Being 17 (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): A tricky matter of their young hearts

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French film “Being 17” is an intimate adolescent drama revolving around a difficult situation between its two young heroes struggling with a tricky matter of their young hearts. Calmly presenting the dynamic interactions between them, the movie gradually engages us via its dexterous storytelling, and it often touches us more than expected while steadily rolling its story and characters toward the eventual arrival point.

At the beginning, we get to know Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Thomas (Corentin Fila), two very different teenage boys attending the same high school in an Alpine village. While Thomas is the adopted son of a couple running a cattle farm, Damien is the only son of the village doctor and her solider husband, and the movie slowly establishes their respective domestic environments during its first act. Although it may be better for him to move to a spot closer to his school, Thomas prefers to stay around his parents for helping run the farm, and it is apparent that he and his parents care a lot about each other. While his father is frequently absent due to his military missions, Damien has happily lived with his mother Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain), and he also get some boxing lesson from a neighbor who is an old military buddy of his father.

On one day, Thomas commits an act of bullying to Damien during one of their classes, and we observe how the situation becomes more tense as he continues to bully Damien. While Damien initially maintains his passive attitude without any attempt to fight against Thomas, he eventually comes to clash hard with Thomas in front of everyone, and both of them are subsequently brought to the school principal while accompanied with Marianne, who already met Thomas when she visited his home for his mother’s health problem.

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As feeling sorry for Thomas, Marianne decides to help him a bit, so she suggests that he should stay in her home for a while to improve his school grades. Of course, neither Thomas nor Damien welcomes this suggestion, but Thomas reluctantly agrees to go to Marianne’s house after persuaded by his parents, and he and Damien soon find themselves studying together despite feeling quite awkward.

As time goes by and they accordingly enter the next semester, things get a little better than before. Although they have a rough physical fight outside at one point, Thomas and Damien subsequently become a bit friendlier to each other, probably because that fight resolved whatever had been accumulated between them. In addition, Thomas begins to get higher grades than before, and Marianne is certainly pleased about that.

However, we soon begin to notice another kind of tension developed between Thomas and Damien. It turns out that Damien has been quite attracted to Thomas, and there is an amusing scene where he virtually coerces Thomas to take him to a place belonging to some older guy whom Damien encountered via the Internet. When Damien finds that he is not particularly attracted to that guy, Thomas comes to spend some interesting time with that guy instead, and Damien has no choice but to wait alone for Thomas’ return.

This new tension between Damien and Thomas eventually reaches to another breaking point, and they subsequently become distant to each other, but then there comes an unexpected incident which devastates Damien and his mother a lot. Although he is not so eager to get closer to them again, Thomas comes to stay near them anyway, and Marianne, who already knows what was going on between her son and Thomas, surely appreciates his emotional support.

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As leisurely moving from one narrative point from each other, the screenplay by director André Téchiné and his co-writer Céline Sciamma carefully builds up the emotional momentum around its main characters, and that aspect is reflected well by the beautiful seasonal changes of the rural background of the movie. Thanks to cinematographer Julien Hirsch, there are several vivid landscapes shots to be appreciated, and I particularly like how the snowy background accentuates the restrained mood of the first act of the film.

The movie depends a lot on its main cast members, and they are all solid in their respective roles. While Kacey Mottet Klein, a young Swiss actor who drew my attention for the first time via his unforgettable lead performance in Ursula Meier’s “Sister” (2012), ably conveys to us his character’s emotional conflict without any false note, Corentin Fila effectively complements his co-star with his equally sensitive performance, and Sandrine Kiberlain is also terrific as another crucial part of the story.

On the whole, “Being 17” is worthwhile to watch for good reasons, and I admire the competent direction of Téchiné, who previously directed “The Witnesses” (2007) and “The Girl on the Train” (2009) and recently made “Farewell to the Night” (2019). Although it may require some patience from you due to its rather slow narrative pacing, the movie works well as a fascinating character drama packed with mood and details, and I assure you that you will not be disappointed if you are looking for something more thoughtful and matured than those brainless summer blockbuster flicks.

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Ghost Walk (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): As time goes backward for her

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South Korean film “Ghost Walk” is a modest but haunting fantasy drama about urban loneliness and isolation. As its heroine calmly journeys backward through her last several days as a ghost, the movie slowly establishes its melancholic mood surrounding her and a few other characters in the story, and we come to reflect more on their gloomy status of existence with some pity and empathy.

The story mainly revolves around Hye-jeong (Han Hae-in), a young woman who works in a factory on the outskirts of some city. While she is currently living with two other young women in her residence, she is not particularly close to them, and she also does not have much interest in responding to the tentative courtship from a male factory worker. When they happen to walk together to her residence on one day, he shows her some care and affection, but she flatly rejects him because, well, she cannot afford a romantic relationship as trying hard to earn her living day by day.

The movie moves forward to several days later, and we see Hye-jeong returning to her residence after going through another usual day at her workplace. She comes across a little girl asking for help, but the girl is somehow disappeared when Hye-jeong looks back at the girl again. As she feels like hearing the girl’s voice from somewhere, Hye-jeong hurriedly goes inside her residence, and she becomes more anxious in the next evening after she reads a notice warning her of the possible danger of walking alone at night.

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And then something happens to Hye-jeong. She subsequently wakes up as a ghost, and, as reflected by the opening line at the beginning of the movie, time goes backward for her night by night. At first, she sees the police examining her death scene after her unconscious body was found then taken to a local hospital, and then she witnesses how much her two roommates are shocked by this unexpected incident. Although they and she did not know each other much despite living together in the same place for a while, they cannot help but emotionally affected by her death, and there is nothing Hye-jeong can do for them as she observes them from the distance.

Whenever she wakes up, Hye-jeong finds herself moved back further into the past, and she comes to know more about a few people’s daily lives surrounding hers. For example, that little girl, named Soo-yang (Gam So-hyun), turns out to be more significant than expected, and there is a sad, poignant moment when she leads Hye-jeong to an abandoned place and then shows what happened to her not long before Hye-jeong’s incident. In case of Hyo-yeon (Jeon So-nee), who is one of Hye-jeong’s roommates, it subsequently turns out that she has been under a very desperate financial situation, and Hye-jeong accordingly comes to realize that she could have helped Hyo-yeon and, to some extent, Soo-yang, if she had showed more care and attention to them.

The movie feels undeniably bleak on the whole, but then it gradually generates some emotional warmth via the unlikely relationship development between Hye-jeong and Soo-yang later in the story. She finds that she can somehow communicate with Soo-yang although Soo-yang cannot see her, and the story eventually becomes a little more tense as Hye-jeong later attempts to do something for Hyo-yeon as well as Soo-yang.

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Nevertheless, the movie keeps sticking to its slow narrative pacing under the competent direction of director/writer Yu Eun-jeong, who previously made several short films before making this first feature film of hers. As she steadily maintains the stark atmosphere on the screen, the sense of loneliness and isolation surrounding its female main characters becomes more palpable to us, and we are reminded more of their considerable social vulnerability. They are all alone in each own way, and the movie indirectly emphasizes the importance of social solidarity via its sobering presentation of their isolated situations.

As the emotional anchor of the movie we can hold onto, newcomer Han Hae-in ably carries the film with her unadorned lead performance, and she is also supported well by several good performers in the film. While Jeon So-nee, who previously played a crucial supporting character in “After My Death” (2017), demonstrates here that she is another talented young actress to watch, young performer Gam So-hyun is effortlessly natural as doing more than holding her own place well beside Han, and Lee Geun-hoo is well-cast in his small but substantial supporting role.

Although “Ghost Walk” may demand you some patience for its slow narrative pacing and low-key mood, but it is a rewarding experience which will leave you some lasting impression. This is one of the notable debut feature films of this year in South Korea, and it will surely show you that Yu is another talented South Korean female filmmaker who deserves more attention and support.

By the way, I must confess that I unfortunately felt drowsy at times due to my physical condition while I watched the movie along with a group of audiences in a rather small screening room during last afternoon. I am not that sure about whether I absorbed and understood everything in the film, but I still had a fairly interesting time with it at least, and I am certainly willing to revisit it for appreciating its good elements more.

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Warning: Do Not Play (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Searching for one cursed horror flick

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South Korean film “Warning: Do Not Play” is a little mystery horror flick alternatively creepy and amusing for its main target audiences. While being as sinister and ominous as required, the movie often throws some wryly amusing moments to be savored, and we gladly go along with that as enjoying its several nice scary scenes.

In the beginning, the movie observes the very difficult situation of its heroine. While she once was regarded a promising new filmmaker thanks to her debut work, Mi-jeong (Seo Ye-Ji) has been struggling to write the screenplay for a horror movie to be produced, and now she is told that she must complete and then submit the screenplay within two weeks.

And then she hears about an interesting urban legend from one of her juniors. Around several years ago, there was a student film which really scared the hell out of the audiences, and, according to this tale, the guy who made this film in question claimed that the film was directed by a ghost. Becoming quite curious about this mysterious film, Mi-jeong goes to a college where that student allegedly studied, but she does not get any clue about the movie as she does not even know who that guy is.

However, of course, Mi-jeong subsequently comes across a few pieces of information about the movie. As talking with several students, she gets some background knowledge, and she also comes to learn that it was supposed to be shown at a certain well-known film festival in South Korea, but the festival archive does not have anything except its trailer – and that certainly makes her all the more curious about it.

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While she keeps trying to get more information about the movie, she receives a phone call from Jae-hyeon (Jin Seon-kyu), a guy who directed the movie. When Mi-jeong meets him, he solemnly warns her that she should not delve more into what he supposedly made, and he does not say anything else besides that, though it is quite apparent that he is hiding something from her.

The mood subsequently becomes more insidious as Mi-jeong finds where Jae-hyeon lives and then sneaks into his shabby residence, which is, not so surprisingly, full of bad signs here and there. Besides lots of burning candles, there are a number of disturbing drawings on the walls, and it seems he is really afraid of whatever is associated with his movie.

It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Mi-jeong eventually gets a chance to watch Jae-hyeon’s movie – and that she comes to feel like being disturbed and threatened by some unknown dark force. As strange things begin to happen around her, she is often reminded of a certain dark moment in her past, and then there comes a tense scene where she suddenly finds herself alone and helpless in the dark at one point later in the story.

And she gets to know more about the production history of Jae-hyeon’s movie. At that time, he and several other students tried to make the movie at an abandoned movie theater, but the movie theater has been known as a haunted place, and there is a small creepy moment shown via what Jae-hyeon briefly shot with his video camera. I later learned that the movie theater shown in the film is actually a real one which has been abandoned for years, and it goes without saying that this location brings some extra authentic insidiousness to the screen.

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As slowly increasing the level of tension and creepiness on the screen, director/writer Kim Ji-won, who previously debuted with “The Butcher” (2007), keeps holding our attention with more curiosity and dread. Is there really a ghost in that movie theater? What did really happen to Jae-hyeon and his colleagues? And what is exactly going on around Mi-jeong?

While we come to muse more on these and other questions, there eventually comes a moment when we behold what is shown in Jae-hyeon’s movie, and Kim and his crew pull all the stops as Mi-jeong comes to take a fateful step into the abandoned movie theater. If you are familiar with many recent South Korean horror films, you will probably not that surprised by what is presented during the climactic sequence, but you will not be disappointed at least. Sure, there are several predictable moments to jolt you, but the overall result is as tense and scary as expected, and then you will get amused by what follows after that.

The few main cast members of the movie are effective in their respective parts. While Seo Ye-ji is engaging as a heroine who cannot help but driven her curiosity despite the sense of dread accumulating around her, Jin Seon-kyu looks suitably scared and disturbed as required, and Ji Yoon-ho is also solid in his small but crucial supporting role.

In conclusion, “Warning: Do Not Play” is an enjoyable genre piece which plays well with its familiar genre elements, and I was entertained enough during its 86-minute running time. Although it may look rather modest to you at first, it did its job as well as intended, and it will certainly remind you of how it is often hard and difficult for those horror movie directors to scare and entertain audiences out there.

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Wiener-Dog (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Four short stories around a dog

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I cringed and winced from time to time as watching “Wiener-Dog”, the latest work of Todd Solondz. While it is relatively less edgy and uncomfortable compared to his previous works such as “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (1995) and “Happiness” (1998), the movie often strikes us hard with its mean, vicious sense of humor, and I must warn you in advance that there are several moments which may repulse you for good reasons, but you may also admire its dry but empathetic presentation of human misery and unhappiness via four different short stories revolving around one little dachshund dog.

At the beginning of the first story, we see that dog in question taken to a suburban family. Danny (Tracy Letts) thinks that it will bring some support and comfort to his young cancer-surviving son Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke), and Remi is certainly is excited to have a pet dog to play with, but Danny’s French wife Dina (Julie Delpy) does not like welcome the dog much from the beginning. Some time later, she takes the dog to a local veterinarian for getting it spayed, and there is a darkly amusing scene where she tells a rather morbid tale for emphasizing to her son the necessity of getting his dog sterilized.

Things look fine for a while after that, but, of course, a big trouble eventually occurs thanks to a small act of misjudgment by Remi, and its consequence is not so pretty to say the least. In the end, his father decides that the dog must be removed from the house, and Remi is saddened and devastated by this loss of his, while coming to learn a bit about life and death from his mother.

After being taken to the local veterinarian, the dog is soon going to be euthanized, but Dawn (Greta Gerwig), who was the miserable young heroine of “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and currently works as a nurse for that veterinarian, feels pity toward to the dog, and she eventually takes him to her residence. Thanks to her generous care, the dog gets better than before, and it soon becomes a good companion in Dawn’s drab daily life.

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On one day, Dawn comes across Brandon (Kieran Culkin), her former schoolmate who used to bully her during their school years but actually liked her more than he admitted. Although their awkward reunion seems momentary at first, Brandon subsequently suggests that she should go to somewhere in Ohio along with him, and Dawn does not reject his suggestion at all because, well, she still has some feeling toward him.

As spending more time with Brandon and the dog on the road, Dawn comes to like him more, and he also seems to be willing to get closer to her, but we soon sense how problematic his life is. For some purpose, he drops by several places, and there is a brief but crucial shot showing what he is hiding from Dawn. When he and Dawn eventually arrive at their destination, Brandon shows his better side, and Dawn becomes optimistic about their growing relationship, but we cannot help but worry about what may happen next due to his personal demons.

At the end of the second story, the dog is handed over to a certain young couple close to Brandon, but then the third story shows the dog belonging now to Dave (Danny DeVito), a scruffy middle-aged film school teacher whose daily life in New York City has been going nowhere for years. While he has hoped that a screenplay written by him will be sold in Hollywood someday, he only receives empty promises from his former agent and his successor, and this increasingly hopeless status certainly affects him a lot. At one point, he is told that he is not particularly regarded well by his peers and students due to his negative attitude, and that makes him feel all the more miserable.

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After a cringe-inducing scene where he finds himself mocked and humiliated by some hot-shot filmmaker who once studied under him, Dave becomes far more frustrated and exasperated than before, and that eventually leads to a funny but disturbing moment, which is followed by the melancholic ending with some ambiguity. Although he has been less prominent than before during recent years, Danny DeVito did a good job of balancing his character well between pathos and humor, and he surely gives the best performance in the film.

In the last story, which is the weakest part of the film in my inconsequential opinion, the dog now belongs to a blind old lady called Nana (Ellen Burstyn). When she is being taken care of by her caregiver as usual, her granddaughter visits along with her artist boyfriend, and it soon becomes clear to us that she comes to Nana for getting some money for her artistic boyfriend. While she eventually hands a check to her granddaughter, Nana does not hide her acerbic sides at all, and that certainly makes her granddaughter a bit uncomfortable.

The following scene showing Nana going through a dreamy introspective moment is rather sappy on the surface, but then the movie slaps us hard during its last several minutes. According to the IMDB trivia, many audiences actively showed their negative reactions to this moment when the movie was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2016, and I think you will likely be quite horrified if you are an animal lover.

Although it is not wholly successful, “Wiener-Dog” is still an interesting piece of work supported well by its various main cast members, and it surely shows us that Solondz has not lost any of his edgy artistic touch. Like “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Happiness”, the movie is not something I am willing to revisit again, but, considering its more effective moments which will linger on your mind for a while, it deserves more attention and appreciation at least.

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Catfight (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): Morbid, vicious, and, yes, violent

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“Catfight” is a morbid and vicious black comedy about the violent conflict between two different characters. Although it simply observes from the distance how these two characters respectively go up and down while occasionally clashing hard with each other, the movie mostly works thanks to its wry sense of humor as well as the committed performance from its two leading performers, and we cannot help but laugh more and more as the story sways back and forth between them.

During the first act, the movie quickly establishes its two main characters and their respective current situations. While they were once close college friends a long time ago, Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche) have been quite distant to each other for many years, and we observe how different their lifestyles are. While Veronica has living a cozy and luxurious life with her rich husband and their adolescent son in a posh apartment located in the Manhattan neighborhood of New York City, Ashley has been a struggling artist living with her partner Lisa (Alicia Silverstone) in the Brooklyn neighborhood, and she has been quite frustrated as her artistic career has been going nowhere mainly due to her rather provocative painting style.

During one evening, Veronica and her husband go to the birthday party of his close associate/friend who is going to help his business a lot, and that is where she happens to come across Ashley, who happens to be serving the guests there along with Lisa. When they recognize each other, they seem to be glad to meet each other at first, but then their old mutual bad feelings are awakened as they talk more with each other, and we are not so surprised when they eventually come to fight hard with each other outside the party place due to some unfortunate coincidence accompanied with drug, alcohol, and, above all, grudge.

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Now I should be a little more careful about describing what happens next for not spoiling your entertainment, but I can tell you instead that the screenplay by director/writer/editor Onur Tukel has lots of fun with how things get completely turned upside down for both Veronica and Ashley after their first catfight. While Veronica is shocked to find herself hitting the bottom without anyone to help her except her ex-housekeeper, Ashley becomes more confident than before as her life and career advance more than before, and she is also going to have a baby as her partner has always wanted.

Meanwhile, we get a series of darkly humorous moments which frequently emphasize the warped reality surrounding the characters in the film. There is a blatant running gag involved with a crude TV comedy show which the supporting characters in the film always find funny to the bewilderment of Veronica and Ashley, and then we are also served with a number of whimsical elements including the childish but popular cartoon created by Ashley’s mousy assistant/apprentice Donna (Myra Lucretia Taylor), whose cheery artistic style does not fit that well with Ashley’s many disturbing works.

Although both Ashley and Veronica are not particularly likable characters to say the least, the movie keeps holding our attention as ruthlessly pushing them into more misery and hate, and we come to observe this process with some horrible fascination and curiosity. We do not care much about them, but we brace ourselves for what may happen sooner or later between them, and we surely get a load of uncomfortable laughs as they are fatefully back on their collision course later in the story.

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Of course, the movie depends a lot on the presence and talent of its two lead performers. While Sandra Oh, a wonderful Korean Canadian actress who drew my attention for the first time via her feisty supporting turn in Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” (2004), is reliable as usual, Anne Heche, whom I still fondly remember for her good supporting turn in Barry Levinson’s “Wag the Dog” (1997), is an equal match for Oh, and they are constantly believable whenever their characters push or pull each other on the screen. Never making any excuse or compromise on their problematic characters, both of them willingly go all the way as demanded even when the movie steps back a little during its last act, and the ferocious comic energy between them is why it works to the end.

Although the movie is basically the showcase of Oh and Heche’s acting ability, a few other main cast members in the film manage to hold each own small place around them. While Alicia Silverstone, whom you probably remember for her enjoyable performance in Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless” (1995), will definitely make your cringe when Lisa makes many of her friends feel awkward and miserable during the baby shower for her and Ashley, Myra Lucretia Taylor steals the show with her pitiful meekness, and Tituss Burgess, who recently got more prominent than before thanks to his Emmy-nominated supporting turn in TV sitcom series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, is also fun to watch in his brief appearance.

In conclusion, “Catfight”, which is currently available on Netflix, may be not for everyone, but you may enjoy it as much as I did if you are willing to appreciate its twisted aspects and the commendable efforts from Oh and Heche. As clearly reflected by its very title, the movie is not going to pull any punch, so please don’t complain later that I did not warn you in advance.

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): They work together again…

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I could not help but get a bit tired and numbed as watching “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw”, a spin-off entry from The Fast and the Furious franchise. While it is not boring at all thanks to the amusing chemistry between its two engaging lead performers, the movie eventually begins to spin its wheels during its last act despite lots of bangs and crashes on the screen, and I felt rather dissatisfied as walking out of the screening room along with other audiences.

The movie mainly revolves around the two main characters of The Fast and the Furious franchise: DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and former MI6 agent Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Although they once fought to death with each other in “Furious 7” (2015) because Shaw was personally quite pissed off about what happened to his younger brother at the end of “Fast & Furious 6” (2013), they eventually came to work together as shown from “The Fate of the Furious” (2017), and now they find themselves working together again here in this film although they still do not like each other much.

An assignment given to them is pretty urgent to say the least. Some powerful secret organization recently developed a deadly virus to wipe out most of the entire human race, and MI6 attempts to snatch the virus at the last minute, but the mission is disastrously failed as everyone except Agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Shaw), who is, yes, Shaw’s younger sister. While she manages to take away the virus from the minions of that secret organization in the end, she soon finds herself on the run as wrongfully accused of deliberately botching the mission, and, to make matters worse, she does not have much time as she has no choice but to become the living carrier of the virus just like Thandie Newton’s character did in “Mission: Impossible 2” (2000).

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Although they clash with each other once they meet each other again in London, it does not take much time for Hobbs and Shaw to realize what is really going on, because they also find themselves in grave peril along with Hattie not long after she is captured to be interrogated by Hobbs. That secret organization already sends a bunch of henchmen including a guy named Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), and Lore, who once worked with Shaw but is now turned into a cyber-genetically enhanced super-soldier, is not someone who can be easily stopped at all.

As Hobbs, Shaw, and Hattie try to evade Lore and his goons and find a way to save her, they surely go through many risky moments as expected, and the movie does not disappoint us as serving us with two big vehicle action sequences. Both of them are surely as outrageously fun as required, and director David Leitch, who unofficially co-directed “John Wick” (2014) and then moved onto “Atomic Blonde” (2017), did a skillful job of maintaining the high level of thrill and excitement without losing our attention.

However, many of entertaining moments in the film come from the rocky interactions between Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, who are no stranger to going back and forth between comedy and action. Right from the beginning, the movie makes lots of fun from how different their characters are from each other, and Johnson and Statham willingly go for more laughs as their characters constantly bicker with each other like two big boys who still need to learn how to get along with each other.

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And their numerous comic interactions throughout the film are further enhanced by several notable supporting performers in the film. Although basically functioning as a no-nonsense female character stuck between our two tough but incorrigible dudes, Vanessa Kirby shows her considerable comic talent as balancing herself well between her two co-stars, and she also demonstrates that she can be as tough and gritty as, say, Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde”. In case of two certain recognizable performers appearing in the movie, they are clearly enjoying their respective juicy moments as fully utilizing their comic talent, and Helen Mirren, who previously appeared briefly in “The Fate of the Furious”, has a little more fun than before.

Unfortunately, the movie gets weakened whenever it becomes relatively more serious and emphasizes the importance of, yes, family, and that frequently happens during its last act. While it certainly goes for full-throttle mode around that narrative point, the overall result is merely overlong and excessive without enough sense of fun, and the final moment between Lore and our trio is rather anti-climactic to say the least.

In addition, Lore is not particularly memorable as the main villain of the story, and it is really disappointing to see Idris Elba wasted in a bland and humorless role. Sure, he looks as menacing and formidable as we can expect from this intense and charismatic actor, but that is all he is demanded to do in the film, and you will probably come to miss his far more electrifying performance in “Pacific Rim” (2013).

In conclusion, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” is fairly competent as your typical summer blockbuster action flick, but it did not satisfy me as much as “Furious 7” or “Atomic Blonde”. Therefore, I give the movie 2.5 stars, but it will entertain you as much as you paid if you just want no more than big, loud action scenes. After all, that has been the whole point of the Fast and the Furious franchise, hasn’t it?

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Light of My Life (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Father and daughter in apocalyptic world

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“Light of My Life”, the first feature movie directed by Casey Affleck, is a simple but effective apocalyptic drama driven by the strong relationship between its two main characters. While it does not bring anything particularly new to its genre territory, the movie is fairly engaging enough in terms of mood, storytelling, and performance, and we come to observe its two main character’s hard and difficult journey with care and interest.

The movie opens with its two main characters spending another night together somewhere in a remote forest. Inside their small tent, a man played by Affleck tells his daughter Rag (Anna Pniowsky) a bedtime story inspired by Noah’s Ark, and we cannot help but a bit amused as she frequently sees through whatever her father tries to concoct for entertaining her, though she eventually comes to become more involved in her father’s story.

As they continue their journey on the next day, we gradually gather the details of their gloomy apocalyptic world. Several years ago, the female population of the human society was almost wiped out by a sudden worldwide epidemic, and the human society has been slowly declining since that epidemic without much possibility of reproduction. While Rag’s mother, played by Elizabeth Moss in several brief flashback scenes, died not long after she gave birth to her daughter, Rag fortunately happens to be immune to the disease, and her father has been trying a lot for protecting her for any possible danger. They avoid strangers as much as possible, and he always has her disguised as a boy whenever they need to go to a more populated area.

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Of course, things get less easy as Rag is about to enter her adolescence. While it becomes difficult to hide her gender from others, Rag has been pretty tired of disguising herself as a boy. When she and her father come across a seemingly abandoned house at one point, she is delighted to find a number of objects for girls in one of the rooms in the house, and she manages to persuade her father to allow themselves to stay in this house for a while.

However, there is still the constant danger of being exposed to others, and we accordingly get a calm but tense scene where he and Rag are suddenly approached by a group of strangers on one day. Becoming more concerned about his daughter’s safety, Rag’s father has no choice but to move to another remote region along with her as soon as possible, and there is a painful moment when he comes to commit a wrong deed to a young guy even though that guy shows him and his daughter the kindness of a stranger.

Although it lags from time to time, the movie keeps engaging us with its mood and details, and Affleck, who also wrote the screenplay, shows here that he has learned much as collaborating with several notable flimmakers such as David Lowery. Thanks to cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, the movie is shrouded in the palpable apocalyptic atmosphere coupled with a grey sense of despair and desperation, and that aspect is further accentuated by the sparse score by Daniel Hart, who has worked with Lowery in several films including “A Ghost Story” (2017) and “The Old Man & the Gun” (2018).

When it eventually arrives at a certain spot where we are introduced to a few other figures in the story, the movie continues to focus on the relationship between Rag and her father, and that is the main reason why its rather contrived finale works to some degree. You may be disappointed if you expect a clean-cut ending, but the final shot of the movie is poignant as reminding us again of how strong the relationship between Rag and her father is, and we are touched more as observing what has been changed in their relationship in the end.

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I must point out that, due to his alleged sexual harassment during the production of his mockumentary film “I’m Still Here” (2010), it is often uncomfortable for me to watch Affleck playing a guy devoted to his daughter on the screen, but I also have to admit that he demonstrates here again that he is a subtle actor who can effortlessly convey his character’s emotions and thoughts without any exaggeration. During one particular scene later in the story, we can sense how much his character is reluctant to answer a question thrown at him, and his character’s eventual answer is delivered with considerable dramatic weight even though he does not seem to strive for anything.

In addition, Affleck lets his co-star Anna Pniowsky gradually shine beside him. Although her acting career is rather short, Pniowsky is simply marvelous as effectively complementing Affleck, and her commendable unadorned performance here in this film deserves to be compared with Thomasin McKenzie in “Leave No Trace” (2018), which incidentally also revolves around a strong but isolated father and daughter relationship.

Reminiscent of several other similar films including “Children of Men” (2006) and “The Road” (2009), “Light of My Life” is not that fresh to say the least, and it also requires considerable patience from you due to its slow narrative pacing, but it is still worthwhile to watch in my humble opinion. Yes, it is certainly not something to entertain you on Sunday afternoon, but you will probably be impressed by its several good things nonetheless.

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