Mike Wallace Is Here (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Following the career of Mike Wallace

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Documentary film “Mike Wallace Is Here” attempts to presents the overview of the career of Mike Wallace, who was one of the most prominent TV journalists in US for many years before his death in 2012. Instead of merely depending on that familiar talking-head approach, the documentary simply gives us a series of various archival footage clips associated with Wallace, and we come to know more about his considerable influence and then muse a bit one his ambiguous legacy.

After setting the tone with an interview clip between Wallace and Bill O’Reilly, the documentary gives us a brief summary of the early period of Wallace’s TV career. He initially worked as an actor/pitch man in the 1950s, but he soon came to realize his potential as a TV reporter/interviewer, and he subsequently began to work as the host of a late-night interview program titled “Night Beat” on ABC. Unlike many other TV interviewers at that time, who usually asked easy questions to their interviewees, Wallace did not hesitate to throw hard questions at his interviewees, and his tough approach certainly drew lots of attention at that time, though his program did not last that long.

Anyway, Wallace kept working as devoting himself more to TV journalism, and then a tragedy occurred to him in 1962. After hearing that one of his sons from his first marriage was suddenly disappeared in the middle of his summer vacation in Greece, he quickly flied to Greece although he was doing another reporting job on the other side of the Earth, and then he eventually found what happened. As he admits to us via one archival clip, it was quite painful for him to discover his son’s untimely death for himself, and we can sense the incident cast a long shadow on his personal life.

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Nevertheless, Wallace somehow found some strength for bouncing up from this gloomy low point of his personal life, and we see how quickly he rose after starting to work in CBS in the early 1960s. Although CBS was already filled with prominent public figures including Walter Cronkite, Wallace was not so daunted by that at all, and he subsequently became the lead reporter of “60 Minutes” as closely working with his longtime friend/colleague Don Hewitt.

As presenting many different public figures interviewed by Wallace, the documentary makes a good point on how Wallace happened to be at the right time and the right place for attaining his enormous success and reputation. During the 1960s, the American society was being shaken a lot due to a number of big social/political issues including the Vietnam War and racism, and Wallace was ready to press upon those hot issues as throwing sensitive questions to his various interviewees ranging from Martin Luther King Jr. to Richard Nixon. When he interviewed Malcolm X, Wallace did not pull any punch at all as being straightforward and no-nonsense as usual, and Malcolm X responded to him with equally frank attitude, while also quite candid about the growing possibility of getting himself killed someday (It did happen a few months after the interview, by the way).

In case of Nixon, he liked Wallace a lot from the start, and he even offered Wallace a big position in his Presidential campaign, but, ironically, Wallace came to pounce upon the Watergate Scandal several years later. Once what was initially reported by the Washington Post turned out to be true, Wallace and “60 Minutes” went all the way for reporting more truth to the public, and we get a silent but tense moment between Wallace and a certain key figure in the Watergate Scandal.

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After that point, Wallace and “60 Minutes” found themselves on the top of TV investigate journalism in US, and they also dealt with some important international issues. Not long after the Iran revolution broke out in 1979, Wallace was requested to interview Ayatollah Khomeini, and the following interview with Khomeini was inarguably one of the biggest successes in Wallace’s career, though the documentary indirectly points out that the interview might cause the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, whom Khomeini declared an enemy to be eliminated during the interview.

Meanwhile, Wallace and “60 Minutes” often got themselves into several tricky circumstances. In 1982, General William Westmoreland, who was the commander of the US Army Forces during the Vietnam War, sued Wallace and CBS for libel shortly after Wallace’s interview with him was broadcast, and, though it was eventually settled outside the court, this legal dispute set an alarming precedent which could threaten that precious rights of free press. In case of that famous interview with Jeffrey Wigand, which is incidentally the main subject of Michael Mann’s Oscar-nominated film “The Insider” (1999), Wallace tried as much as he could for broadcasting that sensitive interview on TV despite the pressures from those executives of CBS, and it is no wonder that he was not so pleased with how he was portrayed in “The Insider”.

Although it does not delve that deep into Wallace’s personal life except his long history of depression, “Mike Wallace Is Here” works as a vivid, compelling presentation of Wallace’s long career, and director Avi Belkin did a competent job of generating an engaging narrative flow out of heaps of archival footage clips. Yes, Wallace was indeed a pioneer in his field, but it can also be said that, as shown from O’Reilly and other crackpots in Fox News, he and “60 Minutes” inadvertently led American TV journalism to more sensationalism, and it will be interesting to see how his achievement will be regarded in the future.

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Dark Waters (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A long, frustrating legal fight against DuPont

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As watching Todd Haynes’ latest film “Dark Waters” at a local movie theater on this Wednesday evening, I mused a bit on when I heard about Teflon for the first time. It was probably when I learned elementary cooking during my middle school years in the late 1990s, and I still remember well how convenient those Teflon frying pans looked.

However, as some of you remember, it turned out around the 2000s that Teflon contains a substance potentially hazardous to environment, and the movie, which is based on the 2016 New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich, shows us a long, frustrating legal fight for truth and justice. Patiently following its ordinary real-life hero’s difficult and exhausting struggle which took more than 15 years, the movie slowly accumulates its quiet anger toward his big opponent, and it eventually comes to us as a powerful legal drama about how much an individual may pay for doing right things – and why we should do right things despite that.

After the opening scene which will feel more chilling along with the story, the movie introduces us to Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a corporate defense lawyer who works for a prestigious law firm in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1998. When he is about to finish another big job of his in front of the senior partners of his law firm, he is unexpectedly approached by Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), a gruff middle-aged farmer from Parkersburg, West Virginia who comes to see Bilott as recommended by Bilott’s grandmother. Tennant believes that a big chemical factory owned by Dupont is responsible for the seemingly inexplicable death of 190 cattle in his farm, but no lawyer in his area is willing to sue DuPont, so he comes to Bilott with a stack of video tapes showing how his cattle suffered and then died.

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Mainly because he is not an expert on environmental law, Bilott is not so reluctant to take Tennant’s cast, and neither is his law firm, which has incidentally represented many big chemical manufacturing corporations such as Union Carbide and has also been eager to represent DuPont someday. Anyway, he subsequently files a small legal suit against DuPont for legally gaining more information on the possibility of environmental hazard, and DuPont does not seem to mind that at all.

However, of course, it does not take much time for Bilott to sense something fishy. While it looks like DuPont has not committed anything serious to be investigated by United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), what Bilott witnesses from Tennant’s farm clearly shows him that something has been really wrong due to that big DuPont chemical plant, and then, as perusing documents as usual, he comes to notice a chemical substance which is simply called PFOA or C-8 on paper. When he tries to delve deeper into this matter, DuPont becomes quite more hostile, and it sends an overwhelming amount of documents when Bilott merely requests a bit more documents. The message is pretty clear to Bilott and his law firm: Don’t mess with us.

Nevertheless, that does not stop Bilott at all. He decides to look into those numerous documents for many days and nights, and he eventually discovers what DuPont has been trying to hide from him and the public. For several decades, DuPont has been well aware of that PFOA, which turns out to be a key chemical substance in the manufacture of Teflon and many other products in our daily life, is environmentally toxic and hazardous, but it has hidden this alarming truth from the public just because it has earned billions of dollar from making Teflon.

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With the strong support of Tom Terp (Tim Robbins), the managing partner of his law firm, Bilott is ready to go further for his client and many other people in Parkersburg, but then he comes to discern how willing his opponent is trying to block him and keep hiding the truth by any means necessary. Whenever he goes forward a bit, he always finds himself pushed and pressured hard by his opponent, and his mind and body become more burdened day by day as his legal battle against DuPont is extended a lot longer than he has ever imagined. More occupied with this legal battle of his, he finds himself quite estranged from his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), who understands well the importance of his job but cannot help but exasperated during one private scene between them later in the film.

Compared to his previous films including “Far From Heaven” (2002), “I’m Not There” (2007), and “Carol” (2015), “Dark Waters” surely belongs to a different territory, but Haynes competently handles the adapted screenplay by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, and his crew members including cinematographer Edward Lachman did a solid job of establishing the calm but subtly tense ambience on the screen, which is reminiscent of those dry but compelling American thriller drama films in the 1970s. As the tenacious moral center of the film, Mark Ruffalo, who also participated in the production of the film, gives an effective low-key performance which conveys well to us his character’s growing exhaustion and frustration, and he is supported well by a number of notable performers including Tim Robbins, Anne Hathaway, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, Bill Pullman, and Bill Camp, who is poignant and harrowing in his crucial supporting role.

On the whole, “Dark Waters” is engaging for several reasons besides its important social/environmental messages, and it deserves to be compared to other similar films including Steven Zaillian’s “A Civil Action” (1998). It may be a minor work in Haynes’ impressive career, and he does here as much as he is required to do for presenting the story and characters well, and I appreciate that.

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Away (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A little one-man-band animation film

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Latvian independent animation film “Away” looks pretty simple on the surface, but it will surprise and impress you a lot when you learn more about how it was made during its four-year production period. Although it is occasionally hampered by its rather superficial storytelling, there are a series of striking visual moments to be appreciated, and it eventually comes to us as the solid demonstration of its sole creator’s artistic skill and confidence.

The film opens with an unnamed lad waking up to find himself hung on a tree by his parachute. Although we do not get to know that much about this lad, it is implied later in the story that he escaped from a crashing plane, and now he is in some island which feels quite alien to him and us in many aspects. For instance, he encounters a slouching giant figure approaching to him and then trying to swallow him alive, but he somehow manages to escape from this ominous figure and then hide from it.

After that, our hero happens to acquire a number of items which may help him get to a certain important spot of the island. Besides a map showing the route to that spot in question, there are a backpack and a motorcycle, and he also comes to befriend a little yellow bird, which subsequently accompanies him as it cannot fly that well.

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While it generates some tension via that slouching giant figure which continues to pursue our hero, the film leisurely moves from one spot to another along with him, and we are allowed to appreciate the mood and details of its fantasy background more. Although its elementary digital animation may look a bit too broad and simple, the film gradually draws us into its own distinctive style and atmosphere nonetheless, and then we are served with several gorgeous moments which are clearly influenced by the lyrical beauty of Hayao Miyazaki’s animation films. I particularly like a soothing sequence which wonderfully utilizes green colors on the screen, and I also admire a fascinating scene involved with a bunch of identical cats surrounding a big spiral hole.

As shown at the end of the film, everything in the film comes from director/producer/writer Gints Zilbalodis, who also made sound and music for his film in addition to drawing every shot for himself. I have not seen his previous works yet, but the film clearly shows me that he is a talented guy who knows how to intrigue and then engage us. Although the film does not have any dialogue from the beginning to the end, his succinct storytelling lets us gather where his story and character are heading, and he also allows some free interpretation on what our hero goes through. For example, that slouching giant figure may represent the survivor’s guilt inside our hero’s mind, and his journey can be regarded as a mythic healing process toward redemption.

As I mentioned before, the film often suffers from its thin narrative and characterization. Our hero, who looks rather blank and anonymous except his two big eyes and curly hairdo, does not have much personality from the start, and he merely comes to us as a bland allegorical figure in the end. In addition, the film sometimes feels like the over-extended version of a short animation film, and I found myself getting a bit impatient from time to time during my viewing.

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Although becoming more predictable during its second half, the film continues to deliver moments to remember at least. There is a dazzling scene where our hero drives his motorcycle across a big but shallow lake, and then there is a thrilling action scene unfolded around a rickety wooden bridge. While understandably minimalistic at times, Gints Zilbalodis’ score surely soars during these and other fabulous moments in the film, and his dexterous mix of sound and image on the screen is impressive to say the least.

Although I still think it could be improved a bit more in several aspects, the film is still an admirable piece of work which reminds me of how much digital animation technology has been advanced during recent years. Zilbalodis had a very little amount of resource from the beginning, but he tried as much as he could for this passion project of his, and he surely succeeds in pushing the envelope here in this film. Yes, its overall result does look relatively crude compared to those Hollywood digital animation films out there, but its every shot is imbued with personal touches to be savored while presenting new possibilities with digital animation, and this aspect certainly distinguishes the film a lot from forgettable animation flims such as “Spies in Disguise” (2019), which entertained me to some degree but then was quickly faded away from my mind once I walked out of the screening room.

In conclusion, “Away” is worthwhile to watch for its style and mood, and, in my inconsequential opinion, it deserves to be mentioned along with other notable animation films of last year including “Toy Story 4” (2019) and “Missing Link” (2019). While it will probably demand some patience from you due to its slow narrative pacing, the film is a rewarding experience because of its many good moments, and it will be interesting to see what will come next from Zilbalodis during next several years. He is indeed an animator full of talent and potential, and I sincerely hope that this small but significant achievement of his will soon lead him to bigger opportunities to allow him to wield his skill and imagination more than before.

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Swallow (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A woman under compulsion

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“Swallow” is a disturbing psychological thriller film which will make you wince more than once for good reasons. Calmly observing its young heroine’s increasingly alarming compulsion, the movie delves deep into her troubled state of mind, and there are a number of quiet but striking emotional moments which will linger on your mind along with a captivating performance from its lead actress.

At the beginning, the movie shows us the seemingly safe and comfortable domestic environment surrounding Hunter (Haley Bennett) and her husband. Thanks to her husband’s rich parents, they have lived in a slick modern house located at some remote spot by a river, and she seems to be fine with being left alone in the house during daytime. She is mostly occupied with changing the decor of the house, and she is certainly ready to cook a dinner when her husband returns from his workplace in the evening.

However, we slowly come to sense the frustration and suffocation being accumulated behind Hunter’s docile appearance. When she tries to have some real conversation with her husband, her husband looks willing to listen to her at first, but then he gets distracted by a phone call, and that is the end of their conversation. While he is mostly nice and generous to his wife, there is a brief scene showing how callous and inconsiderate he can be to her, and it is quite apparent to us that she is more or less than a trophy wife for him.

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When Hunter gets pregnant, her situation becomes more suffocating than before thanks to not only her husband but also her parents-in-law. While he is certainly pleased about her pregnancy, her husband does not provide much emotional support to her, and neither do her parents-in-law, who clearly do not regard her highly while excited about getting a grandchild who may inherit their lucrative family business someday. As spending more time with her mother-in-law, Hunter cannot help but feel quite suffocated, and her mother-in-law soon comes to sense that and then asks a simple but penetrating question to Hunter.

In the meantime, Hunter finds herself gradually driven by a certain compulsion. As she goes through another uneventful day in the house, she looks at a glass marble for a while, and then she swallows it without any hesitation. When the object in question is later excreted from her body, she cleans it and then keeps it, and that is just the first cycle of her growing compulsion. At one point, she attempts to shallow a small sharp object, and that is certainly one of the most disturbing moments in the film.

Steadily maintaining its calm, detached mood, the movie slowly dials up the level of tension. While cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi effectively establishes a dry, sterile atmosphere on the screen, the ambient score by Nathan Helpern often keeps us on the edge, and we come to brace ourselves more as Hunter swallows more small objects including a battery, which, as many of you know, can be quite lethal due to its acidic contents.

Of course, there soon comes an inevitable point where Hunter cannot hide her compulsion behind her back anymore, and the screenplay by director/writer Carlo Mirabella-Davis accordingly focuses more on what really makes her tick. It looks like her compulsion is originated from her certain lifelong shame, and we come to gather that she wants to feel like getting things under her control as swallowing those small objects. When she later finds herself cornered more by her husband and parents-in-law, she makes a big decision out of desperation, and that subsequently leads to an unexpected moment of emotional resolution between her and someone in her past.

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As the center of the film, Haley Bennett, who previously appeared in a number of notable films including “The Equalizer” (2014), is utterly fabulous in what may be regarded as a breakthrough turn in her growing acting career. While subtly conveying to us her character’s accumulating confusion and frustration, Bennett is also quite convincing during several key scenes in the film, and we come to emphasize more with her character’s emotional struggle along the story. As trying to deal with her compulsion, Hunter comes to discern more of how helpless and powerless she has been in her married life, and the eventual arrival point of her dark emotional journey is surprisingly poignant as she actively chooses to do what should be done for herself.

In case of the other main cast members, they fill their respective spots around Bennett well on the whole. Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, and David Rasche are effective especially when their characters show more callousness to Hunter, and Luna Lauren Vélez and Laith Nakli are also fine as two different supporting characters who genuinely care about Hunter’s mental health. In case of Denis O’Hare, he deftly handles a rather tricky scene along with Bennett, and that is the main reason why the following scene is delivered with considerable dramatic effect.

On the whole, “Swallow” is a fascinating piece of work thanks to Bennett’s committed performance as well as the competent direction of Mirabella-Davis, who made several short films before this feature film debut of his. It is indeed a tough stuff to watch, but it is still worthwhile to watch as another interesting female drama film, so I recommend it to you with some caution.

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Charlie’s Angels (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Here go Angels….

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During my undergraduate years at Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), one of my favorite things at the campus was the weekly screening of recently released movies at the campus hall. Although the screening condition was not exactly that good, I watched a number of different films including “Snatch” (2000) and “X-Men” (2000) for free, and I enjoyed some of them while not liking others much.

One of more forgettable flicks I watched during that period was “Charlie’s Angels” (2000), which mildly entertained me but did not leave much impression on the whole due to its rather bland story and characterization. To be frank with you, at present, I vaguely remember a few notable things in the film including Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Bill Murray, and Sam Rockwell, who subsequently rose onto better things during next 20 years including his supporting Oscar-winning turn in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” (2017).

And that was the main reason why I was not interested much in watching the 2019 film of the same name, which, according to Wikipedia, is the third installment of the series following the 2000 film and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)”. After the movie received mixed reactions from critics and audiences in November 2019, I became less interested in watching it, but I happened to give it a chance today anyway, and I report to you that it is not as bad as I thought despite being not good enough for recommendation.

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The premise is pretty familiar if you have ever watched the 2000 film or the popular American TV drama series of the same name developed by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts. Under the leadership of a mysterious figure called ‘Charlie’ and the assistance of John Bosley (Patrick Stewart) and other “Bosleys” around the world, a bunch of female agents named “Angels” have accomplished many risky missions, and the opening scene shows the latest mission of Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and other Angels including Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) at a certain private spot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Once everything is set for action, they swiftly swoop onto their target, and the aftermath is smoothly handled by Bosley as usual.

When Bosley retires not long after that, Sabina and Jane happen to be assigned together to a small mission in Hamburg, Germany, which, of course, turns out to be far more serious than expected. Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott), a young programmer/engineer who has worked in a big, revolutionary technology project of her company, recently finds a fatal flaw in the final result of her project, but her direct boss, who is your average sexist prick, rudely disregards her reports, and then she comes to know about Charlie’s agency, which may help her dealing with this difficult circumstance of hers.

All Elena wants is simply stopping the project before it is too late, but it turns out that there are some people willing to stop her by any means necessary, and Sabina and Jane quickly go onto action mode as required in addition to getting some help from Rebekah “Bosley” (Elizabeth Banks), a former Angel who became one of Charlie’s assistants. Once they and Elena are in a safe house provided by Rebekah, they promptly embark on planning how to stop and defeat their opponents, and Elena finds herself doing a lot more than expected as a potential new Angel.

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As rolling its lead characters from one place to another, the screenplay by director/co-producer/writer Elizabeth Banks, which is based on the story by Evan Spiliotopoulos and David Auburn, tries to imbue female empowerment and solidarity into the film via several lightweight moments such as when our ladies enjoy some food together at one point, but it does not fill its main characters with enough life and personality, and it consequently under-utilizes the considerable talents of its three lead female cast members, who seem to be enjoying playing together on the screen but do not have many things to do except filing their respective roles as demanded. Although I appreciate her diligent effort to expand her acting range into a more lightweight area, Kristen Stewart is often awkward in her attempts to be funny and care-free, and Naomi Scott, who recently drew our attention with her notable appearance in “Aladdin” (2019), is unfortunately stuck in her colorless role, and Ella Balinska manages to bring some feisty spirit to her character at least.

Furthermore, the movie is also disappointing in case of its other substantial performers. While Banks surely knows how to deliver humorous lines for good laughs, her supporting role is merely functional to say the least, and the same thing can be said about Djimon Hounsou, Nat Faxon, Jonathan Tucker, Sam Claflin, and Patrick Stewart, who handles his thankless part with considerable gusto as shown from the opening scene.

Overall, “Charlie’s Angels”, which is Banks’ second feature film after “Pitch Perfect 2” (2015), is not a total dud mainly thanks to the game efforts from Banks and her cast and crew members, but I wish it would deliver its gender subjects with more humor, spirit, skill, and personality. As a filmmaker, Banks is not incompetent at all, but several action sequences in the film are pedestrian at best without much wit and originality, and that made me appreciate more of what Cathy Yen recently achieved in “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (2020). Sure, the movie is not as lousy as some say, and I do not feel like wasting my time a lot, but I would rather recommend you to watch “Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” instead.

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Queen & Slim (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A duo on the run

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“Queen & Slim” is a little crime romance drama which follows the footsteps of “Bonny and Clyde” (1967) and many other similar films while also presenting its own mood, ideas, and sensibility. As a foreign audience outside the American society, I only observed its story and characters with mild curiosity and fascination, but I admired its skillful aspects and its interesting exploration of certain social subjects at least, and a number of haunting moments in the film have grown on me since I watched it yesterday.

The movie opens with a plain blind date at a diner located somewhere in Cleveland, Ohio, and we observe the ongoing interaction between two young African American people who happen to meet each other via an online dating application. The young man, played by Daniel Kaluuya, is willing to talk about himself more, but the young woman, played by Jodie Turner-Smith, is not particularly interested in moving onto the next step along with him while sensing how much they are different from each other, and their date is soon ended as he is taking her back to her residence by his car.

And then something unexpected happens to them. Due to a minor mistake during his drive, a police car comes to follow after the young man’s car, and the young man promptly finds himself under that uncomfortable situation which has been quite familiar to many African American males in US for many years. Although the young man does not have anything to hide at all and is ready to follow the police officer’s order for avoiding any unnecessary trouble, the police officer quickly becomes quite hostile and aggressive to the young man due to racial prejudice, and the mood accordingly becomes quite tense when the police officer demands the young man a lot more compliance than expected.

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The young woman, who is incidentally a lawyer, understandably becomes agitated and furious about this unjust circumstance, but her following action only adds more tension to the situation, and then she gets shot by the police officer, who is then shot by the young man during the following physical struggle between them. Although the young woman’s injury is not that serious at all, the police officer soon dies due to his fatal wound, and both the young man and the young woman are quickly thrown into panic and dread. Although his killing of the police officer is unintentional, it is quite possible that, just because of his race, he will be incarcerated in prison for the rest of his life even if he surrenders himself to the police right now, and the young woman may also go to jail while labeled as his accomplice.

They promptly decide to run away to New Orleans, Louisiana for getting some help from the young woman’s uncle, who may help them escaping the country in addition to providing them a temporary shelter. Although it turns out that the relationship between the young woman and her uncle is not so friendly to say the least, her uncle does help her and her fellow fugitive a lot nonetheless, and it seems our young runaway couple have a fairly good chance of evading the police and FBI and then leaving the country.

Leisurely following their desperate getaway, the screenplay by Lena Waithe, which is based on the story by her and her co-writer James Fredy, comes to focus more on the gradual relationship development between the young man and the young woman. While there are initially some moments of conflict between them due to their considerable personal difference, they come to bond with each other more as running away from the police together, and we are not so surprised when she later reaches to him for some emotional support and then he actively responds to her.

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Meanwhile, as the hunt for them is turned into a big national new, they become sort of folk heroes to many African Americans who have been angry about the frequent police brutality upon them. Most of African Americans they happen to encounter willingly turn a blind eye to them, and there is a little amusing moment when they are asked to pose for a photograph, which subsequently makes them more famous than before.

Of course, the movie eventually arrives at a point where its two lead characters face an inevitable moment of fate, but director Melina Matsoukas, who was mainly known for her award-winning music videos before making this feature film debut of hers, steadily maintains the slow narrative pacing of her film as before, and her crew members including cinematographer Tat Radcliff continue to provide us lyrical visual moments full of sense of place and people. In case of Kaluuya and Turner-Smith, these two talented performers carry the film well together via their compelling duo performance, and a number of supporting performers in the film including Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, and Benito Martinez are also fine in their distinctive supporting parts.

In conclusion, “Queen & Slim” is another notable debut work of last year, and Matsouskas shows us here that she is a good movie director who does know how to engage audiences via mood, storytelling, and performance. Although I must confess that I am not as enthusiastic about it as some other critics, it surely deserves to be compared with its many other predecessors besides “Bonny and Clyde” and “Badlands” (1973), and I will surely revisit it someday for appreciating it more.

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Lucky Chan-sil (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Cheer up, Chan-sil

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South Korean independent film “Lucky Chan-sil” is often amusing and interesting for several good reasons. While clearly reminiscent of those little comedy films of Hong Sang-soo, the movie distinguishes itself via its filmmaker heroine’s comic struggle with what seems to be the dead end of her modest filmmaking career, and it eventually comes to us as a sincere and sweet affirmation on life and artistic passion.

At the beginning, we see how things suddenly go wrong for Lee Chan-sil (Kang Mal-geum), who has worked for many years as the producer for a famous arthouse movie director who is clearly a fictional version of Hong. While she is drinking along with him and the other key crew members not long after starting the production of his latest film, he suddenly dies due to a heart attack, and Chan-sil subsequently finds herself unemployed just because she has been regarded as someone replaceable.

As she cannot afford to live in her current residence anymore, Chan-sil moves to a small house located in one of the shabbier areas in Seoul, and she certainly feels miserable about that while also becoming more uncertain about what to do next for her life and career. Considering that she is a 40-year-old single woman who has single-mindedly devoted herself to filmmaking for many years, it looks like there are not many options for her at present, and that is why she eventually comes to accept a job offer from her close actress friend Sophie (Yoon Seung-ah), who happens to need a cleaning lady for her messy residence right now.

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While spending lots of time in Sophie’s residence as her new cleaning lady, Chan-sil meets Kim-yeong (Bae Yoo-ram), a struggling movie director who has so far made a few short films without much success and has routinely come to Sophie’s residence as her private French teacher. As talking with him a bit on how much they have respectively struggled, Chan-sil cannot help but become attracted to Kim-yeong, and we accordingly get a dryly funny dream scene not so far from those similar scenes in Hong’s movies.

In the meantime, something strange starts to happen around Chan-sil. At one point, we see a mysterious figure passing by her, and that figure in question, who is usually wearing only underwears despite cold winter weather, eventually presents himself to her as Leslie Cheung from Wong Kar-Wai’s “Days of Being Wild” (1990), which is incidentally one of Chan-sil’s favorite films. While it is evident to Chan-sil right from the beginning that he is not real at all, he keeps appearing around her nevertheless, and we come to gather that he is a sort of inner voice to Chan-sil’s uncertain and confused mind.

He often tells Chan-sil that she must discern what she really wants for her life and career, and it seems to Chan-sil that she should try some courtship on Kim-yeong, though they are quite different from each other in many aspects. While she loves those slow and gentle works of Yasujirō Ozu, he likes more eventful movies such as the works of Christopher Nolan, and the movie does a sly homage to Ozu’s films when they talk and drink together at a Japanese restaurant bar.

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Constantly generating laughs via small comic moments including the one involved with a letter sent by Chan-sil’s father, the movie slowly adds more depth to its story and characters. Although she makes a few missteps in her continuing struggle, Chan-sil gradually comes to realize that she still loves movies as before, and, if you are a serious moviegoer like me, you will be delighted to see her old VHS copies of several notable movies including Emir Kusturica’s “Time of the Gypsies” (1988). In case of the other substantial characters in the film, Sophie turns out to be more caring and sophisticated than we expected from her seemingly superficial attitude and appearance, and I also like how Chan-sil comes to bond more with her landlady, who turns out to be illiterate but has earnestly tried to learn how to read and write.

In addition to making a few short films before this feature film debut of hers, director/writer Kim Cho-hee also worked as the producer of Hong’s several recent films including “Right Now, Wrong Then” (2015), and the influences from Hong’s films are obviously shown here and there in the movie. Many conversation scenes in the film look plain and simple on the whole while occasionally accentuated by slow zoom-in, but they draw our attention nonetheless as deftly delivered by the main cast members of the film, who imbue lots of personality into their archetype characters. While Kang Mal-geum diligently holds the center with her strong lead performance, Yoon Seung-ah, Kim Yong-min, Bae Yoo-ram, and Yoon Yuh-Jeong are also enjoyable in their colorful supporting roles, and Yoon Yuh-jeong, who has been one of the most dependable actresses in South Korea for many years, delightfully steals the show as she recently did in “Beasts Clawing at Straws” (2020).

Overall, “Lucky Chan-sil” is an engaging comedy movie which tries to do something different in its familiar territory, and Kim Cho-hee surely demonstrates here that she is another interesting South Korean female filmmaker to watch. To be frank with you, I have no idea on how much this autobiographical work of hers is based on her real-life experience, but now she moves onto the next phase of her life and career just like her heroine does at the end of the film, and I will certainly have some expectation on her next work.

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