Chasing Coral (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): An imminent SOS from coral reefs

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Netflix documentary film “Chasing Coral” has an urgent environmental message for all of us. While dazzling our eyes with many wondrous sights from coral reefs, the documentary gives us the vivid, striking presentation of an imminent ecological catastrophe which has been unfortunately overlooked for many years, and it is often devastating to watch the ongoing collapse of one of the most important ecosystems on our planet.

The film begins its story with Richard Vevers, who was once an advertisement company executive but then eventually decided to devote himself to what he was really passionate about. After quitting his company, he went to tropical marine areas for enjoying underwater coral landscapes, and he subsequently founded XL Catlin Seaview Survey, which is pretty much like as an underwater equivalent of Google Maps.

Vevers tells us how he became interested in a problem which had not been noticed by many people including himself. After one of his favorite marine species was disappeared from its usual habitat area with no apparent reason, he wanted to know how that could happen, and he came to learn that many coral reefs around the world have been under a serious environmental threat. As pointed out in the documentary, 50% of coral reefs in the world was gone during last 30 years, and this disastrous happening has only become more rapid and frequent without any sign of decline.

As Vevers meets several scientific experts, we learn bits about how elaborate coral reefs are as a big, complex ecosystem. Consisting of numerous polyps, corals have formed a symbiotic relationship with algae which constantly provide nutrition via photosynthesis while living inside polyps, and they can virtually grow like trees as long as they are in an ideal environment. Evolved into a myriad number of species, corals have brought many different shapes and colors to their underwater environment, and their resulting reefs have provided habitats to thousands of marine species out there.

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As a matter of fact, our human world depends on coral reefs a lot more than you think. For instance, many animal species living around coral reef areas have been the main protein source for a considerable part of the human population on the Earth. In addition, coral reefs themselves are quite valuable as the source of numerous important biochemical substances such as prostaglandin, which is widely used for cancer therapy.

However, this precious beautiful world of corals is quite fragile in fact. Corals are very sensitive to the increase of water temperature, and they are ‘bleached’ even when water temperature is increased merely around 1-2 ℃ from their ideal temperature for living. Under that condition, algae inside corals stop photosynthesis while being toxic to coral, so corals let out algae for protecting themselves as being turned to white. Unless water temperature is decreased to the normal level, they will eventually die while being starved, and the whole ecosystem based on them will be accordingly collapsed.

Especially since 1998, coral bleaching has been more frequent around the world, and scientists already know the reason behind this alarming happening: global climate change. As many of you know, the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is resulted from the increasing combustion of fossil fuel, leads to more heat on the Earth, and the 93% of it is absorbed by the sea. While that is a good thing for us, it is a disaster for corals as the temperature of seawater is frequently increased beyond their tolerance as a result.

After learning about this serious environmental problem, Vevers decided to raise the public awareness of it, and he happened to find a right person who could help him. When he watched Jeff Orlowski’s acclaimed documentary film “Chasing Ice” (2012), Vevers noticed a clear parallel between decreasing coral reefs and the retreating glaciers shown in that documentary, so he instantly contacted Orlowsky, and that was how Orlowski became the director of “Chasing Coral”.

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For capturing the progress of coral bleaching via time-lapse cameras over several months, Orlowski and Vevers worked together along with a number of technicians. We see a special device which can protect their cameras while also being able to maintain a clear 360-degree view constantly, and we observe their considerable efforts as they try to handle several difficulties in their work. During their first trial, they only got a few clean photographs, but they were not daunted by that, and then they went for the next big chance when they were notified that the water temperature of the Great Barrier Reef would be increased considerably.

What they eventually captured on their cameras was a harrowing glimpse into another massive coral bleaching around the world, and they could not help but emotionally affected by this. For Zach Rago, one of underwater camera technicians who is also an amateur coral expert, this was painful to watch to say the least. Later in the film, we see him visiting the home of his childhood hero who introduced him to the wonder of marine life, and their conversation feels bittersweet as they talk about the ongoing crisis of corals.

At least, there are still some time and hope, and “Chasing Coral” powerfully conveys that to us in the end. Yes, the situation will be inevitably more difficult for corals and us during this century, but we may solve this big problem as becoming more aware of it, and I am glad to see this documentary getting considerable public exposure via Netflix. This is one of the most significant documentaries in this year, and I strongly recommend you to watch it right now if you can.

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Chasing Ice (2012) ☆☆☆(3/4): Capturing disappearing glaciers

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As many of you know, there are still lots of people refusing to believe the alarming progress of global climate change and its undeniable cause. The temperature of our planet has been abnormally increased during several decades because of the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of our planet, but, despite heaps of scientific data, those people keep turning a blind eye to this while also denying that this is due to the dependence of our modern civilization on fossil fuel.

They may say there are not enough evidences for global climate change yet, but what is presented in documentary film “Chasing Ice” is another undeniable evidence showing the ongoing effects of the global climate change. While it has been several years since it was released in 2012, the film remains effective as a vivid, beautiful visual chronicle of disappearing glaciers, and it will definitely make you more aware of a big imminent change we will have to deal with in one way or another.

The documentary centers on the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), an ambitious photographic glacier study initiated by nature photographer James Balog. While looking for another nature photography project to interest him, Balog became interested in glacier, and his trip to Solheim glacier in Iceland changed his view on global climate change. He had been rather skeptical about global climate change, but what he saw from Solheim glacier changed his opinion, and he accordingly felt the need to raise more public awareness of the impacts of global climate change.

Utilizing time-lapse cameras, Balog and a group of professionals working with him tried to get a multi-year record of several arctic glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska, and the documentary observes several trials and errors during their initial stage. While it was pretty difficult to set the cameras in right spots, there were also a number of technical problems to handle after that, and the result of their first attempt was quite disappointing to say the least. Nevertheless, they did not give up as making additional technical improvements on their cameras, and they eventually began to get satisfying results once everything clicked well together.

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Closely watching Balog and other EIS members at work, director/writer Jeff Orlowski did a competent job of presenting many vivid moments on the screen. At one point, the documentary shows us small black holes on the surface of a glacier, and Balog explains to us a bit about how they are generated. In case of an awe-inspiring scene which features an icy current of glacier water flowing into a seemingly bottomless hole, we see Balog carefully approaching closer to that big hole, and his considerable risk feels palpable to us even though the camera observes him from the distance.

The documentary also focuses on Balog’s admirable dedication to his work. Despite his knee problem, he kept trying to do more for his project, and he was not deterred at all even after his eventual knee surgery. We also meet his wife and children, and we can see that he is lucky to have a family who understands and supports what he has been passionate about for years.

We later watch a number of video clips assembled from thousands of photographs shot during several years. These video clips all show the rapid decrease of glaciers over that long time period, and Balog tells his audiences that this happening was observed even during winter. In case of one glacier, it receded so rapidly that the position of the camera had to be moved several times, and it is disturbing to see the full view of how much of this glacier was gone in the end.

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Another highlight in the documentary comes from Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland, which is one of the largest glaciers in the world. We see a gigantic chunk of ice being separated from the glacier and then floated away to the sea, and that moment chills us with its terrifying beauty. As watching it, I could not help but think of a similar moment in Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), which also effectively demonstrated the ongoing progress of global climate change.

If you are constantly aware of global climate change like me, you surely know how devastating it will be if we don’t do anything about it. As pointed out well in the documentary, the increasing temperature of the Earth will lead to more incidents of storms, droughts, and forest fires, and the human civilization will be further threatened by the rising sea level resulted from more meltdown of Arctic and Antarctic glaciers. It is really depressing to see that global climate change still remains to be ‘controversial’ thanks to the political influences of big oil companies, and I must confess that this often makes me have lots of doubt on our future.

Anyway, “Chasing Ice” is a modest but impactful documentary film, and I came to admire Balog and his colleagues’ enormous efforts a lot after watching the film. In fact, I checked their website out of curiosity, and I was glad to see that their project has been steadily continued during last 5 years since the film came out. We do not have much time, and we certainly need more people like them.

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Get Me Roger Stone (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A political operator very proud of his infamy

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If you despise what Donald Trump and his party represent, I bet you will dislike and detest Roger Stone as much as me after watching Netflix documentary “Get Me Roger Stone”. Here is a smart, diabolical political operator who has always been willing to try any dirty tactic for his party’s political victory, and it is chilling and disturbing to observe how much he has contributed to the recent rise of Donald Trump as well as the bastardization of American politics during last several decades.

While closely watching Stone working for Trump’s presidential election campaign during 2016, the documentary gives us Stone’s political background via a number of interviewees including Stone himself, who is quite frank about himself in front of the camera. For instance, he gleefully recollects how he manipulated a mock presidential election at his school via spreading a fake rumor, and it is quite clear to us that he was born to be a political operator.

He initially aspired to be an actor, but there came a turning point during the 1964 US Presidential election. After quite impressed by Republican nominee Barry Goldwater and his hardcore conservative philosophy, young Stone came to set his eyes on politics, and he eventually came to work for Richard Nixon’s presidential election campaign in 1972. When Watergate Scandal finally broke out, he drew considerable attention as being the youngest person called before the following congress hearing, and he tells us how much he enjoyed that moment although his parents were ashamed of their son’s involvement in the scandal.

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That could have been the end of his political career, but Stone managed to keep moving on instead as continuing to work for Nixon, and he soon came upon his first big break through Ronald Reagan. He saw the considerable potentials from millions of blue collar democratic voters who could be persuaded enough to vote for Reagan, and his strategy on several key Democratic states worked marvelously as he predicted. After Reagan’s victory in 1980, Stone rose higher within his party, and that was how he came to meet Roy Cohn, a notorious right-wing lawyer who was one of the most influential figures in Republican party.

Through Cohn, Stone met one of Cohn’s close associates, and that guy was none other than Donald Trump, who was taking his first steps into the realm of celebrity during that period. As Trump became interested in entering politics, Stone was there to help and advise him, and you may notice how much Trump resembles Stone in terms of attitude and speech pattern. Both of them are so blunt and flamboyant that you cannot help but watch them, and Stone’s garrulous speech pattern certainly evokes Trump’s many verbal razzle-dazzles in front of the media and his supporters.

As the Reagan Presidency continued, Stone further accumulated his infamy through a lobbying firm he founded along with his several friends/associates including Paul Manafort, who, as many of you remember, was once the manager of Trump’s presidential election campaign during 2016. Besides having numerous politicians in Washington D.C. under its control, Stone’s lobbying firm was notorious for having many notable dictators and despots around the world as their clients, and it is darkly amusing to see Stone and Manafort talking casually about what they did during that time. They seem to feel no qualms about that at all, and Manafort’s phlegmatic attitude in front of the camera feels rather ironic considering his current legal problem.

The 1990s was quite disappointing for Stone as Republican Party lost twice to Democratic Party in the US presidential election. When he became a national joke due to his sex scandal in 1996, it looked like the end of his political career was near, but then he came back with a vengeance in 2000. Through his usual dirty tactics applied to several key districts of Florida, he made it sure that George W. Bush won the 2000 US Presidential election, and he also played a crucial part in Bush’s re-election in 2004.

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While he still remained on the fringe of his party, Stone became more prominent nonetheless, and he surely enjoyed his eventual rising status as Trump announced that he would run for the presidential nominee of Republican Party in 2015. During the primary election of Republican Party, Trump went for every dirty tactic available to him as he learned from Cohn and Stone, and Republican Party was helplessly overtaken by Trump mainly because, as already shown from the 2012 US Presidential election, there was not any substantial political force left inside the party.

Once Trump began to clash with Hillary Clinton during late 2016, things became quite uglier, and directors Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme provide lots of cringe-inducing moments which are also infuriating to watch at times. Even after he officially left the Trump’s presidential election campaign, Stone did everything he could for supporting Trump and tarnishing Clinton’s public reputation, and we are horrified and disgusted as watching how those ‘alternative facts’ spewed out from Trump and Stone were willingly accepted by Trump’s zealous supporters. When Trump got elected in November 2016, Stone delightfully celebrated that along with Alex Jones, and the documentary painfully reminds us of how despairing that day was for many Americans.

As sharply pointed out by many critical interviewees in the film including journalist Wayne Barrett, who died shortly before the film was released on Netflix, Roger Stone has done lots of serious damages to American politics, and he does not hesitate at all to take the credit for that. He is indubitably proud of the ultimate culmination of his dirty political tactics, and he will definitely have no problem with how he is presented in “Get Me Roger Stone” because, in his opinion, it is better to be infamous than to be never famous at all. He is a monstrous guy indeed, but, boy, he does enjoy being bad and notorious, and we come to look at him with horrible fascination, while worrying about the possible social/political ramification of what he has deliberately created.

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Nobody Speaks: Trials of the Free Press (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): The free press in peril

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Netflix documentary film “Nobody Speaks: Trials of the Free Press” is often alarming to watch for good reasons. It amusingly begins with many absurdities of one infamous court trial which drew lots of attention during last year, but then it eventually shows the possible beginning of a big, serious threat to the First Amendment of the US Constitution. As a matter of fact, this is all the more frightening considering the recent rise of Donald Trump, who has relentlessly attacked the media and its constitutional rights from the very beginning of his US Presidential election campaign.

The first part of the documentary is about how Gawker, an American tabloid blog founded by Nick Denton and Elizabeth Spiers, got itself into a serious legal trouble. In 2012, A.J. Daulerio, who was the editor-in-chief of Gawker at that time, posted a short video clip which was edited from a sex tape of Hulk Hogan and Heather Clam, who was the wife of Hogan’s friend Todd Alan Clem, a.k.a. Bubba the Love Sponge. Hogan requested Gawker to remove that video clip from its site, but Gawker refused in the name of the First Amendment, and Hogan eventually filed a lawsuit against Gawker in July 2015.

As observing the progress of their trial, the documentary spends considerable time on how Gawker had made many enemies during its prime period. During their interviews, Denton and Daulerio emphasize that their blog site simply went for anything to be exposed for public, but, as far as I can see, their online articles are mostly sensational gossips on celebrities, and some of these articles are indeed mean and unpleasant. In fact, they can be regarded as cases of invasion of privacy, and it is easy to see why Gawker did not get much support when it faced its legal trouble.

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In case of Hulk Hogan, he is no better than Gawker as a guy who has always lived through his gaudy celebrity. Regardless of however he actually felt about the public exposure of his sex tape as Terry Bollea (That is his real name, by the way), Hogan actually boasted about his, uh, manliness shown from that tape, and there is a moment of sheer absurdity when Hogan tries to explain the difference between his private self and public self during his testimony in the middle of the trial.

Anyway, the trial turned out to be disastrous for both sides. Although Hogan won at the end of the trial while also being awarded $140 million in damages, his another sex tape was exposed in public, and his career was totally finished because of his racist words recorded in that tape. Due to its enormous legal cost, Gawker went down into bankruptcy, and its blog site was accordingly shut down in August 2016.

During the trial, Denton and his several colleagues suspected that someone big and powerful was surreptitiously backing Hogan’s lawsuit for crushing Gawker, and, to everyone’s surprise, their suspicion turned out to be right shortly after their legal defeat. Peter Thiel, who is one of the most influential business figures in Silicon Valley, willingly admitted that he was the one backing Hogan’s lawsuit from the behind, and everyone knew well his motive. Several years ago, Thiel was not so pleased when Gawker exposed his homosexuality in public, and it goes without saying that he had waited for a golden opportunity to get his personal revenge.

The final result must have been pretty sweet for Thiel, but, as several interviewees in the film point out with genuine concern, what he did to Gawker may open the door to darker possibilities. He demonstrated to other business moguls in US that the press can be suppressed or controlled through money and power, and this can lead to more erosion of what is guaranteed by the First Amendment.

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As a matter of fact, this disturbing trend is already beginning as shown from one example presented in the film. When Las Vegas Journal-Review, one of the most prominent newspapers in Nevada, happened to be sold to a group of anonymous investors, its editor-in-chief and reporters were naturally interested in who really owned their newspaper, and they eventually discovered that the actual owner is none other than the son of Sheldon Adelson, one of the richest businessmen in US. When they printed this hidden fact on the front page of their newspaper, Adelson and his associates were not so happy about that, and we were not that surprised to learn that many of reporters investigating the connection between their newspaper and Adelson were laid off in the end.

While covering many different things during its 95-minute running time, the film feels unfocused from time to time, and I think Director/writer Brain Knappenberger could have trimmed his documentary a bit for more succinct and focused storytelling. Maybe because I read several articles on its subject, I was not particularly surprised and enlightened during my viewing, and I was a little disappointed to see that the documentary did not go much beyond what I already knew.

Nevertheless, “Nobody Speaks: Trials of the Free Press” is worthwhile to watch because it will show and tell you how much the free press has been endangered in the American society – and how much its democracy is threatened because of that. There is still some hope as shown from the end of the documentary, but, folks, I cannot help but be skeptical as reflecting on how the situation keeps getting worse for the American press these days thanks to Trump and his deplorable cronies. Seriously, I hope I am wrong about that.

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War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Hail, Caesar!

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The recent reboot of the Planet of the Apes series has been one of the most interesting cases of reboot during last 10 years. In “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), the franchise successfully recharged itself with considerable potentials, and I was surprised as finding myself caring a lot about its ape hero who eventually became the leader of a big evolutionary revolution as the fall of humanity began. In “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014), the potentials glimpsed from the previous movie were further developed as he and his fellow apes inevitably clashed with human survivors, and the result was certainly one of more memorable films I saw during 2014.

Now here comes “War for the Planet of the Apes”, and I can attest that this supposedly final chapter of the series exceeds my expectation just like its predecessors. While being as grim and intense as required, the movie is also quite smart, compelling, and thoughtful in terms of story and characters, and that is something we do not encounter very often during summer blockbuster season. I was gripped by its brooding but captivating apocalyptic tale which will probably make you reflect on the dark sides of humanity, I was involved in its ape hero’s another plight he must go through, and I was impressed by how the movie powerfully delivers a satisfying epic finale he richly deserves.

As you probably remember, a genetically engineered virus strain lethal to human beings was spread all around the world at the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, but this virus provided an evolutionary breakthrough for Caesar (Andy Serkis) and many other apes, who all became quite smarter and then came to form their own community as shown in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. After the eventual clash between humans and apes occurred despite Caesar’s good-willed effort during the finale of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, Caesar came to realize that he had no choice but to fight for his species’ survival, and the eventual war between his species and humanity began as explained during the opening sequence of “War for the Planet of the Apes”.

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It has been around two years since the war began, and the situation is not exactly good for Caesar and his tribe. While they have managed to hide from the human soldiers commanded by the Colonel (Woody Harrelson) for a while, their hiding place is eventually exposed, and the resulting battle results in massive loss in both sides. Caesar tries to be reasonable despite that, but, alas, he subsequently comes to pay a hefty price for his choice; his wife and his first son are killed later, and he naturally becomes determined to get revenged on the very person responsible for his heartbreaking loss – the Colonel.

Although Caesar’s longtime confidant Maurice (Karin Konoval), an Orangutan who has always been an endearing character to me, advises to him that he should lead his tribe to a possible safe place first, Caesar is adamant about having his revenge on the Colonel. While having his tribe depart for that safe place as planned, he embarks on his journey to the Colonel’s place, and he is accompanied by Maurice and two other apes who have been loyal to him.

As they ride their horses together across wide, snowy landscapes, the movie evokes the qualities of classic western films while also being reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and, yes, “Apocalypse Now” (1979). Cinematographer Michael Seresin, who previously did a wonderful job in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, provides a number of superlative visual moments full of bleak apocalyptic beauty, and Michael Giacchino’s score, which feels more expressive and harmonic compared to his restrained dissonant work in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, effectively enhances the mood and drama unfolded on the screen.

During their journey, Caesar and his fellow apes come across two different characters. One is a young human girl who is mute for a reason which will be revealed later in the story, and the other one is an ape who can speak just like Caesar. Although she does not speak any line in the film, young performer Amiah Miller holds her own place well among Caesar and other ape characters, and she is poignant as her character gradually becomes closer to Maurice. As “Bad Ape”, Steve Zahn brings some sense of humor to the movie, and I like how he subtly conveys the pathos behind his character’s comic neurotic attitude.

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After steadily building up narrative momentum during its first half, the screenplay by director Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback goes into darker areas as Caesar comes to face the stark horror and madness in the Colonel’s place. Certainly reminiscent of Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now”, Woody Harrelson brings considerable menace and intensity to his scenes, and we are horrified by what the Colonel is going to do while also understanding how desperate and despairing the situation is for him and his men. Humanity is bound to fall irreversibly, but he and his men are not going away easily, and he is surely determined to do whatever is necessary in his twisted view.

While pulling out all the stops during its expected climax action sequence, the movie still remains driven by story and characters. We are surely served with lots of CGI actions, but they are skillfully handled while serving the story and characters in the movie, and then there comes a literally sweeping dramatic moment at the end of the sequence, which feels like a grand finishing touch to what is achieved by Reeves and his crew.

And there is another superb performance by Andy Serkis, who imbues his CGI character with heart and soul as he did in two previous films. Thanks to Serkis, Caesar is a compelling character to watch as usual, and we are treated with several powerful scenes as observing his dramatic character arch in the film. In my review on “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, I said that Serkis might deserve a special Oscar someday as a performer behind many memorable CGI characters, and I still stand by that opinion of mine.

While there may be another sequel to follow, “War for the Planet of the Apes” completes well what was started and then developed in its two predecessors, and I am fully satisfied with that for now. What is accomplished in these three films is undeniably impressive, and I think they will have their own iconic place in the movie history like “Planet of the Apes” (1968). Humanity falls indeed – but the apes rise at least.

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Lady Macbeth (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): A chilly period drama about one wicked lady

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Although it is not based on that Scottish play by William Shakespeare, “Lady Macbeth” is as mean, dark, chilly, and vicious as you can expect from its title. Based on Russian writer Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”, the movie calmly observes its seemingly prim heroine’s gradual descent into evil, and we are disturbed and chilled as watching this frightening process with horrible fascination.

In the movie, the background of the story is changed from Russia to Scotland, and the opening scene shows the wedding of a 17-year-old girl named Katherine (Florence Pugh) and her husband Alexander (Paul Hilton), who is the son of a wealthy landowner in some rural area of Scotland. Alexander’s father Boris (Christopher Fairbank) virtually bought Katherine for getting a male heir to succeed his son, but Alexander does not have much interest in her from the beginning. During their wedding night, he does not hide his apathy toward her at all, and that is just the beginning of what she has to endure.

As days slowly pass by in the house, Katherine silently struggles with her growing ennui and loneliness. Besides her and her husband and father-in-law, there is not anyone else in the house except a few employees including Anna (Naomi Ackie), a young black woman who works as Katherine’s personal maid and is probably the only one close to her in the house.

Katherine’s seemingly endless predicament is further emphasized by the stark atmosphere hanging around the house and its surrounding area, which is established well on the screen thanks to cinematographer Ari Wegner. Constantly shrouded in a grey moody tone, the outdoor scenes in the movie often feel oppressive and ominous, and the interior of the house is always filled with the barren sense of emptiness as Katherine aimlessly ambles around the house. Via static, precise scene compositions, many key scenes in the film effectively reflect the frustration and suffocation inside her, and the movie indirectly makes a succinct point on how women during that period were restricted by their male-dominant world.

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On one day, there comes an opportunity to ventilate whatever has been accumulated inside Katherine. Not long after both her husband and her father-in-law leave the house for their respective matters to handle, she happens to encounter a young handsome black farmhand named Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), and she finds herself attracted to him. When he boldly comes into her bedroom later at night, she is frightened at first, but then she instantly plunges herself into her desire, and they come to spend more nights together as she wants more and more from him.

Of course, this transgression of hers does not remain hidden for a long time, and Katherine comes to decide that she must do something about that. I will not go into details here, but I can tell you instead that I appreciate the lean, economic storytelling of the adapted screenplay by Alice Birch. I particularly like how one brief scene involved with a certain type of mushroom leads to the sudden shocking situation unfolded during a later scene, and the movie wisely lets us deduce the connection between these two scenes.

Director William Oldroyd, who previously made several short films before making his first feature film here, firmly sticks to his austere approach while subtly increasing the level of nervousness on the screen. As Katherine keeps going for her desire, she becomes more determined to eliminate anything to block her way, and we are unnerved more by her emerging evil – especially after a couple of crucial supporting characters come to the house later in the story.

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Katherine is indeed a monstrous woman, but she is also a captivating character to watch mainly because of the terrific lead performance by Florence Pugh. Although the movie is only the second feature film in the burgeoning career of this 21-year-old British actress, Pugh exudes her own natural presence as ably carrying the film, and she is superlative as deftly suggesting the dark emotional undercurrents swirling beneath her character’s increasingly cold façade. Although the movie does not tell a lot about Katherine’s life before her marriage, Pugh lets us understand her character’s dark human desire, and that is why we feel some sympathy toward Katherine even while we are horrified by how ruthless and diabolical she can be.

In case of the other performers in the movie, they are understandably less prominent than Pugh, but they are solid in their respective functional roles. While Cosmo Jarvis embodies well his character’s rugged sensuality, Christopher Fairbank and Paul Hilton are suitably loathsome, and the special mention goes to Naomi Ackie, who is heartbreaking especially when her character is irrevocably devastated by one of Katherine’s harmful actions at one point.

“Lady Macbeth” is surely a cold, unpleasant film, and some of you may cringe during its darkest moments like my mother did during the screening she attended with me. Nevertheless, the movie is worthwhile to watch for Pugh’s unforgettable performance, and I still marvel at how confidently and masterfully she handles her final scenes without a blink. She seems to signify nothing in her detached face, but we can sense the price Katherine comes to pay for her desire, and that is all the movie needs for leaving us with a chilling impression in the end.

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The Sense of an Ending (2017) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): How he remembers – and what really happened

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“The Sense of an Ending” curiously feels lukewarm and distant. Although this is a technically well-made drama film equipped with a handful of good performances, the movie simply moves from one narrative point to another while not generating enough emotional momentum for us, and we only come to observe its main characters from the distance without caring much about them. When an old mystery inside the story is finally fully revealed, there is not much surprise for us, and the eventual ending only gives us the mild sense of a closure while lacking emotional resonance to linger on us.

Jim Broadbent plays Anthony ‘Tony’ Webber, an old divorcé running a small camera shop in London. The early part of the movie shows us how stable and routine his daily life is; he wakes up early in the morning and then starts his another day with a cup of hot coffee, and most of his daytime is spent at his camera shop, which does not have many customers but mostly looks neat with Leica cameras and other high-quality cameras in display.

He has been accustomed to living alone, but then there come two different changes into his life. One comes from his pregnant daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery), who is about to give a birth to her baby and needs some help from her father whenever her mother Margaret (Harriet Walter) is too busy to be available. Although their relationship was over a long time ago, Tony and Margaret have been amiable to each other like good friends, and Tony is certainly willing to help his daughter, as reflected by one amusing scene where he accompanies her in a class for pregnant women.

The other one comes from a letter sent by someone he knew around 40 years ago. It is from the mother of his old lover Veronica (Charlotte Rampling), who bequeathed the diary of his close friend and a small sum of money to him shortly before her recent death. Perplexed by this, Tony tries to contact Veronica for receiving the diary, but he is only notified by her family lawyer that she refuses to see him – and she does not even send that diary to him despite her dead mother’s request.

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As Tony wonders why Veronica chooses to stay away from him, his mind naturally goes back to when they were young, and the movie accordingly goes back and forth between present and past. He often reflects on his past while Margaret patiently listens to him, and we get a series of flashback scenes showing young Tony (Billy Howle), young Veronica (Freya Mavor), and Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn), who was the owner of that diary.

Tony remembers well when he encountered Veronica for the first time. When they came across each other at a night party, they were instantly drawn to each other, and he soon found himself visiting her family house along with her. Everyone including Veronica’s mother was nice to him, and it looked like he and Veronica could move onto the next step of their relationship as they left her family house.

However, as Tony remembers more of the past between him and Veronica, we come to learn that things became somehow complicated later. Not long after Tony and Veronica came back from her family house, Adrian happened to get involved with Veronica, and it is revealed later that Adrian and Veronica’s relationship ended quite badly for some reason.

The screenplay by Nick Payne, which is based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name by Julian Barnes, maintains its level of intrigue to some degrees at least during its first two acts, and the director Ritesh Batra, who previously made “The Lunchbox” (2013), did a competent job of establishing two different moods for the story. While the flashback scenes in the movie feel warm and gentle with a bit of haziness as nostalgic pieces of memories, the scenes set in the present part are usually accompanied with gray melancholy, and this contrast further accentuates the feeling of loss and regret in the present part.

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However, the movie keeps sticking to its reserved attitude even after Tony comes to realize how unreliable his memory is during the third act. Although what happened among Tony, Veronica, and Adrian is devastating indeed, the movie remains to be mild and detached as before, and it is disappointing to see how its story fizzles in the end without much dramatic impact.

Anyway, the movie is still watchable mainly thanks to its good main cast members. Jim Broadbent, who has been always reliable in many different movies ranging from “Iris” (2001) to “Big Game” (2014), is perfectly cast as an ordinary old guy who comes to face what he has deliberately overlooked for many years, and the other performers in the movie are also solid in their respective roles. While Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, and Joe Alwyn bring youthfulness to their scenes as required, Emily Mortimer is saucy and alluring in her brief appearance, and Harriet Walter and Charlotte Rampling are fine in their respective conversation scenes with Broadbent.

I do not like “The Sense of an Ending” enough to recommend it to you, but the movie is not without appeal, considering what I observed during a screening I attended this Saturday afternoon. The screening room was packed with audiences, and they seemed satisfied with the movie as they walked out of the screening room along with me. In case of me, I just wanted to check out Barnes’ novel someday, and that was all.

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