Spies in Disguise (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Your average spy action comedy animation film

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“Spies in Disguise” is your average spy action comedy animation film, and that is all. Although it is occasionally amusing as diligently throwing gags and jokes, the film does not feel particularly fresh while doing lots of predictable things inside its genre territory, and, despite having some good laughs during my viewing, I do not feel much urge to watch it again as already ready to move onto better ones.

The film opens with the latest mission of Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith), who is your typical super spy not so far from, yes, James Bond as shown from his slick and impeccable appearance. As ordered by his direct superior, he sneaks into a remote spot somewhere in Japan for retrieving a certain secret weapon from a notorious arms dealer, and, in spite of his direct superior’s firm instruction, he promptly gets into his action mode as surrounded by a bunch of Japanese thugs. As watching Sterling doing lots of actions on the screen, I somehow felt nostalgic for the certain action sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Volume 1” (2003), but, of course, what I and other audiences around me got was quite milder and tamer compared to that exhilaratingly violent moment in Tarantino’s movie.

Anyway, it seems Sterling gets his mission accomplished as usual in the end, but, not so surprisingly, he finds himself in a big trouble not long after he returns to the headquarters of his agency. He belatedly comes to realize that he did not succeed in retrieving that secret weapon, and he is also accused of treason because of some shady villain who is about to embark on a nefarious plan involved with that secret weapon.

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As being chased by Marcy Kappel (voiced by Rashida Jones), a security forces agent quite determined to arrest Sterling as quickly as possible, and a bunch of agents under her command, Sterling looks for anyone to help him, and that person turns out to be Walter Beckett (voiced by Tom Holland), a socially inept scientific genius boy who has been stuck somewhere in the agency for a while without much recognition. Because he has aspired to help Sterling with his various goofy gadgets, Beckett is certainly excited when Sterling comes to him for help, but, unfortunately, Sterling inadvertently becomes the first human test case for Beckett’s latest invention, which, through a process of preposterous genetic changes which will definitely make my biologist colleagues roll their eyes, turns Sterling into…. a pigeon.

Sterling is understandably quite upset by this drastic change of his physical condition, but he has no choice but to deal with this circumstance as he and Beckett hop around several different spots around the world for stopping their opponent, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that the main source of comedy comes from how Sterling struggles with his changed physical condition. While he still can talk, he cannot help but driven by his acquired animal nature at times, and he also finds himself getting associated more with several pigeons including Beckett’s pet pigeon.

And you will not be surprised by the accompanying changes in the relationship between Sterling and Beckett. While still preferring to do the job alone, Sterling reluctantly comes to accept Beckett as his partner, and he also discovers that his fellow pigeons are more useful and dependable than expected. In case of Beckett, he is exuberated with joy and excitement as going through a series of adventurous moments he never imagined before, and he is certainly glad for receiving some recognition from Sterling.

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During the last act, the story becomes more predictable than before. There is a big moment when Sterling finally confronts his opponent who has been waiting for him, and, yes, his opponent kindly shows and tells what he is soon going to commit besides revealing his old personal grudge against Sterling. I wish the movie showed more humor during this clichéd moment, but it continues to stick to its auto-pilot mode as before, and the following climactic part feels uninspired and pedestrian despite lots of bangs and crashes on the screen.

Nevertheless, the film does not lose its sense of fun and entertainment entirely even during that part, mainly thanks to the lively voice performances from its two lead actors. Effortlessly handling his character’s slick and confident aspects, Will Smith has lots of fun with a number of silly comic moments in the film, and Tom Holland complements his co-performer well as reprising his familiar nerdy persona which was previously demonstrated well in recent Spider-Man movies. In case of other notable cast members including Rashida Jones, Rachel Brosnahan, Karen Gillan, and Ben Mendelsohn, they are sadly under-utilized in comparison, and Mendelsohn is particularly wasted in his thankless villain role, which feels merely sour and vicious without much naughty fun.

On the whole, “Spies in Disguise”, which is based on the 2009 animation short film “Pigeon Impossible” by Lucas Martell, is a competent product which will not waste your money and time probably if you just want to kill your spare time, but it is deficient in terms of style and personality, and it is also less entertaining compared to “Ice Age” (2002) and other notable animation films from Blue Sky Studios. Although 2019 is another weak year for animation films in my trivial opinion, we got several fairly excellent works such as “Toy Story 4” (2019) and “Missing Link” (2019) at least, and I recommend you to watch them instead of this marginally enjoyable piece of work.

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Give Me Liberty (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): One hectic day

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Watching “Give Me Liberty” was often emotionally exhausting and frustrating for me. As constantly throwing me into its intense and boisterous cacophony of raw emotional moments, the movie breathlessly drives its story and characters back and forth between whimsical comedy and hard-boiled drama, and I found myself baffled and disoriented at times, but then, to some degree, I came to admire how it attempts to juggle many different things together just like its increasingly frustrated and exhausted hero.

The movie mainly revolves around Vic (Chris Galust), who is the son of a Russian immigrant family living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and has recently worked as a van driver for the medical transport of disabled people. When he starts another working day of his, he unfortunately happens to be saddled with his senile grandfather and other old Russian folks who are going to attend of the funeral of their recently diseased friend along with his grandfather, and he must find a way to handle not only these old people but also his several clients including a disabled African American girl named Tracy (Lauren “Lolo” Spencer), who is not so pleased as Vic comes to be quite late no matter how much he tries to arrive at her residence as quickly as possible.

The main source of humor in the film comes from the gradually chaotic and frustrating circumstance surrounding Vic. At one point, his grandfather causes a big trouble in the building where he and other old folks live, and we see him frantically trying to take care of the consequence of his grandfather’s thoughtless action. In case of a bunch of other old people accompanying Vic along with his grandfather, they incessantly express whatever they think and feel, and the movie deliberately adds an extra layer of chaos and confusion as not translating their seemingly endless Russian conversations to us at all.

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Amidst these sounds and furies which seem to signify nothing, the movie further accentuates Vic’s pressured state of mind via nervously jarring cuts and deliberately shaky camera movements. As cinematographer Wyatt Garfield’s camera usually sticks around Vic and a bunch of other characters stuck in his van, we feel like sitting right next to them, and the editing by director/co-writer Kirill Mikhanovsky feels abrupt and abrasive as often jumping from one quick shot to another. I must say that this can be quite annoying and distracting for some of you, but Mikhanovsky manages to generate the palpable sense of life and personality from his busy mix of story and characters, and the overall result is often reminiscent of those raw and intense emotional moments from the works of John Cassavetes.

Fortunately, Mikhanovsky and his co-writer Alice Austen serve us a number of nice human moments which are relatively less loud and intense. When Vic and other characters accompanying him happen to stop by a job training center for the disabled, the movie lingers a bit on a bunch of various disabled people who are simply having some fun and entertainment, and we get relaxed a little as appreciating its unadorned and honest presentation of those disabled people. Many of humorous moments in the film come from a care-free guy named Dima (Maxim Stoyanov), and we come to like him more than expected as amused by how he comes to function as a fixer for Vic and other characters, though we wonder whether he is really a nephew of that recently diseased person as he said to Vic.

And we get to know a little more about Vic and his problematic family. It is clear that he has been trying to earn his living for himself, but he still finds himself stuck with his family, and there is an absurd moment involved with his attempt to remove a couch from his family residence despite the protest of his mother, who later turns out to have a very good reason for that. In case of his sister Sasha (Darya Ekamasova), she is instantly attracted to Dima when he comes to Vic’s family residence along with Vic, and we subsequently get a small funny scene where she tries to give him a jacket to wear instead of his accidentally soiled shirts.

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Meanwhile, Vic and Tracy come to feel something mutual between them as they happen to spend time together more than expected. Although they are different from each other in many aspects, they come to care a lot about each other as getting to know each other more, and we are not so surprised when Vic decides to do something for Tracy’s brother, who happens to get himself into a big trouble later in the story.

Around that narrative point, the movie becomes heavy-handed as pushing its story and characters too hard into a circumstance associated with a certain relevant social issue in the American society, and I am not that satisfied with its rather convenient finale, but the main cast members, most of whom are non-professional performers, still support the film well with their earnest natural performances. Chris Galust and Lauren “Lolo” Spencer click well together during a few private scenes between their characters, and the other substantial performers in the film including Maxim Stoyanov and Darya Ekamasova are also effective in their respective roles.

Although it is not entirely without weak aspects, “Give Me Liberty” works as a raw slice of life which vividly reflects not only the diverse aspects of American life but also several ongoing social issues including medical care, and I appreciate how it busily balances itself between humor and realism. Due to those emotionally draining moments throughout the film, I do not think I will revisit it soon, but I will not deny that I responded to it strongly during my viewing, and I assure you that it will leave you some indelible impression to linger on your mind.

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Where’s My Roy Cohn? (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Extremely Vile and Incredibly Amoral

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Documentary film “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” gives us a close look into the life and career of Roy M. Cohn, a powerful and notorious lawyer who has still exerted his toxic influence on American society and politics even though he died more than 30 years ago. To be frank with you, it is rather captivating to see how vile and amoral this wily, ruthless, and hypocritical piece of work was in many aspects, and the documentary did a fairly good job of illuminating his evil brilliance as well as that perpetual pugnaciousness throughout his whole life.

Born to a wealthy Jewish family in New York City, 1927, Cohn was already quite ambitious around the time when he graduated from his law school in 1947 and then passed a bar examination in the very next year. Not long after beginning to work in the US Department of Justice, he soon came to draw the attention of J. Edgar Hoover thanks to his tireless activities involved with the rise of anti-communism in the American society during that time, and Hoover subsequently had Cohn work directly for US Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was in the middle of his infamous anti-communist witch hunt at that time. Quickly becoming McCarthy’s trusted right-hand guy, Cohn diligently and zealously spread the terror of McCarthyism in public, and he certainly gained considerable public notoriety as deliberately manipulating the legal process surrounding the Rosenberg trial in 1951.

Of course, as many of you know, the tables were eventually turned for Cohn and McCarthy several years later. When they happened to target the US Army for a petty personal matter involved with a certain figure who might have been more than a close personal friend to Cohn, the US Army retaliated to this political attack with vengeance, and that consequently led to that famous sobering question from one of the committee members assigned to scrutinize the case between McCarthy and the US Army: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

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As a consequence, McCarthy’s political career was totally finished with the infamy to last forever in the American modern history, but Cohn managed to survive this grand fall as instantly resigning from his position and then going back to New York City. After joining a prestigious law firm, he soon embarked on climbing up to the elite class of the city, and the documentary details on how ruthlessly he advanced for getting more money and, above all, more strings to be pulled via whoever he ingratiated himself with. Around the 1960s, he was a well-known figure among the prominent high-class members in the city, and he also let himself get associated with a number of notorious high-ranking members of New York mafia families.

Around the early 1970s, Cohn was introduced to a young man eager to be a big-time real estate businessman just like his father, and that lad was none other than Donald J. Trump. Discerning that he and Trump had many common things between them including sheer ambition and belligerence, Cohn came to regard Trump as his protégé, and, as attested by their common friend Roger Stone, he taught Trump a lot of amoral advices and dirty tactics which are certainly the basis of Trump’s unbelievable political rise at present. When Trump and his father happened to be sued for racial discrimination, Cohn advised Trump to muddle the issues by any means necessary, and, as shown from many recent cases, Trump is still sticking to that strategy without any regret or hesitation.

As entering the 1980s, Cohn was at the height of his power and influence. Thanks to his manipulation tactics on the 1980 US Presidential Election, Ronald Reagan, who was incidentally involved with anti-communism activities during his acting career in Hollywood, got successfully elected, and Reagan’s wife showed personal gratitude to Cohn after the election result came out. In the meantime, Trump built his first Trump Tower in New York City, and we hear about how shady the construction process of that infamous building was from the very beginning.

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However, Cohn also came to face his comeuppance which was bound to happen sooner or later. In 1985, he got himself into several serious legal troubles, and these troubles led to him getting disbarred in the end. Not only Trump but also most of those powerful and wealthy figures used to hang around Cohn began to distance themselves from Cohn after that humiliating public moment, and things got worse for him as it turned out that he was suffering from AIDS, which was probably resulted from the promiscuous sex life hidden behind his back.

Even before his eventual death in 1986, Cohn refused to admit that he was a gay and had AIDS, and we see how hypocritical he was during the last miserable months of his life. With some help from Reagan, he managed to get an experimental AIDS treatment, but he kept denying his serious illness as well as his homosexuality in public, and he adamantly insisted to the end that he was dying due to liver cancer.

In conclusion, “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” is engaging for its sharp, compelling presentation of its undeniably loathsome human subject, and director/co-producer Matt Tyrnauer deserves some praise for competently juggling archival footage clips and various interviewees. Although the documentary does not delve that deep into Cohn’s lasting toxic legacy, we all know too well that it is still shaping the American society and politics even at this point – and I am afraid we will see more bad consequences from it during this decade.

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Bait (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A odd, distinctive filmmaking exercise

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British independent film “Bait” is an odd, distinctive piece of filmmaking exercise you will not easily forget. Adamantly rough and old-fashioned in technical aspects, the movie feels rather distant and disorienting at times, but it still works on the whole as a tense, melancholic class drama, and I observed it with curiosity and fascination even though not quite sure whether I understood everything presented on the screen.

The main background of the movie is a small fishing village in Cornwall, England, and the opening shot introduces us to Martin Ward (Edward Rowe), a sullen and disgruntled fisherman who has been quite sour about his current economic circumstance. Not long after his father died, Martin’s brother Steven (Giles king) decided to sell their old family residence at the local harbor in addition to re-purposing their old fishing boat as a cruise boat for tourists coming into the village, and Martin is still not so pleased about his brother’s decision as he does not have a boat for fishing anymore. At least, Steven’s son Neil (Isaac Woodvine) is willing to help Martin whenever he is available, and we later see them collecting a few fishes they manage to catch on a nearby beach.

That family residence of Martin is recently sold to an affluent urban middle-class family, who is going to stay there during the holiday season while also renting the attic for earning some extra money. When Martin happens to encounter Tim Leigh (Simon Shepherd) and his wife Sandra (Mary Woodvine), it is pretty clear to us that Martin has lots of resentment toward Tim and Sandra, and, not so surprisingly, he soon comes to conflict with them over a trivial matter of parking his old shabby truck in front of his former residence.

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In case of Tim and Sandra’s children Katie (Georgia Ellery) and Hugo (Jowan Jacobs), they are usually occupied with having fun as much as possible in the village. While Hugo occasionally dives into the sea, Katie becomes interested in getting a bit closer to Neil, and Neil does not mind that at all although Hugo is not so amused to see what is going on between his sister and Neil.

Anyway, these and other young people in the village usually spend their evening at a local pub which has been managed by a no-nonsense lady named Liz (Stacey Guthrie), and Martin drops by this place from time to time. While he glumly drinks his beer as usual, he is approached by Wenna (Chloe Endean), and we come to gather that there is some past between her and Martin, as she attempts to flirt a little with him.

Once everything in the story is established, director/writer Martin Jenkin, who also served as an editor/cinematographer/composer during the production of the film, dials up the level of suspense shot by shot. Whenever things get a little more tense, he frequently throws sudden disorienting shots which imply to us something bad to happen sooner or later, and his ambient score further accentuates that ominous impression as the circumstance becomes more intense between Martin and Tim. While Martin shows more spite and aggression, Tim and Sandra try to stick to their position as before, and this conflict between two parties also affects Martin’s estranged relationship with Steven, who simply wants his brother to accept and follow what is inevitable in his viewpoint.

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As we gradually come to discern where its story is heading, the movie continues to engage and intrigue us with its distinctive cinematic quality. Although it is set in the 21st century modern background as reflected by a few details glimpsed from the screen, the movie was shot by a Bolex camera in 16mm monochromatic film which was personally processed by Jenkin himself, so the screen is constantly filled with deliberately imperfect signs here and there. Because the sound could not be recorded on the set, all the dialogues and sound effects in the film were dubbed during the post-production period, and that surely adds an extra layer of odd feeling to the screen. In the end, the overall result feels like a dubbed silent black and white film from the early 20th century, and the visible discrepancy between its cinematic style and period background is alternatively jarring and intriguing.

Although the characters in the film are more or less than broad archetypes, the main performers in the film ably handle their several tense dramatic moments magnified by frequent close-up shots, and we come to care about what may happen among them in spite of mostly observing them from the distance. Constantly believable in his character’s gradual accumulation of frustration and exasperation, Edward Rowe steadily holds the center, and he is particularly terrific when his character silently but forcefully confronts a certain supporting character later in the story. In case of the other main cast members, Mary Woodvine and Simon Shepherd are effective as counterparts to Rowe, and Georgia Ellery, Jowan Jacobs, Stacey Guthrie, Chloe Endean, Isaac Woodvine, and Giles King are also solid as other crucial parts of the story.

Overall, “Bait”, which was recently nominated for the Outstanding British Film of the Year award at the BAFTA Film Awards, is definitely not something you can casually watch for entertainment, but I think you should take a chance with it, especially if you are looking for something different and challenging. To be frank with you, I am still scratching my head a bit, but I also vividly remember a number of strong moments in the film, and it will be really interesting to see what Jenkin will show us next after this fascinating cinematic experiment.

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Mine 9 (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): 2 Miles Below

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“Mine 9”, which is also known as “2 Miles Below”, is a small but effective genre piece to be admired for efficiency and verisimilitude. As firmly focusing on several characters suddenly stuck in a grim and perilous situation, the movie provides us a series of tense and realistic moments packed with grime and claustrophobia, and I admire how it skillfully and economically handles its story and characters before eventually arriving at the expected finale.

At the beginning, the movie promptly establishes its rural background with the palpable sense of history. After an old folk song about the hard life of coal miners is played on the soundtrack, it shows the grueling work condition of a bunch of Appalachian coal miners led by Zeke (Terry Serpico), and then we get to know how desperate they have been recently. They notice a clear sign of danger as they keep drilling at the bottom of their coal mine, and Zeke thinks they should notify this to safety regulators as soon as possible, but his co-workers including his brother Kenny (Mark Ashworth) do not want that at all because it is highly possible that those safety regulators will shut down their mine and then leave them unemployed. As one of them cynically says, they all would rather die to give their families some insurance money, instead of becoming unemployed without any hope or prospect.

Zeke agrees to his co-workers’ decision, but he remains quite concerned about the increasingly unstable condition of their mine. He later discusses this matter with their acting supervisor Teresa (Erin Elizabeth Burns), but she only reminds him that there is really nothing they can do at present. Because the coal yield of their mine has been decreasing, their company is not so eager to provide more safety measure, and Zeke eventually decides to make a call to a safety regulator without telling anyone.

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On the next day, things look a little more optimistic for Zeke and his colleagues as they attend the birthday party for the young son of one of them, and they are joined by Ryan (Drew Starkey), a young rookie who is also Kenny’s son. As they and Ryan go down inside the mine, Ryan understandably becomes nervous, and, not so surprisingly, others tease him a bit for making him more relaxed and comfortable for his first day in the mine.

And we get to feel more of how dirty, difficult, and dangerous their mining job is. As constantly working in stuffy and narrow shafts, they always stoop or crawl whenever they have to move, and their clean faces are soon covered with grime and sweat. As watching their work process, you may wonder how their ancestors struggled to work without those mining machines and electronic equipments during those old days in the 19-20th century.

Unfortunately, Zeke’s worst fear turns out to be true when he and his colleagues drill deeper as before. When a substantial amount of methane is suddenly leaked, that quickly leads to a massive explosion, which instantly causes the collapse of the mine shafts and also results in the death of some of his colleagues. Although Zeke and a few other surviving members are more fortunate, they are trapped inside the mine now, and methane is still being leaked inside the mine while they are only left with one hour of oxygen for each of them.

Once she realizes what happens in the mine, Teresa hurriedly brings in the safety regulator Zeke previously called, but they cannot do anything at present because, as Zeke already pointed out to his surviving colleagues, they will not be allowed to send their rescue team into the mine immediately for safety reasons. Therefore, Zeke and his surviving colleagues must find any possible way to survive for themselves, though their chance for survival is being decreased second by second.

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Steadily maintaining the level of suspense, the movie sticks close to its miner characters as they push themselves as much as they can, and director/writer/co-producer/co-editor Eddie Mensore and his crew members effectively deliver a number of intense moments packed with palpably gloomy atmosphere. While cinematographer Matthew Boyd did a commendable job of generating the constant claustrophobic mood around the miner characters in the film, composer Mauricio Yazigi’s subtly ambient score works well along with sound effects, and the overall aural effect immerses us more into the desperate circumstance in the story.

In terms of storytelling, the movie is lean and efficient without wasting any minute at all, though I would not mind at all if it went for more background and character details. Its main cast members are believable on the whole as filling their respective roles as demanded, and Terry Serpico diligently holds the center while supported well by his co-performers including Kevin Sizemore, Clint James, Erin Elizabeth Burns, and Drew Starkey.

Overall, “Mine 9”, which is Mensore’s second feature film after “The Deposition” (2012), did its job better than I expected, and I was particularly impressed by some genuine poignancy presented at the end of its story, which you have to behold for yourself in my inconsequential opinion. It is a shame that this solid low-budget film was quickly forgotten after quietly released in US early in last year, and I really think you should give it a chance someday.

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Monos (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Young beasts of a war

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There are a number of absolutely stunning moments in “Monos”, which won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival early in last year. While I often struggled to follow and understand its story and characters, I was constantly impressed by the considerable efforts put into its vividly realistic mood and atmosphere, and I really wanted to know more about its production process, which must have been pretty demanding as far as I could see from the result.

The movie was shot in a number of remote locations in Colombia, but it never specifies its background at all, and it simply thrusts us right into the ongoing situation surrounding a bunch of young commandos who have been staying together at some remote mountaintop spot. Throughout the film, they are only identified by their military aliases such as “Rambo”, “Smurf”, “Bigfoot”, and “Wolf”, and the movie does not provide any personal information on these young soldiers for, probably, reflecting how their individuality has been erased by the group mentality forced upon their innocent minds.

When a guy called “the Messenger” (Wilson Salazar) comes, the mood becomes tense and serious as he sternly pushes the young commandos through a series of grueling military exercises along with the constant emphasis on the devotion to “the Organization”, which is probably a fictional version of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. As one point, one of the young commandos seriously requests the permission for a romantic relationship with some other member, and that subsequently leads to one of a few amusing moments in the film as the young commandos eagerly prepare and then celebrate for the permitted romantic relationship.

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It is gradually revealed to us that the main mission of the young commandos is holding an American woman as a hostage for a while. She is simply called “Doctora” (Julianne Nicholson), and the young commandos do not see any problem in giving her some freedom from time to time, but it is clear to us that she has been pretty tired and desperate as her status as a hostage has been continued without much change.

Anyway, the young commandos keep sticking to their mission while having some fun at times, but, of course, the circumstance becomes quite problematic due to an unexpected incident. As they try to deal with its outcome which turns out to be more devastating than expected, the ongoing war soon comes upon their isolated spot, and then they find themselves at another remote spot along with their hostage, who discerns that now she has more chance for escape and does not hesitate at all once she sees an opportunity.

I will not go into details on what happens next, but you will not be surprised much if you have ever read Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”. As getting more isolated than before, the young commandos are driven more into desperation and madness, and this process is further accentuated by another unconventional score by Mica Levi, which frequently disturbs us via the unnerving combination of timpani and whistle sounds generated from bottles.

Although it sticks to its detached attitude as before, the movie slowly comes to focus on Rambo (Sofía Buenaventura), who gradually becomes conflicted about what is going on in the group. There is a heartbreaking scene where Rambo is coerced to commit an act of cruelty on the hostage, and that makes Rambo have more doubt than before as also being more ostracized by Bigfoot (Moisés Arias) and other young commandos.

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The movie later comes to lose some of its narrative momentum during its last act, but director Alejandro Landes, who wrote the screenplay along with Alexis Dos Santos, keeps holding our attention as continuing to provide impressive scenes with his cinematographer Jasper Wolf, who did a commendable job of capturing many awesome moments on the screen. I was awed by those frequent shots of mountaintops shrouded in clouds, and I was also quite impressed by a scene unfolded along a big river full of rough torrents (I was relieved to learn later that they took safety measures while shooting this terrifying scene, by the way).

Most of the cast members in the film are non-professional performers, but they all look convincing and authentic in their respective parts. While Wilson Salazar, who was initially hired as the technical consultant of the film for being a former member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, effortlessly exudes authority over those young performers in the film, Sofía Buenaventura gradually holds the center as one of a few characters in the film we can care about, and Julianne Nicholson and Moisés Arias, who are incidentally the only two professional performers in the film, are also effective in their unadorned acting.

On the whole, “Monos”, which was selected as Colombia’s official entry to Best International Film Oscar several months ago, is definitely not something you can casually watch on Sunday afternoon, but it is worthwhile to watch mainly for its admirable technical aspects, and you will not easily forget those striking moments in the film. Yes, it is a bit too allegorical and abstract in my humble opinion, but, nevertheless, I appreciate what Landes and his cast and crew members achieve on the screen.

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Little Women (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Another home run by Greta Gerwig

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Greta Gerwig’s latest film “Little Women” is as witty, charming, and touching as expected. Based on the famous classic novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott, the movie constantly amuses and moves us as busily bouncing around its lovable main characters who are full of spirit and personality to delight us, and Gerwig also adds some delicious modern feminist touches to the story and characters while quite faithful to what makes Alcott’s novel so cherished by countless readers for more than 150 years.

The most notable change in Gerwig’s adapted screenplay is its non-linear episodic narrative alternating between two time points. During the opening scene, we meet Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) in New York City, 1868, and we see this young aspiring female writer trying to sell her latest story to her editor Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts). Although she manages to get it sold in the end, it is considerably edited by him, and, above all, she is paid less than she hoped, though he shows a bit of interest in whatever she is going to write next.

Meanwhile, we are also introduced to Jo’s three sisters: Meg (Emma Watson), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh). While Meg has been married for several years and also has two kids, Amy is traveling in Europe along with Aunt March (Meryl Streep) as being groomed to be a woman eligible for marriage, and Beth happens to go through another bout of sickness, which turns out to be quite more serious than before.

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The movie glides back and forth between the present part and the past part, which is set in their hometown in Massachusetts, 1861. As their father is currently absent due to the ongoing Civil War, the March sisters are mainly taken care of by their kind and gentle mother, and a series of flashback scenes show us how boisterous the mood is whenever these four sisters hang around with each other in their plain but cozy house. Already full of the hope of becoming a successful writer someday, Jo frequently writes plays and stories, and her three sisters are certainly willing to perform her plays along with her.

Like many other adolescent girls around their age, the March sisters are very interested in romance, and the main focus of their romantic interest is Theodore “Laurie” Laurence (Timothée Chalamet), a handsome teenager boy living in a nearby mansion with his grandfather Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper). Thanks to one incident involved with Amy, the March sisters come to have a formal encounter with Laurie and his grandfather, and Laurie is subsequently invited to the March sisters’ private meeting.

As its main characters are gradually established, the movie generates the dramatic resonance between the past and the present via Gerwig’s sharp dialogues and keen understanding on characters, and it also often wields its wit and humor especially when it focuses on the dynamic interactions among the March sisters. We are frequently amused by the tempestuous clashes among their strong personalities, but then we are also touched by their deep bond based on love and understanding, and that is why more serious scenes later in the film are accompanied with considerable emotional effects.

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In addition, the movie, which recently received six Oscar nominations including the one for Best Picture, is top-notch in technical aspects. The past and the present parts in the film are fluidly connected to each other thanks to the skillful editing by Nick Houy, the production design by Jess Gonchor and Claire Kaufman and the costume by Jacqueline Durran are superlative on the whole, and composer Alexandre Desplat, who has been steadily advancing since he drew our attention with his graceful score for “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (2003), provides another gorgeous score to enjoy.

Above all, Gerwig draws a bunch of enjoyable performances from her main cast members. While Saorise Ronan’s Oscar-nominated performance, which is packed with charm and pluck to be savored, here in this film reminds us again that she is one of the most talented actresses in her generation, Florence Pugh, who had another wonderful year thanks to her various performances in “Fighting with My Family” (2019), “Midsommar” (2019), and BBC TV mini-series “The Little Drummer Girl”, deservedly garnered a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her bouncy performance here in this film, and Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen, who was excellent in her supporting turn in HBO miniseries “Sharp Objects”, are equally solid in their respective roles. In case of the other notable main cast members in the film, Laura Dern warmly exudes generosity and compassion as the mother of the March sisters, and Timothée Chalamet, Louis Garrel, and James Norton are well-cast as three possible suitors around the March sisters, while Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper are dependable as usual with each own small moment to shine.

Thanks to the big critical success with her second feature film “Lady Bird” (2017), Gerwig has quickly risen as another interesting American filmmaker to watch, and “Little Women” delightfully demonstrates that she is a genuinely talented one who will entertain and impress us more in the future. As reflected by the finale which deviates a bit from Alcott’s novel, she is surely in full control of her story and characters just like Jo, and the result is another home run in her remarkable filmmaking career.

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