All the Money in the World (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): All he cares about is money

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What a piece of work J. Paul Getty is. While being the richest man in the world, he was also probably the cheapest guy in the world, and Ridley Scott’s new film “All the Money in the World” is compelling to watch whenever it focuses on how selfish and heartless this monstrous real-life billionaire was. Although it does not wholly work well, the movie is entertaining on the whole mainly thanks to Scott’s competent direction, and that is all the more amazing considering that famous post-production trouble associated with the film.

After the movie opens with the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) which happened in Rome on July 10th, 1973, we get to know more about how he grew up in his rich and famous family through a series of flashback scenes. His grandfather is J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, who is not related to the aforementioned performer), and we hear about how J. Paul Getty became the most powerful oil business man in the world. Once he made a deal with several Bedouin chiefs in Saudi Arabia, Getty went all the way as finding a way to supply the oil from Saudi Arabia to the global market, and his company has been the No.1 oil company in the world for more than 20 years.

John Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan), who is one of Getty’s several children, did not like his father much, so he had distanced himself from his father for several years, but, after listening to a sound advice from his wife Gail (Michelle Williams), he eventually came to change his mind and then asked for help from his father. While everything initially seemed to be all right as he and Gail and their children including John Paul Getty III arrived in Rome and then were greeted by his father, John Paul Getty II unfortunately succumbed to his longtime addiction problem not long after that, and that certainly disappointed Gail, who finally divorced her husband when she decided that enough is enough. Being well aware of how unwilling her father-in-law was to pay any money to her, Gail did not demand anything besides full child custody and child support money, and her father-in-law agreed to that although he was a bit baffled by this offer at first.

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At that time, Gail thought there would not be any further trouble with her ex-father-in-law, but now she really needs his help as her dear son is gone. As she becomes more nervous and desperate, someone calls her and demands her to pay no less than $ 17 million in exchange of her son. The caller in question and his accomplices did kidnap her son, and they are holding him captive somewhere in Southern Italy.

Gail immediately flies to England and then goes to a huge mansion where Getty has resided, but she only finds herself coldly prevented from meeting her ex-father-in-law, who already announced in public that he is not going to pay any money to whoever kidnapped his grandson. His logic is coldly simple. Although paying $ 17 million is a piece of cake for him, he has many other grandchildren besides John Paul Getty III, and he does not want to make a precedent to be followed by more possible kidnappings.

At least, Getty sends one of his employees to Rome. As a former CIA operative who has worked as a professional negotiator for Getty, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) surely knows how to handle the situation, and, mainly thanks to him, the ransom money is eventually decreased from $17 million to $4 million, but he also becomes as frustrated as Gail because his boss keeps sticking to his adamant position. As days and months go by, the circumstance becomes worse and worse for Gail’s son, and we later get a gut-wrenching scene when his kidnappers decide to do something quite drastic for pressuring their opponents.

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While you may easily guess how the story will end, the movie steadily holds our attention as gradually accumulating tension on the screen, and it is also firmly anchored by two strong performances. Although it looks like she does not have many things to do except looking agitated or exasperated, Michelle Williams, who has diligently advanced since her Oscar-nominated turn in “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), aptly fills her role with human nuances, and her performance functions well as the human center of the movie. While we sometimes get some bitter laughs from several absurd aspects of Gail’s situation, we also come to emphasize a lot with her nonetheless, and Williams is believable in her sensitive depiction of her character’s growing pain and frustration.

On the opposite, Christopher Plummer, who was recently Oscar-nominated for his performance here in this movie, has a number of juicy moments as a despicable curmudgeon. Although he hurriedly replaced Kevin Spacey due to Spacey’s sexual harassment scandal shortly before the movie was released in US at the end of last December, Plummer did an effortless job of embodying the sheer pettiness and heartlessness of his character, and we accordingly get some morbid entertainment from how loathsome Getty can be as obsessively clinging onto his enormous wealth. All he cares about is money, and, as he frankly admits at one point, he simply wants more of that.

While not entirely without weak points including its artificial third act, “All the Money in the World”, which is adapted by David Scarpa from John Pearson’s nonfiction book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” is still an enjoyable work, and I especially admire what is achieved by Scott and Plummer. Although they are over 80 at present, they show here that they are still at the top of their respective crafts, and that definitely makes the movie worthwhile to watch.

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Jamsil (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): An elusive relationship between two women

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To be frank with you, South Korean film “Jamsil” was elusive and confusing for me at first. During its first half, I felt impatient as often baffled about what is exactly going on between its two heroines, and it was also rather hard for me to hold onto its slow, free-flowing narrative which frequently slips into dream and flashback scenes. However, once I accepted how it is about what it is about, the movie became sort of interesting; I came to enjoy its ambiguous mood and solid performance, and I could sense the sadness and melancholy surrounding two women who somehow get closer under their unlikely circumstance.

In the beginning, we get to know a bit about one of these two women. After she fails to pass the state law examination again, Mi-hee (Lee Sang-hee) feels unhappy and depressed, and even her nice boyfriend Doo-min (Lee Sun-ho) cannot console her much when she comes back to their small residence. While feeling uncertain and nervous about her future, she decides to end her relationship with Doo-min, and she soon moves into a smaller place where she is going to live alone for a while.

Giving up trying to pass the state examination again, Mi-hee feels a bit relieved, but she does not know what to do next. There was a time when she dreamt of studying literature, but she had to give up her dream because of her parents, and there is a painful moment later in the story when she visits her parents’ apartment. She cannot help but feel angry about how her parents pushed her into her current unhappiness, and that is why she cannot possibly stay in their home.

While she is on a subway train on one day, Mi-hee notices a high school girl who previously drew the attention of her and other passengers during the opening scene. She immediately follows the girl when that girl gets off from the train at a station in Jamsil-dong, and the girl leads her to an apartment complex. After seeing that girl at the entrance of one apartment, Mi-hee goes to that apartment in question, and that is how she meets a woman named Seong-sook (Hong Seung-yi).

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For some unknown reason, Mi-hee introduces herself to Seong-sook as an old friend in their high school years, and, though she is apparently a bit older than Mi-hee, Seong-sook does not question Mi-hee’s claim at all. After allowing Mi-hee to enter her apartment where she has lived with her roommate/friend Ik-joo (Im Hyeong-gook), she begins to spend lots of time with Mi-hee, and they soon come to look like real close friends.

What exactly do these two women want from each other? As shown from a number of warm flashback scenes, Seong-sook did have a close friend during her high school years, and we observe how close they were to each other until they became distant to each other after some point. Although Mi-hee is not that friend in question, Seong-sook comes to think more about her old friend, and she seems to get some consolation from Mi-hee while being with her.

In case of Mi-hee, she is glad to have someone to listen to her, and her daily life looks a little more stable than before after meeting Seong-sook, but she is still struggling with her unstable emotional state. It later turns out that she has been obsessed with her old high school friend, and her fixation on that old friend eventually leads to a rather disturbing scene where she has herself locked in a storage room.

Meanwhile, the movie also focuses on how two other main characters in the story revolve around Mi-hee and Seong-sook. As a guy who was also Seong-sook’s schoolmate and has been a bit more than a mere roommate for her, Ik-joo does not welcome Mi-hee’s appearance much, but then he finds himself getting involved with her more than expected when he confronts her at her residence. When Seong-sook happens to meet Doo-min, something is mutually felt between them, and they come to have a personal meeting when they encounter each other again.

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So far, I have only described the plot and characters of the movie while not delving deep into what is sensitively and thoughtfully presented by director/writer Lee Wan-min. Her screenplay’s implicit storytelling approach is frustrating at times, but it gradually builds up its emotional momentum along with its two heroines at least, and we are served with several intimate scenes between them even as we keep wondering about their odd friendship. While these scenes and many other scenes in the movie are shrouded in gray melancholy, the flashback scenes in movie are imbued with a bright sense of nostalgia, and this visual contrast makes us understand more of why Seong-sook remains haunted by the memories of her old friend – and why she chose to stick to Mi-hee from the very beginning.

Under Lee’s competent direction, the main performers of the movie are engaging to watch in their understated performance. While Lee Sang-hee, who previously drew our attention via her wonderful performance in “Our Love Story” (2016), and Hong Seung-yi effectively complement each other, Lee Sun-ho and Im Hyeong-gook are also fine in their earnest supporting performance, and Kim Sae-byuk, who has been more notable since her charming performance in “A Midsummer’s Fantasia” (2014), deserves to be praised for effortlessly going back and forth between her two roles.

On the whole, “Jamsil”, which is belatedly released in South Korea this week although it had its premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in 2016 October, requires considerable patience from you, but it is still an interesting work to be appreciated for its good elements, so I recommend you with some reservation. Although I am not entirely sure about the movie, it has grown on me after I watched it yesterday, and I am willing to revisit it for getting more from it.

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Psychokinesis (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): When he becomes a superdad

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What if an ordinary guy suddenly gets superpower? South Korean film “Psychokinesis” seems to be ready to do something different with that familiar premise at first, but it only comes to spin its wheels due to its uneven mix of fantasy, comedy, and melodrama. While there are a few inspired moments to amuse me, the movie is rather unimaginative and predictable as hampered by its thin plot and rote characterization, and I found myself losing patience from time to time despite its short running time (101 minutes).

How its plain hero gets his superpower is pretty simple. When Seok-heon (Ryu Seung-ryong) goes to the fountain in a nearby mountain during one morning, something falls from the sky to a spot near the fountain, and its mysterious substance quickly seeps into the fountain and then happens to be ingested by Seok-heon when he drinks a dipper of water from the fountain. Several hours after drinking that water, his body goes through some change, and then he comes to realize that now he can move things at his will.

While never having any serious thought on how he happens to acquire such an awesome power like that, Seok-heon simply regards it as a tool for earning easy money. After mastering his power a bit more, he goes to a nightclub for being hired as a magician, and he is instantly hired after he presents his ‘magic’ to the manager of the nightclub.

Meanwhile, the movie also focuses on his estranged daughter Roo-mi (Shim Eun-kyung), who is not so happy to see her father again because she still remembers well when he left his family due to his debt problem. She and her mother worked hard together since he left them, and things went well for a while as their fried chicken shop became successful as shown from the opening scene of the movie, but then they and other small business people in their neighborhood get threatened by a big company which is about to redevelop the area. As she and other small business people protest against the company for not being paid enough for their relocation, the company hires a bunch of goons in response, and Roo-mi’s mother happens to be killed when those thugs attack the fried chicken house at one night.

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While feeling guilty about this tragedy and willing to help his daughter, Seok-heon is not so eager to get involved in what is going on around his daughter and her neighbors, but, of course, he comes to demonstrate his power in front of them when those thugs come again, and that is just the beginning of what he is going to do for protecting them. At one point, he gathers many small and big objects together for making a barricade for them, and that certainly impresses everyone including Jeong-hyeon (Park Jung-min), a young lawyer who has been trying to help Roo-mi and her neighbors and, yes, has also had some feelings toward Roo-mi.

Now this looks like a promising setup for whatever may follow next, but the screenplay by director Yeon Sang-ho fails to fully develop the potentials inside its story. While Seok-heon is not a very interesting character to watch, there is not enough fun or interest in how he becomes more and more powerful along the plot, and his relationship with his daughter is conventional and clichéd to say the least. Yes, this is another typical story of a lousy father proving himself and his love to his daughter, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that he eventually wins her trust and affection back.

The movie later tries to be more serious as pushing its characters into an obligatory climax part, but it does not have enough dramatic weight to hold our attention, and it is also superficial in handling notable social issues in the story. The climax part is apparently inspired by Yongsan Tragedy, a real-life incident which happened in Seoul in 2009, and there is certainly some emotional impact to be felt by me and other South Korean audiences, but everything in that part is so conveniently resolved in the end that we are only left with a hollow impression during its overlong closing scene.

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As stuck with their underdeveloped characters, the main performers of the movie are mostly wasted. As shown from his breakthrough supporting turns in “War of the Arrows” (2011) and “The Front Line” (2011), Ryu Seung-ryong can be as charismatic as required, but even his adequate performance here in this film cannot compensate for his bland hero. In case of Shim Eun-kyung, she tries to bring some pluck to her character, but she is frequently limited by her thankless role, and so is Park Jung-min, a good actor who drew my attention for the first time via his solid supporting turn in “Bleak Night” (2010).

The best performance in the movie comes from Jung Yu-mi, a wonderful actress who has been mainly known for her charming performance in Hong Sang-soo’s “Oki’s Movie” (2010) and “Our Sunhi” (2013). As the main villain of the story, Jung delightfully chews her several scenes in the film, and she is especially fun when her character cheerfully shows a certain supporting character how ruthless she can be.

Before making a successful transition to feature film via zombie thriller movie “Train to Busan” (2016), Yeon impressed me and other South Korean audiences with “King of Pigs” (2011) and “The Fake” (2013), two very disturbing animation feature films which cynically and chillingly show the dark, despairing sides of the South Korean society. Besides lacking edges compared to these two gloomy but striking works, “Psychokinesis” is less entertaining compared to “Train to Busan” in terms of story and characters, and its good things including Jung’s juicy villain performance only remind me of how it could be better. I am mildly disappointed, but, folks, I don’t think I will remember it well a few weeks later.

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Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) ☆☆(2/4): An insipid turkey by Gilroy and Washington

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From time to time during Oscar season, we come across films quite disappointing despite talented people behind them, and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” is one of such dismal examples. Although looking promising to some degrees at first, the movie eventually becomes an aimless and lifeless dud which will bore and confuse you for many glaring reasons including trite dialogues and uninteresting characters, and it is all the more disappointing to see one of the greatest performers of our time struggling in this insipid turkey.

Denzel Washington plays Roman J. Israel, a middle-aged lawyer who has worked in a tiny law firm in LA for many years but never had much court experience. While it is apparent from his social ineptness and obsessive-compulsive behavior that he is on autistic spectrum, Roman is also a brilliant legal expert who can instantly talk about any legal precedent he encountered before, and he has surely been a big help to his boss, who is the only other lawyer of their law firm besides Roman and has always taken care of those legal procedures at the court instead of him.

However, there comes a sudden big change. Not long after Roman begins another day at his law firm, his boss’ secretary tells Roman that his boss had a serious heart attack and then was taken to a hospital. He is instructed to go to the court instead of his boss and then request continuances, but, not so surprisingly, he does not do his job very well. At one point, he clashes with a judge just because he cannot keep his mouth shut, and he is subsequently sentenced to $5,000 fine.

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As Roman’s boss is in permanent coma with no chance of regaining his consciousness and the law firm has been in a pretty bad financial status, someone needs to take care of this trouble, and that person is George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a hotshot lawyer who once studied under Roman’s boss a long time ago. As Roman’s boss requested in advance, Pierce is going to liquidate the law firm and then give Roman a position in his prominent law firm, but Roman does not accept Pierce’s offer as sticking to his belief and integrity, and we soon see him clumsily attempting to be employed elsewhere.

And that is how he happens to encounter Maya Alston (Carmen Ejogo), a community activist who is initially baffled by Roman’s anti-social attitude and odd appearance but somehow impressed by his ideal and passion. Later in the story, she invites him to a meeting for giving him a chance to talk in front of a group of young people, but, of course, that turns out to be not a wise choice. While his idealistic opinion may be worthwhile to listen to, his viewpoint is hopelessly out of touch with his young audience, and he soon finds himself tumbling into an unnecessary argument when one of the young audiences in the meeting is offended by his rather sexist remark.

Eventually, Roman accepts Pierce’s offer and then starts to work in Pierce’s law firm, but he soon causes unintentional conflicts with others in the law firm, and then he comes to make a very big mistake. While handling the case of a young black man involved with a robbery murder incident, he botches up the negotiation with a prosecutor due to his lack of social skills, and that results in a devastating consequence which affects not only him but also the law firm.

Around that point, director Dan Gilroy’s screenplay takes an inexplicable left turn along with its hero. Roman decided to do something which is quite contrary to everything he has believed in, and he also changes himself a lot in the process. After obtaining a considerable amount of money via his misdeed, he buys new slick suits to replace his usual frumpy attire, and he also rents an expensive apartment which certainly looks a lot better than his current residence located in some shabby building. Looking much more well-adjusted than before, Roman comes to gain more trust and goodwill from Pierce and others in the law firm, and it seems everything will be fine for Roman.

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As you have already guessed, there comes an inevitable moment when Roman confronts the consequence of his choice, and the movie tries to generate some dramatic tension in the story, but it frequently fails to engage us due to its serious deficiency in story and characters. Except a number of autistic traits, Roman does not have many personal details to interest us, and the supporting characters around him are more or less than plot devices. In case of a certain big case Roman has been obsessed with for years, we hear about how important it will be for the justice system, but the movie never delves much into this case, and we are only baffled when the movie suddenly thrusts this case into its lackluster ending.

The main performers of the movie do try, but they are constantly limited by their superficial characters. Washington, who somehow received an Oscar nomination for this film, looks awkward and ridiculous with stereotype attitude and behavior which may look offensive to autistic people, and this will probably be one of the least interesting acting turns in his stellar acting career filled with many better performances. Carmen Ejogo, a wonderful actress who has been more notable since her strong supporting turns in “Selma” (2014) and “Born to Be Blue” (2015), acquits herself well despite her artificial scenes, and Colin Farrell manages to keep his dignity intact although his character’s eventual change of heart is not particularly convincing.

By the way, according to the IMDB trivia, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” went through considerable re-editing after its premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, and around 12 minutes of footage was removed from the original version as a result. The movie is still a mess nonetheless, and now I am thinking about how much I was impressed by Gilroy’s previous film “Nightcrawler” (2014), which is a far better character study than “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” While watching that film, I was totally absorbed into its drama even though I did not like its sociopathic hero at all. In case of “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”, I only observed it from the distance while not giving a damn about its story or characters, and, in the end, I was left with nothing particularly good enough to talk about. To be frank with you, I really wish the people involved in this serious misfire will soon move onto something better in the future.

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Loveless (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Gone from a loveless world

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Quite moody and chilly right from its opening scene, Russian film “Loveless” calmly observes the end of one bitter marital relationship. Here are two people who probably should not have been together from the very beginning, and the anger and resentment between them become more intensified when they are stuck by a sudden terrible incident. Mainly due to its austere and clinical storytelling approach which will remind you of the works of Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Michael Haneke, the movie is a rather tough stuff to watch on the whole, but it gradually grabs our attention through its palpably bleak atmosphere and stark realism, and it is interesting to watch how the movie subtly works as an indirect critique of the Russian society.

After the opening scene which shows several wintry sights, the movie introduces us to a young boy named Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), and we soon observe his loveless domestic environment. His parents, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), are recently divorced, and they have no regret about that because, well, they have been sick of each other for years. Once their apartment where only Zhenya and their son reside at present is sold, they will be completely separated from each other, and both of them surely want that to happen as soon as possible.

However, their apartment is still not sold yet, and that surely makes Zhenya and Boris more resentful to each other. As they viciously argue with each other at one point, the movie strikes us with a modest but memorable shot which reminds us again of how much Alyosha feels sad and lonely while not particularly wanted or loved by his parents. As mentioned later in the movie, he was never wanted even when he was conceived, and neither Zhenya nor Boris wants to live with him just because they are mostly occupied with starting their respective life again.

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The first half of the movie pays some attention to how much Zhenya and Boris have been separated from each other. Boris has a girlfriend who is already pregnant with their child, and they virtually look like a married couple when they are shopping together. Because the head of a technology company where Boris works is an ultra-conservative guy who does not like divorce much, Boris must hide his divorce from everyone in the company, and one of his colleagues tells a rather amusing story about how one employee managed to hide his divorce when he had to bring his family to an annual company party.

In case of Zhenya, she has been in the relationship with some affluent guy, and he surely looks like a far better alternative compared to her ex-husband. Besides being usually nice to her, this guy has a slick, expensive modern house where they often sleep together comfortably, and he also takes her to a posh restaurant. For Zhenya, this relationship means a chance for not only real love but also social upgrade, and she is certainly determined not to lose this guy.

After carefully establishing its main characters’ positions during its first half, the screenplay by director Andrey Zvyagintsev and his co-writer Oleg Negin starts its second half with a sudden happening. On one day, Alyosha is suddenly disappeared without any trace, and Zhenya and Boris find themselves in a very frustrating situation. A detective says that there is nothing much he and his colleagues do about this incident because there is not any clue to help them and they are also busy with many other cases to be handled, and he recommends that they should instead get some help from a group of volunteers dedicated to finding missing persons. While those volunteers are willing to help Zhenya and Boris as much as they can, their wide search around the neighborhood does not lead to anything substantial, and Zhenya and Boris become more nervous as time goes by.

However, their shared nervousness does not make them nicer or closer to each other at all, and it actually makes them more spiteful to each other than before. When Zhenya and Boris come to the residence of Zhenya’s mother just in case, Zhenya’s mother, a cranky old lady who deserves to be called ‘Stalin in a skirt’, cruelly reminds them of how loveless their relationship has been for many years, and that causes another angry argument between them.

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In the meantime, the search for Alyosha goes on and on without any particular process, and Zvyagintsev and his cinematographer Mikhail Krichman, who previously worked with Zvyagintsev in “The Return” (2003) and “Leviathan” (2014), provide a number of striking visual moments which are filled with an unnerving sense of barren emptiness. In case of the scene which shows Boris and other people looking around here and there in an abandoned decrepit building, the gloomy hollow mood surrounding them is accentuated further by harsh lighting and desaturated color palette, and that will probably remind you of those unforgettable moments of ambiguous emptiness in Antonioni’s notable works such as “L’Avventura” (1960).

As he did in “Leviathan”, Zvyagintsev often makes sharp points on the social matters of the Russian society through his moody drama, and the depiction of the Russian society in his film is not very pretty to say the least. His main characters’ misery and unhappiness come to feel more like a symptom reflecting their glum, uncaring society, and that is backhandedly emphasized more by the last scene of the movie, where its characters phlegmatically watch the news about the conflict in Ukraine without much concern.

Like Zvyagintsev’s previous films, “Loveless”, which received the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in last year and recently garnered a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, is not a pleasant experience at all, but I admire it a lot for its distinctive visual impression as well as its restrained but ultimately impactful drama. Although this is indeed your typical arthouse film, it is a very good one nonetheless, so I recommend you to give it a chance with some patience.

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The Post (2017) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Standing up for free press

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Steven Spielberg’s new film “The Post” looks at one important moment in the American journalism history, which is all the more relevant at present for good reasons. While it is often a little too blatant in delivering its timely social message, the movie still works well as a vivid, compelling drama powerfully reminding us of the democratic value of free press, and it surely helps that it is firmly anchored by its top-notch direction and stellar performances to admire.

The movie is mainly about how the Pentagon Papers, famous classified documents regarding the 32-year involvement of the US government in the Vietnam War, was fully reported by the Washington Post in 1971, and the story begins with how these documents came to be leaked by Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) at that time. In 1966, Ellsberg came to Vietnam as a US State Department military analyst, and it did not take much time for him to see how bad the situation was for US. He told this frankly to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood), but McNamara did not tell anything about this when he was in front of reporters later.

Ellsberg was certainly disillusioned by this, and that is why he decides to do something five years later. While working for a civilian military contractor named the RAND Corporation, he surreptitiously photocopies the Pentagon Papers, and then he gives a small part of these documents to the reporters of the New York Times, who surely know that they must be really careful about this important but very sensitive news material.

Around that time, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the executive editor of the Washington Post, senses that something big is about to come from the New York Times, but then the New York Times publishes an article on Ellsberg’s documents, which shocks the whole nation as exposing how the US government has lied to its people about the Vietnam War for many years. Bradley is quite pissed about not getting that scoop first, but he also becomes more determined to beat the New York Times, so he demands his reporters to find the secret source of the New York Times as soon as possible.

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Eventually, one of his reporters, Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk), discovers that Ellsberg is the one who leaked the documents, and he soon approaches to Ellsberg, who is ready with the rest of his photocopied classified documents. As Bradlee, Bagdikian, and other journalists of the Washington Post look into these documents, it becomes very clear to everyone that they get something quite bigger than what was already reported by the New York Times, and they also see that they and their newspaper are going to be in a serious legal trouble. Right after the New York Times published its article on the Pentagon Papers, President Richard Nixon and his administration swiftly retaliate with legal measures against the New York Times, and the same thing will definitely happen to the Washington Post once they publish their article.

In the end, everything depends on the decision to be made by Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep), who recently became the publisher of the Washington Post after her husband’s unfortunate death. While being the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, she finds herself getting constantly underestimated by men surrounding her, and that often makes her feel uncertain about whether she can do her job well while her newspaper goes through a crucial financial circumstance.

As gradually realizing how important her newspaper’s article on the Pentagon Papers is, Graham seeks advices from others around her. Almost everyone thinks they should not publish the article considering the enormous legal risk from it, but Graham eventually decides to stick to their journalistic principles and their constitutional right of free press, and she fully trusts her judgement even when she is given a chance to step back from that.

As steadily accumulating its narrative momentum, the movie constantly engages us through its efficient storytelling and considerable verisimilitude. The screenplay by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer falters at times whenever it has its characters push its message directly to us, but it did a mostly competent job of juggling numerous details and characters in the story, and Spielberg and his crew smoothly present them on the screen while also effectively establishing the authentic atmosphere of the American newspaper business in the 1970s, which will instantly remind you of “All the President’s Men” (1976) with those frequent typewriter sounds.

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The performers in the movie are impeccable to say the least. Meryl Streep, who recently garnered her 21th Oscar nomination for this film, is marvelous as filling her character with subtle human nuances to appreciate, and I particularly like how she effortlessly conveys to us her character’s thoughts and feelings during several key scenes in the film. While his performance is automatically compared to Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning turn in “All the President’s Men”. Tom Hanks successfully embodies his character’s integrity and dignity as finding his own things to play, and he and Streep are always interesting to watch whenever they are together on the screen.

Streep and Hanks are surrounded by an impressive array of talented performers. Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy, and Michael Stuhlbarg are all solid in their respective supporting roles, and the result is one of the best movie ensemble performances in 2017.

I must point out that “The Post”, which was recently nominated for Best Picture Oscar, is rather modest compared to what we may expect from the combination of Streep, Hanks, and Spielberg, but it is still a very good work on the whole, and it will be interesting to observe how it will be remembered after several years. Will we be still stuck in the ongoing era of ‘fake news’ even at that point? Or, will our world get better with more courageous and principled journalism as the movie and its makers sincerely hope? Time will tell.

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Wonder Wheel (2017) ☆☆(2/4): A colorful misfire from Woody Allen

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Woody Allen’s new film “Wonder Wheel” is one of his most visually gorgeous works during recent years. Filled with colorful period atmosphere right from its very first shot, the movie provides a number of beautiful visual moments, and its first-rate cinematography and production design surely deserve to get some praise, but, alas, these nice technical elements do not compensate much for several glaring deficiencies in the movie including lackadaisical storytelling and bland characterization.

The main background of the movie is Coney Island, New York City in the 1950s, and the story opens with the introduction of one of its main characters. Mickey Rubin (Justin Timberlake) is a young New York University graduate student majoring in drama, and, like many Woody Allen movie heroes, he has aspired to write something great in the future, but he is currently spending his summertime on the Coney Island beach while working as a lifeguard. Apparently bored by his uneventful worktime hour, he is eager to tell us what is going on around him lately, and the movie soon moves its focus from him to Ginny Rannell (Kate Winslet), a restaurant waitress who has lived in the Coney Island along with her second husband Humpty (Jim Belushi) and her young son Richie (Jack Gore).

As shown from her weary appearance, life has been quite tiring and frustrating for Ginny. No matter how much she works hard, things do not get better for her and her family at all, and she is constantly frustrated with many daily problems in her life. Their shabby residence, which is located in the amusement park on Coney Island and is right next to a big Ferris wheel named, yes, Wonder Wheel, does not provide much comfort as noises and lights frequently invade its interior, and there is not much affection left between her and her husband, who usually goes fishing when he is not working in the amusement park. In addition, her son, who was born from her previous marital relationship, has recently developed pyromaniac tendency, and she does not know what to do with him as he keeps making his fiery troubles.

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And then there comes another matter to deal with. On one day, Carolina (Juno Temple), Humpty’s estranged daughter who left him for marrying her mobster boyfriend, suddenly appears in front of Humpty and Ginny, and she desperately wants her father’s help because she has been running away from her husband and his henchmen. While he is initially not so happy to see his prodigal daughter again, Humpty eventually decides to protect her for a while, and Ginny goes along with that despite her reluctance.

As Carolina continues to stay in her father’s residence, Ginny becomes more annoyed and frustrated than before, but she gets some consolation from her ongoing secret affair with Mickey. As a woman who was once an aspiring actress, she surely enjoys spending time with this smart young man who knows a lot about plays and playwrights, and it often seems possible to her that he will be more committed to her someday in the future.

However, their relationship takes a downturn when Carolina accidentally comes across Ginny and Mickey. While she does not have any idea on what is going on between Ginny and Mickey, Carolina finds herself attracted to Mickey, and Mickey also feels something toward her even though he is still emotionally involved with Ginny. At one point, he asks for a sound advice from his friend, but he does not follow that advice because, well, he cannot help himself when he sees Carolina again, and Ginny is not so pleased about what is going on between him and Carolina.

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What we get here is a typical melodramatic circumstance, and the movie often evokes the qualities of those old-fashioned melodrama movies based on the works of Tennessee Williams and William Inge but, unfortunately, Allen’s screenplay fails to keep us engaged in its story as frequently hampered by its trite narrative and mediocre characters. While the main characters of the movie are one-note caricatures we do not care much about, the story is mostly predictable and insipid on the whole, and the finale is seriously devoid of any dramatic punch despite the diligent efforts from Kate Winslet, who is surely trying hard here but only remains to be stuck with her colorless character in the end.

The other main performers in the movie also try to do as much as they can, but their results are mostly disappointing too. Maybe because of his contemporary aura, Justin Timberlake feels rather awkward in the period background surrounding him, and Jim Belushi is only demanded to look dour and miserable. In case of Juno Temple, she brings some sense of life to her performance, but then her performance is limited by her underdeveloped character, and that is another disappointment in the film.

At least, “Wonder Wheel” is not a total failure considering its competent technical aspects. The production design by Santo Loquasto is colorfully gorgeous, and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who previously worked in Allen’s previous film “Café Society” (2016), reminds us again that he is indeed one of the best cinematographers in our time. The movie, which was blasted by many critics when it was released in US in last December, is not as awful as I feared, but this is still a major disappointment, and I can only hope that his upcoming next movie is less dissatisfying than this.

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