The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Their one day

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Canadian film “The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open” presents a series of continuous moments between two different female characters who happen to encounter each other on one day. As austerely but sensitively focusing on strained and tentative interactions between them along the story, the movie lets us get to know a bit about them, and we come to wonder what may come in their contrasting lives after this accidental encounter between them.

During the prologue part, we see how Rosie (Violet Nelson) and Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, who also directed and wrote the film with Kathleen Hepburn) are going through another day of their respective lives. Rosie is a young indigenous woman who has been pregnant for several months at least, but it is clear that she has been quite anxious and conflicted, as we watch her silently returning to a small residence where she has lived with her callous boyfriend and his mother. In contrast, Áila is an affluent middle-class indigenous woman who is a little older than Rosie, and her first scene in the film, which happens to be unfolded at a gynecological clinic, lets us discern her complicated feelings about having a baby with her current boyfriend.

Once its two main characters are introduced, the movie promptly takes us into a sudden situation between them. As walking back to her residence, Áila comes across Rosie on the road, and it is quite apparent from Rosie’s traumatized appearance that something really bad happened between Rosie and her boyfriend, who keeps shouting at her from the distance. Instantly sensing that Rosie really needs help, Alia suggests that they should go together to Áila’s residence, and Rosie reluctantly agrees to that, while still being quite shaken by whatever she suffered due to her boyfriend.

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In Áila’s cozy apartment, Rosie comes to feel a bit better and calmer, though she still does not speak that much with Alia as struggling to deal with her current circumstance. Although she has a sister whom she might be able to depend on, she does not think her sister will help her, and, like many of those abused women out there, she even comes to consider going back to her boyfriend as making excuses for what happened between them.

Anyway, Áila patiently tries to help Rosie more, and it seems there is a way to help Rosie as they talk with each other bit by bit. As two indigenous women, they certainly have some common things to talk about, and Rosie gradually lets herself opened more to Áila. At one point, she listens to a pop song while Áila makes a few phone calls for helping Rosie, and the mood becomes a little more relaxed than before.

Fortunately, it turns out that there is a shelter available for Rosie, and she and Áila soon take a cab for going to that place, though Rosie still feels conflicted about what she should do. To the cab driver, she pretends to be Áila’s younger sister, and then she makes up a story about how she comes to take Áila to a rehabilitation center for addicts as a supportive younger sister. Understanding how much Rosie wants to distance herself from her ongoing situation, Áila simply goes along with that lie, and that is one of several tender moments in the film.

However, Áila cannot help but become suspicious when Rosie drops by a certain spot, and that leads to a tense moment which reminds us of the considerable social gap between them. While they eventually arrive at the shelter, nothing is certain for Rosie yet, and Áila later comes to learn more about how hard and difficult it is for those abused women like Rosie to decide whether they should go for a new start as walking away from abuse.

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All these and other key moments in the film are continuously presented by a series of long-take shots flawlessly stitched together, and cinematographer Norm Li and editor Christian Siebenherz did a commendable job on the whole. Never seeming to be striving for dramatic effects, Li’s handheld 16mm film camera steadily follows or stays around the two main characters in the film, and the overall result is as dry, intense, and realistic as the works of the Dardenne brothers. As keeping observing Rosie and Áila, we become more emotionally involved in their respective emotional states, and that is the main reason why the final moment in the movie has considerable emotional resonance even though the movie firmly sticks to its restrained approach as before.

In addition, the movie is ably supported by its two main lead actresses, who come to us as the heart and soul of the film as giving one of the most impressive duo movie performances of last year. As Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers diligently holds the ground as required, newcomer Violet Nelson is simply terrific in her first movie performance, and it is constantly engaging to watch how she and her co-star convey to us their respective characters’ personality and humanity as subtly pulling or pushing each other on the screen.

In conclusion, “The Body Remembers When the World Broken Open” is recommendable thanks to its earnest performance and skillful direction, and I think this little independent Canadian film deserves some more attention, considering how it was quickly forgotten after being released in US in last November. Sure, the movie will require some patience from you, but you will never forget these two women after watching it.

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Secret Zoo (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): These ‘animals’ won’t hurt you…

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When I watched the trailer of South Korean comedy film “Secret Zoo”, I seriously wondered whether its outrageous comic premise could work on the big screen. Several moments glimpsed from the trailer seemed so silly and unrealistic to me that I had considerable reservation on the success of the movie, but, what do you know, it turns out that the movie somehow finds a witty, smart way to amuse and entertain us a lot as pushing the premise as much as it can along with its likable main characters, and I have to tell you that I frequently chuckled and laughed along with other audiences around me during last evening.

The movie opens with another hard day for Tae-soo (Ahn Jae-hong), who has worked as an intern in some prominent (and notorious) law firm. Tae-soo has aspired for promotion for a long time, but he only finds himself stuck with menial tasks, and then, after he manages to draw some attention from the head of the law firm, he is assigned to handling a failing zoo recently acquired by a certain client company of his law firm.

Because he is promised that he will be promoted if he runs the zoo well enough to be sold at high price later, Tae-soo is quite determined to accomplish his task within three months as demanded, but then he belatedly comes to realize how bad the situation is really in the zoo. When he arrives in the zoo as its new director, many animals have already been sold off and then taken away from the zoo, and the remaining animals in the zoo including a very disturbed polar bear are not that useful at all for attracting visitors.

And the few remaining staff members in the zoo are not so cooperative to Tae-soo right from his first day. While the former director, played by Park Young-gyu, is still bitter and depressed about his inadvertent mismanagement of the zoo, So-won (Kang So-ra), the veterinarian of the zoo, is not very cordial to Tae-soo, and two other employees, Keon-wook (Kim Sung-oh) and Hae-kyeong (Jeon Yeo-bin), are not particularly enthusiastic about whatever Tae-soo is going to propose for saving their zoo.

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Realizing how difficult the circumstance is many aspects, Tae-soo becomes more desperate and frustrated, but then, after one minor comic incident, he gets an idea which sounds pretty preposterous to say the least but seems worthwhile to be tried. He suggests to his employees that they should disguise themselves as several animals popular enough to attract visitors, and his employees reluctantly agree to join this outrageous scheme because it looks like the only option for them to save their zoo and then bring back those animals taken away from them.

For the success of his scheme, Tae-soo prepares as much as he can. First, he and his employees visit a certain professional guy who can provide them very realistic animal suits, and then we get some good laughs as our main characters clumsily test their animal suits after deciding which animal role they are going to play respectively. Because their animal suits are not entirely perfect, they must take some caution while keeping enough distance between them and visitors, and there is a hilarious moment when Tae-soo tries to determine the ideal distance between his employees and visitors.

When the zoo is finally opened again to visitors, the first days are not that successful even though Tae-soo’s employees manage to maintain their respective disguises in front of visitors, but then there comes a breakthrough moment which instantly elicited big, riotous laughs from me and other audiences. Once they come to discern how they can draw far more visitors, Tae-soo and his employees go all the way with their ongoing disguise, and the movie cheerfully goes along with that as developing a series of hysterically funny moments including the sequence involved with Hae-kyeong’s lousy ex-boyfriend.

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Of course, Tae-soo gradually comes to care about the zoo and his employees as he and his employees work really hard together for saving the zoo, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that he becomes quite conflicted after belatedly learning what will soon happen to the zoo. The mood accordingly becomes a bit more serious and melodramatic during the last act as expected, but the movie fortunately maintains its comic momentum while also paying some attention to animal rights, and you may forgive several notable flaws in the film including its rather contrived feel-good finale.

The main cast members of the movie give colorful comic performances to be enjoyed. Ahn Jae-hong, who previously drew my attention via his breakthrough turn in “The King of Jokgu” (2013), demonstrates his considerable comic talent again, and he is also supported well by several other main cast members including Kang So-ra, Park Young-gyu, Kim Sung-oh, Jeon Yeo-bin, and Park Hyuk-kwon, who is odious enough to make you laugh and cheer during a certain key scene where his character unwittingly gets himself into an intense situation way over his head.

“Secret Zoo” is directed by Son Jae-gon, who has somehow been dormant after giving us “Villain & Widow” (2010) around 10 years ago but, as shown from the movie, has lost none of his skills for comedy yet. It is still January, but I think I will still remember those numerous funny moments in the film at the end of this year, and I hope the movie will succeed at the local box office enough to give some necessary boost to Son’s career.

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Bacurau (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): An odd mixed bag of genres from Brazil

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Brazilian film “Bacurau”, which received the Jury Prize along with French film “Les Misérables” (2019) at the Cannes Film Festival early in last year, is an odd mixed bag of genres which did not click that well with me. While there are a number of striking moments as the movie confidently hops among different genres, it often falters in terms of storytelling and characterization, and I often found myself rather distant to its story and characters as often struggling to comprehend what and how it is about.

At the beginning, the movie, which is mainly set in a small village located somewhere in the northeastern rural area of Brazil, notifies to us that its period background is around several years from now, and then it lets us gather how much the village and its residents are isolated from the world outside. While many of them have been stuck in their village for years, their small shabby world is not entirely devoid of modern technology as reflected by the constant supply of electricity to the village, and, to my small amusement, I sometimes noticed some of them using smartphones or tablets.

However, it gradually turns out to us that things have recently gotten worse for the village and its residents. For some unknown reason, their surrounding area has become considerably dangerous, and that aspect is briefly implied by when a young woman sees something quite disturbing on the road while she is returning to the village for attending the upcoming funeral of her 94-year-old grandmother. In addition, there has been serious water shortage in the area, but a local politician who visits the village at one point mostly cares about the upcoming election, and the residents of the village do not even try to hide their contempt toward this scumbag.

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After establishing its rural background, the movie doles out a series of odd moments one by one. During the mourning ceremony for the aforementioned old lady, a local female doctor named Domingas (Sônia Braga) causes a little commotion for an unspecified personal reason, and then there comes a little strange moment of magic realism when the coffin of that old lady is being buried in the ground. I must confess that I have no idea on how I should interpret this moment, but it certainly made me prepared for more weird things to come, and I was not so surprised when a certain object which looks like a flying saucer entered the picture not long after that.

However, that object in question soon turns out to be more mundane than expected, as it belongs to a group of Americans who have a sinister purpose behind their back. As these Americans, led by a guy named Michael (Udo Kier), prepare to strike the village step by step, the villagers come to notice that something strange is going on around them. While their communication lines with the world outside are somehow cut off, an old school teacher is perplexed as he cannot find the location of his village in an online map, and then there comes a gut-wrenching scene at a farm located near the village.

When another disturbing incident subsequently happens at one night, the villagers come to discern that they must defend their village for themselves, and the movie accordingly enters the territory of western films as the villagers subsequently seek help from some young wanted man and his few comrades. Around the narrative point where Michael and other Americans are fully ready for their hunt, the villagers are also quite ready with some surprise behind their back, and what eventually follows is a series of tense moments reminiscent of those action thriller films of John Carpenter. Not so surprisingly, the movie uses a piece of electronic music co-written and performed by Carpenter during one of its highlight scenes, and you may smile a little as noticing the name of the village school.

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However, despite its numerous demonstrations of confident filmmaking, the movie does not generate enough dramatic momentum to engage me mainly due to its uneven narrative which is also hampered by its rather thin characterization. While I appreciate that the screenplay by Kleber Mendonça Filho, who has been known well for his two previous works “Neighboring Sounds” (2012) and “Aquarius” (2016), and his co-director Jliano Dornelles tries to pay equal attention to its numerous characters, many of them remain to be cardboard figures nonetheless, and I must point out that those American characters in the film do not look that menacing or dangerous in spite of their casual and heartless acts of killing.

Anyway, the cast members of the film, many of whom are non-professional performers, acquit themselves well on the whole as bringing some authenticity to their respective roles, and I especially like how effortlessly Sônia Braga, who previously collaborated with Filho in “Aquarius”, slips into the ensemble without overshadowing others in the film at all. In case of Udo Kier, he is less offbeat than usual, but then he reminds us again of why he has always been a pleasure to watch for many years.

Overall, “Bacurau” does not work as well as intended, and I accordingly felt dissatisfied in the end, but I admire its atmosphere and details nonetheless. After checking out several positive reviews on the film, I came to wonder whether I should re-evaluate it later with more background knowledge, and I guess I will have to give it a chance someday for more appreciation and understanding.

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Western Stars (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Springsteen presented by Springsteen

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Documentary film “Western Stars”, which is directed by Bruce Springsteen and Thom Zimny, often engaged and impressed me via not only Springsteen’s songs but also wisdom and meditation inside them. As a solid companion piece to his nineteenth album “Western Stars”, the documentary surely delivers a number of superlative musical moments to be savored by many ardent fans of Springsteen out there, and there are also several meditative moments which earnestly bare to us Springsteen’s artistic human spirit, which, as far as I could see from the documentary, has aged pretty well during last five decades.

The setting of the documentary is quite simple. First, the camera looks around the interior of an old big barn located in Springsteen’s farm in New Jersey, which, according to Springsteen, was built more than 100 years ago. Although it is apparently renovated a lot, the barn still looks antique with the palpable sense of old history, and its wooden environment provides an ideal acoustic condition for performing and recording the songs of “Western Stars” in front of a small group of guests invited to this private event.

We soon see Springsteen performing along with a bunch of musicians including his wife Patti Scialfa, who has performed along with him as a member of his band since 1984. I must confess that I am not that familiar with the music Springsteen besides a few songs of his including that haunting Oscar-winning song for “Philadelphia” (1993), but it did not take much time for my mind to become absorbed in his calm but compassionate rendering of several first songs including “The Wayfarer” and “Tucson Train”.

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These and other songs from his album are intercut with the somber scenes where Springsteen talks about the inspiration behind them. In his view, the American life is a constant balancing act between individuality and togetherness which is usually accompanied with small and big mistakes to live with, and he reflects on how he often hurt himself as well as others dear to him throughout his life and career. Although he does not specify his faults and mistakes that much, Springsteen’s face and voice at present are more than enough to convey to us his lifelong wisdom coupled with some pain and regret, which was probably the main source of inspiration for that poignant titular song of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” (2008).

Springsteen’s reflective moments in the documentary are often accompanied with the beautiful shots of wide landscapes, which not only enhance the content of his musings but also accentuate the stories conveyed through his songs. In “Western Stars”, it tells us the story of a fading western film star struggling to keep going everyday, and Springsteen phlegmatically but passionately delivers the mix of resignation and stubbornness. In case of “Drive Fast (The Stuntman)”, it is about a veteran stuntman who cannot settle himself easily even when he finds someone to love, and it is certainly one of several highlights in the documentary.

Although many of these and other songs in the documentary are usually about folks who are rather alien to me for understandable reasons (I am a South Korean guy with a very different life background, you know), they somehow generated some emotional resonation inside me, probably because I made a bitter personal decision a few days ago. I felt bad as worrying over whether I will have to live with the emotional ramification of that hard decision for the rest of my life, but some of Springsteen’s songs in the documentary consoled me to some degree, and I came to feel a bit better than before, while also accepting the disastrous consequence of that decision as another hard lesson in my crummy and inconsequential life. To be frank with you, I think I understand now more of how much Springsteen’s music means to the young hero of Gurinder Chadha’s overlooked comedy drama film “Blinded by the Light” (2019).

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During its second half, the documentary becomes relatively more spirited as Springsteen and other musicians perform “There Goes My Miracle”, and he surely shows that he still can be vigorous and magnetic although he had his 70th birthday in last year. He and Zimny did a commendable job of presenting this and several other highlight moments on the screen with enough spirit and verisimilitude, and Springsteen never disappoints us whenever the camera closely focuses on him during his performance.

Although I must point out that the documentary does not give us much background information on his life and career, Springsteen’s humanity and artistry are clearly shown and felt from his unpretentious appearance. During my viewing, he looked to me like the last guy to leave just for hanging around with others more, and that is why I was quite amused as watching the final scene of the documentary, which shows Springsteen spending a little private time with his wife at the barn after almost everyone left.

In conclusion, “Western Stars” is a humble but admirable presentation of the latest songs from Springsteen, who is currently working on his next album to be recorded. I was a bit disappointed that the documentary does not go beyond my vague knowledge on Springsteen, but it did its job as much as intended while giving me good moments to be appreciated, and I am certainly grateful to it for making me less depressed than before.

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Pain and Glory (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): As he strolls in his creative crisis

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Pedro Almodóvar’s latest work “Pain and Glory”, which was Spain’s official submission to Best International Film Oscar in last year, is a somber but undeniably poignant exploration of that fascinating interaction between life and art. I must confess that I really have no idea on how much autobiographical the movie is as another movie clearly influenced by Federico Fellini’s great film “8 1/2” (1963), but I can clearly discern that Almodóvar is willing to go deep into personal areas here along with his dependable leading actor, and the overall result is simultaneously touching and tantalizing to say the least.

The hero of the film is a middle-aged filmmaker named Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), and he phlegmatically describes to us on how his life and career have felt like reaching to a dead end during recent several years. There was a time when he was quite busy and productive as directing a series of notable works and moving here and there around the world, but he is now in a sort of cross between slump and retirement as getting older day by day, and the pains from several chronic illnesses including his problematic vertebrae frequently remind him of the increasing chance of his mortality.

And then there comes a small unexpected change into Mallo’s melancholic daily life. One of his early films, which was incidentally a career breakthrough for both him and his leading actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), happens to be recently restored, and he is asked to attend its screening and the following Q&A session along with Crespo, to whom he has been distant for many years due to their big conflict on the set. He was not very satisfied at all with how Crespo acted his character during the shooting of the film, and it goes without saying that he still has some grudge against Crespo, even though he regards Crespo’s performance in that film less unfavorably at present.

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Anyway, Mallo decides to approach to Crespo as putting aside the longtime grudge between them, and he and Crespo come to have a moment of reconciliation despite the initial awkwardness between them. When Crespo later offers heroin, Mallo does not say no because it looks like a better alternative to his painkillers, and the mood accordingly becomes more relaxed than before as they become high together.

While Mallo subsequently gets himself addicted to heroin more, his foggy mind comes to reflect more on his past, and we get a series of flashback scenes which provide some glimpses into his childhood years in some poor rural village. While his father was frequently absent, his mother was always someone onto which he could hold, and this strong woman did not hesitate at all when he got an opportunity for getting out of their shabby world and then living a better life, though he did not like much being separated from his dear mother.

Leisurely strolling along the episodic moments generated from its two main narratives, Almodóvar’s screenplay occasionally surprises us. You may not be surprised much by what occurs between Mallo and Crespo not long after the screening of the restored version of their film, but then the movie unexpectedly changes its direction as Mallo later allows Crespo to perform an one-man play based on what he recently wrote in private. Although it is apparent that Almodóvar is virtually speaking directly to us during the following performance scene, this moment is skillfully handled with enough honesty and sincerity accompanied with a bit of style and mood, and it leads to a richly emotional scene between Mallo and a certain crucial character in the film. As they calmly talked with each other in private, their shared painful memories of past feel palpable to us, and you will admire how the movie deftly glides along a broad range of emotional spectrum under Almodóvar’s restrained but masterful direction.

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The movie subtly and gradually accumulates narrative momentum as Mallo’s artistic mind is stimulated and energized by his emotional journey between past and present, and then it eventually culminates to a moment when a certain plain work of art happens to awaken his memory of an incident which is the origin of his sexual identity and artistic sensibility. Like the filmmaker hero of “8 1/2”, he comes to realize the importance of going back to his origin, and what follows next is a sublime example of how art and life can interact and enhance each other.

Almodóvar his crew members including cinematographer José Luis Alcaine and composer Alberto Iglesias did a commendable job of engaging and fascinating us via mood and details, and Antonio Banderas, who deservedly won the Best Actor award when the movie was shown at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year, gives what will be regarded as the best work in his entire career. While never reaching for any cheap dramatic effect, Banderas humbly anchors the film with his rich nuanced performance full of personality and humanity, and he is also supported well by Cecilia Roth, Julieta Serrano, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, and Penélope Cruz, who effortlessly exudes earthy grace and beauty as Mallo’s mother during the flashback scenes in the film.

Compared to Almodóvar’s best works such as “All About My Mother” (1999) and “Talk to Her” (2002), “Pain and Glory” is less intense and flamboyant in comparison, but I enjoyed it more than his recent works including “The Skin I live In” (2011) and “Julietta” (2016), which I admired but did not love as much as others. In short, this is another superlative work from Almodóvar, and I assure you that its emotional highlights will linger on your mind for a long time.

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The Lighthouse (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Stuck in isolation and madness

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Robert Eggers’ second feature film “The Lighthouse” is a strange and disturbing film which will alternatively unnerve and baffle you from the beginning to the end. Although you may not be entirely sure about what the hell is going on between its two main characters stuck in an isolated background, the movie steadily holds our attention via its striking mood and authentic period details to be appreciated, and it eventually leaves quite a distinctive impression as also reminding us of other similarly unnerving horror films such as “Repulsion” (1965), “Eraserhead” (1977), and “The Shining” (1980).

The main background of the movie is some remote lighthouse island located somewhere around the New England area during the late 19th century, and Eggers, who wrote the screenplay along with his brother Max Eggers, promptly thrusts us into the first day of the two main characters on the island. While the younger one, played by Robert Pattinson, is recently hired, the older one, played by Willem Dafoe, has spent lots of time on the island, and they do not get along that well with each other due to their, uh, personality difference. The old man frequently annoys his young partner with his crusty eccentricity, and the young man gradually becomes more irritated and exasperated as being demanded to do a number of menial jobs by his older colleague.

However, for some reason, the old guy never allows his young partner to handle the lantern room at the top of the lighthouse, and it seems he is quite obsessed with that part of the lighthouse. At one night, the young man witnesses the old guy doing something odd at the top of the lighthouse, and he becomes more curious about whatever his old colleague is doing behind his back, though the old guy does not tell him much about that even while being incessantly loquacious all the time.

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In the meantime, it slowly turns out that the young man has been quite troubled in his mind for some vague reason. He dreams about many weird things including something which seems to be associated with his recent past, and we come to gather that he may not be very honest about himself. He often takes care of a certain biological urge with a small scrimshaw work he happened to discover on his first day of the island, and his state of unconsciousness is frequently haunted by several mysterious images including a seductive mermaid, which may be the manifestation of whatever has been repressed in his mind.

And the situation between the young man and the old man becomes more tense step by step. Although they sometimes become a bit more comfortable with each other as letting themselves loosened via night drinking, the old man demands the young man to do more work as usual, and the young man detests the old man more than before. The old man warns the young man not to kill a sea gull because that may cause bad luck, but, of course, the young man later happens to kill one certain sea gull partially because of his increasingly stressful work environment, and the movie calmly delivers this shocking moment of violence with the ominous foreshadowing of something worse to come.

And things soon get indeed become quite bad for the two guys. A big storm arrives not long after the killing of that sea gull, and they become isolated more than before – especially when they belatedly find that they do not have enough food except bottles of booze. As the storm continues to rage outside, they drink more and more, and the young man becomes a lot more agitated and disturbed while also revealing a bit more about himself to his old colleague, who seems more vicious and treacherous than before in the young man’s increasingly warped viewpoint.

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Around that narrative, we come to wonder more how reliable the young man’s viewpoint is. While some moments are clearly the projection of his unstable state of mind, other moments are rather ambiguous as blurring the line between reality and illusion more, and we accordingly become more distant to whatever is going on between the two main characters in the film as getting more confused and flabbergasted than before.

Nevertheless, the movie keeps holding our attention under Eggers’ confident direction, and I admire many of its impressive technical qualities including the cinematography by Jarin Blaschke. Deliberately shot in black and white film of 1.19:1 ratio, the movie is constantly filled with the stuffy sense of claustrophobia as also generating the stark, grainy texture of the late 19th century film, and the ambient score by Mark Korven is effectively utilized along with the recurring sound of foghorns on the soundtrack.

In case of Pattinson and Dafoe, they boldly hurl themselves together into the mouth of madness in addition to deftly handling their decidedly archaic dialogues (“Should pale death, with treble dread, make the ocean caves our bed, God who hears the surges roll deign to save our suppliant soul”), and they diligently carry the film as dynamically pulling and pushing each other on the screen. While Dafoe reminds us that he is still one of the most fearless actors of our time, Pattinson gives another fine performance to be added to his acting career which has been quite interesting during last several years, and I think he will continue to become more interesting during next ten years.

In conclusion, “The Lighthouse” is not exactly entertaining as your typical arthouse horror film, but it shows us that Eggers, who previously impressed me a lot with his debut feature film “The Witch” (2015), is indeed a talented filmmaker to watch. Although I like it a little less than “The Witch”, it is surely a distinctive work of art imbued with an uncompromising artistic vision, and I may revisit it just for appreciating its indelible mood and details more.

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Bombshell (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Three women at Fox News

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When I heard the news on the sexual harassment scandal at Fox News in 2016, I was not that shocked although quite disgusted at the same time just like many of you. After all, the toxic longtime influence of Fox News on the American society was one of the major factors contributing to that shockingly unbelievable political rise of Donald J. Trump, and, not so surprisingly, Roger Ailes, who was the head of Fox News at that time and also turned out to be a sexual predator who had harassed and exploited many of his female employees throughout his abhorrent career, was one of that vile misogynistic prick’s prominent supporters right from the beginning.

Mainly revolving around three different female main characters, Jay Roach’s new film “Bombshell” attempts to give us glimpses into not only that toxic work environment created by Ailes at Fox News but also how much many of female Fox News employees suffered in their unfair and exploitative system, but, to my disappointment, it merely scratches the surface without going that far beyond what we know about its subject now. As trying to present numerous elements together during its rather short running time which is less than 2 hours, the movie feels often uneven and unfocused without enough dramatic momentum to support it, and that is a shame considering the consummate efforts from its three main cast members.

At the beginning, the movie shows us how Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), who was one of the most prominent public figures at Fox News, gets herself into a trouble which turns out to be more serious and troubling than she thought at first. During one of 2016 Republican Presidential debates, she throws several hard questions to Trump for his misogynistic comments and behaviors in public, and then Trump subsequently retaliates via a series of insulting Twitter comments, which instantly lead to more mocking and criticism toward Kelly in public.

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Understandably quite annoyed and concerned about what is going on around her, Kelly tells Ailes, played by John Lithgow here in the film, that he and Fox News should stand by her, but, not so surprisingly, Ailes is not particularly willing to do anything besides providing extra security to her, because he cares more about millions of conservative American viewers out there who increasingly support Trump day by day. Kelly certainly feels frustrated about this, but there is nothing she can do except enduring more mocking and criticism to come, and she even finds herself bending her principles during her following exclusive interview with Trump.

Meanwhile, we get to know Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), a fictional character who is the composite of several real-life female figures who worked at Fox News. As your average young American conservative, she is naïvely idealistic during her first days at the headquarters of Fox News, but she soon comes to realize how harsh and competitive her work environment really is. When she gets a chance to work for Bill O’Reilly (Kevin Dorff, who did a spot-on impersonation of that scumbag), she cannot possibly be more thrilled, but then she finds herself verbally harassed by O’Reilly, and the only consolation comes from a few sympathetic female employees including Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon).

Not long after that, Pospisil has a very humiliating moment when she happens to be alone with Ailes in his private office. While never overlooking her pain and trauma, the movie handles this disturbing scene with thoughtful restraint, and the result is effective enough to make us understand and emphasize with her growing conflict in the aftermath. Besides being quite ashamed, she also feels frustrated and suffocated as there is not anyone to whom she can fully confide about what happened between her and Ailes, and there is a small painful moment between her and Carr, who understands her friend/colleague’s pain but is reluctant to talk with her on that.

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And then things begin to fall apart for Ailes. Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman), who was the co-anchor of the popular program “Fox and Friends” but then gets demoted to a less popular program, tries to bring some change to the system full of sexism under Ailes, but Ailes eventually fires her, and then she comes to sue him for sexual harassment while fully prepared for what she will have to endure for that. She hopes that some of her female colleague at Fox News will come forward to reveal what she and other women at Fox News had to endure under Ailes, but, as Kelly bitterly points out at one point, everyone is scared as constantly monitored and bullied by Ailes, who is quite determined to do anything for protecting himself and Fox News.

Although the movie does a fairly good job of conveying to us the tense and oppressive circumstance with which its three main characters have to deal with, the screenplay by Charles Randolph is shallow and scattershot as trying to juggle a little too many things together and then hurriedly moving onto the eventual finale, and this weak aspect often undermines the good performances from its main cast members. While Charlize Theron deserves to be praised for her impeccably committed performance, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman are also effective as two other crucial parts of the story, and John Lithgow is thoroughly deplorable in his supporting role. In case of other notable performers in the film including Kate McKinnon, Mark Duplass, Connie Britton, Allison Janney, Brian d’Arcy James, Richard Kind, and Malcolm McDowell, they do not have much to do except filling their respective spots, but McKinnon, who has been always fun to watch since her breakthrough comic turn in “Ghostbusters” (2016), manages to bring some life and personality to her supporting character.

Like Roach’s previous film “Trumbo” (2015), “Bombshell” is a mild Oscar season movie which does not impress me a lot, but it is partially engaging to some degree thanks to the solid acting from Theron, Kidman, and Robbie. It goes without saying that these three talented actresses are ready for something edgy and revealing from the start, but the movie does not try that hard, and they surely deserve a better film in my inconsequential opinion.

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