Hotel Mumbai (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A brutal docudrama on the 2008 Mumbai Attacks

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“Hotel Mumbai” intends to be a vivid, intense, and disturbing presentation of the 2008 Mumbai Attacks, and it succeeds to some degree although I feel rather ambivalent about its overall result. While it is often gripping and chilling as depicting what happened on that terrible day in Mumbai, it occasionally seems to be on the verge of exploitation, and I often wondered whether the movie is really necessary, even though I was often captivated by its numerous intense moments during my viewing.

During the opening part, the movie puts us right into what was about to happen in Mumbai on November 26th, 2008. A bunch of young members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba Islamist militia sneak into Mumbai by a boat, and then, as instructed by their handler, they separately prepare themselves for executing a series of terror attacks at a number of crowded sites in the city including the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, which was the first one to be attacked as shown in the film.

Meanwhile, we see how everything looks fine and usual at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel at the same time. We see David (Armie Hammer) and his wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) arriving at the hotel with their little baby, and we also observe how that day does not begin well for Arjun (Dev Patel), a young hotel staff member who happens to lose his shoes while leaving his shabby family home and has no choice but to wear the ones to which his poor feet do not fit well.

After leaving their baby to their young nanny, David and Zahra go to a restaurant in the hotel supervised by chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher), and it looks like they are going to have a lovely evening there, but then they and many other people in the hotel are suddenly thrown into a very dangerous situation. Shortly after causing a pandemonium outside the hotel, four armed terrorists come into the hotel along with lots of scared people, and then they immediately start their another attack, which results in the death of many unfortunate people who happen to be around them.

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The guests in the restaurant manage to hide from the terrorists because of Arjun’s quick response, and they later come to a safer place thanks to Oberoi and other hotel staff members, but David and Zahra cannot help but concerned about their baby and nanny, who are stuck in their hotel room as the terrorists begin to go around inside the hotel to kill more people. David eventually decides that he must do something for saving their baby and nanny, but he soon come to see that he may get himself killed at any moment no matter how much he tries to be careful in every step.

Meanwhile, the movie also shows what is going on outside the hotel. The local police quickly arrive, but they are not prepared well enough to deal with the situation, and the Special Forces unit from Delhi has not arrived yet. When they try to enter the hotel at one point, they are soon attacked by the terrorists, and many people in the hotel become more desperate as the terrorists subsequently enter the final stage of their plan.

Busily juggling many different characters during its first half, the movie, which is inspired by the 2009 documentary film “Surviving Mumbai”, keeps maintaining the level of tension and suspense on the screen, and it often strikes us hard with those callous acts of violence committed by the terrorists. Constantly driven by their handler’s virulent fanaticism, they are quite determined to kill as much as they can, and this horrific attitude of theirs makes a gut-chilling contrast with a brief but morbidly silly moment reflecting their banality of evil.

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As entering its second half, the movie attempts to add more tension and suspense to the story as focusing more on the bravery of some of its main characters against the terrorists, and that is where the movie begins to falter. While the eventual climactic sequence is certainly as intense and gritty as expected, I was disturbed a lot by how this sequence is blatantly and graphically presented on the screen, and that unpleasant impression did not go away from my mind even during the following epilogue part accompanied with relief and, yes, some healing process.

The main performers in the movie dutifully fill their respective archetype roles. While Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi bring some humanity to their characters, Jason Isaacs is mostly stuck with his thankless role, Dev Patel holds his spot well with his earnest performance despite a few heavy-handed scenes including a small conversation scene between his character and one of the terrified hotel guests. In case of Anupam Kher, he effortlessly exudes calm, benevolent authority during his several big moments, and you may come to wish that the movie would be more about his character and other hotel staff members.

In conclusion, “Hotel Mumbai” is competent in technical aspects, and director/co-writer/co-editor Anthony Maras, who wrote the screenplay with John Collee, did a commendable job of throwing us into the chaos and horror of the 2008 Mumbai Attacks, but I still hesitate to recommend it due to its ethically questionable storytelling approach. Sure, it is not supposed to be a feel-good movie at all, but it merely presents atrocities without enough tact and consideration, and that still bothers me even at this point.

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Birds of Passage (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A criminal family drama set in Colombia

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“Birds of Passage”, which was selected as Colombia’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in last year, is a compelling mix of crime drama and anthropological interest. While it is another drug crime story set in a South American background, the movie distinguishes itself via its distinctive cultural/ethnic elements, and it gives a number of striking moments to remember as calmly observing the rise and fall of one indigenous clan in the northern part of Colombia during the 1960-80s.

At the beginning, the movie opens with a tribal ceremony celebrating the adulthood of a beautiful young woman named Zaida (Natalia Reyes). After being blessed by her mother Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez), Zaida begins to dance on the ground while surrounded by many others, and that is how she comes across a young man named Rapayet (José Acosta), who dances well along with her in front of others and subsequently asks for the permission to marry her from Zaida’s father, who is incidentally the chief of her clan. While Zaida’s father has no problem with his daughter getting married to Rapayet, he demands Rapayet a considerable amount of assets as the dowry for his daughter, and Rapayet is determined to pay his future father-in-law as much as demanded.

On one day, Rapayet and his colleague/friend Moisés (Jhon Narváez) come across an opportunity to earn lots of money quickly. They happen to learn that a group of American Peace Corps guys are looking for marijuana, and, fortunately for them, Rapayet knows where to get it. A bunch of his distant relatives have illegally grown marijuana in a nearby forest for years, so all Rapayet and Moisés have to do is functioning as a middleman between this clan and those American Peace Corps guys, while, of course, getting some money during this criminal transaction.

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Once they succeed with their first trial, Rapayet and Moisés become bolder than before. After meeting an American guy willing to do more business with them, they deliver and sell far more marijuana than before, and it does not take much time for Rapayet to deliver the promised dowry to Zaida’s father, who eventually joins Rapayet’s growing criminal business along with Rapayet’s uncle Peregrino (Jose Vicente Cotes), who has functioned as an adviser/advocate for his nephew.

While clearly discerning what is going on among Rapayet and the other men of their clan, Zaida and her mother have no problem with that because their clan come to enjoy a lot more prosperity than before. Not long after their two children are born, Zaida and her husband eventually move to a big modern house located in the middle of their region, and Rapayet’s business keeps growing with more money and marijuana, though he does not enjoy his power and wealth much unlike Tony Montana.

As many of you have already expected, there is also the price Rapayet has to pay for protecting his criminal family business. When Moisés becomes a serious problem for the business, Rapayet is advised to eliminate Moisés as soon as possible, but, unfortunately, he comes to hesitate to handle this matter, and that results in a lot more blood than expected. He eventually decides to take care of the matter for himself, but then he only finds himself haunted by the consequence of his inevitable action from time to time.

Several years later, things become unstable again thanks to Rapayet’s brother-in-law Leonidas (Greider Meza), who was once an innocent kid but now grows up to be your typical hothead with a streak of meanness. When he takes a sneak peek on the young daughter of Rapayet’s business partner, we can instantly sense a trouble, and then he goes further with his willful rudeness in a way which will probably remind you of that infamous final scene of John Waters’ cult film “Pink Flamingos” (1972).

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Rapayet and his close associates try to handle the following problematic situation caused by Leonidas, but the circumstance only becomes worse with more violence and blood between them and their business partner who is now turned into a vengeful opponent. At one point, Úrsula attempts to get the support and help from other clans in the region, but they sternly remind her of what has been lost due to her clan’s criminal business, and she has no choice but to make a humiliating compromise for the survival of her clan, though it later turns out that she will have to sacrifice far more than that as she and her daughter have feared.

While firmly maintaining its dry, austere storytelling approach, the movie dexterously weaves some supernatural elements into the story, and directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, who previously worked together as a producer and a director in Oscar-nominated film “Embrace of the Serpent” (2015), did a superb job of juxtaposing contrasting story elements throughout the film. While the movie has several gut-chilling moments of violence, it also occasionally shines with stark beauty generated from those wide, barren landscapes shown on the screen, and cinematographer David Gallego, who previously worked in “Embrace of the Serpent”, deserves to be commended for these vividly beautiful moments captured well by his camera.

On the whole, “Birds of Passage” may be too dry and slow for some of you, but it will be a rewarding experience if you show some patience, and it is definitely one of more impressive films I watched during this year. Sure, this is basically a familiar stuff, but it comes with specific mood and details to be savored, and I am certainly willing to revisit it someday for appreciating more of its haunting beauty.

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Aniara (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Space voyage of the Damned

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Swedish SF film “Aniara” is akin to watching a slow but inexorable progress toward utter despair and sheer hopelessness. Although it is often too clinical for us to care about what is going on in the story, the movie works to some degree as giving us some morbid but interesting moments to reflect on, and you may appreciate how the movie adamantly sticks to its phlegmatic attitude even when it solemnly arrives at its destination in the end.

During the opening scene, the movie succinctly establishes its futuristic background. As the human society crumbles more or more due to wars and global climatic changes, many people on the Earth decide to leave for Mars, and we see hundreds of passengers boarding an enormous spaceship ready to begin its three-week journey to Mars. As following our unnamed heroine who is one of the crew members of the spaceship, we look here and there around in the spaceship, and you will probably be amused to see how its interior looks like a big, luxurious combination of shopping mall and hotel.

As the captain of the spaceship guarantees a safe trip, everything feels fine to everyone on the spaceship, but, of course, there comes a very serious problem not long after the spaceship leaves the Earth. Due to its unexpected collision with some big space junks, the spaceship gets drifted away from its routine course, and, to make matters worse, it cannot re-position itself to the routine course as losing all of its nuclear fuel during that collision. The captain announces that they can still go to Mars, but he also notifies that they will be stuck in the spaceship for quite a long time until the spaceship reaches to a certain spot where it will be able to change its course via planetary gravitation pull.

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Our heroine, who works in a sort of meditation room where passengers are soothed by those happier memories of their life on the Earth, is a bit more optimistic than others, but her roommate, who has some considerable astronomical knowledge, is quite skeptical in contrast. At one point, her roommate argues that there is no possibility of turnaround for the spaceship from the beginning, and, not so surprisingly, she turns out to be correct when our heroine later happens to have a private conversation with the captain, who does not want any chaos and confusion resulted from that awful truth.

Anyway, the situation seems to be under control for a while thanks to the self-sustaining life support system of the spaceship. While the level of luxury understandably is decreased for everyone on the ship, the basic amount of food and oxygen is constantly provided to everyone thanks to an algae farm built within the spaceship, and our heroine continue to sooth and comfort many passengers whenever they get depressed about their current status.

However, as the spaceship and its crew members and passengers continue its uncertain voyage across the space, the circumstance becomes gloomier for everyone step by step. At one point, our heroine is unnerved by the increasingly frequent errors of the AI system controlling her meditation room, and she immediately reports that to the captain, but the captain casually ignores that because he prefers his passengers to be calmed and soothed as much as possible. In the end, a disastrous incident of malfunction happens, and that is certainly a big mental blow to everyone in the spaceship.

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After that point, everyone in the spaceship slowly begins to descend into more despair and, yes, madness. While the captain and his crew members try to keep everything in order, some of passengers kill themselves as the voyage becomes longer than two years, and many passengers come to join a religious cult. At one point, our heroine finds herself participating in an orgy-like ritual along with a female pilot to whom she has been attracted, and they become closer to each other as the pilot gets pregnant not long after that ritual.

The pilot and our heroine subsequently experience a bit of hope and joy after the birth of their child, but the circumstance remains depressing as usual. When it is discovered that a certain object is heading to the spaceship, everyone on the spaceship become a lot more optimistic than before, but, alas, they will have to wait for at least one more year before its arrival, and we come to have more fear and dread on that grim possibility from which they have desperately tried to look away.

And the movie continues to drone on and on. The screenplay by directors/writers Pella Kagerman and Hugo Lilja, which is based on the 1956 poem of the same name by Harry Martinson, is uncompromising in its dry, austere storytelling, but it eventually comes to lose its narrative momentum during its last 30 minutes, and it is also often hampered by its rather thin characterization, though its main cast members did a good job of filling their respective archetype roles as much as they can.

Intriguing and compelling at times as pushing its stark story premise as far as it can, “Aniara” can be regarded as a cautionary SF fable on our fragile existence in the universe, and I admire its technical aspects although I felt too distant to its story and character during my viewing. Yes, this is certainly not for everyone, but you may give it a chance if you want something different from usual SF Hollywood blockbuster films.

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Little Woods (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A tale of two desperate sisters

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“Little Woods” is a melancholic tale of two women struggling with their increasingly desperate circumstance. While this is essentially your typical American independent film intended as a cold slice of life, the movie is a competent piece of work equipped with good storytelling and palpable realistic mood, and it is also supported well by the engaging performance from its two talented main performers.

Tessa Thompson, who has been one of the most promising new performers since her breakout turn in “Dear White People” (2014), plays a young female drug dealer named Ollie, who was recently arrested for illegally crossing the border between North Dakota and Canada with a bag of prescription medicine pills. Because she managed to hide her drug in a nearby woods right before the arrest as shown during the opening scene, she has been on probation instead of being sent to jail, and she is now ready to make a new start as her probation period will be over after 8 days. While staying away from her old business as much as she can, she has diligently earned her living through several odd jobs including providing lunch to local construction workers, and her generous probation officer is willing to help her get a better job.

Of course, there soon comes a trouble which puts Ollie in a difficult situation. Her sister Deb (Lily James) happens to get pregnant not long after breaking up with her ex-boyfriend Ian (James Badge Dale), and she is not exactly in a very good situation for having another child besides her little son. She and her son have been living in a shabby trailer car which may be taken away someday for its illegal parking, and they cannot move to Ollie’s house because the house, which originally belonged to Ollie and Deb’s recently diseased mother, is due to be foreclosed by a local bank. After some negotiation at the bank, Ollie manages to decrease the amount of the down payment necessary to prevent the foreclosure, but neither she nor Deb has enough money for that, and it looks like there is nothing they can do about this impending matter of theirs.

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Eventually, Ollie becomes determined to do anything for obtaining the money to prevent the foreclosure, and she accordingly finds herself pulled back into her old business. After she retrieves that bag of pills from the woods, she promptly begins to sell them with some assistance from Ian, and it does not take much time for her to obtain a considerable amount of money.

She intends to quit once she earns enough for her and Deb, but things get a little more complicated as expected. While she must evade any chance of suspicion from her probation officer, she also has to deal with a local drug dealer for whom she once worked for, and there is a tense moment when she happens to be confronted by that guy, who is naturally not so pleased with what she has recently been doing in his business territory.

Meanwhile, we also see how Deb tries to deal with her unwanted pregnancy. When she comes to learn more about the considerable cost she has to pay for pregnancy, she decides to have an abortion, but there are not many options for her from the beginning. There is not any legal clinic for abortion around her town, so she has no choice but to go to her old friend and then contact someone who will do an illegal abortion for her, but then there comes another trouble which hits hard not only her but also Ollie.

As its two main characters are accordingly pushed to their inevitable choice later in the story, the movie calmly maintains its non-judgmental attitude while gradually increasing the tension under the surface, and it also did a good job of establishing the sense of isolation and desperation around the main characters in the film. As it becomes more apparent to them that they have no one to depend on except each other, Ollie and Deb come to stick together for taking care of their trouble, and we come to care more about what is being at stake for them.

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Like any good small character drama films, the movie depends a lot on the talent and presence of its main cast members. While Thompson certainly deserves all the praises which she received for her performance here in this film, Lily James, who has been more prominent since her performances in “Cinderella” (2015) and “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” (2018), is equally fine as another crucial part of the story, and I particularly appreciate how she and Thompson instantly establish a long relationship between their characters right from their first scene. Although Ollie and Deb do not talk that much about their family history, we can clearly sense how much they have known each other for years, and we later get a poignant scene where they happen to get a chance to be a bit more honest to each other.

In case of other notable cast members in the film, they bring life and personality to their seemingly thankless roles. While Jack Kirby is seedy and menacing as the aforementioned local drug dealer, Lance Reddick exudes quiet decency with some watchfulness as Ollie’s probation officer, James Badge Dale, who has been always dependable since I noticed him for the first time via his small but impressive supporting performance in “Flight” (2012), is especially good during one surprisingly emotional scene with James.

“Little Woods” is the first feature film from director/writer Nia DaCosta. Although she only directed one short film before making this movie, the overall result shows that she is a promising filmmaker with considerable potential, and I was not surprised to learn later that she was recently selected as the director of the upcoming sequel to “Candyman” (1992). Although I have some skepticism on that film, it will be interesting to see how much she will advance with it, and I will certainly look forward to watching it.

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Ask Dr. Ruth (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): America’s most famous sex therapist

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I like good documentary films about interesting human lives, and “Ask Dr. Ruth” is one of such cases. Here is a remarkable old German lady who moved to US after surviving the World War II and then became an unlikely celebrity willing to talk anything about sex for helping and enlightening many people out there, and the documentary gives us a lively and engaging portrait of this exceptional woman who is still active even at this point despite being over 90.

The documentary begins with how Dr. Ruth Westheimer is going through her usual daily schedule. While living alone in her longtime residence located in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, she is ready for another busy day full of many things to do, and we subsequently see her going here and there for giving interviews or lectures.

In the meantime, she tells us about her dramatic life course. She was born as Karola Ruth Siegel in Germany in 1928, and her parents were members of a local Orthodox Jewish community, which certainly was thrown into danger when the country was dominated by the Nazi Party during the 1930s. Not long after Westheimer’s father was taken to a labor camp along with many other Jewish people in 1938, Westheimer’s mother decided to send young Westheimer to Switzerland, and, sadly, their eventual separation at a train station was the last time when young Westheimer saw her mother.

Along with many other Jewish kids, young Westheimer came to stay in an orphanage, and she soon got accustomed to her changed situation. Although she and other Jewish kids were demanded to do a number of jobs including taking care of other kids in the orphanage, things were not that bad for them, and, above all, they were safe from the horror of the World War II, which they later came to learn from a group of Jewish orphans who fortunately managed to escape into Switzerland.

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While desperately hoping for her reunion with her family, young Westheimer remembered and then followed what her parents always emphasized to her. Although she was not allowed to study in high school like many other girls, she diligently taught herself through the school textbooks borrowed from her first boyfriend, and there is an amusing scene where Westheimer visits his residence and talks with him a bit about their old time in Switzerland.

When the war was over, young Westheimer was indirectly informed that her parents did not survive the war, and there is a painful moment when Westheimer visits the Holocaust memorial center in Israel for confirming what exactly happened to her parents. Thanks to the remaining records, she comes to learn that her father died in Auschwitz, but, to her sadness, she cannot find what really happened to her mother, who was simply disappeared at some point during the war.

Not long after the end of the war, young Westheimer went to Israel, and she subsequently participated in the war between Israel and Arab after being trained as a sniper. During that dangerous time, she could almost lose both of her two legs due to a serious injury, but she managed to recover fully from the injury in the end, and she later went to Paris along with her first husband for their respective academic education courses.

When her first husband decided to go back to Israel a few years later, Westheimer chose to stay in Paris for more study, so they came to have a divorce under mutual agreement, and then she met her second husband, with whom she moved to US in 1956 when she fortunately acquired enough money for that. Although she divorced again not long after coming to US, she never lost her spirit at all while keeping going as usual, and then she came to meet her third husband Fred Westheimer, who was her lifelong spouse till his death in 1997.

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While working at Planned Parenthood, Westheimer became more interested in psychosexual therapy, and that led her to more education and studies. After getting a Ph.D. degree in Columbia University, she studied under a researcher named Helen Singer Kaplan during the 1970s, and she came to absorb more knowledge on sex and human mind while also becoming a qualified sex therapist.

And then there came a big break for her in the 1980s. She was asked to do a radio show on sex, and nobody expected much as sex was still a sensitive matter about which not many people were willing to discuss openly even at that time, but, what do you know, her radio show soon became quite more popular than expected although it was initially broadcast at Sunday midnight. Thanks to her no-nonsense approach to her sexual subjects as well as her irrepressible personality, Westheimer quickly drew lots of public attention, and a series of archival footage clips show us how much popular she became at that time.

Although she has usually stayed away anything involved with politics, Westheimer did not flinch at all from discussing those hot issues including abortion and AIDS, and she has also been a staunch advocate of gender equality for many years. She does not want to be called a feminist because she thinks she has been not as active as, say, Gloria Steinem or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but her daughter and granddaughter sharply point that she is indeed a feminist, and that is one of the most funniest moments in the documentary.

On the whole, “Ask Dr. Ruth” gives us the engaging overview on Westheimer’s life and career, and director Ryan White presents his human subject with considerable affection and respect. She has surely lived her life well while also enjoying her works, and I am sure that she will keep going for the rest of her remaining life.

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Dilili in Paris (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A little mystery in Paris the Belle Époque

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I was ready to enjoy French animation feature film “Dilili in Paris”, but it did not satisfy me enough. Sure, the film provides a number of lovely visual moments to be appreciated, and I was amused by the frequent appearance of real-life figures throughout the film, but it is also hampered by its thin narrative and superficial characterization especially during its second half. Although the overall result is admirable in technical aspects, the film often feels like the overextended version of a animation short film, and I found myself checking my watch from time to time despite its short running time (94 minutes).

During the opening scene which comes to reveal its absurd and twisted aspect in the end, we are introduced to a little Kanak girl named Dilili (voiced by Prunelle Charles-Ambron), and then we see how things have been pretty good for her since she came to Paris some years ago. Although it is around the early 20th century and she naturally faces racial prejudice at times as a girl of mixed blood, she does not mind that at all while comfortably staying in a big mansion belonging to some rich countess, who has been her guardian since she was found on a ship sailing to France (She never appears in the film, by the way).

Anyway, when she is doing a sort of part-time job during the opening scene, Dilili happens to encounter a young scooter deliveryman named Orel (voiced by Enzo Ratsito), and they instantly become close friends although they are total strangers to each other from the beginning. While quite surprised by how courteous and sophisticated Dilili actually is, Orel is willing to befriend Dilili, and Dilili is surely excited to have a friend who will take her to here and there in the city.

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However, they are soon reminded of a certain mysterious menace lurking around the city. There is a secret criminal organization which has terrorized the citizens of Paris, and it has been particularly notorious for kidnapping young girls for some unknown purpose. After she is almost kidnapped by a member of this criminal organization at one point, Dilili becomes determined to track down this criminal organization although she is just a small kid, and Orel is certainly ready to help her.

Fortunately for them, Orel happens to be acquainted with a number of famous real-life figures who may provide them some help or information. First, they meet a group of young rising artists including Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and that is just the beginning. Besides other prominent artists of the Belle Époque such as Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Auguste Rodin, they also meet Louis Pasteur and Marie Curie, and they later come across Prince Edward of England while trying to stop the latest crime of the criminal organization.

As these numerous historical figures come and go, the film constantly provides several wonderful scenes via its cell animation style. When Dilili and Orel visit a well-known singer named Emma Calvé (voiced by Natalie Dessay), she is singing a new song composed by Claude Debussy on a big swan boat floating on an underground pool, and then we are treated with a rather spooky moment as she and our two main characters go through the intricate underground sewer system of the city. In case of a part involved with Toulouse-Lautrec, we see those cancan dancers of the Moulin Rouge as expected, and then we get a brief but jolly moment when Toulouse-Lautrec has a little but precious moment of joie de vivre along with Dilili and Orel.

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Eventually, Dilili and Orel come to discover what the criminal organization has been planning at its underground lair, and the situation becomes a little darker as Dilili is taken to that underground lair, but that is where the story comes to lose its narrative pacing as well as its charm and spirit. While the story seems to be trying to deliver a serious social message as Dilili and other several female characters in the story stick together for stopping a deplorably misogynous criminal mastermind behind the criminal organization, their opponent is a rather unimpressive villain, and it is all the more disappointing to see that the supposedly urgent situation in the story is resolved too easily and languidly in the end.

As I became more dissatisfied with the film, my mind was taken back to director/writer Michel Ocelot’s two previous works “Kirikou and the Sorceress” (1999) and “Tales of the Night” (2011). Sure, they also show some weak points in terms of story and character, but these two cell animation films have enough charm and style to compensate for their flaws at least. While I came to admire the plucky spirit of that tiny hero of “Kirikou and the Sorceress”, I also loved the simple but undeniably beautiful cell animation style of “Tales of the Night”, and I certainly had a good time as watching these two animation film together during one evening.

Compared to these two previous works by Ocelot, “Dilili in Paris” is less impressive on the whole, and I must tell you that it soon began to be faded away from my mind as I subsequently revisited Hayao Miyazaki’s great animation film “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988), which happened to be re-released in South Korean theaters a few weeks ago. While it is fairly charming and likable, I still think the film could be improved more through tighter storytelling with more depth, so I cannot recommend it, but I will not stop you if you simply want to kill your free time – or if you just want to see something different from those run-of-the-mill digital animation films out there.

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Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A rambling Bob Dylan documentary from Scorsese

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Bob Dylan has always been an iconic but distant figure to us. Sure, he has given us numerous memorable songs such as “Blowin in the Wind” or “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” for more than 50 years, but he has also been pretty enigmatic as going his own way, and we are still fascinated with him nevertheless. As having been your average longtime Bob Dylan neophyte throughout my life, I have only had a mild interest in his life and career, but I will not deny that I was quite intrigued by what was presented in Martin Scorsese’ HBO documentary film “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan” (2005) and Todd Haynes’ unconventional biography film “I’m Not There” (2007), which are, in my humble opinion, the best presentations of Dylan’s life and career.

As fondly remembering these two works, I certainly had some expectation on Netflix documentary film “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese”, but I only found myself mired with bafflement and confusion instead of having more interest and fascination with Dylan’s life and career. As looking over Dylan’s legendary comeback concert tour in 1975, the documentary attempts to capture the mood and spirit surrounding the concert tour, but it somehow comes to lose its focus and perspective despite the prominent presence of Dylan in front of the camera, and I am not that sure about whether its whimsical shuffling of fact and fiction really works as well as intended.

Because the documentary does not provide much background information on Dylan’s concert tour, which was named Rolling Thunder Revue by Dylan himself without much thought or consideration, I guess I have to provide you a bit of background information I gathered from Wikipedia. Since that motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan had stayed away from spotlight during next several years, but he eventually made a gradual comeback around the early 1970s, and he came to perform along with the Band during their concert tour in 1974. Not long after that concert tour, he came to decide to do another one, and he wanted to approach closer to his fans and audiences this time via performing in smaller auditoriums in less populated cities.

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For this concert tour, he gathered a group of musicians including Patti Smith, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ronee Blakley, Joan Baez, and a female violinist named Scarlet Rivera, who was, according to Dylan, a rather odd woman for her eccentric aspects. In addition, Dylan had Allen Ginsberg follow the concert tour as a sort of spiritual companion for him and others in the concert tour, though I must confess that I was often wondering about what the hell Ginsberg was doing there except hanging around with Dylan from time to time.

As far as I could see from the documentary, Dylan wanted Rolling Thunder Revue to be a creative musical circus for him and his musician colleagues, and he often put a semi-transparent mask or white make-up on his face when he performed his songs on the stage. During his present-day interview, he argues that he could convey the truth to his audiences more effectively in that way, but, to be frank with you, I do not believe his argument much. His disguise looks merely silly to me, and I only came to muse that he might have looked a lot like the Joker if he had put more white make-up on his face.

In case of music and performance in the documentary, they did not engage me as much as I hoped. Sure, the documentary will not disappoint those Bob Dylan fans out there as providing many moments of Dylan and other musicians singing a number of recognizable songs such as “Mr. Tambourine Man”, but these moments do not particularly feel interesting or spirited to me, and the documentary simply meanders from one moment to another while not generating enough sense of clear narrative we can hold onto.

At least, Scorsese assembles a group of curious figures to be interviewed. While it is a little poignant for us to see late Sam Shepard, Ronee Blakley and Joan Baez are willing to tell more about their respective experiences with Dylan, and Sharon Stone has an amusing anecdote about her first encounter with Dylan. At that time, she was just an anonymous pretty young girl, but she happened to draw his attention via one coincidence, and she came to make Dylan interested in a certain famous rock group.

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However, I have to remind you that some of the interviewees in the documentary are not real people. In case of Stefan Von Dorp, who is presented as a filmmaker struggling to shoot the concert tour during that time, is not a real person but an actor named Martin von Haselberg, and you may recognize Michael Murphy if you have ever seen Robert Altman’s acclaimed HBO mini-series “Tanner ‘88” (1988). I guess Scorsese tries to have a little fun with mixing fact and fiction here in this documentary, but the result is too dry and plain to be appreciated in my opinion. Come on, if a subject is as vague as Bob Dylan, what is the point of making a fun of it?

During its last 30 minutes, the documentary becomes relatively more focused along with the performance of “Hurricane” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, though they come too late for us. Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, whose unjust legal ordeal was the subject of the former song, eagerly reminisces about his touching encounter with Dylan, and we do not have any doubt on Dylan’s sincerity while watching him passionately performing that song on the stage.

In conclusion, “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese” is not a total bore, but it is also often baffling and frustrating due to its unfocused narrative flow, and I would rather recommend you to watch “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan” instead, which will give you more insights on Dylan’s life and career. He is indeed one of the greatest American musicians of our time, but he will probably remain distant and elusive as before, and that is the only definite truth we can get from this flawed documentary.

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