The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Adventures of the Peanut Butter Falcon

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“The Peanut Butter Falcon” entertained me in more than one way. While it is a typical Southern story clearly influenced by Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, it palpably vibrates with authentic local atmosphere as well as sweet personality, and I found myself often amused or touched as observing its main characters bouncing from one narrative point to another.

At the beginning, we meet a young man named Zak (Zack Gottsagen), who is mentally handicapped due to Down syndrome and has been in a facility for old people for a while because there is not any close family member to take care of him. The opening scene shows his latest escape attempt, and his motive turns out to be pretty simple and innocent; he has aspired to become a professional wrestler while frequently watching an old promotional video tape from a local wrestling star named the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), and he really wants to go to the Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school someday.

Although his kind and sympathetic supervisor, a young woman named Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), reminds him that he should stay in the facility as required by the state law, Zak is not deterred at all, and we soon see his another escape attempt assisted by Carl (Bruce Dern), an old dude who has been Zak’s roommate and is willing to help Zak have an opportunity to realize his innocent dream. During one night, Zak manages to escape through the barred window of their room, and then he runs away from the facility as far as he can.

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Meanwhile, we are also introduced to Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a local lad who happens to get himself in a big trouble after clashing with a guy who takes over a river area where Tyler’s dead older brother used to catch fishes and crabs. Not long after he runs away from his trouble via a small motorboat, he finds Zak hiding in the motorboat, and Zak soon comes to accompany him although Tyler is not particularly eager to have Zak tag at his heels.

Of course, Tyler gradually comes to accept Zak as his journey companion – especially after coming to learn by coincidence that Zak is also on the run just like him. As spending more time with Zak, he teaches Zak a number of things including how to shoot, and Zak happily goes along with that while having more fun and freedom than before. During one amusing scene, they come across an eccentric blind old man who lets them build a boat in his backyard after baptizing both of them, and we soon see them joyously sailing on a big river.

Later in the story, Zak and Tyler are eventually found by Eleanor after their wild night, but then Eleanor comes to see that Zak deserves to have some more fun and get his wish. As accompanying Zak and Tyler during their ongoing journey to where the Salt Water Redneck lives, she comes to reveal more of herself, and, not so surprisingly, it does not take much time for her and Tyler to get closer to each other.

While the mood becomes a bit tense when Tyler faces the consequences of his impulsive action during its third act, the movie still maintains its leisurely narrative pacing as doling out small colorful moments as before, and directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, who previously made several short documentary films before making this first feature film of theirs, did a commendable job of establishing a vivid local atmosphere from the various Southern locations shown in their film. Thanks to their cinematographer Nigel Bluck, their film often shines with lyrical natural beauty coupled with that distinctive texture of the Southern areas, and the overall result evokes not only Twain’s aforementioned novel but also other idiosyncratic Southern literature works such as the ones written by William Faulkner.

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When our three main characters eventually arrive at the destination of their journey, we already have a pretty good idea on what will happen next, and the movie does not surprise us much, but it still generates laughs and poignancy as making us root a lot for Zak, who does not hesitate at all in front a chance of lifetime and then goes all the way as, yes, the Peanut Butter Falcon. I must say that the finale demands some suspension of disbelief from us, but it mostly works thanks to good storytelling and performance, and then the movie gives its three main characters a neat and satisfying exit.

The main performers in the film are all convincing on the whole. While Shia LaBeouf surprises us as completely immersing himself into his shabby character without any misstep, Dakota Johnson, who has shown that she is as talented as, say, Kristen Stewart after drawing our attention with “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015), brings considerable warmth and personality to her seemingly thankless role, and Zack Gottsagen, a non-professional actor who does have Down syndrome, gives an unadorned but indelible performance as firmly holding the center between LaBeouf and Johnson. In addition, the movie assembles a bunch of engaging supporting performers around its three main performers, and Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, Jon Bernthal, and Thomas Haden Church are reliable as usual in their small but substantial supporting roles.

Overall, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a little endearing film packed with goodies to be appreciated, and those good moments in the film have grown on me since I watched it at last night. Its journey is a little predictable, but it generates enough fun and charm as rolling and sailing around with its likable main characters, and I like that.

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Ready or Not (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A deadly game with her in-laws

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The heroine of “Ready or Not” faces a lot more risks and troubles than she ever imagined, and that is the main source of naughty pleasure in this morbid black comedy film. Poor girl, she only wants to present herself well in front of her groom’s eccentric wealthy family, but, alas, she happens to pick a very dangerous game for them, and now she must play the game for surviving her increasingly perilous wedding night.

At first, everything looks mostly fine for Grace (Samara Weaving), a young woman who is soon going to be the wife of Daniel (Mark O’Brien), the second son of a very rich family who has prospered a lot in their board game manufacturing business for several generations. Daniel assures Grace that nothing will go wrong during their wedding, and Grace does not look that worried about encountering Daniel’s family, but it is very clear to us that some of Daniel’s family members are not so pleased about accepting Grace, who do not look that good enough to be their new family member in their viewpoint.

Anyway, Tony Le Domas (Henry Czerny) and his wife Becky (Andie MacDowell) respect their son’s decision, and the wedding ceremony is soon followed by the evening family meeting in their big family mansion, where Grace gets to know a bit more about Daniel’s family members and the long history of their successful board game manufacturing business. Not so surprisingly, Daniel’s family is quite serious about playing games, and Grace is not bothered at all when she is notified that there will be a ritual where she will be demanded to pick a game to be played by her and them after midnight.

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Of course, as shown from Daniel’s concerned face full of anxiety and hesitation, Daniel and his family are not entirely honest about what they are going to do with Grace. When they finally instruct her to pick a game out of an antique box associated with a legendary benefactor of their family business, they all look utterly solemn and serious, and then they are all quite alarmed when her random pick turns out to be “Hide and Seek”.

Because of the opening scene in the film, we already have a pretty good idea on what will happen sooner or later, but Grace still does not notice anything strange from her in-laws. After being told that all she has to do is hiding from them till the next morning, she willingly participates in the game without any suspicion, but it does not take much time for her to realize how serious her in-laws are about playing their game. While Daniel understandably refuses to join the game, all of his family members are ready to win the game by any means necessary, and they are equipped with various kinds of lethal objects to be used for the game while also assisted a bit by their loyal family butler, who shuts off all the surveillance cameras in the mansion for fair play but locks up every exit in the mansion.

As our unfortunate heroine tries to survive this dangerous circumstance as much as she can, the movie cheerfully doles out a number of sudden moments to shock and jolt us. While you may cringe a lot during these violent moments, they are mostly executed well with sharp comic timing at least, and I was particularly tickled by a grisly but outrageous moment resulted from the clumsy handling of a crossbow.

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In the meantime, the screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy gradually raises what is being at stake for Grace and other characters. While Grace becomes more determined to survive as going through several grueling moments including the one associated into a certain underground space, it turns out later in the story that her in-laws are not playing this game for mere sport, and we come to see more of how conflicted Daniel is. While he wants to help his wife survive as much as he can, he may have to give up everything in his life including his family in the end, and he hesitates more even though he does not like many of them much.

Under the competent direction of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the movie continues to hold our attention even when it is approaching to its eventual finale, and Samara Weaving, who previously played a notable supporting role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017), functions well as a plucky heroine we can root for, and she is also supported well by a bunch of colorful supporting players, who all have a ball with playing their broad archetype characters. While Mark O’Brien is effective as a nice guy constantly hesitating between love and family, Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell enjoy every second of their juicy moments, and so do the other main cast members including Adam Brody, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston, and Nicky Guadagni, who, as Daniel’s stern aunt, always grips our attention with her sourly disapproving stare.

Although it is not that twisty and devious compared to other similar films such as “Sleuth” (1972) and “Deathtrap” (1982), “Ready or Not” still entertains us well on the whole, and I enjoyed many of darkly humorous scenes in the film. Yes, you can instantly see what you are going to get from it, but it will not disappoint you at all as providing a fair share of naughty fun and excitement, and you will be satisfied enough in the end.

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Atlantics (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): A calm but powerful debut work to remember

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“Atlantics”, which was recently selected as the Senegalese entry for the Best International Feature Film Oscar at the 92nd Academy Awards, reminds me of that famous quote from Gabriel García Márquez: “If you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you.” While you may be caught off guard by what occurs in the middle of its story, the movie will absolutely make you believe what is going on the screen via its vividly realistic mood and details to be appreciated, and its calm but undeniably powerful finale will certainly touch you a lot.

After the opening scene showing a group of construction site workers quite angry about their overdue wage, the movie, which is set in a suburb of Dakar that lies along the Atlantic coast, focuses on the romantic relationship between one of these workers, named Souleiman (Ibrahima Traoré), and a young woman named Ada (Mame Bineta Sane). Considering her conservative Muslim background as well as the upcoming wedding between her and some wealthy business man, Ada certainly has to be very discreet about her romantic relationship with Souleiman, but she cannot help but feel happy while being with him, so she sneaks out of her house during one evening for going to a bar where she and Souleiman often hang around with other young people around their age.

However, when she arrives at the bar, she is belatedly informed that Souleiman and many other young men, who all have been quite desperate as they have not got paid at that construction site, left the town by a boat which may take them to Spain. As feeling more of the absence of their boyfriends, Ada and other young women at the bar slowly fall into quiet melancholy, and their loneliness is further accentuated by the constant sound of wind and waves under the night sky.

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During next several days, Ada remains quietly heartbroken while not telling anything to her parents, and then there comes the day of her wedding. While everyone around her congratulates her for this important event which will surely improve her life in more than one aspects, Ada still remains sad and depressed as worrying more about whether Souleiman is all right now, and only Dior (Nicole Sougou), the owner of the bar who is also Ada’s best friend, provides her some compassion coupled with pragmatism. After all, she is envied by many of her friends as becoming the wife of a rich man, and, at least, that is a bit better than being stuck with her family in their shabby residence.

However, something strange subsequently occurs, and it seems highly possible to many people including a detective investigating the incident that Souleiman somehow returns. Not so surprisingly, the detective comes to suspect that Ada is involved with the incident, and Ada, who insists that she does not know anything about her lover’s whereabouts, has to endure the suspicions from not only her in-laws but also her parents, who later have her go through a humiliating clinical process at a hospital just for confirming her virginity to their in-laws.

And then the screenplay by director Mati Diop and her co-writer Olivier Demangel takes an unexpected plot turn. I will not go into details here, but I can tell you instead on how the movie effortlessly generates a series of seemingly plain but undeniably uncanny moments, and I must say that I was quite surprised during one memorable scene where a certain supporting character suddenly finds himself facing the grave consequence of his greed and selfishness.

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In the meantime, there comes a mysterious text message for Ada, and that makes her more agitated and conflicted than before. While nothing seems certain to her now, her love toward Souleiman looks like the only thing she can hold onto, and that eventually prompts her to become a little more active than before. Her eventual big decision may not look that wise at first, but the movie empathizes with her feelings behind that decision, and, thanks to Diop’s subtle but sensitive direction, we also come to understand Ada as sensing more of that quiet romantic passion churning inside her.

Around that narrative point, you may easily guess in advance where the story is heading, but the movie still sticks to its calm, restrained approach, and then it surprises us again during the finale, which delivers not only a spooky moment of social/poetic justice but also a haunting moment of bittersweet romance. While Mame Bineta Sane is commendable in her unadorned natural performance which gradually takes the center of the story, the other main cast members including Amadou Mbow, Nicole Sougou, Aminata Kane, and Ibrahima Traoré are also convincing in their respective supporting roles, and Sougou is particularly fine as Ada’s no-nonsense friend.

“Atlantics” is the first feature film directed by Diop, who is the niece of prominent Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty and has also been known for acting in several notable films including Claire Denis’s “35 Shots of Rum” (2008). When the movie was shown at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year, Diop made history as becoming the first black woman to direct a film featured In Competition at the festival, and she also won the Grand Prix, which she totally deserved considering her skillful and confident handling of story, mood, and performance in the film. In short, the movie is one of the most memorable works of this year, and it will probably be regarded as the stunning start for another good filmmaker of our time.

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Klaus (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A likable Santa Claus origin story

klaus05.jpgNetflix animation feature film “Klaus”, which was released on Netflix early in this November, is more entertaining than I expected. Although it is surely your average Christmas tale associated with the origin of Santa Claus, the film distinguishes itself to considerable degree via its own fresh, distinctive animation approach, and you will gladly go along with that even though you can clearly see through its story and characters right from the beginning.

The story begins with how its hero, a rich spoiled kid named Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), is sent to a remote island located somewhere in the Arctic region. While his father is the head of the Royal Postal Service of an unidentified Scandinavian nation, Jesper has no interest at all in learning anything at the Royal Postal Academy, so his father comes to choose a drastic measure for pushing Jesper a lot harder than before, and Jesper suddenly finds himself transferred to that Arctic island, named Smeerensburg, as its new postmaster, while also told that he will be cut off from the family once for all unless he posts 6,000 letters during his first year.

Right from his very first day on the island, Jesper comes to realize how gloomy his situation really is. Many residents of the island have clashed and fought a lot with each other due to a longtime feud between two big families in the island, so they are not particularly interested in posting letters or parcels to each other, and Jesper becomes quite depressed as it seems he will be stuck in the island for the rest of his life.

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And then there comes a small good opportunity to him on one day. After hearing about someone living alone in a nearby forest, Jesper decides to take a chance with that unknown figure. Although their first encounter is not very cordial to say the least, Klaus (voiced by J.K. Simmons) turns out to be a gruff but kind-hearted old carpenter who made many different kinds of toys, and Jesper discerns a nice chance for himself when a child is delighted to receive one of those toys thanks to a letter inadvertently brought to Klaus. He tells many children of the town that they will get toys if they just send letters to Klaus, and, what do you know, he subsequently becomes quite busier than before with hundreds of letters to be handled by him.

As Jesper and Klaus busily work together, the film generates lots of small fun moments associated with those familiar aspects of Santa Claus. For example, there are several funny slapstick moments showing Jesper’s occupational hazards, and then we later get an amusing scene where Jesper falsely warns many children that Klaus always knows who is naughty or not. As a result, many of children in the town try to be good as much as they can, and this change consequently influences many of adults in the town, who gradually come to find their better sides as putting aside their old hate and hostility.

Meanwhile, Jesper gets closer to Alva (voiced by Rashida Jones), a jaded schoolteacher has mainly worked as a fishmonger due to the lack of students in her school. Although she has yearned for getting out of the island someday, she cannot help but feel brightened and excited as many kids willingly come to her school for learning how to write a letter to Klaus, and her classroom, which was initially filled with many smelly fishes, subsequently comes to look quite different as she puts some more effort on teaching these kids. At one point, she volunteers to be a translator for a young Sami girl who comes to Jesper for writing a letter to Klaus, and that leads to a genuinely touching moment which also solidifies Jesper’s relationship with Klaus.

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Of course, there are some mean people who are not so pleased with the changes brought into the island, and the film becomes more predictable than before during its third act, but director/co-producer/co-writer Sergio Pablos and his co-director Carlos Martínez López keep things rolling even during that part as steadily maintaining the sense of fun and excitement on the screen. Although the climactic action sequence feels rather obligatory, it is mostly handled well enough to engage us, and then the film smoothly delivers the following epilogue with some bittersweet poignancy.

In addition, I was quite impressed by the eclectic animation style of the film, which is the mix of hand-drawn animation and CGI lighting techniques. Posing itself somewhere between hand-drawn animation and digital animation, the overall result looks and feels unique to say the least, and those many striking visual moments in the film surely remind us of how hand-drawn animation can express more personality and imagination compared to digital animation.

The voice cast members of the film did a commendable job on the whole. While Jason Schwartzman is suitably cast as a childish but good-natured hero who comes to improve himself as well as others around him, J.K. Simmons complements Schwartzman well with his curt line delivery, the other voice cast members in the film including Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso, and Norm Macdonald are also solid in their respective parts

In conclusion, “Klaus” is an ideal animation film for the upcoming Christmas season, and I enjoyed its good aspects even while being well aware of the predictable aspects of its story and characters. Yes, this is indeed a typical seasonal product, but it is packaged well with enough style and substance, so I will not grumble for now.

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Marriage Story (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Scenes from a divorce

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Noah Baumbach’s latest film “Marriage Story”, which is released in South Korean theaters this week and will be available on Netflix on next Friday, is a sharp and intimate story about one difficult process of divorce. When its two main characters decide to end their marital relationship, they want to divorce as quickly and painlessly as possible, but they eventually find themselves in a long, bitter legal/emotional struggle, and the movie deftly alternates between drama and comedy while never losing its deep empathy toward both of its two main characters.

At the beginning, the movie shows Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) going through a mediation session not long after their decision on divorce. They respectively write about each other’s better sides, and the opening scene based on their respective writings convey to us how much they knew and liked each other during those happy years of their marriage, but then we also see how much they feel bitter and resentful now. While Charlie, who is a young promising theater director, has felt fine with living in New York City along with his wife and their young son, Nicole, who was a movie actress before marrying her husband and then performing for his theater company, has actually been quite unhappy with where her life and career have been going, so she recently decided to move to LA for restarting her career – and that was the beginning of how their married life started to crumble.

Anyway, both Nicole and Charlie want to terminate their marriage without any unnecessary headache, but then, not so surprisingly, both of them gradually come to consider taking more aggressive actions mainly due to the custody of their son. While Nicole wants to take their son to LA, Charlie is not particularly willing to accept that because he does not want to look bad to their son, though he does not know well what their son exactly wants. Once Nicole hires her divorce lawyer and then delivers an envelope containing legal documents to Charlie, Charlie belatedly comes to discern that things get really serious, so he looks for any good lawyer to represent him.

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As slowly accumulating emotional tension around Nicole and Charlie, the movie never hurries itself for generating considerable realism and intimacy around them and other substantial characters surrounding them. While Nicole’s mother and sister provide a considerable amount of comic moments, the movie also gives us several amusing scenes involved with Charlie’s theater company, and the lawyers respectively representing Nicole and Charlie are imbued with colorful personalities coupled with practical professionalism.

When their situation becomes more complicated than before later in the story, Nicole and Charlie come to confront how ugly and nasty divorce can be. While the lawyers representing them are surely ready to say anything to benefit their respective clients at the court, both Nicole and Charlie cannot help but feel guilty, but they also become more resentful to each other than before especially when they fight harder over the custody of their son, and there eventually comes a private moment when they spitefully and regretfully hurt each other’s feelings a lot.

However, the movie also often reminds us of how much they care about each other even at that point. I was particularly touched by a tender scene when Charlie comes to Nicole’s residence for taking care of a little problem involved with the front gate of her residence, and this and other warm, gentle moments in the film, which are usually accompanied with Randy Newman’s sensitive score, show us that there is still some emotional bond between them despite all the anger and resentment churning around them.

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As the two beating hearts of the film, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, both of whom will definitely be Oscar-nominated early in next year, are simply fabulous in their rich nuanced performance full of realistic human details. As shown from a number of various films ranging from “Lost in Translation” (2003) to “Under the Skin” (2013), Johansson is a versatile actress too talented to be remembered only for her thankless role in those popular Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks, and she is particularly terrific when cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s unflinching camera closely focuses on her character’s face during several key scenes in the film. On the opposite, Driver, a very distinctive actor who drew my attention for the first time with his Emmy-nominated supporting turn in HBO TV series “Girls” and then moved onto a diverse array of films ranging from “Paterson” (2016) to the recent Star Wars films, effectively complements Johansson whenever it is required, and I must tell you that their sublimely dynamic interaction on the screen took me back to what I observed from Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson in “Scenes from a Marriage” (1973).

The movie also allows its other main cast members to shine in each own spot. While Laura Dern, who may also be Oscar-nominated, is suitably no-nonsense as Nicole’s sympathetic lawyer, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta are equally engaging as two very different lawyers representing Charlie, and I was also delighted by the appearance of Wallace Shawn and Julie Hagerty in the film (Remember how funny and charming Hagerty was in “Airplane!” (1980)?).

Considering how well it is written, performed, and directed from the beginning to the end, “Marriage Story” is Baumbach’s best work since “The Squid and the Whale” (2005), and it is also indubitably one of the best films of this year. Sure, it is occasionally quite painful to watch, but we come to empathize a lot with its two main characters as getting to know them more, and that is why it is touching to see when they eventually arrive at a point where they come to understand and care about each other more than before. Yes, they move on separately now, but they do remember what they once had, and they will certainly do their best for what both of them care most.

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I Lost My Body (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): A hand looking for its body

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French animation feature film “I Lost My Body”, which won the Nespresso Grand Prize when it was shown in the International Critics’ Week section at the Cannes Film Festival early in this year (It is incidentally the first animation film to do so in the section’s history, by the way), is a curious piece of work with some offbeat touches to be admired. Although it often trudges at times due to its rather unbalanced narrative structure, the film still engages us thanks to a number of striking moments which shine with style, humor, and imagination, and you will not forget it easily after watching it.

After the opening shot suggesting that something bloody and terrible happened, we are introduced to one dismembered hand which is initially stored in a refrigerator of some laboratory along with other body parts including an eyeball. Once it recognizes its captive status in a plastic bag, this hand attempts to escape for itself, and its attempt leads to a series of morbidly humorous moments including the one involved with that poor eyeball.

After successfully escaping from the laboratory, the hand goes through several ups and downs of its uncertain journey to a certain destination. At one point, it has a very unpleasant encounter with a pigeon inhabiting on the roof of a building, and then there later comes a perilous scene where it finds itself threatened by a group of mice residing in a subway station, which certainly become quite aggressive once they recognize that the hand can be their latest meal. When the hand later happens to be caught by a pet dog belonging to some disabled guy, we get a nice moment of peace and comfort, but, unfortunately, that does not last long.

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Meanwhile, the movie also focuses on a young man named Naofel (voiced by Hakim Faris), and a number of brief flashback scenes early in the film give us a glimpse into his childhood period. Growing up under his caring parents, he aspired to be a musician or an astronaut someday, but, alas, his parents died early due to an unfortunate car accident, and his subsequent years have been not very happy to say the least. While he has been allowed to live in his uncle’s residence, his uncle does not care much about him, and neither does his horny cousin, who incidentally has shared the same bedroom with him for years.

Naofel has worked as a pizza delivery guy, but he is not so good at his job, and then he happens to have a very bad day. When he is hurriedly trying to deliver pizzas as usual, his motorcycle is broken due to an unexpected accident, and, shortly after arriving at a high-rise building and trying to contact with a young woman who orders a pizza, he belatedly finds that the pizza is considerably ruined due to that accident.

Anyway, while stuck inside the building due to rain, Naofel comes to have a conversation with that young woman via the intercommunication system in the building for a long time, and, though he does not see her and also does know her much, he finds himself gradually attracted to her, so he becomes determined to search for her as much as he can. After finding out who she really is and where she works, he attempts to approach to her, but then he only gets himself employed by her carpenter uncle, and, fortunately, it looks like he finally finds a job in which he is really interested.

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Meanwhile, Naofel continues to try to approach closer to that young woman, named Gabrielle (voiced by Victoire Du Bois), without telling her anything about his motive, and that is where the story becomes less engaging to us. While he is sincere in his romantic pursuit of Gabrielle, it also can be said that Naofel is your average stalking creep, and we are not so surprised when Gabrielle later becomes quite upset and disturbed after coming to learn about what Naofel has been holding behind his back.

Nevertheless, the film still holds our attention thanks to those imaginative moments involved with the hand, which turns out to be as resourceful as Thing in “The Addams Family” (1991). It is quite determined to go to its destination by any means necessary, and we accordingly get a tense and frightening moment when it boldly attempts to cross over a busy highway in a rather creative way.

Although it begins to lose its narrative momentum around the time when the hand finally arrives at its destination, the screenplay by director Jérémy Clapin and his co-writer Guillaume Laurant, which is based on Laurant’s novel “Happy Hand”, still maintains its humor and sensitivity at least, and then everything in the story eventually culminates to its calm but poignant finale. Mainly driven by sounds and images, the finale effectively presents a climax as emotional as demanded, and I also appreciate a little but precious sign of hope and resilience shown at the last minute of the film.

In conclusion, “I Lost My Body” is not entirely without weak aspects, but it is definitely recommendable to you if you enjoyed “Amelie” (2001) and other whimsical movies of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who has frequently collaborated with Laurant. In short, this is one of more distinctive animation films of this year, and you will not be disappointed if you are looking for something different from those usual Hollywood digital animation films out there.

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Official Secrets (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A whistleblower charged with treason

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“Official Secrets” is a well-intentioned but ultimately mild drama based on the true story of Katharine Gun, a British woman who was an employee of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) around the time when she decided to leak a secret memo from National Security Agency (NSA) in US for stopping the invasion of Iraq in 2003. While it is certainly ready to show and tell us how wrong the invasion of Iraq was as well how courageous Gun was, the movie feels rather pedestrian at times, and I was only surprised a bit by how her unjust plight eventually ended.

After the opening scene showing Gun, played by Keira Knightley, at her trial in 2004, the movie promptly moves back to her another usual working day in GCHQ in 2003. While she begins to work along with her several colleagues as usual, they all receive that secret memo from NSA, and it demands GCHQ to search for any information which may be used to manipulate a number of delegates in the United Nations Security Council. The council is recently tasked to vote on a resolution regarding the invasion of Iraq being planned by the American government with the assistance from the British government, and it looks like the American government is quite determined to get the resolution by any means necessary for justifying its invasion of Iraq in advance.

As a person opposing to the invasion of Iraq as much as many other people in UK and numerous other countries around the world, Gun comes to believe that this illegal spying operation demanded by NSA must be exposed in public, but she also knows well that she must be really careful and discreet in leaking that memo in public. She sends the copy of the memo to an activist friend of hers, and that friend later hands it to some anti-war journalist, who subsequently gives it to Martin Bright (Matt Smith), one of the journalists working in the Observer.

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When Bright shows the copy of the memo to his editor and colleagues, many of them are understandably skeptical at first, but they soon come to discern that they have a very credible evidence after checking it through various experts and sources. For example, Bright’s fellow journalist Ed Vulliamy (Rhys Ifans) confirms that a man behind the memo really works in NSA, and Peter Beaumont (Matthew Goode), another close colleague of Bright, gets an indirect confirmation on that illegal spying operation from a friend/source of his, who incidentally works in MI6.

As Bright and his colleagues in the Observer delve further into their highly sensitive matter, the mood accordingly becomes as tense as, say, “All the President’s Men” (1976), but the screenplay by director Gavin Hood and his co-writers Gregory and Sara Bernstein, which is based on “The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War” by Marcia & Thomas Mitchell, does not generate much narrative momentum as ponderously moving from one plot point to another. You may appreciate how it diligently tries to present its big picture via various pieces of information popping up from here and there, but its big picture will not surprise you much considering how much we know about the Invasion of Iraq now, and the eventual publication of Bright’s article does not feel as dramatically impactful as intended.

While Bright and his colleagues in the Observer unfortunately face a big setback due to an absurd mistake in their published article, Gun confronts the dire consequence of her action. Once the article is published, everyone at her workplace is thoroughly investigated, and, of course, there eventually comes a point where she decides that enough is enough. After she confesses to her superiors, she is arrested for a breach on the Official Secrets Act as expected, and that is just the beginning of her predicament during next several months. She can have lawyers to defend her at the upcoming trial, but she is notified that she is not allowed to discuss with her lawyers on anything involved with her work at GCHQ, and that certainly puts her and her lawyers in a very disadvantageous position.

officialsecrets04.jpgIt seems that she should plead guilty for getting some leniency from a judge to preside over her trial, but Gun firmly sticks to her position because she believes she did a right thing for her country as well as thousands of people to be affected by the invasion of Iraq, though her action and Bright’s article did not change anything to their disappointment and frustration. While he initially does not see much chance for Gun, Gun’s barrister Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) later comes to see that there is actually a possible way for defending her, and, what do you know, there comes a very unexpected turn during her trial.

I was disappointed a bit with the following anti-climactic ending of the film, but I enjoyed the performances of its several notable cast members, who did as much as they could for filling their respective positions. While Keira Knightley is credible in her character’s growing anxiety and conflict along the story, Matt Smith and Rhys Ifans bring some colorful personality to their rather thankless roles, and the same thing can be said about Ralph Fiennes, who is as unflappable as required during his few key moments in the movie.

Although I was not that bored during my viewing, “Official Secrets” does not succeed much in making its story as compelling or enlightening as I hoped, and it is a minor letdown compared to Gavin’s better works such as “Tsosti” (2005), which garnered him a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and “Eye in the Sky” (2015). Sure, its story and subjects are still relevant, but the movie merely delivers facts and details, and that is all.

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