BlacKkKlansman (2018) ☆☆☆1/2 (3.5/4): Based on an unbelievably outrageous true story

Spike Lee’s latest film “BlacKkKlansman” intends to deliver an urgent social message, and it did its job well in a way both entertaining and galvanizing. While it tickles us a lot via a cheerfully outrageous mix of satire and police procedural, the movie also sharply points out social issues still quite relevant in the American society even at this point, and there are a number of powerful moments which urges us to be more alert to what has been going on in the American society during recent years.

As boldly stated in the beginning, the movie is inspired by the incredible real-life story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who worked as a police detective in Colorado Springs, Colorado during the 1970s. During the job interview scene early in the film, Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) warns Stallworth in advance that he has to be constantly exemplar as the first African-American detective in the Colorado Springs police department, and Stallworth is willing to face that big challenge, but he soon finds himself frequently struggling inside the system. Stuck in a storage room for police evidences, he often has to deal with the blatant racist attitude of other police officers, and he cannot help but feel suffocated and frustrated.

Fortunately, Chief Bridges subsequently orders Stallworth to carry out an undercover mission involved with an African American activist named Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), who is also known as Kwame Ture and is about to give a public speech as requested by the black student union at Colorado College. To Stallworth, Ture initially seems to be a mere radical to be monitored, but, as listening to Ture’s passionate speech along with many other African American students, he comes to be more serious about his racial identity, and he also comes to befriend a young African American woman named Patrice Duma (Laura Harrier), who is incidentally the president of the black student union at Colorado College.

Shortly after he reports on what he observed from Ture and his audiences, Stallworth is transferred to the intelligence department, and he comes to handle a case involved with the local Ku Klux Klan (KKK) chapter by coincidence. While reading a local newspaper, he happens to spot an advertisement from the local KKK chapter, and then he calls the local KKK chapter while presenting himself as your average angry racist white guy. To the surprise of Stallworth and his colleagues including Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), he is promptly allowed to join the Klan, but there is one glaring problem. He is supposed to meet a bunch of KKK members, and meeting these racist guys in person is certainly out of question for him.

And that is how Zimmerman becomes Stallworth’s white alter ego. While naturally reluctant to follow Stallworth’s rather preposterous plan at first, Zimmerman agrees to be Stallworth’s white alter ego, and we are accordingly served with a humorous scene where he tries to imitate Stallworth’s voice and speech pattern under Stallworth’s guidance.

After Zimmerman successfully presents himself as Stallworth in front of KKK members, Stallworth and Zimmerman continue to work closely together while avoiding any possible suspicion as much as possible, and they soon come to infiltrate deeper into KKK as gaining trust from not only local KKK members but also David Duke (Toper Grace), the notorious leading figure of KKK. This despicable guy suspects nothing at all while talking with Stallworth on the phone, and that leads to another hilarious scene in the film you have to see for yourself.

Of course, the situation subsequently becomes more serious when Stallworth and Zimmerman discover that the local KKK members are planning a terror against African American activists, and the adapted screenplay by Lee and his co-writers Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott, which is based on Stallworth’s nonfiction book “Black Klansman”, does not hesitate to go all the way for grabbing our attention more. During one certain sequence featuring D.W. Griffith’s infamous racist movie “The Birth of a Nation” (1916), a vile private ceremony held by Duke and other KKK members is intercut with a small meeting where an old African American man reminisces about how a young mentally disabled African American man was wrongfully accused for the rape of a white woman and then savagely mutilated and murdered in public not long after “The Birth of a Nation” was released, and this memorable moment later resonates further with what is presented at the end of the movie.

Under Lee’s skillful direction, the main cast members of the movie are effective on the whole. Ably moving back and forth between comedy and drama, John David Washington, who is Denzel Washington’s son, shows here that he is a good actor with considerable talent and presence, and he is wonderfully complemented by Adam Driver, who is equally fine as deftly handling several crucial scenes where his character must be very careful for maintaining his disguise. While Laura Harrier holds her own small place well with her feisty performance, the other supporting performers including Ken Garito, Michael Buscemi, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Harry Belafonte, Alec Baldwin, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. have each own moment in the film, and the special mention goes to Toper Grace, who is surprisingly deplorable in his against-the-type role.

In conclusion, “BlacKkKlansman”, which received the Grand Prix prize at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year, is another energetic work in Lee’s long, illustrious career. Although I am not so sure about whether it is as great as “Do the Right Thing” (1989) and “25th Hour” (2002), the movie is indubitably one of the most important films of this year, so I wholeheartedly recommend it to you.

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Cold War (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Scenes from a Cold War romance

“Cold War”, which was recently selected as the Polish entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2019 Academy Awards, is a somber but mesmerizing film about two different people pushing and pulling each other in their sporadic but enduring romantic relationship. As calmly observing the ups and downs of their relationship, the movie engages us via its seemingly plain but impeccable mood and style, and its melancholic elegance is something you will not easily forget after it is over.

The story of the movie begins in Poland, 1949, and we see Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot) and his several colleagues going around rural regions for their folk music research. Although they merely collect various pieces of folk music at first, they later get the full support from the Polish government which is eager to induce national pride via folk music, and Wiktor becomes the co-director of an institution for folk music, which is established in a mansion formerly belonging to some landlord.

With his co-director Irena (Agata Kulesza), Wiktor commences an audition for many young people ready to develop their musical talent further, and that is how he encounters Zuzanna “Zula” Lichoń (Joanna Kulig), an attractive lass who impresses him a lot with not only her beauty but also her attitude. Although Irena shows some reservation because of Zuzanna’s problematic past, Wiktor decides to get Zuzanna accepted into the institution, and she does not disappoint him as showing considerable progress.

When Wiktor approaches closer to her, Zuzanna does not resist while also reminding him that she is not an innocent girl at all. When he asks her about what happened between her and her father some time ago, she gives a very frank answer which is incidentally the most amusing line in the film in my trivial opinion. As they come to spend more time together while driven more by their mutual attraction, she confides to him that she has been reporting on him to an official close to Wiktor because she had no choice from the beginning.

Meanwhile, Wiktor and his colleagues have to cope with a big change demanded by the government. They want to concentrate on folk music as before, but the ministry of culture demands that they should focus more on delivering political messages to their audiences. The public performances of their folk group accordingly become more political as reflected by the big pictures of Lenin and Stalin above the group, and Irena is not so pleased about that as implied from one brief moment showing her from the distance.

In case of Wiktor, he goes along with that disagreeable change, but he has the other plan behind him. When he goes to East Berlin along with the folk music group a few years later, he confides to Zuzanna that he is going to escape to West Berlin, and he suggests that she should go along with him, but she eventually decides not to elope with him because, despite her love toward Wiktor, she is not so sure about whether she can be happy outside the Iron Curtain.

After settling in Paris, Wiktor lives with more freedom than before, but he still finds himself yearning for Zuzanna even while being in a relationship with a female poet. When Zuzanna happens to come to Paris, he anxiously waits for her, and he is happy to see that they remain attracted to each other as before, but, alas, she is soon going to be separated from him. When he later comes to Yugoslavia for seeing her and her performance, they become happy again, but then, not so surprisingly, he is forced to go back to Paris because of his current status as an exile not so welcomed behind the Iron Curtain.

In the end, Zuzanna decides to live with Wiktor in Paris several years later, but, like many lovers, they come to realize that they cannot live together well despite their love. Feeling unhappier than before, Zuzanna argues with Wiktor at one point for a rather trivial matter, and that culminates to a bitter and painful moment which leads to their separation. Wiktor regrets, but Zuzanna already goes back to Poland, and he subsequently comes to make a fateful decision in the name of love.

While hopping from one narrative point to another along with its two main characters, the movie steadily maintains its palpable period atmosphere, and director/co-writer Paweł Pawlikowski and his cinematographer Łukasz Żal, who was previously Oscar-nominated for Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning film “Ida” (2013), delivers a number of exquisite scenes to be admired and appreciated for their stark but sublime beauty. Shot in black and white film of 1.33:1 ratio, the movie frequently emphasizes its main characters’ oppressed feelings via the empty space placed above them, and several music performances in the film are deftly handled with care and precision. In case of the soundtrack of the movie, it is constantly engaging with various kinds of music ranging from Polish folk music to your average pop music during the 1960s, and I was particularly impressed by the appearance of a certain famous classic piece by Johann Sebastian Bach at the end of the film.

As an arthouse film depending a lot on moods and nuances, “Cold War” is may be too dry and slow for some of you, but it is a superlative work which will be quite rewarding once you give it a chance, and I really admire what is achieved by Pawlikowski, who won the award for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year, and his cast and crew. In short, this is another very good film to be added to my annual list, and I urge you not to miss it.

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Dogman (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A grim and gritty tale of a criminal underdog

The hero of “Dogman”, which was recently selected as the Italian entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 2019 Academy Awards, is probably one of the most pathetic criminal underdogs I have ever seen from movies. Petite, timid and weak-willed, he is constantly abused and exploited by a bullying guy, and he does not seem to know what to do besides bending to that abusive guy’s will – until he finally comes to decide that enough is enough.

Marcello Fonte, who won the Best Actor prize for his performance here in this film at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year, plays Marcello, the owner of a shabby dog grooming shop in a poor neighborhood located in the outskirts of Rome. Although his business does not look that successful, he has a fairly good reputation in his neighborhood as occasionally hanging around with his friends in the neighborhood, and he is happy and excited whenever his ex-wife brings him their young daughter, with whom he sometimes enjoys scuba diving outside the neighborhood.

But it gradually turns out to us that Marcello is not exactly a model citizen. It is apparent that many of his friends are criminals, and we later see him buying drug from one of them not long after they play soccer along with others. Although he does not use drug, he needs it because Simoncino (Edoardo Pesce), a hulking, aggressive ex-boxer who has been a troublemaker in the neighborhood, demands Marcello to supply drug to him. When Simoncino suddenly comes to Marcello’s shop for drug, Marcello has no choice but to give him what he wants, and he asks Simoncino to go somewhere else as his dear daughter happens to be in the shop, but Simoncino simply ignores his plea and there is nothing Marcello can do about that.

We observe more of this toxic relationship between Marcello and Simoncino. At one night, Simoncino suddenly appears in front of Marcello along with some other guy, and he coerces Marcello to assist him during his latest criminal activity. All Marcello has to do is waiting in his vehicle outside while Simoncino and his accomplice break into an apartment for stealing expensive stuffs, but he come to learn later that Simoncino and his accomplice did something quite cruel to a dog in the apartment, and he later breaks into the apartment by himself later because, as a man who genuinely loves dogs, he cannot possibly ignore what will happen to that dog.

As Simoncino keeps causing troubles around the neighborhood, some of Marcello’s friends become more frustrated and exasperated, and we get an unnerving but amusing moment when these guys seriously discuss about this increasingly annoying matter even while Marcello is right next to them. They talk about whether Simoncino should be eliminated once for all, but nobody is particularly willing to do that dirty job, and one of them suggests that they should just wait because, well, Simoncino has already made lots of enemies in the neighborhood.

While not telling anything to Simoncino, Marcello continues to let himself used by Simoncino as usual. He shows some loyalty when Simoncino is seriously injured at one point, but Simoncino does not show much appreciation to Marcello, and he demands more from Marcello when he comes across another criminal opportunity. Again, Marcello conforms to Simoncino’s demand, and he subsequently pays a big price for that as going down further into more misery and despair.

Although it does not explain a lot about how Marcello came to be associated and stuck with Simoncino, the movie still works a fascinating character study, and Fonte’s understated but haunting performance functions as its compelling human center. Even his character does not say much, we can clearly sense desperation and frustration being accumulated behind his mild, gentle façade, and we cannot help but wonder when he will eventually reach to his breaking point. In opposite to Fonte, Eduardo Pesce is both menacing and despicable, and he and Fonte did a convincing job of conveying to us a long history of abuse and exploitation between their characters.

As slouching to its inevitable ending, the movie becomes a bit too monotonous at times, but it keeps holding our attention via its vivid, realistic atmosphere accompanied with some striking stylish touches. Even when the story becomes darker and more disturbing during its second half, director/co-writer Matteo Garrone, who wrote the screenplay with Ugo Chiti and Massimo Gaudioso, steadily maintains the cold, detached tone of his film, and his cinematographer Nicolaj Brüel effectively establishes bleak and oppressive mood on the screen while providing a number of impressive moments including a gray long-take scene unfolded outside Marcello’s shop later in the movie.

Like Garron’s previous crime drama film “Gomorrah” (2008), “Dogman” is grim and gritty from the beginning to the end, and it is certainly not something to watch for entertainment, but I observed its wretched hero with interest and fascination at least. Although it did not strike me as much as “Gomorrah” and I occasionally felt impatient with its austere storytelling approach, the movie mostly works thanks to its palpably realistic atmosphere as well as its lead actor’s solid performance, so I recommend it despite some reservation.

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Cam (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A little creepy cyber thriller film from Nexflix

Netflix film “Cam” is a little cyber thriller film which is not only creepy and disturbing but also engaging and thought-provoking. As gradually pushing its heroine into one nightmarish situation which may be quite possible someday, the movie generates a number of darkly compelling moments to remember, and, thanks to its sharp, efficient storytelling, it also works as an edgy commentary on how willingly we put ourselves on the Internet these days.

The movie opens with its heroine going through her usual work routine at her residence. As one of numerous young, attractive women working on a live webcam site, Alice (Madeline Brewer) has tried hard for getting into the top 50 on the popularity list, but her result has been rather disappointing. Even after she tries a little shocking act for drawing more viewers to her chatting room, she does not even reach to No.50 yet, and she cannot help but envy the girl at the top of the popularity list, who has steadily maintained her position even though she does not seem to do much as drawing thousands of webcam site visitors.

We also see a bit of Alice’s private life outside her work. While she understandably lives apart from her mother and younger brother, Alice does not tell anything about her work to them, and her mother does not suspect much when Alice is rather vague about her job. Although she usually maintains the distance between herself and many webcam site visitors out there, Alice has closely corresponded with two of her frequent visitors, and these naughty guys are quite willing to get to see and know more of her.

Anyway, still determined to do whatever is necessary for achieving what she wants, Alice keeps trying as usual. At one point, she attempts to eat steak just for looking, uh, sexier, but she miserably fails in that attempt, and that prompts her to go further. She agrees to work with some of her colleagues for drawing more webcam site visitors together, and we come to get a kinky moment involved with a certain type of stimulation tool.

When she later checks the webcam site, Alice is perplexed to encounter something quite odd. For some unknown reason, she cannot access to her private account at all, and her private account and chatting room are now being occupied by a young woman who, to her shock and bafflement, looks exactly like her. At first, this strange happening looks like a mere technical problem, but it does not take much time for Alice to realize how serious her situation is – especially when that woman in question presents herself as Alice and then begins to do a number of things Alice has never imagined.

Naturally, Alice tries to stop this strange incident of identity theft by any means available to her, but, of course, her circumstance only gets worse to her frustration and exasperation as she helplessly watches her imposter quickly becoming a lot more popular than she ever was. The people running the webcam site do not provide any help just because she cannot access to her private account at present, and neither do two police officers, who are rather rude and condescending to her during their visit to her residence.

Now I have to be careful about describing the rest of the movie for not spoiling your entertainment, but I can tell you instead that I enjoyed how deftly the movie dials up the level of tension along its narrative. Once it succinctly establishes its story and characters, the screenplay by Isa Mazzie, which is based on the story she wrote with director Daniel Goldhaber and Isbelle Link-Levy, smoothly moves from one unnerving moment from another, and I was particularly impressed by a slick, tense long-take scene which culminates to a painfully embarrassing moment for Alice.

The movie is also anchored well by a strong performance from its lead actress. Madeline Brewer, who has been mainly known for her supporting turns in TV series “Orange Is the New Black” and “The Handmaiden’s Tale”, is terrific in her dual role, and she is especially good when Alice rises to the occasion after finally getting a clever idea on how to fight against her increasingly insidious imposter. As Brewer’s engaging performance functions as the human center of the story, we come to care about what will happen in the end, and that is why that crucial moment works with considerable dramatic impact.

The supporting performers surrounding Brewer fill their small roles as much as required. While Patch Darragh and Michael Dempsey are effectively unlikable in their respective supporting parts, Imani Hakim, Flora Diaz, Samantha Robinson, and Quei Tann are believable as Alice’s colleagues, and Melora Walters, a veteran actress whom I still remember for her heartbreaking supporting turn in “Magnolia”, has a small but nice moment when her character tries to have an honest conversation with Alice later in the story.

To be frank with you, I belatedly came to watch “Cam” only after reading a review on it yesterday, and I am happy to report to you that it is an interesting online thriller movie which deserves to be mentioned along with “Searching” (2018), another good cyber thriller film of this year. While its achievement is relatively less impressive than “Searching” in comparison, it is still a gripping genre piece on the whole, and I think you should check it out if you can access to Netflix now.

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Juliet, Naked (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): With her boyfriend’s idol

“Juliet, Naked” is too mild for me. While there are some good elements to be appreciated, these moments do not click well together without much comic synergy, and I was left with empty feeling even though I was amused to some degree during my viewing. It is not an awful waste of time at least, but it is rather unimpressive despite the considerable efforts from its good cast and crew, and it feels more disappointing as I think more about it.

Based on Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name, the movie revolves around an unlikely relationship coming into the mundane daily life of a British woman named Annie Platt (Rose Byrne). There was a time when she had lots of dream and aspiration as studying in London, but she had to return to her seaside hometown when her father became ill and needed to be taken care of by her, and she has managed her father’s local museum since her father passed away some years ago. As duly preparing a trivial anniversary event with her lesbian sister, she is reminded again of how unhappy and dissatisfied she has been, but it looks like she will remain stuck in her hometown for the rest of her life, and she does not get much consolation from her boyfriend Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), who has lived with her for several years but is more like a longtime guest in her house as mostly occupied with music and movies.

While teaching movies and TV dramas in a local college, Duncan runs a website dedicated to the life and career of an obscure American musician named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), who had a fair share of fans during the 1990s but then suddenly walked away from his spotlight in the middle of an ongoing concert. As frequently wondering about what happened to Crowe after that point, Duncan often discusses Crowe’s life and career with other ardent fans via the Internet, and his obsession with Crowe is clearly shown from his small private room, which is filled with many records and other stuffs associated with Crowe.

Annie does not care much about her boyfriend’s enthusiasm toward music, but then she becomes curious when she opens a package delivered to their place and then finds a CD inside the package. Labeled as “Juliet, Naked”, the CD contains the demo recording of one of Crowe’s notable albums, and she listens to the music for a while. Although the music is not exactly good, it somehow makes some impression on her, and she comes to write a frank comment to Duncan’s review on that demo recording, but then something quite unexpected happens. Crowe, who has led a plain life in a shabby garage right next to the house belonging to one of his ex-wives, directly contacted her via e-mail, and they become online friends as they talk more and more with each other through their e-mails.

As their relationship is gradually developed into something not so far from “84 Charing Cross Road” (1987), Annie suggests to Crowe that they should meet each other someday, and they soon come to get a chance for that. When one of Crowe’s children, who has lived in London, is about to give birth to her baby, Crowe decides to go to London along with his young son, and Annie is certainly ready to meet him, but then there comes a minor problem not long after Crowe and his son arrive in London.

Anyway, Crowe and Annie manage to meet each other in the end, and Annie sees how messy and complicated Crowe’s life has been as watching him surrounded by a bunch of people in his life including his pregnant daughter. His pregnant daughter wants her father to reconcile with someone important in his life, but he is reluctant to do that, and he only comes to show his negative sides in front of Annie and others.

Crowe later goes to Annie’s hometown along with her and his son, and this certainly draws the attention from Duncan, who recently leaves her house due to his affair with a fellow faculty member of his college. When Annie introduces him to Crowe, Duncan initially does not believe that his idol is right in front of him, but he subsequently comes to realize his mistake, and, what do you know, we soon see him trying to ingratiate himself with Crowe for getting to know more about Crowe, who is not so willing to talk a lot about his music.

Now this is surely a situation with some comic potentials, but the adapted screenplay by Tamra Jenkins, Tim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, and Evagenia Peretz fails to develop it further while only meandering along its flat narrative, and its last act fizzles as ending the story too conveniently. In addition, its main characters are mostly flat and bland due to weak characterization, and that flawed aspect is not entirely covered by the competent comic performances from its lead performers. While Rose Byrne, who is no stranger to comedy as shown from “Bridesmaids” (2011) and “Neighbors” (2014), deftly handles a few funny moments in the film, Ethan Hawke is suitably cast as an old slacker who comes to recognize that he really needs to grow up, and Chris O’Dowd, who drew my attention via a supporting turn in “Bridesmaids”, is effortless as your typical self-absorbed guy.

Directed by Jesse Peretz, “Juliet, Naked” is not wholly without charm and laughs, but it is two or three steps down “About a Boy” (2002) and other recommendable films adapted from Hornby’s novels. While those films engaged, amused, and touched me a lot, “Juliet, Naked” just amused me from time to time without much impression, and I must tell you that now I really feel like revisiting “About a Boy” or “High Fidelity” (2000) as soon as possible.

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Stella’s Last Weekend (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two Brothers and a Girl

“Stella’s Last Weekend” is a modest but enjoyable mix between family comedy and romance drama. While sometimes predictable and contrived, the movie is funny and engaging mainly thanks to the unaffected chemistry among its main cast members, and I had a fairly good time with it even though I was occasionally distracted by its several weak aspects during my viewing.

Nat and Alex Wolff, who are brothers in real-life, play Jack and Oliver, two brothers who happen to be involved with an aspiring ballerina girl named Violet (Paulina Singer). Some time ago, Jack met Violet, and they became a bit closer to each other, but then they somehow became distant to each other to Jack’s bafflement. When Jack is coming back from his college for what is going to be the last weekend for a dying family dog named Stella, he spots Violet from the distance, but she does not see him, and he later tells his brother about that fleeting moment without mentioning her name.

Of course, it turns out Violet has been Oliver’s girlfriend, and that certainly leads to considerable awkwardness between Jack and Violet. As Oliver knows nothing about their relationship, Jack and Violet decide to hide their past relationship from Oliver, but, unfortunately, that turns out to be more difficult than they thought. As Oliver eagerly wants his brother to spend more time with him and Violet, Jack and Violet have no choice but to go along with Oliver, and, what do you know, they soon find that they still feel attracted to each other while Oliver remains oblivious to that.

As Jack and Violet try to deal with their difficult matter of heart, the movie doles out a series of nice comic moments to entertain us. There is an uproarious domestic moment involved with the recent boyfriend of Jack and Oliver’s single mother Sally (Polly Draper, who is not only the director/writer/co-producer of the movie but also the mother of the Wolff brothers), and then there is an amusing scene where Jack, Oliver, and Violet drop by a posh party held by Violet’s rich, haughty friend/colleague.

The movie also often becomes sincere and serious whenever that is required. When Jack confides to his mother what has been eating him, she gives a sensible advice although she probably knows what may eventually happen, and there later comes a brief but frank conversation between her and Violet. In case of an event Sally and her sons prepare for their dying family dog, it may look a little too cheerful and whimsical for some of you, but the movie handles that part with enough sincerity although feeling rather contrived during a supposedly dramatic moment.

Above all, the movie is supported well by its solid main cast members. Nat Wolff, who drew my attention for the first time with his substantial supporting turn in “The Faults in Our Stars” (2014), gives an understated performance which is complemented well by the livelier appearance of his younger brother, and he is also believable in his small, intimate scenes with Paulina Singer, who holds her small place well around her two co-performers as imbuing her character with enough sense of life and personality. Right from their first scene, we can sense the remaining emotions between their characters, and Wolff and Singer are particularly good when their characters suddenly come to follow their mutual feeling at one point in the story.

As another crucial part of the story, Alex Wolff, who recently gave a breakthrough performance as a deeply troubled son in “Hereditary” (2018), is also equally good while brandishing another side of his considerable talent. While his character is a bit too brash and annoying at times, we still can see a nice, likable kid behind his verbal bravado thanks to Wolff’s spirited performance, and we come to understand why Violet likes and cares about Oliver as much as his older brother. I have no idea on how much their acting overlaps with their real-life relationship, but Wolff and his older brother, who already played together in their mother’s TV series “The Naked Brothers Band”, click well with each other, and we always get a palpable sense of brotherhood whenever they are together on the screen.

Besides Singer, the other supporting performers in the film are also engaging on the whole. In addition to handling her film competently, Polly Draper provides a nice supporting performance as Jack and Oliver’s caring mother, and she has her own small moment when her character smokes marijuana along with Jack and then becomes a little sad and wistful about her life. As Sally’s earnest boyfriend who does not get along well with her two boys, Nick Sandow, who has been one of notable characters in TV series “Orange Is the New Black”, is effective in his small supporting role, and how his character turns out to be more generous and thoughtful than expected is one of small few surprises in the movie. In case of the titular dog of the movie, it steals the show even though it merely occupies its space, and there are a couple of nice scenes which will certainly appeal to you a lot if you like dogs.

Although it stumbles as hurrying its story and characters to the expected finale during its last act, “Stella’s Last Weekend” is still an amiable lightweight stuff which did its job as well as intended, and Nat and Alex Wolff show here that they are indeed new interesting actors to watch. Along with their mother, they bring some spirit and authenticity to the movie, and that is worthwhile to watch in my trivial opinion.

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McQueen (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): On his bold, striking artistry

Documentary film “McQueen” gives us some striking moments to remember as looking around the life and career of Alexander McQueen, who was one of the most renowned fashion designers during recent years. I must confess that I do not know much about haute couture industry except what I glimpsed from several films such as “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), but I observed what is shown during those striking moments with considerable curiosity and interest, and I came to admire a troubled but brilliant artistic spirit behind them.

Divided into five sections named after some of McQueen’s famous fashion shows, the movie chronologically presents his life and career step by step. Born as Lee Alexander McQueen, 1967, McQueen grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of London along his parents and five siblings, and he was quite interested in making clothes even during his early years. While he was not a very good student as he frankly admits, he was usually occupied with drawing clothes, and that interest of his was nurtured and supported by his dear mother, who later suggested to him that he should seek an apprenticeship at any tailor shop on the Savile Row.

As serving an apprenticeship at Anderson & Sheppard, McQueen eagerly absorbed many different things from work and training, and he soon came to consider taking the MA fashion course at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Mainly thanks to his aunt’s financial support, he could study there for next 2 years, and he eventually graduated as presenting his first fashion show, which was titled “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims”. As reflected by its very title, this fashion show of his was striking and disturbing to say the least, and his edgy and distinctive style was instantly noticed by many people including Isabella Blow, an influential fashion magazine editor who was one of McQueen’s early supporters.

In case of his next major fashion show in 1995, titled “The Highland Rape”, McQueen went further with his uncomfortable artistic vision, and he surely shocked and provoked his audiences again. For suggesting sexual violence inflicted on women, he had his female models wear deliberately torn or ragged attires, and he certainly received lots of criticism for the misogynous aspects of his fashion show, which he stubbornly denied in one archival interview clip shown in the documentary.

Anyway, McQueen successfully established himself as a new young talent to watch, and everyone in his field surely expected a lot from him as he got hired by Givenchy in 1997. Although his first year in Paris was not particularly rewarding, he soon went further with more impressive results, and he also came to start his own brand in London.

From a group of interviewees who knew and worked with McQueen, we hear about how much he was dedicated to his craft, and that aspect of his is clearly shown from a bunch of archival footage clips shown in the documentary. While he constantly drove further others as well as himself, McQueen was also a spirited man with natural charm and boundless creativity, and that was the main reason why many of his colleagues were willing to work with him even though they had to endure lots of pressure and fatigue along with him. Frequently working on tight budget, he often had to be very creative, and you may be impressed by how he created something interesting from rather cheap materials.

As he later moved from Givenchy to Gucci, McQueen continued to strike his audiences with his bold, provocative style. In case of “It’s a Jungle Out There”, it was so dark and moody that the audiences thought a fire accident which happened to occur in the middle of the show was a part of the event. In case of “VOSS”, this strange fashion show was presented inside an enormous glass box, and what was exhibited inside the box surely demonstrated his undeniable genius again.

Looking at McQueen’s fashion shows, we cannot help but wonder about the origin of his artistic inspiration, and the documentary later reveals to us that he was frequently abused by his brother-in-law during his early years. While usually looking jolly and cheerful, he came to struggle a lot with his personal demons especially as he felt burdened by increasing fame and success, and, not so surprisingly, he frequently abused cocaine and other drugs.

McQueen also became estranged from his close friends and colleagues, and the most painful example comes from Blow, who felt quite hurt as McQueen began to distance himself from her even though she was probably the most important figure in his life besides his mother. When she tragically died in 2007, McQueen was devastated, and then there came another personal blow to him as his mother passed away a few years later. He eventually committed suicide on February 2010, and that was the end of his short but remarkable career.

Although it has a few notable flaws including the rather blatant use of Michael Nyman’s music (he was McQueen’s favorite composer, by the way), “McQueen” is a fairly good documentary on the whole, and directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui did a competent job of presenting their subject with respect and admiration. I am still not so interested in fashion design, and the documentary was an engaging experience full of artistic moments, and I think that is more than enough for recommendation.

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