Decision to Block

To be frank with you, I do not like blocking others on the Internet because of how casual and mindless that can be. If you carelessly keep blocking other online users around you just because you do not agree with them or do not like them much, you will likely end up being stuck in your own echo chamber as dreadful as a sort of hell shown in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” (2010), and that may make your online life all the more miserable and frustrating.

However, today, I decide to block a certain fellow user on several social network service applications including Instagram because I finally become more honest about this guy’s toxic influence on me after several months. Yes, I tried to have a serious romantic relationship with him during those several months, but now I come to see that what I suffered and endured during this problematic period were occasionally downright abusive in many aspects, so now I decide to block him once for all, no matter what will happen next.

Of course, he seemed to be a pretty nice guy I can hang around with. We came across each other in last October via Grindr, and our first meeting went fairly well as we talked with each other more and more. He is a graphic novel artist who has been known rather well in the gay society of South Korea, and I became more interested in getting to know because of that. In the end, I told him that I would drop by his nearby residence later if I could after an afternoon meeting with some other guy, and I eventually came to notify him that I would come to his residence in the following evening.

Although our first night was not particularly dramatic except lots of cold rain being poured outside, we came to interact more with each other during next several weeks. At one point, I gladly invited him to my hometown Jeonju, and we stayed together for three days in my family residence while my parents happened to be conveniently absent due to their oversea golf tour.

Around that point, there were several small bad signs of which I should have been more aware. Just because of my considerable promiscuity during last five years (My pathetic excuse: I was simply doing a carnal research for firmly concluding on my sexual taste). he often called me “pig whore”, and I let him insult me just because 1) I felt ashamed of my rather messy sex life and 2) I did not know whether he was just making a fun of me. In addition, he blatantly criticized me for bringing him into the family residence without telling anything to my parents, and that certainly made me feel not only lousy and but also unsure about my relationship between him. After all, he lives in Seoul while I live in Daejeon, and, as many of you know, long-distance relationship is usually demanding and difficult besides being quite tricky to handle.

In the end, he announced to me that we were no longer in relationship just because I let him down inadvertently around the end of last year. I was eager to present him to my parents as well as my brother and his future wife, but they stopped my plan at the last minute, and he was not so pleased when I told him about that later. Yes, I surely screwed up things from the start, and I accepted the consequence without much hesitation.

After that point, he and I were supposed to be just friends, but we only ended up exchanging more texts between ourselves during next several weeks, so we came to begin again during that time. We seemed to know and understand each other more, so it looks like we could be much closer to each other than before, and I also adored his pet dog even though I have been a cat person for years.

However, there also came more bad signs to notice. On one Saturday, we were simply supposed to enjoy a little but special exhibition in a nearby art museum near to his residence. I tried to be frank and direct about my opinion about the exhibition as much as possible, but he kept insisting that I did not understand anything because I am snobbish and superficial, and our so-called discussion went nowhere as a result. In addition, he often accused me of flirting with anyone clicking “Like” on my Instagram posts, and he also often told me that I was actually a notoriously promiscuous user on Grindr.

Above all, he confused me more and more during last several weeks. He said we would be just friends at one point, but then he said how much he missed me not long after that, and this happened more than once at least. During the last week of this February, he came to visit me just because he missed me again, and we tried to have a sex later, but he later said that he and I did not click together that much together because I am too fat to be attractive to him.

After that, we were supposed to be friends again, but, what do you know, he approached to me again around last weekend, and he eventually crossed the line today. Just because I was not responding to his texts, he casually hurled very insulting words to me as shown from the picture above, and that made me all the more confused and stressed than before. Believe or not, he subsequently apologized as expected, and he even said that we should meet again during this weekend.

In the end, I finally decided that enough is enough. Although I agreed to meet him during the next weekend, I consulted with several gay friends of mine, and they all confirmed to me that I have been stuck in a very bad circumstance from which I should get away as soon as possible. He was indeed as abusive and crappy as I have always felt, and all of my friends advised me to block him right now without any hesitation.

How could I let this happen to myself? The first reason I can think of is that I was not so serious about my relationship with him from the start. Because a considerable physical distance between him and me, I thought I could simply terminate the relationship whenever I wanted, so I did not take those many bad signs of his that seriously, and I consequently ended up being a classic case of abuse and manipulation. Besides, I am a lot more emotionally vulnerable than I can admit, and that certainly contributed much to this big problem of mine.

I must confess that there is some doubt somewhere inside my mind, but I must also admit that I have not been happy at all especially during last several weeks. There were surely some good times with him (For example, he could be a fairly good fellow movie audience), but I could not help but feel burdened instead of delighted whenever he approached to me for spending time with me, and I often found myself being rather dishonest during my conversations with him. As a matter of fact, he is trying to reach to me right now at this very moment, and I felt a bit queasy in my stomach.

This is my second failure in romantic relationship, but I am glad at least that I can terminate this on my own terms as before. Maybe I am totally wrong about him, but my mind and heart still do not feel right about him at all, and I will soon throw him out from my inconsequential daily life without any compromise. I do not know whether he will not cause any more stress or annoyance to me later, but I can tell you that I begin to feel a bit better as I am finishing this paragraph.

Am I harsh and heartless? I cannot answer that question for now, but my mind is going back to the grand emotional finale of William Wyler’s classic film “The Heirless” (1949). Like Olivia de Havilland’s heroine in that film, I may be destined to the life of solitude and lovelessness in the end, but, despite my big mistakes, I have learned and then get things under control at present just like she did in the finale, and now I am a little less afraid of being alone for the rest of my life. After all, that is a much better alternative than whatever I suffered during last several months, isn’t it?

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Living (2022) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A respectable remake of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece

“Living” is a respectable British remake of one of my favorite Akira Kurosawa films. While mostly faithful to the original version in terms of story and characters, the movie succeeds in generating some genuine poignancy just like the original version thanks to not only its thoughtful storytelling but also its haunting lead performance, which is incidentally one of the best works in the lead actor’s long and illustrious career.

Bill Nighy, a wonderful actor who has seldom bored us during last two decades since his hilarious supporting turn in “Love Actually” (2003), plays Mr. Rodney Williams, an old widower who is a senior London County Council bureaucrat in London, 1953. During the opening part of the film, he is introduced via the viewpoints of several other bureaucrats working under him as they begin another unremarkable day at the London County Council, and the movie gradually immerses us into their dry and joyless working environment as they handle one paper after another without much attention.

Although he has steadily and mindlessly worked without any interruption for many years, Williams makes an exception on one day to the surprise of everyone working around him. He leaves the office a bit earlier than usual, and then he visits a doctor for the diagnosis on his current medical condition, but the doctor hesitates a bit for a good reason. Unfortunately, it turns out that he has a terminal cancer, and he is quite devastated to learn that he has only a few months to live before his eventual death.

Naturally, Williams comes to look back at his whole life, and the screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro, a Nobel-winning novelist who has been known for several acclaimed novels including “The Remains of the Day”, takes a more restrained approach compared to Kurosawa’s film. Besides succinctly conveying to us its hero’s whole life via a series of very brief flashback shots, it also quickly establishes the considerable estrangement between him and his married adult son, and that further emphasizes how barren his life has been for many years. Williams surely cares about his son, but his son is mostly occupied with his own life matters, and that makes Williams all the more reluctant to tell his son about his terminal illness.

At least, there later come two different consolations for Williams. Shortly after coming to a seaside town for his last vacation, Williams encounters a young novelist willing to help him have some joy of life before his death, and the mood becomes a bit more spirited as they drop by one place after another during the following evening. Williams surely appreciates the kindness of his unexpected young friend, but that still does not make his melancholic emptiness go away at all. At one point, he sincerely sings an old Scottish song in front of his new friend and others in one bar, and the young novelist comes to sense more of how sad and desperate Williams really is.

When he subsequently returns to London, Williams remains confused and desperate as before, and that is when he comes across a young female employee who has worked under him for some time but recently decides to quit the job just because she does not like it much. As a dying man, Williams cannot help but drawn to her youthful spirit, and she brings some comfort via merely being with him, though she is not particularly willing to get a lot closer to him despite her affection toward him.

If you have already watched the original version, “Ikiru” (1952), you will not be that surprised much by what follows next. After doing some quiet emotional struggles, Williams suddenly comes upon a little idea on what he should do with his last few months to live, and the last act, which begins right after an unexpected narrative shift, focuses on how much he dedicates himself to his small passion project during next several months. I will not go into details here, but I can tell you instead that 1) our hero becomes much alive than before to our ironic amusement and 2) his eventual achievement and the following moment of happiness and satisfaction really earn tears from us.  

Everything in the film depends a lot on Nighy’s subtly modulated performance, which certainly deserves to be compared with Takashi Shimura’s different but equally powerful acting in the original version. After effortlessly establishing his character’s dryly unflappable bureaucratic appearance, he slowly reveals his character’s quiet desperation and pathos along the story, and he is simply superlative as his weary face comes to show much more life later in the story. Reflecting more on how Nighy deftly handles one particular key scene around the end of the film which ingrained Shimura forever in the movie history, I am reminded now that great actors do not follow rules but illustrate them instead, and Nighy, who deservedly received an Oscar nomination for his work here in this film (The movie is also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, by the way), certainly exemplifies that.

In conclusion, “Living” succeeds as much as intended while respectfully standing right below the original version, and director Oliver Hermanus, a South African filmmaker who previously drew my interest for his previous film “Moffie” (2019), did a commendable job of handling the story and characters with enough care and sensitivity. I still recommend “Ikiru” first, but “Living” is still a well-made remake to admire for many good things including Nighy’s excellent acting, and I think you will appreciate it more after watching “Ikiru”.

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Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Going for her little dream

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is a delightful comedy which has lots of humor and goodwill in addition to a bunch of lovely dresses. As following its plain but decent heroine’s eventful journey toward her little dream, the movie often charms and amuses us with a series of warm and funny moments, and its predictable but enjoyable narrative is supported well by the likable performances from its main cast members.

Lesley Manville, who has been more prominent thanks to her recent Oscar-nominated turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s unforgettable costume drama film “Phantom Thread” (2017), plays Ada Harris, a widowed cleaning lady who has lived and worked in London for many years. Still feeling hurt about the loss of her husband during the World War II, Ada has devoted herself mostly to her daily work, and the only consolation comes from her best friend Vi (Ellen Thomas) and a local bookmaker named Archie (Jason Isaacs). It is apparent that Archie wants to get closer to Ada, BS Vi has always encouraged that, but Ada still hesitates although it has been more than 10 years since her dear husband died.

On one day, something comes to ignite Ada’s longtime yearning. While cleaning the residence of one wealthy resident, she comes across a very expensive dress made by the House of Christian Dior in Paris, and, as marveled by its undeniable beauty, she comes to decide that she really should buy a Christian Dior drees in Paris for herself. Although one Christian Dior dress will cost at least 500 pounds, she recently happens to get a substantial amount of cash by sheer good luck, and that becomes the starting point of her big plan for dressing shopping in Paris.

Despite several setbacks on her way, Ada eventually comes to have enough money for her dress shopping in Paris, and the movie has some little fun as she cannot help but impressed by a new world unfolded in front of her. While it Is rather dirty due to the ongoing strike of garbage collectors, Paris still looks wonderful and charming to Ada nonetheless, and she certainly expects a lot when she happens to be allowed to go inside the House of Christian Dior at the right moment thanks to another good luck.

Along with many prestigious clients, Ada soon beholds a series of many new different dresses for the new season, and that is definitely one of the highpoints in the film. Costume Designer Jenny Beavan, who recently won her third Oscar for “Cruella” (2021), surely has a field day here with all those gorgeous dresses shown during the sequence, and, not so surprisingly, the movie recently garnered an Oscar nomination for another top-notch work of hers.

Because of being quite less privileged and pretentious than many of clients, Ada naturally comes to draw attention from the employees in the House of Christian Dior, and, what do you know, she is wholly welcomed by almost everyone except Madame Colbert (Isabelle Huppert), the manager of Christian Dior who is incidentally as frigid and haughty as Manville’s similar character in “Phantom Thread”. No so amused by this little unexpected change brought by Ada, Madame Colbert tries to get rid of Ada as soon possible, but, to her annoyance, Ada is allowed to stay more in Paris thanks to the kindness of an ambitious young employee named André (Lucas Bravo).

While her chosen dress is going through the modification process as required, Ada comes to enjoy more of Paris, and she is helped a lot by not only André but also several other local people including Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson). As spending more time with this nice (and dashing) nobleman, Ada comes to see that she is still not too late for romance, and, as a widower, he seems to be also willing to get to know her more, though it later turns out that he is interested in her for some other reason.

Although it loses some of narrative momentum during its last act, the screenplay by director Anthony Fabian and his co-writers Carroll Cartwright, Keith Thompson, and Olivia Hetreed, which is based on Paul Gallico’s novel “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris”, still holds our attention as showing care and affection toward its heroine and other characters in the story. While the romantic subplot involved with André and a certain female employee is rather artificial, it is not entirely without amusement, and Ada’s gentle compassion toward them certainly boosts it later in the story. In case of Madame Colbert, she turns out to be not as heartless as she looked at first, and there is a little poignant moment when she comes to open herself to Ada much more than expected.

Manville’s lightweight comic performance entertainingly functions as the human anchor of the film, and she is also surrounded well by a group of distinctive performers to notice. While Isabelle Huppert has the most fun in the bunch as expected, Lucas Bravo, Alba Baptista, Ellen Thomas, Rose Williams, Lambert Wilson, and Jason Isaacs are well-cast in their respective supporting parts, and they bring considerable life and personality to their broad but colorful roles.

Overall, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is a small but enjoyable comedy to be savored for several good reasons besides those lovely dresses, and I also appreciate how it touchingly reminds us of the value of goodwill and kindness in the end. After all, we surely need more of goodwill and kindness considering how things have often been quite gloomy and disturbing for us these days, and the movie certainly makes a good case for that to us.

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All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Inside her extraordinary art and life

Laura Poitras’ latest documentary film “All the Bloody and the Bloodshed”, which received the Golden Lion award at the Venice International Film Festival in last year and then garnered an Oscar nomination early in this year, looks into the art and life of one very compelling female artist. While it is interesting to see how wild and fearless she has been as a rebelliously unconventional artist for many years, it is also fascinating to watch how defiant and persistent she was in her recent group movement against one big social injustice, and it is touching to observe how her past and present often powerfully resonate with each other throughout the documentary.

Her name is Nan Goldin, and the documentary initially shows us how she and several colleagues of hers worked together for holding a certain big pharmaceutical company accountable for the ongoing opioid epidemic in the American society. When Purdue Pharma began to sell a new painkiller product named Oxycontin around the late 1990s, the company blatantly lied to people that there was not much possibility of addiction in Oxycontin, and this big lie consequently led to lots of personal and financial damage to not only thousands of individuals but also the whole society during the next two decades. Because she also had her own problem with Oxycontin addiction, Goldin really cared a lot about this serious social injustice, so she decided to do a number of public group protests against not only Purdue Pharma but also one rich and influential family who had owned the company for years.

That wealthy family in question is the Sacklers, and their name will probably feel a bit familiar to you if you have ever been to any of those big art museums ranging from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City to the Louvre in Paris. For many years, the Sacklers had eagerly donated lots of money to those big art museums around the world, and their name had been frequently associated with many of them. Needless to say, this was one of their insidious ways of whitewashing their public image, but those museums associated with them did not object to this at all, while also showing some appreciation and recognition in exchange.

Goldin and her fellow activists knew well that, considering their big and powerful opponent, they did not have much chance from the beginning, but that did not stop them from going all the way for making their social issue known much more to not only plain citizens but many big art museums which had been funded by the Sacklers. Once they did a little but significantly successful demonstration at one certain section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018, they quickly moved onto other prominent museums including the Guggenheim Museum, and they surely impressed the public more with several clever tactics for drawing more attention.

Meanwhile, the documentary also delves into how Goldin’s life has been saved and driven by art throughout her whole life. She had a very unhappy suburban childhood due to her parents who turned out to be much more problematic than they seemed on the surface, and she is still haunted a lot by the old memories of her dear older sister, who tragically died at a young age after having so much trouble with her parents.

In the end, after clashing a lot with her parents just like her older sister did, Goldin was eventually drifted to New York City around the 1970s, and that was where she came to find not only freedom but also her own considerable artistic potential. As frequently photographing her many different fellows of the LGBTQ+ subculture of the city, she came to develop more of her talent and sensibility day by day, and she eventually came to have her first official exhibition.

While she tried to advance more as an artist, Goldin surely had some hard and difficult time. After all, her art field was mostly male-dominant, so she had to struggle more for getting more recognition, and she also frequently experienced how casually her artistic freedom could be blocked. When the AIDS epidemic was raging during the 1980s, she naturally became determined to show more of its devastating personal damages to the public, but then her following exhibition was hurriedly canceled for clearly unfair reasons, and that certainly frustrated and exasperated her and her colleagues a lot.

Compared to how much Goldin and her colleagues fought against the AIDS epidemic and the accompanying social stigma, her fight against Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers in the late 2010s looks rather modest, but the documentary often reminds us of how devastating the opioid epidemic has been during last two decades. As Goldin and her fellow activists continued to fight more, more people came out with each own story to tell, and one of the most powerful moments in the documentary comes from when several persons give their painfully personal episodes of Oxycontin addiction in front of not only a federal judge but also the three key members of the Sacklers.

In conclusion, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” did a superlative job of illuminating its serious social issue in addition to giving us a vivid and engaging presentation of one woman who is surely extraordinary as an activist as well as an artist. Usually having Goldin tell for herself, Poitras, who previously an Oscar for “CitizenFour” (2014), lets us get to know and understand Goldin’s life and art more, and you will come to admire her more around the end of the documentary. In short, this is one of the best documentaries of last year, and it certainly deserves all those accolades it has received during last several months.

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Creed III (2023) ☆☆☆(3/4): Back in the ring with his past

“Creed III” is a solid sequel to be admired for several good reasons. While it does not go further than what has been established by not only its two predecessors but also many other boxing drama films including, yes, “Rocky” (1976), the movie is fairly satisfying in terms of story and characters, and it is also firmly held together by the undeniably electrifying presence of the two very talented actors at its center.

After the prologue scene set in LA, 2002, the movie promptly moves onto what will be the last boxing match for the exceptional professional career of Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan), which was incidentally started with his little training time with Rocky Balboa in “Creed” (2015). After successfully defending his heavyweight champion title for the last time, Creed comes to retire for spending more time with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and their dear little daughter, and he also comfortably slips into the role of mentor for those young boxers training in his famous gym.

While going through another usual quiet day of his retirement period, Creed is approached by someone from his old past. That figure in question is Damian “Dame” Johnson (Jonathan Majors), and, as already shown to us during the prologue scene, he and Creed were once quite close to each other before a very unpleasant incident occurred at one night. Because of that incident, Damian became imprisoned for no less than 18 years, and Creed feels guilty about that because he was partially responsible for that incident.

Despite many years of imprisonment, Damian, who was a promising young boxer before he got incarcerated, wants to resume his boxing career. Although Creed is understandably reluctant at first, he has Damian work as the new sparring partner for a young prominent boxer he has mentored for years, and Damian seems to appreciate that, though Creed’s head coach Tony “Little Duke” Evers (Wood Harris) regards Damian with reasonable watchfulness.

Of course, it does not take much time for Damian to show how angry and resentful he has been about what happened between him and Creed at that time. When Creed later lets Damian have his first professional boxing match, Damian surprises everyone as mercilessly punching his supposedly indomitable opponent before getting his big victory, and Creed belatedly comes to realize that Damian did not approach to him just for some help. He is surely determined to settle an old score between them by any means necessary, and, yes, only Creed can stop him right now.

What follows next is your average training montage scene, but this conventional moment is fueled by what is being at stake between Creed and Damian, who is depicted with more nuances and details compared to those cartoonish opponents of Balboa in many of the forgettable sequels following “Rocky”. As preparing himself a lot for the upcoming big match, Creed also struggles a lot with his dark past represented by his spiteful opponent, and that consequently leads to them considerable friction between him and Bianca as well as his foster mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), who turns out to have something she has hidden from him for years.

In the end, everything culminates to the expected climactic moment between Creed and Damian, and the movie does not disappoint us at all as vividly capturing every punch wielded by them in the ring. At one point, the movie unexpectedly goes for a restrained approach for emphasizing how much both of Creed and Damian are focused on punching each other to the end, and that further boosts the dramatic effects of the finale. Yes, it is predictable to say the least, but it comes with some real poignancy at least.

Michael B. Jordan, who also directed the film in addition to co-producing it, shows admirable commitment as he did in the two previous films, and he also demonstrates enough competence as the director. Besides deftly handling several boxing match scenes in the film, he also pays enough attention to storytelling and characterization, and that allows several main cast members around him to have each own moment to shine. While Tessa Thompson does a lot more than filling her seemingly functional role, Wood Harris and Phylicia Rashad effortlessly embody their respective substantial supporting roles, and young performer Mila Davis-Kent often makes us smile as her character shows some pluck just like when her father was young.

In case of Jonathan Majors, who has steadily impressed me since his memorable supporting turn in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (2019), he is inarguably the biggest reason to watch the film besides Jordan’s equally dedicated physical acting. Looking much more intense and committed compared to whatever he did in recent Marvel Cinematic Universe flick “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” (2023), Majors ably galvanizes his several key scenes with Jordan in the film, and that makes me have more expectation on his advancing acting career. If his next film of this year, “Magazine Dreams” (2023), is as impressive as I heard from people who saw it at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, he will probably be mentioned much more around the end of this year.

On the whole, “Creed III” has enough energy and spirit to compensate for its very familiar story formula, and it is surely the nice finishing chapter for what was so powerfully begun from “Creed”. Along with its two predecessors, the movie proudly occupies their own spot besides its senior franchise, and that is certainly an achievement, you know.

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The Eternal Daughter (2022) ☆☆☆(3/4): Two Swintons in one foggy hotel

Joanna Hogg’s latest film “The Eternal Daughter” feels like the logical next step from her two previous films “The Souvenir” (2019) and “The Souvenir Part II” (2021). In the coming-of-age tale of those two films, their young heroine’s relationship with her mother always hovers around the fringe of the main narrative, and now Hogg attempts to examine one interesting mother and daughter relationship within a small, isolated background.

At the beginning, the movie shows the arrival of its two main characters at a big hotel located in the middle of some remote forest area in one very foggy evening. They are Julie Hart and her mother Rosalind, and they instantly draw our attention from their first scene because both of whom are played by Tilda Swinton, who incidentally played the mother character in “The Souvenir” and “The Souvenir Part II”. Considering that the first names of the heroine and her mother in these two films are also Julie and Rosalind, you may wonder whether “The Eternal Daughter” is a sort of spiritual sequel to these two films, but the movie does not give much information about its two main characters, except that Julie brings her mother to the hotel because it may make her mother feel a little more comfortable as one of those good places in her past.

However, things do not look that good when they subsequently enter the hotel along with Rosalind’s pet dog. For example, there is some reservation problem Julie has to deal with, although there will not be any other guest in the hotel besides Julie and her mother during next several days. In addition, the receptionist, who also serves as the sole waitress of the hotel restaurant, is not particularly kind to them, and she soon leaves without much care as soon as her working time is over.

As a result, Julie and Rosalind find themselves mostly alone by themselves in the hotel during their first day at the hotel, which looks fairly cozy but rather spooky like, yes, that insidious hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). With its rather dim interior lighting and the constantly foggy surrounding area, the hotel often feels like a sort of middle point between life and death, and now that reminds me of the similar main background of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s sublime fantasy drama film “After Life” (1998), which is about the souls of deal people trying to prepare for whatever is waiting beyond their past lives.

While next several days slowly pass by, we get to know a bit more about Julie and Rosalind. They are usually fine together, and they clearly care a lot about each other, but we cannot help but feel some distance between them. Julie, who is incidentally a filmmaker just like the heroine of “The Souvenir” and “The Souvenir Part II”, is eager to know more about her mother, and it later turns out that she is considering making a movie based on her relationship with her mother, but her mother does not talk that much about her life while simply enjoying the comfortable environment of the hotel.

Naturally getting frustrated with her mother’s rather elusive attitude, Julie often wanders around here and there in the hotel, and she soon gets unnerved by the barren ambience of the hotel. When she goes out along with her mother’s pet dog for one evening, she sees something odd behind one of the windows on the first floor of the hotel, and that is just one of several strange experiences she is going to have along the story.

Now the movie feels like your average gothic horror movie, but the movie keeps focusing on the human drama revolving around Julie and her mother. At one point, she is surprised by the sudden appearance of one old employee, and this old employee generously gives some advice on how she can understand and accept her mother more. As the one of a very few performers appearing around Swinton in the film, Joseph Mydell, a veteran American actor who has been known for his frequent collaborations with the Royal Shakespeare Company, effortlessly draws our attention during this scene, and we later see how his character’s advice comes to help Julie later in the story.

Everything in the story eventually culminates to the long dinner conversation between Julie and Rosalind. As they indirectly pull and push each other over one trivial matter, we come to sense more of the gap between them, and then there comes an unexpected moment which shows more about the emotional undercurrents between them. Swinton, who is no stranger to dual performance as shown from Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” (2017) and Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” (2018), is simply superb as skillfully switching back and forth between her two different characters, and her wonderful acting constantly holds the movie even when it baffles and confounds us a lot.

On the whole, “The Eternal Daughter” is another interesting work from Hogg. In my humble opinion, it does not surpass the considerable achievement level of “The Souvenir” and “The Souvenir Part II”, and I wish Hogg polished the story and characters a bit more, but the movie still satisfies me thanks to its good mood and another terrific performance from Swinton. As your typical arthouse film, it surely requires some patience from you at first, but I assure you that it will leave you some indelible impression in the end, and you will have more expectation on whatever will come next from Hogg.

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The Souvenir Part II (2021) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Her next chapter after his death

Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir Part II”, which is the sequel to her previous film “The Souvenir” (2019), illustrates the aftermath of its young heroine’s toxic romantic relationship depicted in the previous film. As she tries to process the devastating end of the relationship with her problematic lover, the movie dryly but sensitively follows her following emotional/artistic maturation, and the result comes to resonate a lot with what we observed from the previous film.

The story begins at the point not long after the ending of “The Souvenir”. Still struggling to get over from her addict boyfriend’s unexpected death, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) tries to move on with her film school education, but she often finds herself quite confused and aimless to say the least. Yes, her boyfriend was pretty bad to her in many aspects, but her relationship with him was the first serious romance in her life, and she sometimes wonders how their relationship went wrong – and whether she should have seen his problems from the very beginning.

At least, things are not quite bad for Julie because she has a number of people who really support and care about her. Her several colleagues including Marland (Jaygann Ayeh) and Max (Joe Alwyn) are ready to assist her when she is about to make a film for her graduation. Her affluent parents are certainly willing to bring some comfort and consolation to her at their cozy country house, and she later asks her mother Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) about whether she can borrow a considerable amount of cash for completing her graduation film, which happens to be funded in private as the school board rejects to fund it for understandable reasons.

Not so surprisingly, Julie’s graduation film is a fictional reflection of her relationship with her dead boyfriend, and she is really determined to complete it, but, to the frustration of her and others around her, she does not know well what she exactly wants to create. She has the cast and crew members waiting for following her direction, but she soon finds herself failing to communicate with them, mainly because, as the school board members sharply pointed out already, her screenplay is rather aimless in its free-flowing narrative. No matter how much she tries, many of her cast and crew members remain as confused as her, and that naturally causes lots of friction between her and them.

Due to this artistic problem of hers, Julie cannot help but envy how her fellow filmmaker Patrick (Richard Ayoade) has advanced with lots of ambition and confidence. At one point, she watches how he and his cast and crew members shoot a big musical scene, which brings some cheerful jolt to the film. Everything seems to be going pretty well on the surface, but it later turns out that Patrick also has lots of doubt and insecurity behind his swaggering appearance.

Leisurely rolling from one small episodic moment to another, Hogg’s screenplay, which is as autobiographical as “The Souvenir”, subtly conveys to us its heroine’s gradual growth bit by bit. As struggling to get the right tone for her graduation film, Julie gets some good advice from her editor Max (Joe Alwyn), and, because he also knew her dead boyfriend well, he and Julie subsequently come to have a little private conversation about her dead boyfriend, though he turns out to be not the one who can be attracted to her as she wishes. In one brief but crucial scene later in the story, she happens to encounter Patrick outside, and he generously reminds her that she is actually going in the right direction despite her initial artistic struggle.

As these and other key scenes in the film engage us more, we are more immersed into its dry but realistic period atmosphere, which is enhanced further by the grainy visual quality of the cinematography by David Raedeker. When her completed film is finally shown to her audiences, Julie finally comes to see more of how she can move on from the complex past with her dead boyfriend, and, to our little surprise, the movie accordingly looks brighter and sharper than before. That is more than enough for us to get a liberating sense of hope from our heroine, and we are touched more as the movie adds a sublime finishing touch to its poignant last scene.

Hogg also draws the good performances from her main cast members. As the emotional center of the film, Honor Swinton Byrne is terrific as she was in the previous film, and she deftly handles her character development with subtle nuances to be appreciated. Tilda Swinton, who is incidentally Byrne’s mother in addition to having known Hogg since their early years, is surely the most prominent one in the bunch, but she does not overshadow her daughter at all, and they certainly bring some extra authenticity to several key scenes between them. In case of several other cast members, Richard Ayoade has a little flamboyant fun with his showy character, and Jaygann Ayeh, Ariane Labed, Harris Dickinson, and Joe Alwyn are also fine in their respective supporting parts.

On the whole, “The Souvenir Part II” is quite satisfying as movingly finishing what was started from the previous film, and Hogg, who recently gave us “The Eternal Daughter” (2022), demonstrates again that she is indeed an interesting filmmaker to watch. I must say that I was not as enthusiastic about “The Souvenir” as others at that time, but now I come to discern more of not only what Hogg attempts to achieve but also how she marvelously succeeds, and I guess I really have to watch her two films together someday.

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Marui Video (2023) ☆☆☆(3/4): An investigation involved with one cursed video tape

South Korean film “Marui Video” is another found footage horror flick mixed with your average occult materials, but it turns out to be more effective than I expected. Although it takes some time for building up its narrative momentum, it subsequently provides a series of nice moments of horror and dread to be appreciated by its genre fans out there, and the overall result is good enough to compensate for its several weak aspects.

The movie is presented to us as the assembly of what was shot by its reporter hero, played by Seo Hyun-woo, and his crew members during early 2019. Having heard a lot about those grisly video evidences of murders which are not allowed to be released to public for their graphic brutality, the reporter decides to delve into the old basement archive of the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office, and he becomes particularly interested in one terrible murder case which happened in a seedy local motel in 1992. According to the rumor surrounding the video tape evidence of this murder case, the content of the video tape evidence is haunted by something besides being quite terrible to watch, and the reporter is willing to go further for locating this infamous video tape evidence.

For more information, the reporter interviews a prosecutor who worked in the Busan District Prosecutors’ Office and the widow of the defendant’s lawyer, but both of them cannot help the reporter that much. At least, the reporter and his crew members manage to locate an indirect copy of that video tape evidence, and they soon come to notice something weird. The murderer, who incidentally committed suicide shortly before being released, seems to be under some strange influence, and the reporter and his crew members also come to notice a faint ghostly figure in the background.

Quite more intrigued than before, the reporter looks into the rather shady background of that murder case. At that time, the aforementioned local motel belonged to a guy who is still alive, and this old guy does not seem to have much to tell when he is approached by the reporter, but the reporter senses something fishy about the old guy as getting to know about the old guy’s past. Some time before that murder case occurred, the wife and daughter of a certain relative of his were also brutally murdered, and the police casually assumed that relative’s adolescent son killed them for some unknown reason before eventually killing himself.

When the reporter tries to interview the old man again, he is already disappeared to the bafflement of the reporter and his crew members, and then they come to dig up more disturbing hidden facts about this increasingly questionable figure. Not so surprisingly, he turns out to be not who seems to be on the surface, and it also looks like there is a long shadow of undiscovered old crime behind him.

Meanwhile, the reporter’s investigation takes another odd turn. One of his crew members starts to show a series of alarming behaviors not long after they and their hired shaman look into an abandoned house where the family of the old guy’s relative lived, and the reporter and his crew members are certainly alarmed by this inexplicable happening. Because it looks like a serious case of possession, they seek some help from the aforementioned shaman, and we surely get an intense sequence where this shaman holds a big ritual for getting to the bottom of the situation.

It goes without saying that our reporter hero and his crew members are doomed from the very beginning, but director/writer Yoon Joon-hyeong, who previously drew my attention for his feature debut film “Fatal Intuition” (2015), handles his familiar materials with enough competence. Although many of key scenes in the film look a little too slick and composed for its genre, they are filled with a substantial amount of spookiness to hold our attention, and the movie does not disappoint us when it goes all the way for more spookiness during its expected finale. Yes, you may wonder about how the hell the main characters of the film still hold their cameras even at that point, but the movie dutifully follows its genre conventions with enough conviction at least, and you can probably go easily along with that.

The performers in the film are believably plain and realistic as required, though a few of them may be a bit too recognizable to you. In case of Seo Hyun-woo, his adequate low-key acting fits well to the mundane background surrounding him, but he has been more recognizable these days due to his recent notable supporting turn in “Phantom” (2023), and that can be distracting to you at times. In comparison, several other main cast members in the film slip into their respective supporting role more naturally, and Jo Min-kyung manages to leave some impression despite her rather thankless role which simply demands her to go to the extremes later in the story.

In conclusion, “Marui Video” is not very scary to me, but I enjoyed its well-made moments at least, and Yoon confirms here that he is a good genre filmmaker who knows one or two things about how to unnerve us in effective ways. I must confess that I have been rather weary of found footage horror flicks these days, but I do not mind watching a good one at all, and I assure you that you will be entertained if you are well aware of what it intends to do in advance.

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Missing (2023) ☆☆☆(3/4): Another desperate online searching

“Missing”, a standalone sequel to “Searching” (2018), is a solid thriller flick mainly revolving around another desperate online searching. Although it is not exactly fresh as mostly sticking to the storytelling format of the previous film, the movie steadily engages us while doling out one surprise plot turn after another at least, and I was entertained enough by how effectively it handles its familiar genre elements.

In the beginning, the movie quickly sets up the relationship between an adolescent high school girl named June (Storm Reid) and her single mother Grace (Nia Long). As shown from the prologue scene starting with a brief home video clip shot in 2008, Grace had to leave everything along with her little daughter after something bad occurred in their life at that time, and she and June have been living together in a suburban area of California since then, but they are not exactly close to each other at present. When Grace is going to have a little vacation in Colombia along with her boyfriend, June is excited mainly because she can have a wild weekend party along with her friends during her mother’s brief absence, and she is already preparing for that with her best friend even though her mother has not left yet.

After Grace leaves along with her boyfriend, everything seems to be going fine for both of them on the surface. Once she takes care of a friend of her mother who is supposed to check up her at times, June and her friends have a big party at her house as planned, and, according to several photographs sent to her from her mother’s boyfriend, he and her mother seem to be really enjoying their private time together. While she goes a bit too far with having a fun with her friends, June manages to get the resulting mess cleaned up before her mother’s return, and we soon see her eagerly waiting for her mother at the LA International Airport.

However, her mother does not come, and June naturally becomes quite worried as hours go by without any call from her mother. When she later calls a local hotel where Grace and her boyfriend stayed, it becomes quite possible that her mother is kidnapped, and June naturally tries to get any help for finding where her mother is now. With some help from her mother’s aforementioned friend, she quickly submits the report on her mother’s missing to FBI. When FBI does not seem to help much, she comes to recruit some local guy via one popular online service, and this guy is willing to help her as much as possible, though he is not exactly qualified for his latest job.

Like its predecessor, the movie unfolds its story mostly inside one laptop computer monitor, and it is still fun (and a bit disturbing) to observe how much of our current daily life can be recorded or monitored on the Internet these days. Once she gets the password to a Google account belonging to her mother’s boyfriend, June discovers lots of unexpected stuffs as checking most of his online activities, and that certainly makes her suspect this guy more, who is also gone missing for no apparent reason just like her mother.

Furthermore, it looks like there is something her mother has not told her yet, and that surely leads to June questioning more of her relationship with her mother. As reminded more that there has always been some distance between them especially after June entered adolescence, she is not so sure about whether she knows who her mother really is.

Although the story becomes rather preposterous during its second half due to a series of big twists to come (Is this a spoiler?), directors Will Merrick and Nick Johnson, who developed the screenplay from the story written by co-producers Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty (They previously wrote the screenplay of “Searching” while co-producing and directing it, respectively, by the way), keeps things rolling to the end under their competent direction. I must say that there are several moments which will definitely test your ability of suspending your disbelief, but the movie ably dials up and down the level of suspense on the whole, and we come to pay more attention to what is being at stake for our young heroine.

Like John Cho in the previous film, Storm Reid, a promising actress who previous appeared in a number of notable films including “The Invisible Man” (2020), diligently carries the film to the end, and her strong performance functions as a steady emotional anchor for the story. She and Nia Long are believable during several early scenes between them, and that is the main reason why we still care about June’s dogged search for Grace even when the movie stumbles more than once during its predictable climactic part. In case of a few notable performers around them, Ken Leung, Amy Landecker, Tim Griffin, Megan Suri, and Daniel Henney are well-cast in their respective supporting roles, and Joaquim de Almeida brings some humor and warmth to the story as his character shows more sincerity to June along the story.

Overall, “Missing” does not reach to the level of success achieved by its predecessor, but it handles its established storytelling formula a little better than expected. Compared to its predecessor and many other online thriller flicks during last several years, the movie does not break any new ground, but the movie demonstrates that its familiar online playground is still entertaining to watch, and I guess I can have a bit of expectation for a possible sequel to come.

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EO (2022) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A Donkey Odyssey

Jerzy Skolimowski’s latest film “EO”, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festivial early in last year and then was Oscar-nominated for Best International Film in last month, follows the life journey of one plain donkey. While it is surely influenced by Robert Bresson’s great film “Au Hasard Balthazar” (1966) in many aspects, the movie has its own style and mood with contempoary touches to notice, and I admire how it subtly lets us have more empathy toward its titular donkey along its simple narrative.

The opening part of the film shows the close relationship between its titular donkey and a young female circus employee named Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). We see them doing their routine performance in front of the audiences, and we come to sense that Kasandra really cares about her donkey, but, alas, they soon become separated from each other because their circus is eventually shut down due to its financial problems as well as a bunch of angry animal rights activists out there.

Now this looks like the setup for your average wholesome animal drama for family audiences, but the screenplay by Skolimowski and his co-writer/producer Ewa Piaskowska does not resort to any bit of cuteness or sentimentality. Once the circus is out of business, our titular donkey and other horses are quickly sent to somewhere else, and we subsequently see the donkey living in a newly opened stable which is big enough for it and other horses. As the camera just looks closely at the donkey and its two big eyes, we get occasional flashback shots, but the movie never sentimentalizes this moment, while never specifying whatever the donkey thinks and feels at present.

However, there are some small humorous moments which slyly suggest a bit about how our titular donkey hero feels. For example, when two horses in the stable are treated rather roughly by several stable employees, the camera comes to focus on how the donkey comes to cause a little annoying problem for those stable employees. Regardless of whether this is intentional or not, that will probably make you reflect more on how often animals are mistreated throughout the human history.

Around the narrative point where our titular donkey finds itself wandering by itself in the middle of a forest, the movie unexpectedly goes for striking stylish touches. As a matter of fact, one certain sequence, which is filled with red light like some of key moments in the film, feels as psychedelic as that dazzling lightshow of the climactic part of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001; A Space Odyssey” (1968), and we also get a surreal moment when the donkey is replaced by a certain artificial object on the screen for no apparent reason.

To be frank with you, I felt rather distant to these and other baffling stylish moments in the film, but the journey of its titular donkey kept holding my attention, and I came to care more about what it had to endure due to the callous cruelty of human beings. In case of one episode in the middle of the film, the donkey unintentionally gets itself involved with a fierce local football game, and that unfortunately leads to an atrocious moment of violence. Although this terrible moment is mainly presented through the donkey’s view, it will horrify you a lot nonetheless, and you will be relieved to be reminded later that no animal was harmed during the production of the film.

One of the more entertaining parts come from the one involved with a character played by Isabelle Huppert. When the donkey arrives along with a lad who seems to be her stepson, she is not particularly amused at all, and we get to know more of how she and her stepson have been estranged from each other for years. Like many other performers in the film, Huppert simply come and go around the donkey, but she leaves some indelible impression nonetheless, while also subtly suggesting a long unpleasant history between her character and that lad.

In the end, our titular donkey arrives at the end of his journey in an unexpected way just like the donkey of Bresson’s 1966 film, but we are chilled a lot instead of getting some consolation. At least, the donkey is surrounded by a bunch of other animals which also have no idea on whatever will happen next, but all of them do not get much compassion as they are moved to their final destination, and, sadly, that is all.

The movie never asks for any pity or sympathy on its titular donkey, but it still comes to us as a real character to care about, and Skolimowski and his crew members including cinematographer Michał Dymek did a commendable job of presenting it with enough respect and sensitivity. Although the donkey was actually played by six different donkeys during the shooting, they look all convincing as one single animal character, and the result is unforgettable as the donkey in Bresson’s 1966 film.

Overall, “EO” is worthwhile to watch for several good reasons including Skolimowski’s skillful handling of mood and style, and it certainly makes an excellent double feature show with Bresson’s 1966 film. We may never fully understand what animals really think or feel, but they do deserve some compassion and empathy from us, and the movie powerfully reminds us of that important thing.

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