Homecoming (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A superlative concert film by Beyoncé

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First, let me confess to you that I have underestimated Beyoncé for a rather silly reason. While I have not paid much attention to many of her songs, I only watched her in a few films including “Dreamgirls” (2006) and “Cadillac Records” (2008), and, in my humble opinion, she was not exactly the best thing in those films (Remember how Jennifer Hudson stole the show from her in “Dreamgirls” and then got away with that?). Probably because of that, I have regarded her without much interest, and I did not even check that iconic music video of hers when it came out it in 2016.

When I watched the trailer of Beyoncé’s concert film “Homecoming” last Tuesday, I did not have much expectation, but then I read a couple of enthusiastic positive reviews including the one written by Peter Sobczynski of rogerebert.com, so I decided to give the film a chance, and, what do you know, it is fantastic enough to change my opinion on her completely. While it goes without saying that she is a star performer to behold, the movie is pretty awesome for vividly presenting a spectacular showcase of her talent and personality along with a tremendous amount of style and substance to be savored, and it is definitely something you should not miss.

As many of you know, the main subject of the film is Beyoncé’s performance at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and it captures our attention right from the beginning as showing her glorious entrance to the stage. Accompanied with a bunch of dancers and musicians on a big pyramidal bench, she makes quite a striking expression of her racial/cultural identity in front of thousands of excited audiences, and that is more than enough for us to have some expectation on what will come next.

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And she surely does not disappoint us at all as dazzling us with a series of superb moments of music and dance. Although many of her songs are not that familiar to me, I was very impressed by how she skillfully delivers her songs with lots of spirit and energy, and I was also enthralled by the palpably rapturous vibes generated by her and those dancers and musicians behind her, who are clearly doing their best while vigorously throwing themselves into the performance just like her.

Never boring us throughout its 137-running time, the movie keeps going on and on with these and other terrific moments including the brief appearance of Jay-Z, Solange, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams. Whenever I thought it could not possibly get better than what I had just watched, the movie surprised me with more things to behold, and Beyoncé, who also co-directed the film, and the crew members of the film did a magnificent job of presenting her performance with considerable verisimilitude. While the cameras of cinematographer Mark Ritchie dexterously capture big and small moments to be appreciated, the editing by Alexander Hammer, Andrew Morrow, Nia Imani, and Julian Klincewicz is busy but precise and efficient without causing any confusion, and the overall result is often exuberant and galvanizing to say the least.

And there are also archival footage clips which give us some glimpses into Beyoncé’s long, arduous preparation process for the concert. Although she was not exactly in an ideal condition for the concert not long after giving birth to her twins in 2017, she decided to push herself hard for what would be one of the defining moments in her long artistic career, and the movie shows us how she diligently prepared many different things along with numerous people including dancers, musicians, choreographers, and technicians.

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As watching Beyoncé and others preparing and practicing a lot for the concert, I was reminded again of how difficult it is to do a big concert in front of audiences. Anything could go wrong at any point during the concert, and she certainly felt enormous pressure as the first black female artist to headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Nevertheless, once the showtime begins, she effortlessly radiates her star quality on the stage while also making her own cultural statement as she previously did through her 2016 music video. As reflected by several interesting moments involved with female empowerment, she boldly expresses her feminist belief in front of her audiences, and we are surely confirmed that she is a true artist in the total control of her artistry and public image. Around the end of the movie, I came to admire her far more than before, while sincerely hoping for a good film fully utilizing her undeniable talent (Remember when she received a Razzie nomination for “Obsessed” (2009)?).

On the whole, “Homecoming”, which was released on Netflix last Wednesday, is a supreme concert film which deserves to be mentioned along with other recent notable concert films such as “Shine a Light” (2008). Although I am a guy who usually hates going to a big, loud music concert (I still cringe whenever I happen to reminisce about when I attended a Nine Inch Nails concert without earplugs, by the way), I came to envy those people watching the Beyoncé’s performance at the 2018 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and that certainly says a lot about how effectively the movie worked on me. I am glad that it becomes widely available for many of us thanks to Netflix, but, to be frank with you, I cannot help but wonder now how wonderful it will be to watch it at big movie theater.

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Someone Great (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Three young ladies’ eventful day

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Netflix film “Someone Great”, which was released a few days ago, is a modestly enjoyable comedy film about one eventful day of three young ladies in New York City. While it is predictable and conventional in many aspects, the movie is at least equipped with enough comic spirit thanks to the occasional moments of sharp wit and humor, and it is also constantly buoyed by the engaging performances from its three main cast members.

At the beginning, the movie shows how things recently become sad and daunting for Jenny (Gina Rodriguez), a young music journalist who has been in a relationship with a guy named Nate (Lakeith Stanfield) for last 9 years but then happens to break up with him when a big change comes into her life. She finally gets hired by Rolling Stone as she hoped, but that means she will soon move to San Francisco, and she and Nate come to argue over that matter before eventually deciding to end their relationship.

When her two friends Blair (Brittany Snow) and Erin (DeWanda Wise) hear about her break-up with Nate, they instantly ready themselves for supporting and cheering up their friend, and they and Jenny happen to come across a good opportunity for having a big fun together. A popular but exclusive music concert is going to be held at some spot in the city during the upcoming evening, and all they need is someone who can give them three VIP tickets for that music concert right now.

Of course, their quest for those music concert tickets turns out to be longer than expected, and the screenplay by director/writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson cheerfully bounces from one funny moment to another. For instance, there is a silly scene where Jenny and her two friends have to deal with a trio of dopey rich teenagers who may give them the tickets, and then there later comes a humorous scene in which Jenny and Erin drop by a ravishing place belonging to a flamboyant marijuana dealer played by, surprise, RuPaul Charles.

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Meanwhile, Jenny cannot help but think of how everything looked fine between her and Nate during last 9 years. Not long after she suddenly found herself dumped by a guy who was her boyfriend at that time, she happened to encounter Nate by coincidence, and something immediately clicked between them right from the start. As shown from the following series of flashback scenes, they sincerely loved each other, and it seemed nothing would come between them, but she also vividly remembers how their relationship became strained even before their eventual break-up.

In addition, the movie also pays some attention to the respective private matters of Blair and Erin. While she seems all right with her kind and fastidious boyfriend Will (Alex Moffat), Blair gradually comes to feel the growing discontent inside her, and then she finds herself doing something she never imagined when she happens to have a little private time with Jenny’s ex-boyfriend Matt (Peter Vack), with whom she once had a very intimate moment a few years ago. In case of Erin, she loves her girlfriend Leah (Rebecca Naomi Jones), but she hesitates when Leah suggests that they should be more serious about their relationship, and she is not so eager to meet Leah’s friends for a brunch.

Although it is occasionally a bit too contrived, Robinson’s screenplay smoothly handles its story and characters as balancing itself well between comedy and drama, and cinematographer Autumn Eakin constantly saturates the screen with colorful lights for accentuating the stylized mood surrounding the main characters of the film. Around the narrative point where Jenny and her two friends eventually go to that musical concert, the movie goes further with more spirit and excitement, and the cameo appearance by Questlove and Jessie Reyez surely adds some authenticity to this part.

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Above all, the movie is supported well by its three main cast members. While Gina Rodriguez, who has been mainly known for TV series “Jane the Virgin”, is instantly likable right from her very first scene in the film, her co-performers Brittany Snow and DeWanda Wise steadily hold their own spots around Rodriguez with their contrasting personalities, and the comic chemistry among these wonderful actresses are simply infectious – especially when their characters happen to sing together at a local convenient store.

In case of the other performers in the movie, some of them did a little more than filling their small spots. While Lakieth Stanfield, who has been always interesting to watch since his breakthrough supporting role in “Short Term 12” (2013), brings considerable warmth and sensitivity to his scenes with Rodriguez, Alex Moffat, Peter Vack, and Rebecca Naomi Jones are also fine in their respective supporting roles, and Rosario Dawson has a little juicy fun during her brief appearance early in the film.

On the whole, “Someone Great” is pretty predictable while also not as uproarious as other recent female comedy films such as “Bridesmaids” (2011) or “Girls Trip” (2017), but it serves us enough amount of laughs as maintaining its good-hearted attitude, and it is one of more entertaining offerings from Netflix during this year in my inconsequential opinion. Sure, this is a familiar stuff, but it is a competent one at least, and you will probably have a fairly good time with it.

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Glass (2019) ☆☆1/2 (2.5/4): A decidedly lukewarm superhero movie

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“Glass”, which is supposed to be the concluding chapter for director/writer M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2016), is a decidedly lukewarm superhero movie which is fascinating enough to talk about but is not good enough to recommend. Although it has some interesting self-conscious touches to amuse us to some degree, it is still disappointing due to a number of weak aspects including its rather deficient storytelling, and I often found myself distracted and frustrated during my viewing even while entertained by its good parts.

The movie starts at the point not long after what happened at the end of “Split”. Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), a seriously disturbed young man with dissociative identity disorder who also occasionally shows superhuman strength as his super-id identity ‘The Beast’, has been still on the loose in Philadelphia, and it looks like nobody can prevent him from continuing his deranged criminal act of kidnapping and mutilating young women, but there already comes an opponent who may stop him: David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the hero of “Unbreakable” who has secretly operated as ‘The Overseer’ for last 19 years since he became aware of his extraordinary abilities.

With the help and assistance from his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), Dunn has patiently searched for where Crumb has been hiding, and he eventually discovers Crumb’s hideout and then confronts him, but they are suddenly ambushed by the Philadelphia Police and Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), who promptly sends Crumb and Dunn to a local institution for mental illness once she and the police suppress Crumb and Dunn. In her opinion, Crumb and Dunn are simply no more than patients having the delusion of being comic book characters, and she looks confident about taking care of their delusion problem within a few days.

Incidentally, there is another patient in the institution who interests Dr. Staple as much as Crumb and Dunn, and he is Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also known as ‘Mr. Glass’. If you have watched “Unbreakable”, you will certainly remember that Price is a dangerous criminal mastermind who caused a series of massive accidents just for finding people like Dunn and Crumb, but Dr. Staple does not worry much about Price as he has been heavily sedated for years while also locked in his cell with maximum surveillance system.

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There subsequently comes a long scene where Dunn meets not only Crumb but also Price under Dr. Staple’s supervision, and that is surely one of a few high points of the film. James McAvoy is certainly having a big fun here as he previously did in “Split”, and, not so surprisingly, he cannot help but dominate the scene over his co-performers while gleefully switching amid his character’s multiple personalities.

In the meantime, the movie also pays some attention to several other characters in the story. While Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard), who is Price’s mother, still regards her son with same care despite his horrible crimes, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), the girl who survived at the end of “Split”, decides to meet Crumb again, and, after their re-encounter at the institution, she subsequently becomes more interested in whatever has been implied in comic books and superhero characters. In case of Joseph, he tries to find any possible way to help his father, and then he happens to discover something which is going to be revealed later in the story.

I will not go into details here not for spoiling anything, but I can tell you instead that it gradually turns out that Price has been carefully planning for a big moment he has been waiting for many years. Things get more interesting once he embarks on executing his plan, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that there will be an eventual confrontation among Price, Crumb, and Dunn.

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Interestingly, the movie defies our expectation in terms of story and characters, and I sort of enjoyed how it deliberately maintains its phlegmatic storytelling approach even during its climactic part which is notably far less explosive than what we have observed from other blockbuster superhero movies during recent years, but Shyamalan’s screenplay somehow fails to meld its different story elements into something coherent. As often hampered by its thin characterization and disjointed narrative, it does not succeed much in making us care about its story and characters, and some of its plot twists are too contrived to say the least.

Furthermore, the main cast members of the movie besides McAvoy seem to be merely filling their respective roles on the whole. While Samuel L. Jackson has some chance to chew his several scenes later in the movie, Bruce Willis does less acting here than he briefly did in “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” (2019), and Sarah Paulson is as under-utilized as other substantial supporting performers in the film including Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, and Anya Taylor-Joy.

Although it is not the worst film in Shyamalan’s uneven career which gave us not only “Unbreakable” and “Signs” (2002) but also “The Last Airbender” (2010) and “After Earth” (2013), “Glass” is still a letdown compared with his recent solid comeback shown from “The Visit” (2015) and “Split”. I am left with disappointment now, but, considering its modest success in the US box office early in this year, Shyamalan will surely move on as before, and I can only hope for something more satisfying than this middling piece of work.

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A Vigilante (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A female avenger against domestic violence

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“A Vigilante” is a small but fascinating drama about one troubled woman who chooses a rather drastic way of fighting against domestic violence. While firmly sticking to its austere attitude, the movie works as a restrained but intense character study with subtle human touches to be appreciated, and we come to understand and emphasize with its heroine even while we mostly observe her from the distance.

When we are introduced to Sadie (Olivia Wilde) at the beginning of the film, she is preparing for her latest job, and the movie calmly and clinically depicts how she does her unpleasant but necessary job step by step. Once she is fully prepared, she goes to a house where her latest client, a married woman who has been abused by her husband for years, lives, and she meets her client’s abusive husband when he returns to the house. Shortly after he makes a very big mistake of underestimating her, we see him forced to follow every demand of hers, and her client, who looks a lot more relieved than before as being totally free from her husband, thanks Sadie a lot while also paying her some cash.

Although it seems to be often emotionally exhausting for her to commit her cold, merciless violence on her targets, Sadie keeps going whenever she gets a call for help. While most of her targets are men, she does not make any exception at all when she happens to handle the situation involved with a mother who has been not so good to her two children, and we accordingly get another uncomfortable moment of violence.

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Via a series of flashback scenes, the movie gradually reveals what has been fueling Sadie’s violent tendency. When we see her attending a meeting held at a shelter for female abuse survivors, she mostly remains quiet and distant while other women at the meeting recount their painful experience of abuse one by one, but, eventually, she comes to confide to others on what happened to her and her dear son some time ago, and that is the most harrowing moment in the film.

When one of her fellow abuse survivors tells her that she should be more active in coping with her pain and trauma instead of just nursing them passively, Sadie comes to decide that she really should do something for healing herself. After leaving the shelter, she promptly begins to operate as a vigilante for those abused people out there, and she also attempts to get a personal closure for herself through tracking down her husband, who disappeared right after that terrible incident and is probably hiding somewhere.

Now some of you will have a pretty good idea on where the story is going, but the movie surprises us as adamantly avoiding any chance of cheap thrill or catharsis. While there are several tense moments during its last act as expected, the movie dryly maintains its low-key tone without any gratuitous moment, and the overall result is as impressively stoic as Lynne Ramsay’s “You Were Never Really Here” (2017), which is incidentally another brutal and intense movie about a violent and traumatized figure.

As a result, we come to focus more on its heroine’s damaged state of mind, and Olivia Wilde, who drew my attention for the first time with her good supporting performance in TV drama series “House”, delivers a solid performance which conveys well whatever is churning behind her character’s detached façade. While ably imbuing her character with considerable determination and physicality as demanded, Wilde also did a commendable job of subtly revealing her character’s vulnerability, and she is particularly convincing during a brief but striking scene where her character cannot help but become helpless in front of the origin of her pain and trauma. No matter how much Sadie has tried to overcome her pain and trauma, it ultimately turns out that her old mindset does not die easily, and we come to cringe a lot as watching what happens next because of that.

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The movie is the first feature film directed by director/writer Sarah Dagger-Nickson. She only made two short films before making this film, but she shows here that she is a competent filmmaker who knows how to hold our attention via mood and storytelling. Never looking deficient in technical aspects, the movie is also slick and efficient in its economical storytelling, and I especially appreciate how a certain recurring aural detail is deftly utilized throughout the film for a modest but haunting dramatic effect.

In addition, Dagger-Nickson assembles a number of good performers around Wilde. While Betsy Aidem and C.J. Wilson are effective in their brief appearance during the early part of the movie, Tonye Patano gives a gentle and thoughtful performance as a caring counselor for Sadie and other female abuse survivors, and Morgan Spector brings chilly creepiness to his supporting character.

Although it received lots of praises from critics after it was shown at the South by Southwest Film Festival early in last year, “A Vigilante” did not get much attention when it was released in last month in US, and that is a shame considering the substantial achievement by Dagger-Nixon and her cast and crew members. Yes, it is probably a bit too dry and tough for some of you, but it is still worthwhile to watch on the whole for several good reasons including Wilde’s electrifying performance, and you will not be disappointed if you are looking for something different.

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Never Look Away (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A sprawling epic period drama

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German film “Never Look Away”, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar early in this year, is a sprawling epic period drama about one young man struggling to find his own artistic voice during the most tumultuous part of the 20th century German history. While this is surely your average old-fashioned melodrama full of predictable clichés and plot turns, the movie mostly works because of its solid mood and storytelling as well as several good performances, and you may come to forgive its notable shortcomings as enjoying its strong parts.

The movie mainly revolves around an artist named Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling), and the early part of the movie shows his childhood years in Dresden during the 1930-40s. When young Barnert and his aunt Elizabeth (Saskia Rosendahl) go to a special art exhibition showing various modern artworks, they and others are told about how these artworks do not fit well with the ideals of Hitler and his Nazi Party, but young Barnert cannot help but impressed by these artworks, and his aunt, who is as your typical free eccentric soul, later tells her nephew on why he should never look away for beholding the beauty inside everything that is true.

Life is never boring for young Barnert as he is with his aunt, but their good time does not last that long. As often being emotionally unstable, his aunt is sent away to an institution for mental illness, and she is promptly sterilized along with many other mentally ill people as ordered by the government. When she meets Professor Car Seeband (Sebastian Koch), a gynecologist who happens to handle her case, she tearfully pleads him not to sterilize her, but he coldly ignores her plea, and his following action eventually leads to her tragic death a few years later.

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Several years after the end of World War II, Barnert now becomes a lad aspiring to be an artist, but the situation is not exactly ideal for him. As an East German citizen, he has to conform to the ideology of the communist party just like many others around him, and he initially believes he will be all right with that as long as he can pursue his artistic career in a local art school, but he only finds himself not getting along that well with social realism style, which is not that far from the totalitarian style of the Nazi era.

Meanwhile, Barnert happens to encounter a young female student named Ellie (Paula Beer), and it does not take much time for them to fall in love with each other, but they have to hide their relationship from her parents for a while, until they cannot hide it from her parents any longer. Her stern father is understandably not so pleased about this, so he decides to do something quite heartless to his own daughter, but Barnert and Ellie’s relationship only becomes more strengthened than before, and her father has no choice but to give a blessing to his daughter’s eventual marriage.

Although he makes some advance in his nascent artistic career, Barnert feels more suffocated and frustrated than before, so he eventually decides to go over to West Berlin along with his wife shortly before the Berlin Wall is built, but he still finds himself searching for his own artistic voice. Now he gets a lot more freedom and choices than before, so he tries many different things, but he is only told by his new professor that he has not found his own individual style yet.

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Around that narrative point, the movie plods more than before, but it gives some nice visual moments to remember, and the period atmospheres and details in the film are impeccable thanks to cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, who received a surprise Oscar nomination for the film. While I enjoyed a sequence where Barnert tries several styles including the one belonging to Jackson Pollock, I was amused by when Barnert’s new professor makes a big fiery point in front of his students, and I also appreciated how the movie delivers a big dramatic punch not long after Barnert eventually finds his simple but distinctive artistic method (Is that a spoiler?).

I must point out that the main characters in the film are mostly archetypes who are a little too broad in my trivial opinion, but that weak aspect is compensated to some degree by its good cast members. Although Barnert, who is loosely based on real-life German artist Gerhard Richter, is rather bland as the center of the story, Tom Schilling carries the film well with his earnest performance, and he is supported well by the other cast members including Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendah, Oliver Masucci, and Sebastian Koch, who delivers the most effective performance in the film as being quite different from his sensitive performance in director/writer Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s debut feature film “The Lives of Others” (2006)

Compared to “The Lives of Others”, which deservedly won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2007, “Never Look Away”, whose original German title “Werk ohne Autor” means “Work Without Author”, is relatively less powerful in many aspects, but it is at least two or three steps above von Donnersmarck’s previous film “The Tourist” (2010), a lackluster misfire starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. Although it feels overlong and self-indulgent at times, it constantly keeps us interested during its 188-minute running time, so I will not complain for now.

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Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A Man Behind Fox News

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Roger Ailes was a pretty deplorable guy in my humble opinion. As running Fox News for more than 20 years, he actively and aggressively spread fear and hate over the American society along with his loony right-wing figures such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, and this toxic political culture generated from them has still continued even after his humiliating downfall which was soon followed by his death in 2017. Although it may be a bit too early to examine how much Ailes and his monstrous creation have damaged and contaminated the American society, documentary film “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes” gives us an engaging presentation of his life and career, and it is alternatively disconcerting and compelling to watch how he irreversibly changed the landscapes of the American media during last several decades.

After the prologue juxtaposing Ailes’ downfall in 2016 with that unbelievable political rise of Donald J. Turmp in the same year, the documentary shows and tells us about Ailes’ early years in Warren, Ohio. He was the son of a stern conservative father who worked in a local factory, and, as some of his childhood friends tell us, he was a smart, ambitious boy ready to go forward for bigger things in the future despite his hemophilia, which was the main reason he could not join the Army during the Vietnam War.

In 1968, Ailes worked as the producer of “The Mike Douglas Show” in Philadelphia, which was one of a few daytime talk shows in US during that period. Not long after Richard Nixon, who was running for the US President in that year, appeared in the show, Ailes approached to Nixon, and he succeeded in convincing Nixon to hire him as a ‘media advisor’ who could help Nixon a bit on looking good on TV, which was not one of Nixon’s strong points as previously shown from his disastrous TV appearance with John F. Kennedy in 1960. Thanks to Ailes, Nixon could present himself on TV a lot better than before, and that certainly contributed a lot to his eventual victory in the 1968 US Presidential Election.

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After this considerable success of his, Ailes found himself sought by many other Republican politicians ranging from Ronald Reagan to Mitch McConnell, who initially did not have much chance when he tried to be a US senator from Kentucky in 1984 but got a major boost thanks to a simple but effective political advertisement supervised by Ailes. Around the time of the George H.W. Bush administration, he further solidified his reputation as a kingmaker, and he also established his own national cable TV network named America’s Talking in 1992, which was intended as something he had envisioned for a long time since the Richard Nixon administration: a political media platform for the Republican Party and its conservative followers.

When he later got competed by CNN and MSNBC, Ailes became determined to beat his competitors, and that was how he came to work with Rupert Murdoch, who helped him found, yes, Fox News in 1996. Under Ailes’ cutthroat leadership, Fox News aggressively went for attracting more viewers around the country, and it surely had a big field day when the Bill Clinton administration, which was hated a lot by Ailes and many other right-wing guys in US, happened to be shaken by a sex scandal involved with Monica Lewinsky. In the end, Fox News became the No.1 News channel above CNN and MSNBC around 1999, and its continuing dose of sensationalism and propaganda was further increased after the 9/11 incident in 2001.

Meanwhile, Ailes showed his nastiness also in a smaller scale. He bought a tiny newspaper company in a small village of New York state where his big house was located, and a number of interviewees including a local Democratic politician tell us how Ailes attempted to manipulate the political environment of their small community. Once he bought that newspaper company, he tried to undermine that politician’s reputation by any means necessary, and some employees of his were not so pleased about that.

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Around the time when Barack Obama got elected as the new US president in 2008, Fox News went higher for more sensationalism and propaganda while also filled with numerous figures which will indubitably make you cringe if you are as liberal as I am. Besides O’Reilly and Hannity, there was Glenn Beck, and, now looking quite repentant about what he did during that time, he looks willing to talk about anything in front of the camera, but, considering all the damages he caused via his virulent TV show, I personally think director Alexis Bloom should have been harsher on him instead of drawing easy comments from him.

Anyway, Beck tells us a bit on Ailes’ darker sides along with several other former Fox Channel employees. While he could instinctively see how to exploit fear and paranoia in others, Ailes was also ironically driven by his own fear and paranoia, and we later hear about how his office was heavily guarded by several security measures in addition to a handgun in his desk drawer.

Above all, Ailes was a sexual predator as loathsome as Harvey Weinstein. Even before his years at Fox News, he often harassed women who happened to be around him, and this despicable behavioral pattern of his continued for many years until 2016, when he was eventually accused of sexual harassment by a number of former female Fox Channel employees including Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly and then consequently got fired from his position in Fox News.

Although I still cannot help but think that it could benefit from a wider perspective for its subjects, “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes” did its job as much as intended, and you may come to be more concerned about what is going on in the American media at present. Ailes is gone now, but his virulent legacy is still alive, and, unfortunately, his story is not fully over yet.

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To My River (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): The daily life of a poet

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South Korean independent film “To My River” grows on me more as I reflect on it more. As a dry but sensitive character drama about life and poetry, it requires some patience from time to time, but it gradually comes to hold our attention with its small but haunting episodic moments, and the result is another notable South Korean film of this year.

Kang Jin-ah, who previously drew our attention via her small but crucial supporting turn in “Microhabitat” (2017), plays Jin-ah, a young female poet who is about to publish her first poetry collection but has quietly struggled with the sudden absence of her lover Gil-woo (Kang Gil-woo). He has been unconscious for a while due to a serious accident, and it looks like there is not much hope for him as shown from a brief scene showing her visiting him and his concerned mother at a local hospital.

Anyway, Jin-ah tries to keep on with her ongoing life. We see her teaching poetry at colleges, we watch her meeting some of her friends including Gi-yoon (Han Gi-yoon), and we observe her having a discussion with her publishing editor, who shows her some generosity but also reminds her of the approaching deadline for her poetry collection.

However, Jin-ah’s work process seems to be going nowhere although there are already a number of new poems written by her. As she confides to her publishing editor, she does not feel like writing sincerely from her heart these days, and her mind often drifts to her memories of Gil-woo as reflected by a series of flashback scenes between them. Usually happy together, they frequently spent time around the Han River along with Gi-yoon and some other friends of theirs, and everything looked all right for them during that time.

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As she is haunted more by her happy memories of Gil-woo, people around Jin-ah often ask whether she is all right, and she does not like that much while feeling more of her lover’s absence. At one point, she is so drunken during her evening meeting with Gi-yoon that Gi-yoon has to take her to her residence, and then there comes a moment when they happen to be swept by a momentary emotional mood between them.

Leisurely moving from one episodic moment to another, the movie slowly establishes the rhythm of the daily life surrounding its heroine, and it occasionally gives us wonderfully realistic moments to be savored. I like those brief poetry class scenes where Jin-ah diligently explains the concepts of poetry to her students, and it is a bit shame that the movie does not delve much into them. In case of a scene showing a small meeting attended by Jin-ah and other poets, the rapport among them is palpable to say the least, and there is also a short but nice music performance around the end of this scene.

And we later get a nice long-take scene which is mainly driven by the private conversation between Jin-ah and her two close friends who have been a married couple for some time. As these three characters drink and talk together more or more, the mood becomes more uninhibited, and the couple come to talk quite a lot about how they came to live together, but we cannot help but smile as observing how much they are in love with each other.

This sequence is later contrasted with a couple of bitter flashback scenes showing a small personal conflict between Jin-ah and Gil-woo in the past. They happened to quarrel with each other over a rather inconsequential matter, and the resulting sour feeling between them remained same even when they later spent another evening time along with their friends near the Han River. As watching their conflict, I was reminded again that being a couple sometimes requires a lot more than love.

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The movie is the first feature film directed by Park Kun-young, who also did editing and cinematography for his movie besides writing the screenplay. I later came to learn that he frequently shot his performers alone without any other crew member for generating considerable private intimacy on the screen, and, as far as I could sense during my viewing, she mostly succeeds as much as he intended. While the movie feels rather rough from time to time, many of its key scenes are presented well with admirable restraint and sensitivity, and the overall result demonstrates here that Park is a talented filmmaker who really knows how to handle mood, story, and characters.

In addition, Park draws an engaging performance from Kang. While steadily maintaining the low-key tone of her acting, Kang ably conveys her character’s quiet emotional turmoil, and it surely helps that she is surrounded by a number of good performers to watch. While Kang Gil-woo clicks well with Kang during their several scenes, Han Gi-yoon is also solid as a caring friend of Jin-ah and Gi-yoon, and Jeon Go-woon, who is the director/writer of “Microhabitat”, and Yee Yo-sup, who is the director/writer of “The Queen of Crime” (2016) and is also incidentally Jeon’s husband, are enjoyable as the couple appearing in the aforementioned long-take scene.

On the whole, “To My River” may be a little too dry and slow for some of you, but it is still worthwhile to watch for its mood, storytelling, and performance, so I recommend you to give it a chance if you happen to come across it. To be frank with you, I am mostly illiterate in case of poetry, but the movie makes me more interested in poetry at least, and I hope I will appreciate it more someday.

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