Departures is the winner of the 2009 Academy Award in the category of the Best Foreign Language Picture. Loosely based on a memoir by Shinmon Aoki titled Coffinman: The Journal of a Buddhist Mortician, it tells the story of Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), an ex-cellist who comes to his home town and finds a very undesirable employment as a nōkanshi, a traditional ritual mortician in Japan. The profession attracts strong societal criticism and prejudice, and soon Kobayashi has to justify his choice not only to his wife and those around him, but also to himself, while finding the courage to finally face the most hated man in his life – his own father. Departures is a wonderful film full of humour and touching moments. This film about one man’s journey of self-discovery and finding forgiveness is also an admirable attempt to challenge and to help alleviate the nonsensical and unfair discrimination faced by people who work in this very difficult and challenging profession in Japan.
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I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
Charlie Kaufman’s newest film is a psychological drama with elements of “magical realism”. In the story, one young woman (Jessie Buckley) travels in a snowstorm with her boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents in their farmhouse. She is one eccentric and “artsy” person who is unsure of her future with her boyfriend and who often receives mysterious messages on her mobile phone. That is all we can be sure of because, the rest, including all the details, is soon called into question as Jake’s parents start behaving oddly and the characters are forced down the memory lane. Unfortunately, all the philosophy, psychology, good acting and the sumptuous cinematography by no other than Łukasz Żal, cinematographer behind Cold War (2018), cannot rescue this latest cinematic riddle by Kaufman. Wrapped in layers upon layers of tedious and predictable poetic and philosophical musings (or rather outbursts), the film becomes bland very early on and no pretty decorative “wrapping” (including all the wonderful design and wallpaper in the film) can hide the fact that, inside, our cinematic “enigma” is one weird mix of different, well-trodden on, pretentious and almost meaningless ideas.
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“Eternal order is prescribed by the sacred engine: all things flow from the sacred engine, all things in their place, all passengers in their section, all water flowing, all heat rising, pays homage to the sacred engine, in its own particular preordained position”.
“A blockbuster production with a devilishly unpredictable plot”, says character Wilford in Snowpiercer. That is what this film, directed by Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) and based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, also is. In this story, there is one post-apocalyptic world and one “self-sustaining” train makes it rounds around the world. On board are human survivors who are divided into strict social groups with one unfair regime governing them all. At the bottom of the social ladder (and the train), one can find the poor masses who are dressed in rags and survive on protein bars, and, at the top, there is the elite, consisting of a few individuals who ruthlessly preside over the masses, while enjoying the luxuries of life. When one man from the bottom of the train sparks the rebellious spirit in the masses, he does not even begin to imagine the complicated way to the top of the train nor what awaits him as he nears the real power propelling the train forward. Snowpiercer is not one’s ordinary action or sci-fi film; wrapped in philosophical reflections and delicately balancing humour and horror, and realistic action and allegory, the film defies expectations, requiring both a leap of faith and open-mindedness from the audience.
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Little Joe (2019)
Little Joe is a British/Austrian/German-produced film that was selected to compete at the Cannes Film Festival 2019. In this story, Alice Woodard (Emily Beecham) works at a special laboratory that produces genetically-modified flowers for the public market. Alice and her team have managed to produce one type of a plant that requires much attention from their owners, but, in return, is alleged to “make them happy”. The story takes a disturbing turn when Alice takes one of those new plants (flowers) home, gifts it to her son, Joe, and begins to worry that the pollen that the new flower produces may be infecting people in a sinister way. Probably. If that sounds a bit random and confusing, it is because it is, and the film never makes anything in this story compelling or clearer. Though, at first, the idea behind Little Joe sounds intriguing and the memorable production design does leave an impression, overall, Little Joe is nothing more than a very preposterous, excruciatingly dull and badly-acted picture that, in comparison, will make any episode of a British series EastEnders an immediate Oscar winner. Continue reading “Little Joe” Review
Parasite or Gisaengchung is a South Korean dark comedy-thriller from Bong Joon-ho (Okja ((2017)) that won the grandest award at the Cannes Film Festival 2019 – Palme d’Or. I can now happily report that this was a much deserved win and Parasite will be my best film of the year. This film must be seen to be believed – it has been a long time since I enjoyed a movie that much. In Parasite, a Kim family, consisting of a mother, father, daughter and son, is unemployed, poor and living in a basement of one derelict building. Their son, Kim Ki-woo, meets with his old friend and the latter offers him a chance to tutor for awhile one girl of a rich Park family. Kim Ki-woo successfully “infiltrates” the rich Park family, presenting himself as a knowledgeable and strict teacher, and, while doing so, does not forget about his family at home, trying to also secure for them employment positions in the Park family. What follows is the unbelievable chain of events with twists along the way. Director Bong Joon-ho is both subtle and outrageous in his direction and writing, as he tries to satirise a situation whereby two opposite segments of society (the rich and the poor) make a contact that leads to unexpected reactions and a delightful whirlpool of the funny and the macabre. Exquisitely and stylishly presented, Parasite is both darkly hilarious and delightfully shocking, setting a new sky-high standard for black comedy – the style of Bong Joon-ho. Continue reading “Parasite” Review
Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover (2011)), Joker is a latest, much-hyped movie starring Joaquin Phoenix (The Master (2012)) in the titular role of Arthur Fleck or Joker, a stand-up comedian fallen on hard times, who resorts to violence in Gotham City to avenge wrongs allegedly committed against him. Being supported by no other than Robert De Niro (a role reversal from The King of Comedy (1983)), Joaquin Phoenix gives the performance in Joker than can only be described as manically jaw-dropping in its brilliance. The character insight and portrayal are also bold, vivid, without holding anything back, as the film tries to explore the origins of Arthur’s homicidal tendencies through his early history and its revelations. However, unfortunately, if we then shift our attention to anything that is not Phoenix or the character study, we can see a number of problems in the film, including the inability to suspend disbelief regarding major plot developments, the sheer predictability of the plot, and the imbalance in the spotlight given to the minor characters vis-a-vis the main one. Joker is a kind of a film that is made up solely out of one character study and cannot show anything for itself apart from its character study and the brilliant performance. If Joaquin Phoenix is not there, there is no film (thankfully, Phoenix is virtually in every shot). Why should that be a problem? Building a film around a character study is one thing, but having a “film” that is nothing but a very “self-important” character study is something completely different (because, in this case, the film seems more like a shameful star-vehicle). There is no Joker, without the Joker, it is true, but when there is nothing but Joker and everything else (not much) in the film is either very awkward, very predictable, very questionable or very puzzling, then there is simply no great film. Continue reading “Joker” Review
25th Hour (2002)
Today (11th September) marks 18 years since the 9/11 terror attacks in New York, USA, and I thought I would review a movie that incorporates the post-9/11 atmosphere – Spike Lee’s film 25th Hour – as a tribute so that we never forget what happened and what it meant. Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing (1989), BlacKkKlansman (2018)) based his film on a book by David Benioff that tells of Montgomery “Monty” Brogan (Edward Norton), a man with a criminal history, who has just one day to enjoy his freedom before he goes to jail for seven years for drug-related offences. We follow Monty on this day, as he reflects on his past and the mistakes he had made in his life. With the beautiful score by Terence Blanchard, 25th Hour is a film that showcases the post-9/11 grief and anxiety to the fullest, while also demonstrating the extent people are pushed to lead a better life. Copying with grief and coming to terms with tragedy and one’s life mistakes are just some of the issues explored. 25th Hour may be too long, not entirely cohesive and thin plot-wise, but, with its vivid images, it somehow seems to speak directly to one’s heart and soul, being a film about hope, guilt and attempts at redemption, making it somehow very significant. Continue reading “25th Hour” Review
Ari Aster takes horror to a completely new level in his latest film Midsommar. Inspired by The Wicker Man and horror folklore, this film tells of Dani (Florence Pugh) who reluctantly decided to accept an invitation and go with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his friends to a festival that celebrates a midsummer in Hårga, Sweden (originally, the Midsummer Festival was a pagan holiday to commemorate the arrival of summer). On location, we, through the unsuspecting group of friends, slowly become immersed in the odd ways of life in this rural village in Sweden, slowly discovering its strange residents and their disturbing rituals. Welcoming and friendly villagers are only too happy to show their visitors around, as well as introduce them to their traditional midsummer celebration, but will our group of friends, as well as we, the audience, stomach what the villagers prepared for them and presented on their silver plate? In this gripping, “hallucinatory” film, we soon discover that, for the emotionally-vulnerable Dani, the stage has already been set for a showdown of her life. Continue reading “Midsommar” Review
Museo (Museum) (2018)
This heist movie is by Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios (Güeros (2014)), starring Gael Garcia Bernal (No (2012), The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)) and Leonardo Ortizgris (Güeros). Loosely based on a real story, the film won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at the Berlin International Film Festival 2018, and is about two young men in their thirties who still live with their families, while trying to become veterinarians. They decide to break their cycle of personal desperation by robbing the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. What follows is their journey trying to convert their stolen Mayan artefacts into money, while battling personal doubts, since they did not initially realise what their theft might mean culturally and societally for the people of Mexico. Museo is a well-made film with an interesting premise and an unusual dimension to it, but it is also fair to say that it often slides into some obvious melodrama, losing its force and conviction. Continue reading “Museo” Mini-Review
Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felice) (2018)
Alice Rohrwacher may only have three major feature films under her belt (Corpo Celeste (2011), The Wonders (2014) and Happy as Lazzaro (2018)), but this Fiesole-born director proves to be the one to be reckoned with. Happy as Lazzaro is an unusual, surreal and imaginative drama which stretches the limits of belief, and makes one ponder and wonder about the significance of leading an unselfish, innocent and open life in the modern age which, in turn, is geared primarily towards ruthless money-making and twisted concepts of success. Philosophical, enigmatic and moving, Happy as Lazzaro may start as this great drama about one family’s dominion over poor working people in Italy, but, by the end, it proves to be so much more than just a tale about the swindling and corruption of the innocent. From the hardship of a simple village life in Italy to the exploration of the metaphysical, Happy as Lazzaro covers much ground and is an ambitious, multifaceted film that, amazingly, succeeds on all fronts. Continue reading “Happy as Lazzaro” Review