Friday, January 22

Movie Review

Review: Palm Springs (2020)
Movie Review

Review: Palm Springs (2020)

We've seen it before and we'll see it again: a problematic guy is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again in a seemingly endless time-loop. Now, imagine putting together the phrase ‘time loop’, ‘rom-com’, and ‘original’ in the same sentence as ‘one of this year’s best.' Then, add 'not trying to be the next Groundhog Days' and 'relevant to the current situation' into the equation; and you'll get Palm Springs, a directorial debut by Max Barbakow, written by Andy Siara. Coincidentally, the premise somehow mirrors the condition of almost everyone around the world—trapped in a devastating loop and a cycle of tedium during the quarantine period. (more…)
Review: Undine (2020)
Movie Review

Review: Undine (2020)

German director, Christian Petzold, trades the eloquently crafted period drama that has become his trademark in the last few tenures (including Phoenix and Transit) for a present era tragedy with mythical touch in his new film, Undine. While the title—referring to the protagonist's name—sounds obvious, it has never been clearly assuring to whether Petzold's new drama is a story about a mythological water fairy or a heartbreaking love story inspired by the water spirit. Whichever stance it implies, any prerequisite knowledge about undines might lead audiences to different exits as the story goes. One thing for sure, the narrative doesn't operate in the magical, fairy tale ways; but, it rather follows a more haunting path, observing the worst case scenario in the happily-ever-after aftermat...
Review: Quarantine Tales (2020)
Focus: Indonesia, Movie Review

Review: Quarantine Tales (2020)

Amidst the frustrating COVID-19 pandemic, BASE Entertainment (Indonesian-Singaporean production company behind Joko Anwar's Impetigore and Riri Riza's Bebas) produced a multi-genre omnibus called Quarantine Tales. By putting together 5 short films under one umbrella theme—quarantine, the omnibus showcases works from a mix-and-match combo of seasoned and rising Indonesian directors. The omnibus also marks the directorial debut of prominent Indonesian actress, Dian Sastrowardoyo (Ada Apa dengan Cinta and Kartini), alongside other works from acclaimed director, Ifa Isfansyah (Sang Penari, Pendekar Tongkat Emas), as well as promising names, such as Jason Iskandar (whose full-feature debut, Akhirat: A Love Story) is coming soon, Sidharta Tata (Tunnel), and Aco Tenriyagelli. (more…)...
Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)
Movie Review

Review: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)

Into a world where any Charles Dickens' adaptation is considered an old-school artefact, Armando Iannucci (The Death of Stalin) brings a fresh and distinctive rendition of the author's semi-autobiographical work, David Copperfield as originally titled 'The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account).' The director, co-writing the screenplay with Simon Blackwell, retains the author's sense of adventure and exotic characters in the presentation. Additionally, Iannucci's version is gifted with merry-making ensemble of casts and playful narrative that makes his take —shortened into The Personal History of David Copperfield— a jolly British Victorian experience. (more&hel...
Review: Uncle / Onkel (2019)
Movie Review

Review: Uncle / Onkel (2019)

Set in a rural farmland in a provincial Danish town, Frelle Petersen's Uncle is a placid story revolving around the rhythmic and monotonous lives as farmers in Denmark. Putting forward authenticity and closer look to the society the film attempts to portray, the director casts mostly local non-actor performers and local actors to give a real soul to the story. The pace flows leisurely, almost without any hard push to escalate, and the plot almost always over-indulges in specific moments during the daily routine of the farmers. The agricultural backdrops in the horizon looks wonderful, the sleepy town seems peaceful, but the routine sounds highly tedious; but, Petersen is eager to present the impression of living in rural Danish, his hometown, Jutland, that becomes the epicenter of the sto...
Review: Apples (2020)
Movie Review

Review: Apples (2020)

When Aristotle wrote Poetics, he wouldn't have predicted how dramatic narrative will shift in his homeland of what we now know as Greece. After the umpteenth New Waves that had been on the tide for centuries, the current wave, especially in the film narrative dubbed as Greek Weird Wave, has moved to somewhat blend the mythical trait from the oral narrative era with bizarre drama and black comedy as shown in the work of Yorgos Lanthimos, Panos Koutras, Athina Rachel Tsangari, and recently in Babis Makridis' Pity. The directorial debut of Christos Nikou, frequent collaborator of Lanthimos, titled Apples adds to the very same long list with a peculiar story about a lonely man living in a pandemic world. Only the melancholy that looms can compensate the sheer bizarreness that the story exudes...
Review: Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Featured, Movie Review

Review: Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Diana Prince a.k.a. Wonder Woman, portrayed as eloquently as ever by Gal Gadot, makes a sweet come back in Wonder Woman 1984, set in the titular year at least 66 years after she's last seen in the Armistice of 11 November. The heroine is currently living a serene routine as Smithsonian Institution expert in Washington while cautiously and secretly helping people and fighting crimes. When an ambitious con-artist, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), comes up with a foul plot that might cause ridiculously mythical cataclysms around the world and turn an innocent gemologist and Diana's colleague, Barbara Minerva (Kirsten Wiig), into an apex predator like never before, she must take her super-heroine mantle once more even when she's faced to the ultimate vulnerability she doesn't know she has. (more&...
Review: Shirley (2020)
Movie Review

Review: Shirley (2020)

In the recent years, Elisabeth Moss has transformed herself into a beast of an actor. Her sharp acting keeps pushing the boundaries and setting higher standards in each occasion. In the aftermath of Madmen, she quickly bounces with staggering performance in all seasons of The Handmaid's Tale before winning Palme D'Or in Ruben Östlund's The Square, and the unnerving acting in Her Smell. In 2020, she single-handedly leads Leigh Whannell's The Invisible Man into its acclaimed status. Shirley, however, presents a challenge that she manages to overcome with scintillating details in portraying Shirley Jackson, quirky horror author who writes The Haunting in the Hill House. (more…)
Review: Nomadland (2020)
Featured, Movie Review

Review: Nomadland (2020)

"I'm not homeless; I'm just houseless," Frances McDormand's Fern explains her situation—or more accurately, her way of life to her friend's daughter amidst Chloé Zhao's absorbing feature, Nomadland. Her words sound sentimental but never melancholic; and, so does her journey. House is a place, but a home is where the heart is and Fern's journey is best defined with that. She leaves her old life, hits the road in her versatile van, and lives a nomadic life in the spirit of American West. After all, her journey is a elegiac ode to the beautiful life, pensive memories, and to the sense where people actually belong. When "living" means settling down at one place for the roof, the comfort and the money, it's utterly absurd to imagine living without the confining space. And yet, for those who ch...
Review: Wet Season (2019) – Luang Prabang Film Festival 2020
Focus: Asia, Movie Review

Review: Wet Season (2019) – Luang Prabang Film Festival 2020

Back from the Camera d'Or 2013 winner, Ilo Ilo, Singaporean director, Anthony Chen returns with a similarly bittersweet, yet forgivable melodrama which picks on contemporary problem in Singapore in Wet Season. Set during the soaking monsoon season that drenches almost mercilessly, Chen puts forward his observations of Singapore's blindspots and weaves it into the story of a lonesome teacher and an abandoned teenager. Reuniting his previous film's leads, Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler, the narrative observes their respective loneliness before finding a little sunshine in each other amidst the rainy days. (more…)
Review: Another Round / Druk (2020) – Denmark’s Oscars 2021 Submission
Featured, Movie Review

Review: Another Round / Druk (2020) – Denmark’s Oscars 2021 Submission

Under Thomas Vinterberg's direction—also co-writing the screenplay with Tobias Lindholm—Mads Mikkelsen is another unhappy teacher struggling with midlife crises. Unlike The Hunt (Jagten) where the unhappiness roots from innocently vile, external threat, the roots of despair comes from within his character's mind this time in Another Round. Once a prominent figure with charisma and sexual charm when the grapes are ripe, Mikkelsen's character, Martin, becomes less of himself in his midlife period. Now he's a mere shell of his former self; he's soured himself to be a dull person through and through—an unattractive spouse, a passive father, a boring teacher, everything he can think of. This lead to the vaguest tragicomedy premise that this film offers: Martin dozes off his insecurity by resor...
Review: The Long Walk (2019) – Luang Prabang Film Festival 2020
Focus: Asia, Movie Review

Review: The Long Walk (2019) – Luang Prabang Film Festival 2020

Laotian first and only female director, Mattie Do, rewards those who patiently follows the tangled story in her latest feature, The Long Walk, written by her frequent collaborator, Christopher Larsen. Her film dives deep into a rural Laos village, intertwines a chilling yet barely scary ghost story with time-travel tropes, and presents it with an art-house sensitivity. The connection between one element and the others isn't always bleak and the whole plot demands commitment as well as full, undivided attention; but, when the dots are connected, the rewards paid off. (more…)
Review: Mulan (2020)
Focus: Asia, Movie Review

Review: Mulan (2020)

Disney's live-action adaptation of Mulan is probably the boldest move the studio has taken in the recent years. Putting forward representation in the production by casting actors of Chinese descent (a mix of those familiar faces to mainstream American viewers and some fresh faces from the Mainland) with Chinese-born Liu Yifei portraying the titular character suggests the Mouse House' commitment for diversity (in the brink of fight against whitewashing in Hollywood). While seeking after an Asian director to no avail, New Zealander Niki Caro (Whale Rider and McFarland, USA) lands the job making her the second female director to helm a Disney movie (after Ava DuVernay with A Wrinkle of Time). In a critical and controversial move, Disney released it as an on-demand perk in their streaming ser...
Review: Sound of Metal (2020)
Movie Review

Review: Sound of Metal (2020)

Let's take our time to appreciate and celebrate Riz Ahmed's prodigious talent. In the same year, the British actor and rapper has transported us into two stories, equally poignant and affecting, of sympathetic self-acceptance from perspectives of two completely different musicians who has lost their identities as their bodies weakens. In Mogul Mowgli, he's an Americanized British-Pakistani rapper whose body betrays himself with an autoimmune disease in an allegory of identity crisis. In Darius Marder's Sound of Metal, Ahmed is a heavy-metal drummer who begins to lose his hearings and immediately plunges into existential hysteria. While built upon similar premise, Ahmed brilliantly exudes one-of-a-kind charm in each performance and splendid range; the latter, however, observes the actor in...
Review: The Call / 콜 (2020)
Focus: Asia, Movie Review

Review: The Call / 콜 (2020)

There's a mysterious phone that can connect people from different time and space. Will it do more good than harm? Or otherwise? That would become the underlying questions posed by writer-director, Lee Chung-hyun, in his thriller, The Call, adaptation of a 2011 Puerto Rican-British movie, The Caller. To provide hints for the answers, he pits Park Shin-hye (recently excels in #Alive) against Jeon Jong-seo (the breakthrough star of Lee Chang-dong's Burning) in a vengeful, almost sophisticated battle that intertwines two different timelines in the process. (more…)

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