back as usual, and Franco embodies his character’s inner struggle well while never exaggerating it.

Although it feels a bit overlong despite its notably short running time (74 minutes) and I was often bothered by its contrived aspects during my viewing, “6 Balloons” mostly works well thanks to Ryan’s competent direction and her lead performers’ strong performances. It is a tough stuff indeed, but it is handled with enough sensitivity and honesty to hold our attention, and you will get more understanding on addiction – and how it can damage human relationship in one way or another.

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