Summer 1993 (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): That summer of Frida

Spanish film “Summer 1993”, which was selected as the Spanish entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in last year, tells its story via the limited but unadulterated viewpoint of its little young heroine. As she tries to cope with a sudden chance coming into her life, the movie provides a number of sensitive and insightful moments to be appreciated, and we are touched as observing how she gradually grows as struggling to accept that irreversible change in her life.

The story, which director/writer Carla Simón’s autobiographical story as reflected at the end of the film, begins with the opening scene which looks cheerful at first but then slowly reveals the growing sadness beneath it. Its little young heroine, a 6-year-old girl named Frida (Laia Artigas), tries to get along well with other kids, but she only finds herself cruelly treated by one of them, and then she comes to back an apartment, where she is surrounded by several adult members of her family who are concerned a lot about her welfare after her mother’s recent death. Although she wants to stay in the apartment as before, it was decided that Frida will live with her mother’s brother Esteve (David Verdaguer) and his wife Marga (Bruna Cusí), so she is soon taken to a rural region in Catalunya where Esteve and Marga have lived with their daughter Anna (Paula Robles), who is younger than Frida and instantly accepts her as her older sister.

While Frida is not so pleased about this change, her new place to live does not look that bad at least. Located outside a nearby village, Esteve and Marga’s house, which is incidentally where Simón lived with her new parents during her childhood years, provides Frida a cozy, peaceful environment, and Esteve and Marga are kind and generous to Frida although they often feel frustrated with Frida’s willful behaviors. In case of Anna, she is simply happy to have someone to play with, and we later get an amusing moment when Frida pretends to be a self-absorbed lady and Anna gladly goes along with that role-playing.

And we come to gather what happened to Frida’s dead mother as, mainly through her ears, we hear what adults around her say about her dead mother. Although they never directly mention it throughout the film, it is quite apparent to us that Frida’s mother died because of AIDS, and, as shown from a brief scene where Frida receives a medical examination at a local clinic, it is possible that Frida is a HIV carrier although she has been so far healthy for years. During one certain scene, an adult character who knows about that is visibly alarmed when Frida gets her knee injured and then bleeds a bit, but Frida does not understand much why that adult character becomes frantic.

Now this looks like a typical setup for melodrama to some of you, and there are a few scenes where Frida’s circumstance gets a little tenser, but the movie steadily maintains its slow narrative pacing as constantly staying close to Frida’s viewpoint. While she does not wholly perceive her situation, we come to focus more on what is going on around her as noticing small details and gestures observed from her surroundings, and this aspect is exemplified well by when Frida’s other family members visit to Marga and Esteve’s house. As their conversation on the table becomes a little more serious, we sense that there was some problem between Frida’s grandparents and Frida’s mother, but Frida remains oblivious to that, though she will probably reflect more on that when she grows up enough to understand more of her childhood years.

And we come to feel more of what has been silently churning inside Frida’s innocent mind. She still has not fully recovered from her mother’s death yet, and she certainly misses her mother a lot – and their apartment which is no longer her home now. She becomes more willful and stubborn as feeling more like not loved by anyone, and that certainly causes more headaches for Marga and Esteve, whose relationship becomes considerably strained as they conflict with each other on what to do with Frida.

Taking its time as usual, the movie calmly watches how things get eventually settled for Frida and others around her. After one little dramatic moment later in the story, she becomes more adjusted to her new life like any kids around her age, and she also has a sincere and honest conversation with her aunt, who gently tells her everything about the death of Frida’s mother without pulling any punch at all.

The movie depends a lot on young actress Laia Artigas, who gives a wonderful natural performance under Simón’s good direction. Artigas is effortless especially when she interacts with her fellow young actress Paula Robles, and Robles is particularly poignant when her character gives a simple but touching reply to Frida during one key scene in the film. In case of several adult performers surrounding them, they fill their respective roles as required, and Bruna Cusí and David Verdaguer give fine nuanced supporting performances while never overstepping in front of Artigas and Robles.

In conclusion, “Summer 1993”, which won the GWFF Best First Feature Award at the 67th Berlin International Film, is an engaging coming-of-age drama which understands and emphasizes a lot with its young heroine, and I enjoyed its mood and storytelling as feeling soothed from time to time. What is achieved here is rather modest, but this is a likable little film nonetheless, and you may be reminded of your own childhood years as watching it.

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They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A vivid, evocative WWI documentary

Peter Jackson’s documentary film “They Shall Not Grow Old” is an extraordinary work you should not miss. Via its astounding technical enhancement of archival footage clips shot during World War I, it vividly and compellingly shows us what it was like for those many young British soldiers struggling and fighting in the trenches of the western front during that wartime, and there are a number of striking moments which will surely linger on your mind for a long time even though you are well aware of their artificial aspects.

For this documentary, which was co-commissioned by the Imperial War Museums (IWM) and NOW 14-18, a major cultural program in UK to commemorate the centenary of World War I, Jackson and his crew reviewed not only around 100 hours of archival footage clips but also around 600 hours of audio interviews from more than 200 British World War I veterans, and it is hard not to be impressed by how seamlessly those archival footage clips and audio interviews are juxtaposed together in the superlative visual/aural collage of the documentary. Although it does not provide much background knowledge (it does not even have a narrator, for example), the documentary generates an engaging narrative flow instead as letting us watch and listen to its assembled archival materials, and then it grips us further as immersing us more into its narrative through its state-of-the-art technical approach.

In the beginning, the documentary looks like your average World War I documentary film as presenting a series of old, scratchy black and white archival footage clips, and we listen to British World War I veterans reminiscing about how things got changed a lot for them when the war was suddenly started shortly after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in July 1914. As British people were quite confident about another glorious victory for their British Empire, thousands of young men in Britain were eager to join the army by any means necessary, and these young men soon went through a short but rigorous military training once they got enlisted in the army. After the training was over, they were all promptly sent to the western front in the Europe continent, and then they came to have their first taste of the war, which turned out to be quite different from many other wars in the past as new modern weapons such as tanks and gas were used for the first time.

Around that narrative point, the documentary switches from black and white film in 1:33 ratio to color film in widescreen, and what Jackson and his crew achieve here in this documentary is nothing short of stunning. In addition to colorizing archival footage clips, they carefully cleaned and restored them via digital processes, and they also put painstaking efforts on adjusting the frame rate of original black and white archival footage clips, which were shot at 10-18 frames per second (fps), to our modern standard at present (24 fps). As a result, their enhanced version of archival footage clips looks not only clear and crisp with its impressive color hues but also quite smooth and natural frame by frame.

Furthermore, Jackson and his crew added sound effects and extra voice acting to the soundtrack of their documentary. This initially feels like another artificial touch, but they created their artificial aural details with considerable care and attention (they even hired lip-leading experts for finding what exactly figures shown in archival footage clips said, for instance), and it is undeniable that it contributes more realism and verisimilitude to the final result. Those anonymous figures in archival footage clips feel more real as we occasionally hear them talk, and so do several frontline battles reminisced in the documentary, which are dynamically and strikingly presented along with shattering sound effects and surely remind us that war is indeed hell.

And we hear and see more of how it was often miserable and dangerous to be stuck in those muddy trenches for days and weeks. As they did not get much chance to clean themselves, soldiers frequently suffered trench foot, rats, and many other unpleasant things, and there is a pretty amusing part involved with their latrines. Soldiers usually had to take care of their excretion business while precariously sitting on a pole right above a big hole full of excrement, and, not so surprisingly, the documentary gives us a literally sh*tty episode which will indubitably make you cringe a lot if you are as fastidious about bathroom as I am.

Nevertheless, the war was not always bad for soldiers. One veteran says that being in a trench was “a sort of outdoor camping holiday with the boys, with a slight spice of danger to make it interesting”, and other veterans gladly talk about how much fun and excitement they had along with others when they survived and then were allowed to have some rest away from the front line. As being outside their country, they often experienced new interesting things they had never imagined before, and they surely felt like having the best time of their lives.

Of course, the situation became less exciting for soldiers when the war was eventually over in 1918, and the documentary switches back to black and white film for reflecting their disappointment and melancholy. When soldiers returned to Britain, they felt like being left behind as their country and its people moved back to normal time without looking back, and, as we all know, their war, which was once regarded as “the war to end all wars”, was subsequently surpassed by World War II around 20 years later.

Overall, “They Shall Now Grow Old”, whose title was inspired by the 1914 poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, is a superb war documentary which gives us a fresh look into World War I, and Jackson, who dedicated his documentary to his grandfather who was a World War I veteran, did a respectful and commendable job on the whole. This is inarguably his best work since “King Kong” (2005), and I am glad to see him being back in element after that unnecessary Hobbit trilogy.

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Bodied (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): Aggressive and provocative

Watching “Bodied” was one of the most interesting experiences I had during this year. While I frequently cringed at its no-hold-barred battle rap scenes full of expletives to shock and jolt us, I observed them with considerable fascination, and I came to admire its bold attempt to tackle its tricky subjects, though it is not always as successful as intended.

The story of the movie is mainly told through Adam Merkin (Calum Worthy), a white graduate studying in University of California, Berkeley. Because the subject of his master thesis is a certain common expletive in rap music I cannot possibly write here (hint: it begins with N), he goes to a battle rap match held in Oakland along with his girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold), and he surely gets what he wants from an intense match between two black rappers. While Maya is understandably alarmed and repelled by numerous expletives casually used during this match, Adam cannot help but enthralled by what is exchanged between these two black rappers, and he even tries to approach to one of them shortly after the match.

That black rapper in question is called Behn Grymm (Jackie Long), and he does not give much damn about Adam at first, but then there comes an unexpected moment when they come across a white rapper eager to impress Grymm. When Grymm has Adam have an impromptu match with that white rapper, Adam is reluctant at first, but, what do you know, he surprises everyone including himself with his rough but effective rap, and that certainly impresses Grymm, who decides to be a mentor/guide figure for Adam.

While quite excited about this opportunity, Adam is not so sure about whether he can do battle rap well, and he does not get much support from others around him. His adviser professor, who is also his father incidentally, is not so enthusiastic about Adam’s master thesis subject, and neither are Maya and his several friends, who have an amusing discussion with him on rap and race at one point.

During his first battle rap match, Adam faces a Korean American rapper called Prospek (Jonathan “Dumbfoundead” Park). Adam surely flinches at first as Prospek hurls many insults and expletives at him, but then he retaliates hard against Prospek with a rap full of specific racist insults, which actually impress Prospek (“At least you knew I was Korean. As far as I’m concerned, that’s culturally sensitive by battle rap standards.”)

While hanging around more with Grymm, Prospek, and other rappers including Che Corleone (Walter Perez) and Devine Write (Shoniqua Shandai), Adam finds himself assimilating more and more from the competitive world of battle rap, which is filled with various figures such as Megaton (Dizaster), a big, intimidating rapper who does not even refrain himself from physical attacks at times. When Adam and his fellow rappers go to a party held at Megaton’s home later in the story, they see Megaton holding a big gun in his hand, and they certainly become nervous while trying to enjoy the party along with others.

As advancing further through several battle rap matches, Adam becomes more confident and enthusiastic than before, but, not so surprisingly, he soon gets himself into serious personal troubles. During one painfully funny moment, he tries to demonstrate a bit of his talent to Maya, but he only finds himself insulting her inadvertently, and he is even kicked out of her residence as a consequence. In addition, many students in UC Berkeley become quite angry after watching a video clip showing one of his battle rap matches, and he is accordingly thrown into more confusion and desperation.

While not judging its hero’s apparent cultural appropriation much, the screenplay by Alex Larsen, which is based on the story written by him and director Joseph Khan, pushes its hero further into more provocative moments, which are alternatively disturbing and compelling to say the least. During what can be regarded as the dramatic highpoint of the movie, Adam lets himself cross a certain boundary just because he is allowed to say anything during battle rap match, and we can clearly sense how much his insulting rap hurts and devastates his opponent, who must keep himself cool and calm in front of many audiences no matter how much he feels angry and humiliated.

Although the movie unfortunately falters after that powerful moment and its final scene feels rather contrived, the movie still grips our attention with enough energy and style thanks to Khan’s competent direction, and he also draws a number of good performances from his main cast members. While Calum Worthy and Jackie Long are believable in the relationship development between their contrasting characters, Jonathan “Dumbfoundead” Park, Walter Perez, Shoniqua Shandai, and Dizaster are also fine in their respective supporting roles, and Rory Uphold manages to leave some impression despite her thankless role.

On the whole, “Bodied”, which won the People’s Choice Award for the Midnight Madness section at the Toronto International Film Festival in last year, is not comfortable to watch at all, but it is a riveting and thought-provoking piece of work nonetheless, so I recommend it with some caution. This is a tough stuff indeed, but it is worthwhile to watch and talk about at least.

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Blindspotting (2018) ☆☆☆1/2 (3.5/4): Race matters

“Blindspotting” has one of the most gripping showstopper moments I have ever seen during recent years. While that spellbinding moment alone is more than enough for recommendation, the movie is also packed with other terrific moments as going up and down along with two guys at the center of its story, and the overall result supremely works as a funny and intense character comedy drama about race and other relevant social issues.

The movie opens with a moment of hyper-reality which succinctly and effectively establishes the current situation of Collin Hoskins (Daveed Diggs), an African American guy who was once incarcerated in a prison for a few months but has been going through his probation period since being released several months ago. Because his probation period will end three days later, he is nervous about any possibility of trouble, and that is why he is not so pleased when his two friends wield guns in front of him while they spend some time together inside a vehicle belonging to one of these two friends.

After Collin gets out of the vehicle along with the other friend, they walk together for a while as talking a bit with each other, and we get to know more about them. Although Collin is black and Miles (Rafael Casal) is white, they have been close to each other since they grew up together in their neighborhood which is located in Oakland, California, and it is frequently amusing to observe their contrasting personality difference. While Miles talks and behaves as if he were your average hot-tempered black dude, Collin looks more subdued in comparison because, well, he must be careful at every step before getting officially freed from the legal system.

And then something shocking happens while Collin is driving back to a dormitory for convicted felons on parole. Not long after stopping his truck at a crossroad, he happens to witness some African American man running away from a white police officer and then eventually shot by that white police officer, who also sees Collins shortly after shooting that unfortunate black guy. Quite shocked and frightened by what has just happened in front of his eyes, Collin drives his truck away from the scene as urged by policemen who subsequently arrive at the scene, and he tries to forget everything as getting into a trouble with the police is certainly the last thing he wants, but, of course, that incident constantly haunts his mind.

While never overlooking the accumulating guilt and remorse inside Collin, the movie leisurely moves from one episodic moment to another for establishing further its two main characters and some other substantial supporting characters including Miles’ caring black wife Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and Collin’s ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar), a college student who also works in a moving company for which Miles and Collin have worked. Although they have been separated from each other since Collin’s incarceration, Val still cares about Collin, and there is a warm, intimate scene where she willingly helps him on a little problem with his hair.

In case of Ashley, she and Miles have sincerely loved each other and both of them care a lot about the welfare of their young son, but there later comes a tense moment which will definitely scare any good parents, and that accordingly makes Ashley have a growing doubt on their relationship. She still likes Miles, but she does not want to see her dear son endangered again, and she makes her point quite clear to him during their private conversation scene.

And we observe more of the complex relationship dynamic between Collin and Miles. It is later revealed that Miles made the situation worse for Collin during the incident which resulted in Collin’s incarceration, and it is also pointed out that Miles got away with that because he is white, but Collin still regards Miles as his best friend because he knows how much Miles was sorry about what he inadvertently caused. They always click well with each other as friends and colleagues, and that aspect is exemplified well by several humorous moments including a hilarious scene involved with a bunch of hairdressing tools.

However, their relationship is inevitably tested when Collin is reminded again of what a troublemaker his friend is. When he feels like humiliated just because of a casual remark on his behavior and attitude, Miles unwisely follows his impulse without hesitation, and that eventually leads to an emotionally intense scene between him and Collin. While steadily maintaining their nuanced performances on the screen, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who also wrote the screenplay together besides the co-producing the film, are simply electrifying during this scene, and Diggs, who has mainly been known for his recent Tony-winning performance in acclaimed Broadway musical “Hamilton”, later impresses us more during that aforementioned showstopper moment, which may feel unlikely at first but somehow works quite well as delivering its sharp social/political message to its audiences.

“Blindspotting” is directed by Carlos López Estrada, who previously made several music videos and short films before making this first feature film of his. Besides drawing the good performances from his two lead actors and other main cast members, he did a commendable job of establishing the palpable sense of locations around the characters in the film, and he does not hesitate at all from occasional bold stylish touches to fuel the narrative momentum of the story. What he and his cast and crew achieve here is stunning to say the least, and I certainly agree with other critics that the movie is one of the best debut feature films of this year. If you have not seen it yet, I urge you to check out this small gem as soon as possible.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): A modern Shakespeare farce to enjoy

Although I have read lots of literature works during last 30 years, I somehow have not been that familiar with those great works of William Shakespeare. Sure, I did read the Korean translation version of “Hamlet” and some other notable classic tragedies of his when I was young, but I have not read yet many of his comedy plays except “Twelfth Night”, which has been so far the only Shakespeare play I ever read in English.

Because I only knew a bit about the basic synopsis of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, I was afraid of not being able to appreciate its latest movie version enough before watching it, but, to my relief, the movie turns out to be more enjoyable than I thought. While mostly faithful to its basic storyline, this small piece of work is constantly funny and humorous with some wry modern touches to be savored, and I found myself amused a lot by the game efforts from its cast and crew. Sure, it took some efforts for me to understand those poetic lines during my viewing, but they are delivered with style and spirit at least, and I came to understand more of why Shakespeare’s works have been steadily admired and cherished for around 500 years.

While the story is still set in Athens, the movie transfers its background to California at present, and the main amusement of its early part comes from how a number of elements in Shakespeare’s original play are modified through this modern setting. For example, Hollywood is presented as Athens as reflected by a brief shot showing the modified version of a certain famous spot in Hollywood, and Duke Theseus (Ted Levine) is a powerful movie business guy here in this film.

The story starts with Theseus being visited by his friend Egeus (Bruce Church), who really needs Theseus’ help due to a difficult personal matter. Egeus’ dear daughter Hermia (Rachael Leigh Cook), who is incidentally one of the biggest movie stars in the town, is supposed to marry Demetrius (Finn Wittrock), and Demetrius, who is a hot-shot movie business agent, really loves Hermia, but, alas, Hermia recently comes to fall in love with Lysander (Hamish Linklater), a famous photographer who is eager to marry Hermia as soon as possible even though Egeus is not going to permit their marriage as Hernia’s father. Theseus tries to resolve this problematic situation in a reasonably way, but nothing much is done despite his sincere efforts, and Hermia, Demetrius, and Lysander still find themselves stuck in their triangle relationship as before.

Eventually, Hermia decides to elope along with Lysander, and she confides everything to her friend Helena (Lily Rabe), who has carried a torch for Demetrius but has not received any affectionate response from Demetrius yet. As a matter of fact, Demetrius does not like being pursued by Helena at all, and he rejects her again when they later meet each other again.

In the end, through a couple of expected narrative turns, these four young people find themselves wandering in a forest outside Athens, and they come to draw the attention of Oberon (Saul Williams), the king of fairies who has been recently estranged from his wife Titania (Mai Doi Todd) due to their mutual infidelity. He orders Puck (Avan Jogia) to execute a certain mischief on not only Titania but also Helena, Lysander, Hermia, and Demetrius, and Puck, who is presented here in this film as your average hippy surfer dude, gladly follows his master’s order, but then we get a typical case of mistaken identity, which has always been one of the most popular plot devices among comedy writers.

Meanwhile, there is another group coming into the forest. They are a bunch of students from Athens Film Institution (AFI), and they are going to do some rehearsal on their latest project, but then one of them, named Bottom (Fran Kranz), comes to have a very strange experience when Puck decides to do another mischief just for fun. I will not say more about the plot from this point, but I can tell you instead that, as things become more complicated along the plot, the movie steadily supplies small and big laughs as required. While its naughty variation on Bottom’s silly transformation by Puck will probably get the biggest laugh from you, what subsequently happens to Bottoms when he comes across Titania is also pretty hilarious to say the least, and the movie scores another nice laugh as decorating its final act with the familiar elements from a certain classic SF fantasy movie. In addition, director/adapter Casey Wilder Mott cheerfully imbues the screen with dreamy moods as the characters in the movie wander around the forest in confusion or panic, and the movie often gleefully wields its artificial aspects which are further emphasized during its neat closing scene.

The main cast members of the movie have lots of fun with their respective roles. While Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Finn Wittrock, and Rachael Leigh Cook are engaging as their characters wildly sway from one emotional state to another, Saul Williams, Mia Doi Todd, Fran Kranz, and Avan Jogia deliver their juicy moments with gusto, and Ted Levine, Paz De La Huerta, and Bruce Church are also effective as more serious characters in the movie.

While I was watching the film, my mind was taken back to Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” (2012), which also brought a Shakespeare comedy to modern background with considerable delight and entertainment. While I cannot say which one is better at this point, I can tell you that both of them have each own charm and personality, and now I think I should watch both of them together someday after reading those two original plays of Shakespeare.

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The Workers Cup (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): The League of Their Own

Although I do not have much interest in soccer or World Cup, I observed documentary film “The Workers Cup” with considerable curiosity and empathy. Here are a group of foreign low-wage laborers trying to do their best in their soccer tournament which is more or less than a banal promotional event for their corporation employers, and the documentary often gives us touching moments while never overlooking their hardships in a foreign land.

At first, the documentary gives us some basic background information on the ongoing preparation process of the 2022 World Cup. After International Federation of Association Football, which is also known as FIFA, decided to hold the World Cup in Qatar, the construction projects for many facilities including a big stadium were commenced, and these construction projects naturally have drawn thousands of various foreign laborers from Arab, Asian, and African regions. They all come here for earning enough money for themselves and their families, but, as sharply pointed out in the documentary, they often do not earn much while mostly being stuck in their labor camps for years, and many of them are even not allowed to leave the country until their contract is expired.

Anyway, there was the need for positive public images on these laborers, so the Qatari government and a number of corporations handling these construction projects decided to hold a special football tournament for laborers, and the documentary closely observes the preparation process among a bunch of laborers working for a corporation named GCC. Although most of them are amateurs, they are all eager to play soccer because, well, it is certainly more exciting than their monotonous daily life which does not give them much free time as they are frequently demanded to work seven days a week.

As watching the members of GCC soccer team preparing step by step for their upcoming first match, we get to know a bit about some of notable members including Kenneth, a Kenyan guy who becomes the captain of the team because he played soccer a lot before coming Qatar. In front of the camera, he talks about how he came to Qatar after losing his job in Kenya, and he also reminisces about how much he was disappointed at first to see that he could not play soccer in Qatar. Now he is glad to play soccer as before, and he is certainly willing to do his best for himself and his team members.

In case of a Nepalian guy named Padam, he works in an office unlike many of his team members, and his work environment looks better compared to those construction sites outside, but he has felt frustrated with being stuck in Qatar while also missing his wife in Nepal a lot. His wife cannot come because he does not earn enough money to be allowed to get the visa for his wife, and their relationship becomes quite strained when they happen to argue over the phone for some money problem at one point.

In case of the manager of GCC soccer team, he is ready to do as much as he can for his team although he knows well that the Workers Cup will not matter much in the end. Later in the documentary, he shows us a shabby area full of immigrant laborers, and that makes a striking contrast with the slick modern appearance of the downtown area of Doha, the capital city of Qatar.

The first match of GCC soccer team, which is incidentally the opening match for the Workers Cup, is held at an indoor place while watched by many audiences, and Kenneth and other team members are surely excited about that, but, unfortunately, they subsequently become quite disappointed as facing a humiliating defeat. While trying to process this painful moment with his colleagues, Kenneth requests more support and training, and he and his colleagues soon start to prepare for the next match.

In case of the next match, which is held at a smaller spot with less audiences, GCC soccer team gets its first victory, and then it advances further to everyone’s excitement – especially after Daniel, a Ghanaian guy who has considerable experience in playing soccer just like Kenneth, is later recruited as the goalkeeper of the team. It looks like they will able to go up to the final if they try more, and they are all hopeful about that possibility.

I do not dare to reveal what will eventually happen, but I can tell you instead that the documentary did an admirable job of presenting its human subjects with care and respect while never taking any condescending attitude. While soberly recognizing their harsh reality, the documentary vividly captures the spirited mood among them during their soccer match scenes, and we come to understand and empathize a lot with their simple hope and dream. We are amused as watching a small funny scene where two team members casually talk about a woman one of them came to befriend via Facebook, we are excited as watching GCC soccer team making more advance, and we are saddened as the Workers Cup eventually ends and everyone goes back to work.

Directed by Adam Sobel, “The Workers Cup” is a competent documentary which draws our interest to the lives of overlooked people who deserve more attention in my trivial opinion, and I appreciate numerous human moments in this modest but engaging documentary. After watching it, you will probably reflect a lot on its indirect social messages, and you may find yourself thinking of it again when you watch the 2020 World Cup two years later.

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We the Animals (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): As he grows up with his brothers

“We the Animals” is something I cannot forget easily. As a haunting mixture of intimate family drama and sensitive coming-of-age drama, the movie has a number of lyrical and poetic moments to remember, and they are still lingering on my mind while generating more empathy toward its little young hero, who gradually becomes more aware of himself and the world surrounding him as he grows up day by day along with his brothers.

Set in around the 1980s, the story of the movie is mainly presented through the viewpoint of Jonah (Evan Rosado), a boy who has happily lived with his parents and his two older brothers. As both of his parents work in factories during daytime, Jonah and his two older brothers have plenty of free time to spend together, and the early part of the movie mostly shows us how they play together while their parents are not around them.

Their parents, Paps (Raúl Castillo) and Ma (Sheila Vand), are not so bad although they are sometimes too tired to pay attention to their boys. While Paps is always like a big brother to his boys, Ma is usually kind and generous to her children, and there is a lovely moment when they and their kids go together to a nearby river for having a little excursion for themselves. As his older brothers hang around with Paps in the river, Jonah has a small private time with Ma on the riverside, mainly because they do not know how to swim unlike other family members.

However, Paps tries to force Ma and Jonah to learn how to swim at one point, and that is when Jonah and his older brothers come to observe more of the growing strain in their parents’ relationship. Although Ma and Paps do love each other, Ma has felt frustrated with her husband’s irresponsible behaviors, and they come to argue with each other shortly after they return to their house along with their kids. Although the movie does not directly show us their argument, we can instead sense how much that affects their children as we watch Jonah and his older brothers silently listening to their parents from the distance.

In the end, Paps walks out of the house and does not return in the next morning. Ma, who is visibly injured on her face, is quite depressed about what happened at last night, so Jonah and his older brothers have to take care of themselves, and we accordingly get an amusing sequence where they try to find anything to eat in the kitchen.

Once they run out of food in their house, Jonah and his older brothers try shoplifting at a local store, and then they also try to steal vegetables at a garden which belongs to some old man. They get caught by that old man on the spot, but he shows them a little kindness, and they also come to befriend old man’s grandson living in the basement of the old man’s house. While spending some time along with Jonah and his older brothers at one point, old man’s grandson shows them several pornography movies, and that is when Jonah begins to open his eyes to his sexuality.

And we see more of Jonah’s burgeoning artistic sensibility. At night, he goes under his bed while his older brothers are trying to sleep, and he usually draws rudimentary but impressive pictures on papers, which are often vividly animated on the screen as if they were fueled further by his unadulterated imagination. The more he absorbs from his surrounding environment, the more he is aware of being different from others, and there is a mesmerizing scene later in the movie when he imagines himself being levitated above the ground and then flying in the sky.

When Paps returns, he and Ma become reconciled, but then they come to have another argument as she gets angry about what he thoughtlessly buys for replacing their broken vehicle. While their relationship seems to be restored later, Ma soon comes to feel frustrated again as trying to tolerate her husband, and there eventually comes a point where she considers leaving the house along with her children.

Leisurely and subtly moving from one episodic moment to another, the movie gives us a vivid, realistic portrayal of its young hero and his family. While the screenplay by director Jeremiah Zagar and his co-writer Dan Kitrosser, which is based on the novel of the same name by Justin Torres, succinctly establishes the relationships among its main characters, the main cast members are all convincing in their natural nuanced performance, and we become more immersed into the story as caring a lot about what is going on around our young hero. In addition, the movie is visually stunning at times while clearly reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s recent films such as “The Tree of Life” (2011), and cinematographer Zak Mulliagan’s camera frequently provides raw but sublime moments to engage and touch us a lot.

“We the Animals” is the first feature film by Zagar, who previously directed a number of short movies and documentary films. While it sometimes like a cross between “The Tree of Life” and “Moonlight” (2016), the movie still feels distinctive enough to leave its own impression on us, and I think it will be interesting to see what will come next from him. In conclusion, this is one of more interesting works of this year, and you should check it out if you are looking for something different.

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