Isn’t It Romantic? (2019) ☆☆1/2 (2.5/4): Isn’t it typical?

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“Isn’t It Romantic?”, which was theatrically released in US in last month and then was released by Netflix outside US on last Thursday, is fairly watchable, but it is not as fresh as intended. While it initially seems to have a subversive fun with those numerous clichés and conventions of romantic comedy films, it is still stuck inside its genre formula especially during its predictable finale, and the result is a little bit disappointing despite the undeniable star quality of its lead performer.

The early part of the movie shows how things are mundane and miserable for Natalie (Rebel Wilson), a young Australian architect working in New York City. She is usually neglected by many colleagues at her workplace despite her considerable skill and talent, and, as constantly aware of her chubby appearance, she is also not so confident about how she looks to others around her. Her only comfort at her workplace comes from her two colleagues Josh (Adam DeVine) and Whitney (Betty Gilpin), but she is not usually cheered up much by them, and she is rather oblivious to how much they really care about her.

One of the most amusing moments in the film comes from when Natalie spots Whitney watching a romantic comedy film as usual and then talks a lot about why she does not like romantic comedy films much. As she enumerates a number of genre clichés and conventions one by one, the movie uses some of them as a sort of meta-joke, and Wilson, a genuinely talented comedy actress who drew my attention for the first time with her scene-stealing supporting turn in “Pitch Perfect” (2012), delivers this key moment with sheer gusto.

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Not long after that point, something strange happens to Natalie. During her small clash with a robber at a subway station, she happens to get hit in her head and then loses her consciousness, and she is very surprised when she subsequently wakes up at a local hospital. While almost everyone is quite nicer to her than before, the world looks far brighter and sunnier with lots of colors in the background, and she is certainly shocked to find that her apartment becomes wider and more luxurious than before.

In addition, many of people around Natalie are considerably changed. While her neighbor Donny (Brandon Scott Jones) is turned into your typical flamboyant gay friend, Whitney is transformed into a mean workplace rival, and Blake (Liam Hemsworth), who is that important company client in question, becomes a Prince Charming who is automatically attracted to Natalie right from their accidental encounter on the street.

It does not take much time for Natalie to realize that she is stuck in a sort of alternative world dominated by clichés and conventions of romantic comedy films, and the movie accordingly provides a series of absurd moments as expected. There is a loony moment showing how expletives are always masked by noises in this fantasy world, and there is also a silly scene where Natalie is frustrated to discover that she cannot have any substantial carnal fun with Blake because they are in the world rated PG-13.

After concluding that she needs a happy ending for getting out of this artificial fantasy world, Natalie actively pursues Blake, but, of course, she soon discovers that she made a big mistake which was already made by those countless romantic comedy movie characters before. She comes to realize that how much she has been oblivious to her feelings toward Josh (He does not seem changed much in contrast to the other supporting characters in the film, by the way), but he has already been in a relationship with a beautiful female model he comes across by coincidence, and Natalie becomes quite determined to do something about that as Josh and his girlfriend openly announce their engagement in front of Natalie and others.

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What follows after that narrative point will not surprise you much if you are a seasoned moviegoer just like me. There is an obligatory moment which surely shows Natalie what a jerk Blake is (Is this a spoiler?), and there is a sweet moment accompanied with a pep talk from Donny (Does this surprise you?), and, of course, there is also a climactic moment showing Natalie running against time in, yes, slow motion.

Dutifully presenting and mocking these and many other genre clichés and conventions as required, the movie ironically succumbs to its genre in the end, and it consequently comes to lose its comic momentum despite the game efforts from Wilson and other notable performers surrounding her. While Adam DeVine and Liam Hemsworth are well-cast in their functional roles, Betty Gilpin and Brandon Scott Jones have some juicy fun while holding their respective places well around Wilson, and Wilson definitely deserves some praise for steadily carrying the film with her own talent and presence.

In conclusion, “Isn’t It Romantic?”, which is competently directed by director Todd Strauss-Schulson, is not particularly bad at all, but it is merely passable without breaking any particular new ground in its genre territory, and that is a shame considering the rich satiric potentials in its story premise. Yes, I laughed several times while watching the film at last night, but I was also reminded that there are a bunch of romantic comedy films which handle their genre elements a lot better than this movie, and, to be frank with you, I think you can skip it unless you have some spare time to kill.

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Vox Lux (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Before and after becoming a star

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I was left with rather hollow impression after watching “Vox Lux”, whose title means “voice of light” in Latin. While it has a number of good moments to remember, the movie is not entirely successful in terms of story and characters, and we can only admire its bold attempt to be something more than your average flashy music drama about fame and its price.

The first half of the movie mainly revolves around how a plain adolescent girl named Celeste Montgomery (Raffey Cassidy) becomes a national sensation in 1999. When she and her classmates are about to begin their usual school day in their classroom after the winter holiday season, a terrible shooting incident suddenly happens in the school, and there eventually comes a very tense moment when Celeste finds herself between her terrified classmates and a boy responsible for the shooting incident.

While Celeste luckily survives, many of her classmates die in the end, and she is quite devastated because of that. As going through the recovery process at a local hospital, she composes a song along with her sister to express her feeling of loss and grief, and she subsequently performs that song at a memorial ceremony for the victims of the shooting incident. Everyone at the ceremony including TV and newspaper reporters is quite impressed by the unadorned poignancy of the song, and, not so surprisingly, it becomes quite popular around the country.

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And it does not take much time for Celeste to rise to fame and success she has never imagined before. With the guidance of her manager played by Jude Law, she takes necessary steps for her stardom. We observe them going through their recording session, we see them having a meeting with the publicist played Jennifer Ehle, we also get a dizzy montage scene showing how she and her sister have some fun after they come to Stockholm. Like many young pop music stars, Celeste comes to dabble in alcohol and drug in the meantime, and her manager is surely not so pleased about that.

Anyway, she eventually gets a lot more fame and success than expected after shooting her music video in LA around the time when that horrible historical tragedy happens in New York City, and the second half of the movie focuses on her subsequent status in 2017. Due to a recent shooting incident associated with that famous music video of hers, Celeste, played by Natalie Portman from this point, draws lots of unwanted attention from media and public, but she is determined to do the upcoming concert as scheduled, and her manager and publicist have no problem with that.

Meanwhile, we observe how messy her personal life has become. Due to a little personal conflict in their past, Celeste and her sister have been very distant to each other, and there is a painful moment when Celeste cruelly lashes out at her sister, who remains around Celeste as before despite that. In case of Celeste’s adolescent daughter Albertine (Raffey Cassidy), Celeste tries to be a little nice to her, but she cannot help but become neurotic and self-absorbed as shown from the long conversation scene between her and Albertine, who clearly worries about her mother while understanding well what a mess her mother has been during recent years.

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Around the narrative point where her showtime finally comes, Celeste is quite more nervous and agitated than before, but, of course, she manages to find her spirit and strength because, well, she still lives for music and performance. During the expected climactic sequence, the movie provides some visually dazzling moments as required, and the original songs by Sia are utilized well during these moments while sounding as catchy as your typical popular pop songs.

However, the screenplay by director Brady Corbet and his co-writer Mona Fastvold does not provide much substance to support many stylish moments in the film. Besides its thin characterization and uneven storytelling, the movie has several distracting flaws including the redundant narration by Willem Dafoe, and we accordingly become more distant to its story and characters without much care and attention.

Nevertheless, the movie is not entirely without interesting elements to observe, which mainly come from the two main performers at the center of the movie. Looking as committed as she was in “Black Swan” (2010) and “Jackie” (2016), Portman did a good job of conveying to us her character’s bitter superficiality, and she is complemented well by Raffey Cassidy, who drew our attention for the first time via her plucky supporting turn in “Tomorrowland” (2015) and then showed more of her talent in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017). While ably carrying the first half of the film, Cassidy also holds her own place well opposite Portman during the second half, and that is certainly more than enough for me to discern that she is indeed a new talented actress to watch.

“Vox Lux” is the second feature film directed by Corbet, who previously debuted with “The Childhood of a Leader” (2016). Although I am not that satisfied with its overall result, I appreciate its style, mood, performance to some degree, and, in my inconsequential opinion, it surely has more life and personality than, say, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2010). I still hesitate to recommend it, but it is a curious misfire at least.

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Captain Marvel (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Meet Captain Marvel

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“Captain Marvel”, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), is alternatively familiar and refreshing. Although it is your typical superhero origin story, there are a number of nice changes and variations for distinguishing itself from many other recent MCU flicks (this is the 21st MCU movie, by the way). and it surely brings some fresh air to the franchise along with its feisty female superhero character.

At the beginning, the movie shows us its title character’s struggle with her amnesiac status. Currently called “Vers” (Brie Larson), she has been a member of an elite military unit of a powerful alien race named Kree, but she still does not remember much about her past in the Earth before brought to Kree’s home planet six years ago, and she only frequently dreams a bit about a mysterious figure who seems to be quite important to her.

Not long after Vers and other unit members including her commander/mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) are sent to some other planet for their latest secret mission, she happens to be captured by a bunch of shape-shifting aliens who have been the enemy of Kree for many years. Their leader, named Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), attempts to extract those forgotten memories from her, but, of course, she soon shows them how powerful she is as a warrior whose fists can shoot explosive bursts of energy to her opponents, and she comes to escape from Talos’ spaceship when it almost arrives at the Earth in the late 1990s.

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After crashing down right into a local video rental shop in California, Vers encounters a S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division) agent named Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who initially does not believe much what she says to him but then comes to realize what is going on as getting himself involved more into the situation. Talos and other shape-shifting aliens are still chasing after her, and it is apparent that Fury is the only guy who can help her finding what exactly happened to her six years ago.

Based on what she vaguely remembers from that mysterious figure appearing in her dream, Vers and Fury go to a secret US Air Force military base, and they soon come to learn more about not only that mysterious figure but also Vers herself. It turns out that Vers is actually a military jet pilot named Carol Danvers, and she has a close friend/colleague named Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), who is certainly surprised to see her again when Fury and Danvers come to Rambeau’s residence located in the Deep South.

The movie becomes less interesting during its third act as dutifully following its genre conventions including a big climactic action sequence, but directors/co-writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously made a string of acclaimed independent films such as “Half Nelson” (2006) and “Sugar” (2008), seldom loses their focus on story and characters even at that point, and they also did a competent job of handling several action sequences in the film. Although these action sequences look rather modest compared to what we saw from other MCU films such as “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018), but they are presented well with enough fun and excitement at least, and I particularly like a little wry sense of humor observed from the chase action sequence unfolded in and around a moving subway train.

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Above all, the movie is firmly anchored by the strong lead performance from Brie Larson, a talented actress who initially drew our attention via her breakthrough turn in “Short Term 12” (2013) and then advanced further with her Oscar-winning performance in “Room” (2015). While believable in her character’s gradual development along the story, Larson imbues her role with rebellious spirit and determination, and I enjoyed how her plucky acting resonates with numerous feminist touches in throughout the film such as a brief moment showing how her character was frequently underestimated and discouraged by men around her. As we follow her bumpy quest for finding herself and her past, Danvers comes to us as a strong woman who comes to discern that she does not have to prove herself to others at all, and we come to cheer for her a lot when she is finally on her full-throttle mode later in the story.

Larson is surrounded by a number of good supporting performers. Samuel L. Jackson, who looks quite younger here in this film thanks to lots of special effects on his face, ably complements Larson, and the most humorous moments in the film are generated from their effortless interactions on the screen. While Ben Mendelsohn, who previously worked with Boden and Fleck in “Mississippi Grind” (2015), looks sneaky as often wearing a lot of makeups on his head, Annette Bening and Jude Law fill their respective functional roles as demanded, and Lashana Lynch has a few good moments with Larson as a woman who is as brave and resourceful as her dear friend. In case of a certain cat in the movie, which is actually played by four different cats, it steals the show right from its very first scene, and it will surely give you extra entertainment if you are a longtime cat lover like me.

Although it is one or two steps below what was achieved by “Wonder Woman” (2017) or “Black Panther” (2018), “Captain Marvel” is fairly entertaining despite several weak aspects including its predictable third act, and it certainly brings some diversity to its genre territory as required. In short, this is one of better MCU films, and I sincerely hope that its heroine will go further than whatever she will do in the upcoming Avengers movie.

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Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Life in the Siberian Taiga

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In January 2013, I came to learn about Werner Herzog and Dmitry Vasyukov’s documentary film “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga” via Steven Boone’s review and late Roger Ebert’s blog post. While I became quite curious about the documentary after reading their enthusiastic pieces, I somehow missed the chance to watch it at that time, and I only came to be reminded of its existence when I discovered several years later that it was available on Netflix in South Korea (Sadly, it is no longer available on Netflix in South Korea at present).

Like many of Herzog’s notable documentaries such as “Grizzly Man” (2005) and “Encounters at the End of the World” (2008), the documentary observes and meditates on an extreme case of nature and human condition, and its main subject is the life of the people in a small village named Bakhtia, which is located in the middle of the Siberian Taiga. Divided into four seasonal chapters, the documentary closely observes how difficult and demanding life can be for those fur trappers living in the village, and we cannot help but awed and amazed as watching them willingly and contently going through one hard season after another.

The documentary opens with the village during early spring days, which is still covered with lots of snow even though the weather gets warmer day by day. We meet a fur trapper named Gennady Soloviev, and we see him doing a number of spring works including making wooden skis. While he and other fur trappers in the village use a few modern equipments including a chainsaw for their work, they mostly depend on basic tools and primitive skills, and that certainly reminds us a lot of how our ancestors worked during prehistoric age.

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As spring continues, the surface of a nearby river is thawed enough for boats and canoes, and the town becomes a little merrier as celebrating May Day, but Soloviev and other fur trappers (one of them is a distant relative of Andrei Tarkovsky, by the way) already begin the preparation for the next hunting season. Each of them has each own hunting territory more than 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles), and we later observe Soloviev marking one of those numerous sites for his traps in advance.

When summer comes, the landscapes look greener and livelier with more life activities in river and forest, but this seasonal change is accompanied with lots of mosquitoes constantly buzzing around whatever they can suck blood from. As a guy with lifelong aversion to mosquitoes, I frequently cringed as hearing that loud buzzing sound of mosquitoes on the soundtrack, and that surely made me promise to myself that I will never go to the Siberian Taiga during summer days. Despite those annoying mosquitoes, Soloviev keeps working as usual, and we later see how he makes homemade repellent. All he needs is tree bark and tar, and, as far as I can see, his homemade repellent seems to work well, though he still has to wear thick gloves and clothes while working outside.

Meanwhile, the movie pays some attention to a group of indigenous tribe people living in the village and their fading culture and tradition. We see an old man making a traditional canoe step by step, and then we are informed that this traditional skill of his will be gone once he dies. We also meet an old lady who has a number of traditional artifacts, but, alas, many of her belongings are later gone due to an unfortunate fire accident, and we subsequently see her and several other tribe people leaving to somewhere by a helicopter.

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As autumn arrives with chillier weather, daily life becomes far busier for Soloviev and other fur trappers because they now have to check whether everything is okay in their respective hunting territories. We see Soloviev doing some repair on his base hut and additional huts, and we also watch how he prepares food and other commodities to sustain him throughout the upcoming winter season.

When winter eventually begins with lots of snow, Soloviev and other fur trappers are quite ready to work under its very harsh condition. After all, they have been quite accustomed to this extreme condition for many years, and we subsequently get several memorable moments as some of them become reflective about their enduring way of life. Their life has surely demanded a lot from them, but they have been happy and content with that while also proud of how they have lived and worked all by themselves, and Herzog, who did the narration for the documentary, apparently admires their tenacious individualism: “They live off the land and are self-reliant, truly free. No rules, no taxes, no government, no laws, no bureaucracy, no phones, no radio, equipped only with their individual values and standard of conduct.”

In conclusion, “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga”, which was edited from a four-part Russian TV documentary made by Vasuykov (You can find it on YouTube, by the way), is unforgettable as giving us a vivid, fascinating glimpse into the Siberian Taiga and the life of the people living there, and I particularly admire how Herzog brings more special quality to the documentary via his distinctive voice and interesting philosophical musings on nature and humanity. Yes, I still do not want to go to the Siberian Taiga, but I may revisit the documentary for appreciating again what Herzog achieved along with Yasyukov.

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The Front Runner (2018) ☆☆(2/4): As his campaign crashes down

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Jason Reitman’s latest film “The Front Runner” tries to cover too many things about the rise and fall of Gary Hart, who attempted to be a Democratic presidential candidate in 1988 but then fell from grace due to that infamous scandal surrounding his extramarital affair. While busily hopping around several different plotlines for providing us a big social/political picture surrounding Hart’s scandal, the movie frequently suffers from its scattershot narrative and thin characterization, and it only comes to lose more of its focus and momentum while never delving deep into its subjects.

After the opening sequence showing the outcome of the 1984 Democratic Party presidential primaries, the movie instantly moves forward to 1988, when Hart (Hugh Jackman) tries again for becoming the Democratic candidate for the upcoming US Presidential Election. Besides being a guy who may become the youngest US President since John F. Kennedy, Hart draws lots of attention from public and media for his progressive political stance, and everyone working in his campaign is quite confident and excited from the start as he receives far more support than other notable Democratic candidates including Michael Dukakis.

However, not long after Hart officially announces that he will compete for the 1988 Democratic Party presidential primaries, a reporter of the Miami Herald receives an anonymous call, which informs the reporter that Hart is having an affair with some woman he met at a boat party held outside Miami, Florida. The reporter does not believe that much at first, but then what that anonymous caller told to the reporter turns out to be pretty credible, and the Miami Herald soon embarks on digging into what is being hidden behind Hart’s back.

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It does not take much time for Hart’s campaign manager Bill Dixon (J. K. Simmons) to come to learn of what will strike the campaign sooner or later, and he naturally becomes quite concerned while also trying to handle the situation as much as he can, but Hart is quite adamant about sticking to his principles. As a deeply private guy, he does not want to get his private life exposed in public at all, and he stubbornly maintains his position even when his scandal is finally reported by the Miami Herald.

As Hart and his people try to survive this scandal, their situation only gets worse as the media pays more attention to Hart’s private life. When an envelope containing the information on Hart’s another affair is delivered to the Washington Post later in the story, it is promptly decided that this should be reported as soon as possible because, well, other newspapers will report on it anyway, and that decision certainly throws another blow to Hart’s campaign.

Meanwhile, the movie shows some sympathy toward two women who have to endure a lot due to Hart’s indiscretion. Hart’s wife, Oletha “Lee” Hart (Vera Farmiga), is not so shocked as she has been quite accustomed to her husband’s personal flaws for years, but she still cannot help but get frustrated and exasperated as constantly hounded by TV and newspaper reporters. In case of Donna Rice (Sara Paxton), the woman who is at the center of the scandal along with Hart, she is overwhelmed by her circumstance as the media already believes that she is Hart’s mistress regardless of whatever happened between her and Hart on that day, and there is a little poignant scene where she confides her confusion and frustration to one of Hart’s campaign employees.

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As juggling these many different elements together, the adapted screenplay by Reitman and his co-adaptors Matt Bai and Jay Carson, which is based on Bai’s nonfiction book “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid”, tries to make some critical points on American media and politics, but it is often marred by its weak storytelling, and that problematic aspect is particularly exemplified by its rather vague and superficial depiction of Hart. Although Jackman is well-cast and brings some charisma to his character as required, the movie does not provide any particular insight on what makes Hart tick, and Hart consequently remains a bland and distant figure even at the end of the story, which is disappointingly anti-climactic to say the least.

Around Jackman, Reitman assembles various performers, most of who are unfortunately under-utilized on the whole. While J.K. Simmons, who has frequently collaborated with Reitman since he appeared in “Thank You for Smoking” (2005), has a few nice scenes which remind us again of why he has been one of the most dependable character actors working in Hollywood, Vera Farmiga and Sara Paxton did a lot more than what is demanded by their respective thankless roles, and other notable performers in the film including Alfred Molina, Alex Karpovsky, and Kevin Pollak are seriously wasted because of their underdeveloped supporting characters.

On the whole, “The Front Runner” is not a total waste of time, but it does not fully develop the considerable potentials inside its story and characters, and I was left with empty impressions while only being reminded of how much things have gotten worse since Hart’s humiliating fall from grace, which surely makes an ironic contrast to Donald Trump’s disgraceful rise to the White House. Compared to Reitman’s other notable works such as “Thank You for Smoking” and “Up in the Air” (2009), this movie considerably lacks focus and edgy, so I recommend you to watch them instead of this middling misfire.

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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Conventional but inspiring anyway

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“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year and was recently released on Netflix, is based on an inspiring real-life story of a young clever Malawian boy who went forward with a simple but brilliant idea for saving his family and village. While it is as conventional as you can expect, the movie fairly works well while handling its story and characters with honesty and respect, and it surely has some genuine human moments to touch us.

The early part of the movie mainly revolves around the daily life of William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba) and his family, who have lived in a small rural village of Malawi. Besides helping his father Trywell (Chiwetel Ejiofor) on their family cornfield, William often fixes radios for his father and neighbors for himself, and his father certainly has much expectation on William when William begins his first day at a local school.

Trywell and his wife Agnes (Aïssa Maïga) hope that their son will go further with more education, but, unfortunately, their situation is not particularly good. At one point, William is notified that he must pay his tuition as soon as possible, but his parents cannot afford to do that at present because their harvest of this year does not look that promising due to the recent flood.

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And there later comes another bad news. As many people worried, the flood is subsequently followed by the draught, and that inevitably results in a serious circumstance of poverty and famine around the country. The chief of the village and others in the village try to find any possible way to get the help from the Malawian government, but, not so surprisingly, those corrupt high-ranking officials including the President of Malawi do not care much about that matter, and we subsequently get a series of devastating moments showing the increasing despair and desperation in the village. When the draught finally begins after the dissatisfying harvest season, many people desperately look for food, and the movie later gives us a striking scene which shows a bunch of frantic people trying to get into a government storage facility where they can buy food a bit.

Trywell and Agnes try their best for their children as well as themselves, but they are often reminded again and again of how grim their situation is. While things may get better in the next harvest season, they have to wait for several months at least, and, above all, there is no practical way to water their cornfield in advance. Because there is not enough food for them, they and their children have no choice but to eat only once a day, and their eldest daughter Annie (Lily Banda) seriously begins to consider leaving the village along with her secret boyfriend, who is incidentally one of the teachers working in William’s school.

Meanwhile, William becomes more interested in electricity and engineering, and that is how he comes to have a smart idea about how to water his father’s cornfield. After learning about the mechanism of an electric generator attached to a bicycle belonging to his elder sister’s boyfriend, he decides to make an electric generator equipped with a wind turbine which may produce enough electricity for pumping water from underground, and he soon embarks on his project step by step. Although he is no longer allowed to study in his school due to the aforementioned problem, he manages to sneak into the small school library for getting more technological knowledge and information, and he also gets some help from several local boys including his best friend Gilbert (Philbert Falakeza), who is the son of the village chief.

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Once he succeeds in his first test, William tries to get some help from his father, but Trywell does not listen to his son at all. As he is so occupied with saving his family by any means necessary, Trywell becomes bitterer and harsher than before, and that leads to a very painful conflict between him and William when William later tries again to obtain what he really needs from his father right now.

What follows after that narrative point is a bit too predictable, but the movie steadily maintains its narrative momentum under the thoughtful direction of director/writer Chiwetel Ejiofor, who adapted the nonfiction book of the same name by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. He and his crew members including cinematographer Dick Pope, who was previously Oscar-nominated for “Mr. Turner” (2014), did a good job of establishing vivid, palpable local atmosphere on the screen with some nice cultural details to observe, and I particularly like the ethnic costumes shown at the beginning and end of the movie.

Ejiofor also draws solid performances from his main cast members. While young newcomer Maxwell Simba humbly carries the film, Ejiofor and the other main cast members in the film including Aïssa Maïga, Lily Banda, Philbert Falakeza, Noma Dumezweni, and Joseph Marcell hold each own place well around Simba, and Maïga is especially wonderful when Agnes tries to make her husband come to his sense later in the story.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is the first feature film directed by Ejiofor, who has been mainly known for his distinguished film acting career full of stellar performances such as his recent Oscar-nominated turn in “12 Year a Slave” (2013). Although the overall result is rather modest, it shows at least that he is a good filmmaker who knows how to present story and characters, and I guess we can have some expectation on whatever will be directed by him next.

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A Resistance (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): The Story of Yu Gwan-sun

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South Korean film “A Resistance” is a respectful period drama movie about Yu Gwan-sun, one of the most prominent activists in the March 1st Movement against Imperial Japanese colonial rule of Korea in 1919. Considering that Yu has been one of the symbolic figures of the Korean Independent Movement for nearly a century since her tragic early death in 1920, I worried a bit about whether the movie would be a bland, ponderous hagiography, but the result turns out to be solider than expected, and it certainly helps that the movie is supported well by its several talented cast members.

The movie opens with Yu (Go Ah-sung) being transferred to a prison shortly after arrested for organizing and participating in the March 1st Movement. While she is going to serve only 3 years in this prison, the condition of her ward is pretty harsh to say the least, and we soon see her locked up in a very small cell, which is already full of many other female prisoners who participated in the March 1st Movement just like Yu.

The ward is supervised by a Japanese prison guard quite willing to suppress his prisoners by any means necessary, and he is usually accompanied by Nishida (Ryoo Kyung-soo), a Korean prison guard who changed his name for getting himself accepted as an Imperial Japanese citizen. Although he may have some reluctance about mistreating Korean prisoners, Nishida is ready to do anything for his direct boss, and his traitorous status certainly does not escape Yu’s notice when they happen to confront each other shortly after a defiant group act instigated by her and her fellow prisoners in the cell.

Once discerning that Yu is a major trouble in their ward, Nishida and his direct boss try to break her in very brutal ways. While the movie thankfully handles this and other savage moments with considerable restraint, the cruel acts of brutality inflicted on Yu still feel palpable nonetheless, and I winced especially during the scene where she is forced to stand up for several days while locked up in a very tight space.

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Nevertheless, Yu keeps her spirit and determination intact, and her fellow prisoners in the cell including Hyang-hwa (Kim Sae-byuk), Ae-ra (Kim Ye-eun), and Ok-i (Jeong Ha-dam) keep maintaining their solidarity around her. When one pregnant prisoner eventually gives birth to her baby, Yu and other prisoners in the cell do as much as they can for keeping the baby warm during cold winter days, and that is one of several small touching moments in the film.

Meanwhile, as spring approaches, Yu begins to work on her small plan for another act of defiance. As she pretends that she is willing to conform to her prison guards, they become less watchful about her as letting her work outside the ward, and then she patiently waits for a certain date. What her and her fellow prisoners do on that day seem futile at first, but it subsequently leads to something much bigger than they have ever imagined, and that certainly displeases the Japanese warden of their prison as well as Nashida and other Japanese prison guards.

The last act of the movie accordingly focuses on Yu’s consequent ordeals after that incident. While many of her fellow prisoners are eventually released when their sentence gets reduced in half, she still has several months to serve in the prison, and she is not even allowed to meet her brother, who was also incarcerated for participating in the March 1st Movement but is recently released just like many others.

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Diligently maintaining its dry, restrained storytelling approach even at that narrative point, the movie accumulates its emotional power bit by bit under the competent direction of director/writer Jo Min-ho. Its story and characters are rather broad, but Yu and the other main characters in the film are presented with enough amount of life and personality, and Jo’s screenplay shows some humor at times while never overlooking the grim situation of Yu and the other main characters. Mostly shot in black and white film, the movie occasionally serves us a seemingly plain but haunting moments of stark beauty, and these fine moments make an effective visual contrast with a few flashback scenes shot in color film.

As the center of the movie, Go Ah-sung, who has been one of the most prominent South Korean actresses since her supporting turns in Bong Joon-ho’s “The Host” (2006) and “Snowpiercer” (2013), give a terrific performance full of human touches to be appreciated, and she is surrounded by a bunch of reliable supporting performers. While Kim Sae-byuk, Kim Ye-eun, and Jeong Ha-dam are equally terrific as Yu’s three fellow prisoners, Ryoo Kyung-soo is as despicable as required by his supporting role, and Choi Moo-sung, who was unforgettable in “Last Child” (2017), briefly appears as Yu’s father.

I must point out that “A Resistance” does show anything new about its human subject to me and other South Korean audiences, but it did its job as well as intended at least, and I was touched enough by what was modestly presented on the screen by Jo and his cast and crew. It could be better, but it is still a strong South Korean female drama film worthwhile to be mentioned along with “Microhabitat” (2017), “February” (2017), “HerStory” (2017), and “Miss Baek” (2018), and it will surely give you more than a mere history lesson on that dark period of Korea in the early 20th century.

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