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Short Cuts (1993)

Altman is a superlative orchestrator of balancing act in conjuring up a kaleidoscopic cross section of a contemporary malaise that scourges the earth The typeface of its opening credits may look unprepossessing to today's eyes, but Robert Altman's portmanteau Los Angeles satire, inspired by Raymond Carver's short stories, retains its abiding allure by presenting a social microcosm weaving through 22 principle characters, among them are eight white heterosexual couples (Altman is Hollywood's old guard, so diversity and inclusivity are apparently not his forte), one pair is from a prior generation and the rest are 30/40-somethings married/divorced with or without kids, plus an addition of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship.

Normalcy on the placid surface is disrupted in the opening sequence where helicopters are crop-dusting over an outlandish medfly quarantine area where our protagonists live, and is further overturned by coursing undertows where streams of (mostly negative) sentiments (displeasure, discomfort, jealousy, contempt, neurosis, paranoia, miscommunication, miscomprehension, ill feeling, among others) are simmering, festering and transmuting into accidents, betrayal, suicide, murder, bereavement but also fence-mending and merriment, as life it is.

Naturally, our most worrisome concern is the safety of Howard and Ann Finnigan's son, who is hit by a car driven by waitress Doreen Piggot (Tomlin), after ostensibly looking fine and refusing Doreen's request to take him to his parents, he soon falls to a portentous coma in the hospital, which puts Ann (MacDowell) and Howard (Davison), a famous TV commentator through an excruciating wringer, aggravated by the incessant crank calls from a grievance-driven baker Mr. Bitkower (Lovett) and the unbidden visit of Howard's estranged father Paul (Lemmon).

The doctor who treats the boy in the hospital is Ralph Wyman (Modine), whose wife Marian (Moore) is a painter, they live in a posh residence on the hill with a panoptic view of the area, but Ralph is bedeviled by a persisting idea that Marian has cheated on him. During a cello concert of Zoe Trainer (Singer), they meet another couple Claire and Stuart Kane (Archer and Ward), and offhand decide to invite them for a home barbecue, although Ralph regrets it in afterthought as the Kanes seem to be beneath his middle-class yardstick. In fact, Claire earns her living as a clown and Stuart is currently unemployed, who embarks on a three-day fish trip with his buddies and promises to bring back some spoils for the barbecue, but an accidental if morbid discovery during his jaunt will later cast a shadow over their relationship, a quintessential dichotomy between blokeish inconsideration and feminine sensibility.

Marian's sister Sherri Shepard (Stowe) is unhappily married to a patrol cop Gene (Robbins), who fools around with a divorcée of easy virtue, Betty Weathers (McDormand), and takes out his frustration and irritation on their family dog, who keeps yapping at him, meanwhile, Betty's ex-husband Stormy Weathers (Gallagher), what a killer name for a helicopter pilot, keeps tabs on her and exacts his revenge plan when Betty is out of town with another hubby prospect. Oblivious of the accident's grave consequence, Doreen eventually reconciles with her old soak husband Earl (Waits) with a renewed feeling of dodging a bullet. Her daughter Honey (Taylor), is married to a make-up artist Bill Bush (Downey Jr.), the Bushes' best friends are the Kaisers, Jerry (Penn) takes odd jobs and Lois (Leigh), is a skilled phone sex operator who can ambidextrously eroticizing her patron and handling her tot at the same time, their seemingly unflappable equilibrium is betrayed with an unheralded violent act which is concurrently with a seismic disruption near the end, a shudder to accentuate the sense of being alive and kicking, which separates Zoe from her mother Tess (Jazz chanteuse Ross), a cabaret singer and single mother who is too jaded to connect with her unstable daughter.

Ultimately, Altman is a superlative orchestrator of balancing act in conjuring up a kaleidoscopic cross section of a contemporary malaise that scourges the earth, partly owing to editor Geraldine Peroni's nonpareil adroitness (who is nominated for an Oscar in Altman's THE PLAYER 1992), every subplot is threaded with precision altogether and every cause-and-effect is divulged with limpid yet eloquent connotation, all on a string of the quirk of fate.

What an ensemble piece! SHORT CUTS is Venice's Golden Lion winner, an honor shared with Krzysztof Kieslowski's THREE COLORS: BLUE (1993), and the ensemble cast is fêted with both a Volpi Cup and later a special Golden Globe. But the cherrypick must be Julianne Moore's eye-popping derring-do, hardly any Hollywood actress can holds court with her explosion in such a distracting state without leaving a scintilla of self-consciousness, yes, under an intimate context, it is nothing if not verifiable. Second in line are MacDowell's poignant grief, Leigh's cavalier lassitude just moments after her feigned lasciviousness and Stowe's subtle archness cheek by jowl with her smoldering ire. Among the boy's club, Lemmon has one's sentimental vote as a loquacious self-defender whose self-centred righteousness is wrong-footed by a dire emergency and Penn ekes out a tangy danger of sexual suppression itching towards a boiling point before he finally snaps, but immediately saved by an earthquake, is that Altmanesque or Carverian?

120 battements par minute (2017)

BPM is an intrepid critique that covers warts and all of a pyrrhic fight in its darkest years Drawing on his and his co-writer Philippe Mangeot's personal experiences, French queer filmmaker Robin Campillo's third feature BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) vehemently re-enacts the activism of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) group's Paris branch in the early 90s during the hiking AIDS pandemic.

As a César awards' BEST FILM recipient, BPM emanates immersive intimacy that foremost registers the immediacy of status quo, whether it is their hands-on non-violent protests on various occasions aiming at the government's inaction and apathy, the pharmaceutical corporate's sloth and cupidity in the form of immoral hunger marketing, or, predominantly, during their convocations where members contend, dispute and express their ideas and methods in a diplomatic fashion, met with either approving finger-snapping or plain hissing. Campillo's method is unpretentiously engaging with his fly-on-the-wall lens, allots munificent time to studiously record the sparks-flying meetings and tries to reach as many individual's voices as possible, even sometimes it feels erring on the side of repetition because their situation is pretty dire while their adversity has no conscience to repent. Moreover, Campillo doesn't whitewash the internecine ill-will that inherently lives and breathes inside any sort of human congregation, best incarnated by the ambivalent relation between our protagonist Sean (Biscayart) and the group leader Thibault (Reinartz).

That tactile intimacy also flows in the veins of the central romance between Sean and Nathan (Valois), and it is the latter's novice perspective that serves as the guidance of leading audience into a terra incognita in the first place. Their interaction runs tellingly from full-on sexual congress that defies fear and embraces love, to their tête-à-têtes shedding lights on their respective past, until the later stage when Sean's vitality begins to be overtaken by the virus, where a sense of tacit understanding holds out during his last days (including one last lurid orgasm on his hospital bed).

The crunch to eventually put Sean out of misery which Nathan executes with superb efficiency on top of smoldered anguish, chimes in brilliantly with Campillo's clinically perceptive take on the concomitant aftermath of Sean's demise, repressed grief, wistful relief and an insidious dread that haunts the rest "pozs", a soul-eating hopelessness becomes a sign of the times for queer community.

On the less graver front, Campillo ascertains that mood is high in daylight Gay Pride marches and vibes are sensuous in fluorescent abandon on the dance floor, striking visual flourishes include a nightspot Tyndall effect being glisteningly transformed into a virulent aggression and a blood-soaked Seine imagined by a deteriorating Sean, as his silent last cri de coeur.

Performance-wise, Campillo marshals a cracking, preponderantly youthful cast that exudes passion and spontaneity, besides his usual vim-and-vigor, the Argentina-born Nahuel Pérez Biscayart is tasked with a grueling body-emaciation which he rounds off summa cum laude, a daunting transmogrification futher underlined by the diminished color in his bulging eyes; newcomer Arnaud Valois, counterbalances Biscayart with dignified aplomb and quietening restraint that immediately distinguishes him from rest of the stigmatized activists; both Antoine Reinartz and Adèle Haenel (who plays the avid lesbian activist Sophie), pull their backs into the heady contestation with zest and artistry, plus the former makes a good fist of showing the elusive complexity burdened by a leader figure.

Encompassing and melding the tripartite elements of queerness, politics and mortality, BPM is an intrepid critique that covers warts and all of a pyrrhic fight in its darkest years.

Paddington 2 (2017)

PADDINGTON 2 amps up its aesthetic flair while cleaving to an unashamedly family-friendly tenet like its antecedent, a rare case of a sequel outdoes its predecessor As a rule of thumb, like gold dust that a movie sequel can top its predecessor apropos of quality since it is disposed to rest on the latter's laurels, Paul King's PADDINGTON 2 is an exception, although if truth to be told, the first one doesn't necessarily set up a rather insuperable grade, itself is a passable family fare targeting audience of lower age group with a predilection for animated, fluffy anthropomorphic bears, still, this sequel manages to amp up its aesthetic flair while cleaving to an unashamedly family-friendly tenet like its antecedent.

Paddington (voiced by Whishaw, proffering soothing cadence to a jaded ear), now lives harmoniously with the Browns, and buckles down in earning enough dinero to buy a pop-up book of London for his auntie Lucy's (Staunton) upcoming centennial birthday, only is summarily sent to the prison under wrongful conviction of pilfering the said book, whereas the Browns are concertedly combing through clues to sniff out the real burglar, a narcissistic has-been actor Phoenix Buchanan (Grant), who believes the book will lead him to a hidden treasure which can resurrect his dead-end career from debasing dog-food commercials.

Apart from several endearing comic skits (including one about Paddington working in a barbershop) and a stupendous passage in the pop-up book with cut-outs, it is Paddington's penitentiary adventure inducing most amazement from disbelief-suspending spectators, not just for its knowing emulation of Wes Anderson's THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014), in particular, the cliché jail-springing sequences, interlaced with a homage to Chaplin's MODERN TIMES (1936), but also the candy-striped tableaux, the epicurean revamp of the ghastly prison menu and Paddington's new-found friendship with a fellow jailbird, the rough diamond Knuckles (a disarmingly huff-and-puff Gleeson in a cook's hat), all bundled together to melt our hearts with its salutary if saccharine condiments.

The original cast returns with upgraded fervor to right any wrong standing in their way, Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Brown is submersed into another waterlogged scenario to rescue a beloved one, and a starchy Hugh Bonneville is tasked with a split leap to bowl audience over, but the spotlight is resoundingly cast upon the newcomer, Grant's delectably cutesy antagonist, burlesquing away in full throttle, and belatedly, ludicrously finds his feet and audience when being cooped up, please stay put when the closing credits roll.

Apparently, Paddington's bearish otherness is a thinly veiled metaphor of an immigrant of any persuasions, PADDINGTON 2 reinforces the benign message of inclusion and acceptance that propitiously, may sow its seeds in any labile young hearts of its core audience, a beneficial indoctrination by way of fairy-tale artifice, that ought to summarize its universal appeal and grant a pardon for its blatant wanderlust endorsement suspiciously bankrolled by London's tourism bureau.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

if one claims A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN is Kazan's best work, most likely, it is not an overstatement Elia Kazan's reverberating if under-celebrated debut feature, adapted from Betty Smith's 1943 eponymous novel, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN takes a closer look on a second generation Irish-American family in the year of 1912, dwelling in their cramped tenement apartment in Brooklyn, struggling with immiseration and bereavement.

If the synopsis sounds depressing, conversely, the film is nothing if not life-affirming, Kazan attests to be a top-drawer storyteller with his unobtrusive camerawork, snaking dexterously within a two-by-four space, the narrative is unfolded from the POV of Francie (Garner), a sensitive, studious and impressionable 13-year-old girl, who develops a quasi-Electra complex towards her buoyant father Johnny Nolan (Dunn), at the expense of a small chasm between her and the more matter-of-fact, diligent housewife mother Katie (McGuire). The Nolans is a happy family, Francie also has a younger brother Neeley (Donaldson), except for their hand-to-mouth existence, because Johnny is anything but an adequate breadwinner, his forte is to bring contagious elation to those around him, with his chirpy singing and devil-may-care spirit, a pipe dreamer afflicted by intemperance, he is more contented in dreaming up what he will do when his ship comes in, than actually actuating it, alas, Johnny's American dream never actualizes, but this doesn't make him a lesser human being, on the contrary, he is a generous giver, lading out merriment whenever, wherever, spontaneously, only the sad truth is that he is not up to raise a big family, which flags up why contraception is more an imperative than an immoral contraption for humans. James Dunn wins an Oscar (beggar belief this is the film's sole Oscar nomination!) for his brimful, simpatico earnestness beautifully corroded by a telling patina of pathos.

Katie, on the other hand, is the hinge of the household, husbanding every cent (but regularly ponies up their weekly premium nonetheless), and her disenchantment of a rosier future starts to gnaw at her when it clocks to her that it might never occur, yet, it is the thought that she loves Johnny for who he is, conciliates her and puts her on her mettle, in the end of the day, it is the bonhomie the family basks in really matters, Dorothy McGuire wholeheartedly avails herself of Katie's plain demeanor and modest rig, and pours out her ambivalent emotion with unrivaled assurance and veracity, the final reconciliation between her and Francie strikes such a profound chord that it is an oceanic remiss her low-key brilliance is stiffed by the Academy here, among many an awards-worthy achievement of this refined gem.

Serendipitously, child actress Peggy Ann Garner is conferred with a special Oscar for her central performance, in fact, the whole movie is her Bildungsroman and Garner makes good in both those emotion-charging demands and those plumbing into Francie's more infantile dispositions, as in completing for parental attention from Neeley, Ted Donaldson also shines with a naturally cavalier mien that largely countervails Garner's more precocious headspace. Last but not the least is aunt Sissy, Katie's elder sister, played by Joan Blondell with snazzy verve and pizzazz, thrice married and naming all her hubbies Bill, she is by any rate, a different kettle of fish from Katie, yet the exemplar of a kid's favorite aunt, a happy-go-lucky counterpart of Johnny, but free of livelihood worries, a bonus to be a woman of its time, isn't it?

A humane, unassuming drama inculcating precious wisdom of growing up, of calibrating one's life aspect and of finding hope and sunshine in one's darkest moments, if one claims A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN is Kazan's best work, most likely, it is not an overstatement.

Nine to Five (1980)

as delightful and jolly as one can get in a comedy that has something to say but consciously eschews any trace of indoctrination Three female company employees wage war against their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss in this prototype 80s sisterhood comedy, 9 TO 5 is the late Colin Higgins' second feature film and flexes the muscle of female star power which not only brings down the house, but also sets alight its box office, the runner-up top-grosser of its year, second only to STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.

The Fonda-Tomlin-Parton trinity embodies three different types of career women, Fonda's Judy is a housewife grossly jilted by her ex-husband for his secretary, so she is the greenhorn in the workplace, prissy but not without wits and guts, her frilly entrance is remarkably incongruous with the rest, although her clash with the boss Frank (Coleman) is most tangential among the three, her personal victory climaxed when she blurts out to her feckless ex-husband that being dumped by him is the best thing ever happened to her.

Tomlin's Violet is a widow with a brood of four, the assertive senior office supervisor who has plodded for years in the company, yet the promotion she deserves proves to be unattainable because of Frank's sexism, and aggravated by being ordered about like a servant by him, she has every reason to get back at him; Parton's Doralee (her maiden picture, who also pens and belts out the Oscar-nominated title song), a corn-fed, bosomy secretary repulses the derogated stereotype as a boss-hunting schemer, who is indeed happily married and only humors Frank's advancement for the sake of the job, but in the face of Frank blabbering blackmail, she is the one who is not hesitant to pinion him like a steer.

Truly, the triad enjoys a real blast together, initiated by a joint-influenced brainstorm about how each envisions a scenario to vent their grievance on Frank - here Higgins makes a good fist of genre conventions, whether it is a black-white mob thriller, a lasso-tossing oater or a Snow White animation with a dark spin, all are given a reality simulacrum later in the plot - and hits the mark during their hilarious blunder with the wrong body, although the resultant kidnapping idea is less wholly engaging for its yawning implausibility, not least when the deus ex machina comes about in the form of Sterling Hayden's chairman of the board, publicly asks equal pay to be eliminated from the reform program, which is actually conceived by the triad and executed by forging Hank's signature.

Nonetheless, 9 TO 5 is as delightful and jolly as one can get in a comedy that has something to say but consciously eschews any trace of indoctrination, all three leading ladies are having a field day, but for my liking Tomlin is the one gets an upper hand for her steely nerve and comedic timing; as the antagonist, a versatile Coleman eloquently exhibits shameless wickedness to the hilt, and lastly, Elizabeth Wilson has her own moment as a brilliant tittle-tattler, who perfectly encapsulates the entire farce with a precisely uttered "Holy merde!" to bring down the curtain in the coda.

Przypadek (1987)

BLIND CHANCE has earned its name more for its political compliance and narrative gimmick than for its own worth BLIND CHANCE was shot in 1981, but its release had been mothballed by Poland's authoritative censorship for almost 6 years. Kieslowski's situationist outlook envisages three different routes for our protagonist Witek (Linda, blending his wide-eyed responsiveness with a patina of malleability), a young medical school student in Lodz, who shares the same birthday if not the same year with Kieslowski himself, which smacks of an meta-textual reference, and in the end of the day, Witek is saddled with the same disillusioned outcome, Paris is his Fata Morgana, no way out for him, whether going left, right or settling for the middle road.

The film starts with Witek's scream and Kieslowski's camera dives throat deep (which will be justified by the ending), followed by a grisly montage of some unspecified atrocity (which transpires as a dark turn of events bearing on a hospital sit-in), then a collage of snippets of Witek's earlier years, introducing his father, his first lover Czuszka (Pawelec), a fellow student Olga (Gozdzik) among others. Triggered by the death of his father, Witek decides to put his academic pursuit on hold and catches a train to Warsaw, and Kieslowski visualizes three scenarios predicated upon whether or not he catches the said train in the last minute.

The first one sees him catch the train and fetch up in the abode of an old Communist Werner (Lomnicki), through whose influence, Witek joins the party and rises through the ranks under the aegis of Adam (Zapasiewicz), a senior party member, falls in with Czuszka, who is associated with some underground university movement that runs afoul of the regime, manifold disappointments ensue, and his mission to Paris eventually scraps after falling out with Adam because of Czuszka's arrest.

On both the second and third occasions, Witek fails to catch the train, in the former, he ends up partaking in an anti-Communist organization, still loses grip of his bearings and his loyalty is challenged in the end; whereas in the latter, he meets Olga on the platform and resumes his medical studies, the pair ties the knot and begets a son, politically Witek opts for the neutral stance, eventually he boards the airliner to Paris, however, Kieslowski rams home that irrelevant of political leanings, the destination (aka. a fairer society) is roundly beyond anybody's reach, an explosion links back to the silent scream in the film's opening, a pessimistic catharsis complies with the western monomania of sounding the death knell of any Communist regime.

In the main, to this reviewer's lights, BLIND CHANCE has earned its name more for its overtly political message of inescapable despondency and a gimmicky narrative approach, than the film's own virtue as an enthralling piece of wonderment, cinematic flourishes are in deficiency (barring several interesting metaphors) in this faintly listless personal agitprop.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

The franchise categorically lives and dies with Tom Cruise's star charisma and undimmed spirit of pushing the envelop Hail to the return of the death-defying IMF (Impossible Missions Force) agent Ethan Hunt, and its ageism-defying star Tom Cruise in the sixth installment of this surprisingly long-running franchise, FALLOUT follows the aftermath of ROGUE NATION, both directed by Christopher McQuarrie, when three table-top plutonium cores are fallen into the evil hands of a terrorist group called the Apostles, reorganized by the remnants the Syndicate after their head Solomon Lane (Harris) is apprehended in the end of the fifth chapter, naturally, Hunt and co. must take it on to themselves to face their old nemesis and a mole shadowing Hunt at close range.

The plot is customarily self-complicated and elliptical in elucidating the cloak-and-dagger development, for one thing, it is rather elusive about how and when Lane and his mustachioed accomplice lay their hands on the plutonium cores, or does Lane have a death wish to stay behind when the nuclear bombs are activated? Reading its synopsis on Wikipedia doesn't help, a compulsive second viewing? nice try!

That said, FALLOUT unequivocally denotes the highest standard of the spy genre filmmaking, opposite to the limitless boundary of superhero fantasies, as the franchise has been pushing the envelope ever since its genesis. Here, starting with the much plugged HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) stunt performed by Cruise and the new recruit, Henry Cavill, man of steel himself (visibly relishes his not-so-well-kept villainous about-face and is equally mettlesome in tackling high-wire stunt work), FALLOUT cleverly downplays gizmo novelty and instead regales audience with invigorating physical fisticuffs, vehicle barreling thrills and chills, unthinkable airborne jeopardy and of course, Ethan running and leaping from building to building, a là James Bond, only more relentless and awe-inspiring. Indeed, FALLOUT does set up a formidable exemplar for the upcoming Bond 25, and throws down the heavy gauntlet to Daniel Craig, 6 years junior to Mr. Cruise, how can you top that Mr. Bond?

Nevertheless, if MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE intends to elongate this money spinner's life span like its more esteemed British counterpart, there is a catch, because up to this point, the franchise categorically lives and dies with Cruise, whose star charisma and undimmed spirit is audience's main attraction and to achieve that, no matter how much materialistic incentive is behind the motive, is a miracle per se in this day and age.

Also notably, McQuarrie wisely amps up Ethan's own characterization arc, as if for the first time, a viewer can limpidly see through him among those action-packed commotions, saliently, sacrificing innocent individual for the greater good is not above him, and he does care for his teammates and those who are close to him, tries his best to keep them out of harm's way, an unpremeditated reconnection with ex-wife Julia (Monaghan) transpires harmoniously in tandem with the tacit rapport between Ethan and fellow ass-kicker agent Ilsa Faust (Ferguson, slightly underutilized here than her jaw-dropping entrance in ROGUE NATION), there is chemistry flickering, but both dare not to make it personal, a love triangle seems to be in the pipeline and both women are sensible enough to detect that in their casual interaction, oops, the plot thickens... and needless to say we will pony up for the next adventure when it comes, as long as Ethan and his team can continue upping the ante.

On Chesil Beach (2017)

A pleasurable period drama that analyzes an edifying mishap with commendable moderation and deliberation 10 years after ATONEMENT, Saoirse Roman reunites with author Ian McEwan in ON CHESIL BEACH, adapted by McEwan himself from his novella onto the silver screen, it is theater-hand Dominic Cooke's directorial debut feature.

The film begins in 1962, in medias res, two just-married honeymooners Edward Mayhew (Howle) and Florence Ponting (Roman) swan along the titular beach, heading to the hotel while waxing lyrical about music, they are supposed to enjoy a romantic dinner and consummate their wedding night, only, the ensuing clumsily conducted whoopee-making turns out disastrously for these two first-timers, and their 6-hour marriage will come to a precipitous halt on the same beach.

Woven felicitously into the diegesis are discrete flashbacks representing the pair's past, their familial backstory, the evolution of their romance, and their genuine communion up to the point, often cued by one specific emotion or reminiscences and chaperoned by lilting Bach-heavy classical pieces, which are definitely bespoke of the film's fluent if inauspicious mood all for one's ears' pleasure.

At first glance, Edward and Florence is a brace of natural match, although he is hailed from a less affluent background, saddled with a brain-damaged mother Marjorie (Duff, persuasively rotates between two disparate frequencies with utter aplomb), whereas she is endowed with a bourgeois upbringing, leading a quintet as the first violinist, their love story blossoms with sufficient fondness and alacrity which elicits a consensus that they do love each other, it is not a "she's not that into you" scenario.

So the sticking point eventually is leveled at Florence's ostensible frigidity (although a potential skeleton in the closet is implicitly hinted with a young Florence sniveling under the looming shadow of her father, which signifies it may be more traumatic than congenital), aggravated by a deficiency of sex education on both parties, statistically speaking, everyone's first sex experience is, more often than not, a disappointment, but what adds insult to injury is Florence's shocking reaction and a hearty but inopportune suggestion that provokes an embarrassed Edward to rage-quit, whose immaturity even overshadows his oceanic maladroitness, in hindsight, it is beggar-belief that true love could be thwarted by such a commonplace incident, but as always, it is no use crying over split milk, for a spur-of-the-moment decision, Edward is punished on the pain of ruing the day for the rest of his life, especially when decades later he gets the tidings and fulfills his promise to see the quintet's homecoming performance, what a price to pay and what hits home is the sharp contrast between a man's idée-fixe and a woman's malleability, which points up McEwan's incisiveness.

The two leads, being a bigger name and a thrice Oscar-nominee, Ronan continues her amazing career transition of seeking out more complex roles offered to actresses in our equality-demanding era, and her Florence boldly melds a girl-next-door affinity with a modicum of resolution and domination that defies easy categorization. However, for this reviewer's money, a tenderfoot Billy Howle outdoes Ronan here, completely sloughs off his loosey-goosey appearance (which looks rather old for his character prima facie), and sets in motion Edward's multiplex make-up with conviction, sympathy and finesse (including one of the most awkward sex scenes in recent cinema-scape) and elicits a delectable charm that reverberates hither and thither, absolutely a star-making performance that beckons more meaty roles.

A pleasurable period drama that analyzes an edifying mishap with moderation and deliberation, ON CHESIL BEACH might not possess ATONEMENT's epic grandeur or stellar opulence, but in its cottage-industry approach, effectually carries off its wisdom and discretion.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)

James Shigeta breaks the glass ceiling in Samuel Fuller's off-the-radar metteur en scène Against Hollywood's mainstream value, Samuel Fuller's vintage L.A. murder mystery gallantly sets off a love triangle where a Caucasian woman falls for an Asian man in lieu of the latter's Caucasian friend, but the nisei has his own battle to fight, concerning the congenital racial bias stigmatized Japanese-American in the wake of WWII.

Yes, first of all, there is a murder, a burlesque stripper Sugar Torch (Pall) is gunned down on the main street in the Little Tokyo district, and two detectives Joe Kojaku (Shigeta) and Charlie Bancroft (Corbett) are investigating the case, they are Korean war veterans and best friends, even sharing a snug apartment, their police procedural pans out a bit languorously, but Fuller profiles the enclave's ethnographic traits with a wandering eye, while the meat of the story is concerned with a key witness, Christine "Chris" Downes (Shaw), who paints the portrait of Sugar Torch dressed in a crimson kimono for the preparation of a Japanese-themed act (one can only imagine what technicolor would do justice to the chromatic appeal here).

When her own life is in peril after drawing an identikit of the possible killer, Joe and Charlie invite Chris to stay in their apartment, naturally both bachelors become besotted with her, but it is the interracial romance gains an upper hand (Joe is the more refined, sensitive and art-savvy one), which leaves Joe clammed up in a state of guilt of betraying his best friend, as he knows Charlie reckons Chris as the girl of his dreams, and when the truth finally comes out, Joe's inborn inferiority complex reaches a boiling point, moreover, let's not forget a heartless killer is still at large (although a whodunit's allure has seismically eclipsed by a torrid love triangle at that stage), and Fuller fabricates an analogous tie-in between the killer and Joe, which rounds off the story adequately during the annal Japanese pageant in the Little Tokyo.

A fly in the ointment is that Fuller insensitively shoves the moral ambiguity to Chris, being the one who is courted by both men, she doesn't refuse Charlie's advance in the first place and acquits herself as if she has no qualm of reciprocating Joe's feelings, then, even egregiously acts oblivious of the fact that it is her deeds drive a wedge between them, and isn't it up to her to clear the air? Of course, such action isn't allowed in Fuller's script. Consequently, audience will find more relish in a Bourbon-tippled Anna Lee, whose worldly counsel including "Love does much, but Bourbon does everything!".

A Golden Globe-winning Shigeta seizes upon this rare opportunity vested by this groundbreaking treatment of racial minority and the lingering, deleterious fallout of WWII afflicting on the next generation, thus, breaks the glass ceiling as an Asian leading actor, with his palpitating affection and disarming demeanor, in Fuller's off-the-radar metteur en scène.

Ready Player One (2018)

a kaleidoscopic RPG-VR enterprise heralds a future where live action and VR together can confect something unimaginably spectacular. Hooray gamers and geeks, Steven Spielberg's kaleidoscopic RPG-VR enterprise, based on Ernest Cline's eponymous YA novel, READY PLAYER ONE has already scooped a lucrative sum in its theatrical run, $582 million global grosses is such a coup for a standalone studio vehicle these days.

In the near future, reality is a bummer, so most people immerses themselves in the VR universe called OASIS designed by the deceased genius James Halliday (Rylance, emulating a slightly listless Steve Jobs), for thrills and chills, where one can undergo vicarious experience through their game avatar, and our protagonist Parzival/Wade Watts (Sheridan, sorry, no marquee idol charisma can be sensed here), the former is his avatar name and the latter is his name in real life, is not just one of them, but the best by default, since we have zero doubt that he will bird-dog three hidden keys and eventually bags the sought-after Easter egg, all pre-ordained by Halliday and to a befuddling reincarnation in the climax, solely as a stream of consciousness (or is it not? the film remains evasive), to inherit OASIS against the unscrupulous competition from a corporate organization IOI (Innovative Online Industries), headed by Nolan Sorrento (Mendelsohn, gamely spiking mischievous self-awareness into the stereotyped antagonist), not without the help a contingent of fellow gamers, including his love interest Art3mis/Samantha (Cooke), his best friend Aech/Helen (Waithe, although her gender-swapping reveal loses its momentum amid the action-packed brouhaha offhand) and, naturally, two Asian side-kicks.

Interestingly, it is not an exaggeration to call READY PLAYER ONE an animation predicated on its predominant VR contents, but in the eyes of a lay audience, it also obscures the line between mocap and pure digital creation, there are lingering resemblance between characters and their virtual avatars, but one cannot visually discern the difference (at least in this reviewer's case), yet, it is this seamless amalgamation of live action and virtual reality (definitely not its sophomoric plot) that puts the film on the map, it vigorously heralds a future where these two seemingly discrete strands can work together to confect something unimaginably spectacular.

Conversely, allow me to detract from its technological innovation to something more retrospective, Spielberg cannily plays the cards of collective nostalgia ranging from baby boomers to Generation Z with a gallimaufry of pop culture staples (The Iron Giant, Mechagodzilla, King Kong, The Shining, Chucky, just to name a few which I can recollect from my limited knowledge pertaining to American pop culture, and practically with no inkling of the video game sphere), bombards us with over a hundred Easter eggs even the most keen-eyed aficionados ought to fall back on repeated viewings to pick them all out, so lucre from DVD purchase is on tap and a sequel, like as not, will be on the drawing board any day now.

Alphaville, une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution (1965)

We should not ask "why", but only say "because" in the context of a Godard-ville Transmogrifying a nocturnal Paris into the dystopian titular state ruled under the technocratic totalitarianism of a sentient, omnipresent mega-computer called Alpha 60, Godard's Golden Berlin Bear winner, cunningly configures the time-honored one-man-against-the-machine trope with a novel spin, devises a Sci-Fi mise-en-scène without the usual tailor-made props, and in lieu seizing on futuristic Parisian architecture-scape to create the galaxy-away alienness while philosophizing his ideology of what differentiates men from logic-abiding super-machine.

American crooner-turned-actor, the tough-looking Eddie Constantine plays Lemmy Caution, a role he had played numerous times before in French B movies, being appropriated by Godard here as a secret agent from "the Outlands", infiltrates Alphaville as a journalist with a hard-as-nail aggression, also a shutterbug pertinaciously snaps the menagerie of its societal pathology, after seeking out a missing agent Henri Dickson (a jaded Tamiroof adds a layer of gnomic improbability upon the carnal decadence), whose total capitulation prompts him to exact his ultimate mission: to emancipate the city from the thralls of Alpha 60 and its alleged maker Prof. von Braun (Vernon).

Whisking Lemmy in and out sundry locations and peppering up the story-line with Godard-esque action fragments, jerky, spontaneous, whimsical and inconsequential, the hotel room scuffle in the opening is such a nonsensically "un-real" incident that one might question its occurrence when a broken window on the door appear intact in the next scene, ALPHAVILLE is Godard's knowing deconstruction-and-reconstruction of the venerated genre of its prescient-then, blasé-now central message, drawing on a faintly Borgesian inspiration to sound off in the traditional duality between the hero and the damsel-in-distress, here portrayed by Anna Karina's Natacha von Braun, supposedly, the daughter of Prof. von Braun, whose suppressed emotions are slowly awoken by Lemmy's ongoing interference, and "conscience" is the operative word here.

Dubbed with a gruff, mechanical, halting male voice, Alpha 60 exchanges many a colloquy with Lemmy covering a wide scope of topics, a verbal spar between rationalism and denialism, larded with Godard's protean experimentation of his cinematic languages (jump-cuts, negative prints, repeated motifs have long become Godard's norms) and Paul Misraki's fittingly atmospheric incidental music, ALPHAVILLE alternatively, intrigues, bemuses and entrances an armchair spectator with its anti-utopia cognition and blithe distinction that is snugly in Godard's elements, and this agglomeration of nouvelle vague and futuristic noir may also archly suggest that audience should not ask "why", but only say "because" in the context of a Godard-ville.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN promises pure joy and Euro-pop feel-goodism to its core audience Precisely 10 years after its massively popular antecedent, this ABBA-jukebox musical sequel/prequel returns with a somber premise, our beloved protagonist Donna Sheridan (Streep) has kicked the bucket (does the film even reveal the cause of death?), and passes the baton to her daughter Sophie (Seyfried, thankfully bestowed with an ethereal voice), who is still processing her grief and the sequel-story kick-starts in the same Greek island of Kalokairi, where Sophie has a forthcoming reopening of Hotel Bella Donna to commemorate her mother with the help of the hotel manager Fernando (García).

Meantime, the film's prequel-narrative is rewound to 1979, recounting a young Donna (James, spirited and ebulliently fleshes out the Streep-less narrative arc with her stentorian singing bent), freshly out of college, how she winds up on the island and gets knocked up but cannot tell whose fortuitous sperm strikes gold, and decides to raise her child all on her own. So apart from the old gang, even Streep has a glorified cameo near the end as a ghost reunited with Sophie during her baby granddaughter's christening ceremony, the cast is redoubled not just by the initiation of the younger-self cohort, Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies evoke uncanny resemblances and share extraordinary exuberance with Christine Baranski and Julie Walters as Donna's bestie Tanya and Rosie, then and now, respectively, but also by the much-hyped advent of Cher, Streep's SILKWOOD (1983) co-star, who perversely plays Donna's mother Ruby in another glorified cameo, and struts her pristine skin condition and minimal movement when belts out FERNANDO, opposite to a seemingly unnerved Garciá.

Never trying to overreach it from its self-knowledge of a escapist potboiler, basks in photogenic landscape or seascape and its catchy tunage, MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN promises pure joy and Euro-pop feel-goodism to its core audience and writer-director Ol Parker attests to be an able hand in coordinating and segueing between two story-lines, together with a faculty for choreographic deployment.

As much as the cast enjoys a helluva shindig and disseminates an infectious jag of joviality to ascertain audience are having a good time either, a takeaway afterthought pops up unexpectedly by positing a morbid if entirely irrelevant presumption, how can we adjust ourselves when one day we will truly lose our national treasure like Meryl Streep and her ilks? Such a dreadful thought, perhaps, seeing things through blue-colored glasses is this reviewer's kryptonite.

Ai no korîda (1976)

a sui generis cause célèbre that throws away human's last fig leaf to state its sharp-edged point. It goes without saying Ôshima's succès de scandale is not for the squeamish, its blatantly hardcore content (unsimulated sexual activity including fellatio, fornication, and a puckish egg-hatching prank) shatters the last defense of anyone's reserves about human copulation, thus topples it from its tabooed sanctuary, then demythologizes it with a pretension-free candidness and boldly burrows into the subject of the often oppressed and sidelined female sexuality, yes, it is actually based on a true story occurred in the 1930s.

When Sada Abe (Matsuda), a former prostitute who works as a maid in a hotel in Tokyo, first lays her eyes on her employer Kichizo Ishida (Fuji), it is in the middle of the conjugal duty between him and his wife Toku (Nakajima), a passionless, ritualistic rumpy-pumpy that bewitches her. So when a virile Kichizo takes a fancy to her, something irrepressible is ignited, their illicit affair spreads like wide fire, they stay together in various inns, entertained by sundry geisha, and from then on, Ôshima leverages their indoor activities interrupted only by necessary outings, viz., when Sada has to tide themselves over by way of solicitation, or Kichizo is bound to visit home for a three-day stint. It is these seemingly short separations and its resultant jealousy that torment both, and spur them into more extreme measurements in their sexological exploration, until Sada finds the button of choking Kichizo during penetration to sate her libidinous upswing, whereupon she must keep pushing it.

What mesmerizes viewers is Ôshima's unsparing portrayal of Sada's randiness and her ingrained phallus worship, every waking minute she seeks for Kichizo's private parts, the fact that she completely overpowers him, dominantly rides on him, has him do her bidding, could be any man's worst nightmare, yet there is truth in the discrepancy between male and female's orgasms, and what if a man cannot sexually satisfy a woman he loves? A perpetual dread hovering every heterosexual man's ego and occasioning chasm if mistreated, we must hand it to Ôshima for his audacity to lay it open like this, however radical it looks, and demands us to re-examine the different vibes in man and woman's sexual equilibrium.

Conversely, all Ôshima's effort, essentially de-eroticizes and desensitizes sex itself when we are inured to their oversexed indulgence, it is not amorous, not aesthetic, not even orthodoxly arousing, which causes it to be subsumed into an act solely stimulated by primeval desire. If one puts their perversion under the milieu, it can be feasibly read as a resistance towards the ethos of its time, and Ôshima's anti-militarism disposition writs large in the segment where Kichizo glumly passes by a band of marching army, on the opposite direction with the flag-waving populace. Both Matsuda and Fuji brave themselves for their controversial roles, an unsparing devotion to the art form even with the foregone conclusion that the film would impinge on their acting careers, while Matsuda thoroughly incarnates Sada's undue possessiveness, insatiable lust and hellbent conviction of going whole hog, Fuji's wayward resignation is much more telling in his shiftless head space that disillusion and malaise might be the more pertinent cause behind his destructive behavior, both deserve to be put on a pedestal for their earth-shattering derring-do along with the film itself, a sui generis cause célèbre that throws away human's last fig leaf to state its sharp-edged point.

Last Chance Harvey (2008)

a workmanlike love story for grow-ups who might look for a second chance or a fresh start, anchored by two affecting leading players Not that infamous Harvey, who doesn't merit a last chance at any rate, this is his fellow American, the amicable Harvey Shine (Hoffman, who ironically, has been mired in his own misconduct scandal in the MeToo era), a divorced, middle-aged musician specializes in writing jingles for commercial use, who plans to spend a weekend to attend his daughter's wedding in London, but ends up extending his stay indefinitely when romance beckons.

Contemporaneously in London, Kate Walker (Thompson), an unmarried airport staff, is the cynosure of her mother Maggie's (Atkins) idle life (save for suspecting her new Polish neighbor is a corpse-hoarding killer), buffeted with the latter's unremitting phone calls, and just when Harvey comes in for a politely reserved reception in the dinner before the wedding, Kate is subjected to an awkward blind date that doesn't go anywhere, their binary trajectories are self-evident in verging together later (actually they had a short encounter in the airport and an odd chance as sequential passengers of a taxi), but before that comes to the fore, British director Joel Hopkins has something to flog to death.

So, everything must plunge to the absolute nadir for Harvey before it bottoms out, he is wantonly secluded from the rest of the wedding guests, apparently under the behest of his ex-wife Jean (Baker), and is dwarfed by the latter's current hubby Brian (a none other than James Brolin, the silver fox and Mr. Barbra Steisand himself), both in appearance and in close affinity with his daughter Susan (Lapaine), who does have the temerity to ask Harvey to waive his fatherly right of leading her to the alter; across the Atlantic, his boss Marvin (Schiff) twists the knife in his wound by firing him on the phone when Harvey misses the plane after a low-key presence of Susan's wedding ceremony.

If one can survive those aforementioned heavy-handed and cookie-cutter build-up, everything definitely lightens up from the chance meeting between Harvey and Kate in the airport bar with a quirky stiff-upper-lip mimicry as the icebreaker, whereupon, in the successful mode of Richard Linklater's BEFORE... trilogy, their growing interaction plays out through incessant but significantly less philosophical small talk, until Kate encourages and accompanies him to attend Susan's wedding reception in the evening, a fairly pleasant familial reconciliation is chalked up, but the next day, a hiccup nearly ruins their budding romance, and guess who has the say-so in the end?

Both Hoffman and Thompson sustain their roles brilliantly with either a fish-out-of-water awkwardness meld with affable sincerity or a touching vulnerability that only hints at past baggage, and their niceties of vamping up even the hoariest happenstances pay dividends in this workmanlike love story for grow-ups who might look for a second chance or a fresh start.

Da hong deng long gao gao gua (1991)

Zhang Yimou's Silver Lion winner judiciously scrutinizes womanhood in its dead center on the scroll of rigorous form and divine palette Chinese auteur Zhang Yimou's fourth feature, Venice's Silver Lion winner and an Oscar BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM nominee, RAISE THE RED LANTERN, first and foremost, emblazons Zhang's indubitable sense of form as a cinematic aesthete by curtailing the whole shebang within the perimeter of a palatial residence (the Qiao Family compound near Pingyao, Shanxi Province) in the Warlord Era China of the early 20th Century, and vetting women's tragic life immured inside a feudal prison with a fine-tooth comb.

Songlian (Gong Li), a 19-year-old college-dropout, marries into the wealthy Chen Family as the fourth wife (or the third concubine), and soon is embroiled into the harem's backdoor maneuver, validated by the lantern-lightening ritual vouchsafed by Master Chen (Ma Jingwu) - whose face is never shown in close-up, a bold generalization pregnant with Zhang's tacit swipe at the draconian patriarchy's clutches - to indicate which wife he intends to spend the night with and is concomitant with privileges like sensual foot massage and preferential culinary options vested to the cherry-picked one.

With the exception of Chen's first wife, the scraggly Yuru (Jin Shuyuan), who is long in the tooth and has become philosophical towards her long-gone heyday, the quotidian contest revolves around Songlian, Meishan (He Saifei), the third wife, a cosseted former Peking opera star who sub rosa engages in an illicit affair with the family doctor, and Zhuoyun (Cao Cuifen), the second wife, a Buddha-faced, scorpion-hearted figure, who befriends Songlian with an ulterior motive to exact.

As the surrogate of audience, Songlian enters Chen's household with "those who know nothing fear nothing" assertiveness that we all obligatorily root for her ascendancy among the medieval hierarchy, but as she realizes before long, those backhanded plotting is nothing but futile attempt, those wives are merely disposable accessories of their husband, vessels of procreation. She can neither deign to Zhuoyun's total submission to this polygamous anomaly nor become rebellious enough like Meishan, who dares to cross that dangerous line to stake her claim as an individual being, in the event, assailed by the collective onslaught of guilt, despair, disillusion and shock in the wake of witnessing a brutal murder, she is no longer compos mentis. In the byplay, the friction between she and her mulish maid Yan'er (Kong Lin), who harbors a pipe dream of becoming her master's mistress and holds a none-too-subtle grudge over Songlian, is even more tragic because what adds insult to injury is the insuperable chasm caused by classism, that completely antagonizes those two girls of similar age, on the strength of false hope and mean-spirited vengeance.

A high-octane Gong Li is par excellence to headline this sublimely arranged female-oriented melodrama, exhibiting a staggering disintegration of Songlian's headstrong persona through smoldering emotional shifts, and rounds out the show with a bang in the coda: business as usual in the family's fiefdom, only she has devolved into a living-ghost perennially and obliviously wandering the courtyard, seems to apprise her unwitting successor of a buried tragedy, which like as not will repeat again. Among the supporting players, He Saifei impresses with her stupendous opera posture and a friend-or-foe intrigue that occasions a precious if elusive sense of solidarity that is essential to the film's feminist slant; on the opposite of the gamut, veteran actress Cao Cuifen, intriguingly excels in exemplifying the artificiality of sororal rapport.

It goes without saying that RAISE THE RED LANTERN owes its appreciable renown as much to its performers as those behind the camera, namely, the rigidly-framed, chromatically stunning cinematography from Zhao Fei and Yang Lun that falls in line with a unique color scheme out of Zhang's ingenious conception, and the aural pleasure engendered by the oriental strains masterly composed by Zhao Jiping along with shrill Chinese opera snippets, honing the trenchant strength of this benightedness-censuring, universally allegorical tale that judiciously scrutinizes womanhood in its dead center.

Shanghai Express (1932)

von Sternberg's expressionistic idiom still demands our colletive gaze today Fourth out of seven Dietrich-von Sternberg's collaborations, SHANGHAI EXPRESS confirms with Hollywood's habitually insensitive appropriation of exotic stories, this time, the victim is a civil war-ridden China, the entire film sets during the treacherous journey of the titular express, chugging from Beijing to Shanghai, but apparently, von Sternberg cannot lay his hands on finding enough Mandarin-speaking extras, so all the Chinese bit players are sporting Cantonese with a weird accent that even confounds this reviewer's Chinese ears, and some of them are occasionally being manhandled unceremoniously, notably in an earlier scene by a miffed Charlie Chan, no, actually it is Henry Chang (Oland), an Eurasian warlord of Chinese rebellions with a costly price tag on his head.

Essentially, the movie is Ms. Dietrich's star vehicle, kit up with astounding sartorial creations from Travis Banton, and looks gorgeously photogenic under von Sternberg's meticulous coordination, she plays a courtesan named Shanghai Lily, of all people, she chances upon her ex-lover, British Captain Donald "Doc" Harvey (a stiff upper-lipped Brook) on the express, while the pair's romance duly begins to rekindle, Chang and his rebellious rabble hijacks the train and detains Doc as a valuable hostage, soon, it falls to two women's hands to take the situation out of jeopardy, one is Shanghai Lily, who acquiesces to Chang's commander for the sake of Doc's safety, another is her companion, a Chinese working girl Hui Fei (a piercing-looking Wong, the first Chinese-American star in Hollywood), who successfully lands on her feet after a vengeful assassination.

Sardonically, the rest western passengers are more or less one-note laughing-stocks, casual scorn is cast upon an opium merchant and self-professed "invalid" Eric Baum (von Seyffertitz), a priggish Reverend Carmichael (Grant) and a congenital bettor Sam Salt (Pallette), whereas Henry Chang is accountable for all the contempt, conversely it is the gamble of love and faith that transpires after its torpid escape hubbub, and it is Shanghai Lily's clandestine repentance finally softens the film's cynical temperament and veers into the usual trajectory of a cheesy romance, but what an extravaganza is on show, von Sternberg's expressionistic idiom would totally normalize the standards we view movies even today, whether it concerns narrative cohesion, the marshaling of a huge set, or spectacular montage arrangements, no wonder audience at that time could rapturously fall under his spell, SHANGHAI EXPRESS is the highest grossing movie of 1932, even today, it demands our collective gaze.

Kaze no tani no Naushika (1984)

a stunning, thought-provoking anime worth the name of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki's second anime feature film, NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND is an adventurous post-apocalyptic fable that presciently and astutely imparts us what will become humanity's ruination, humans.

While Miyazaki's fatalistic outlook runs deeply in his works, he knows how to tell an intriguing story by putting a doughty protagonist in the cynosure, typically, a young girl ne plus ultra, possesses all the merits of human nature, against the worst-case scenario, in this case, the residual mankind is facing the aggression from giant mutant insects (called "ohm", resembling a trilobite decked with numberless eyes) peopling a sprawling toxic jungle as the aftermath of the Seven Days of Fire, a war has obliterated most of human civilization. Nausicaä, the princess of Valley of the Wind, an untainted Shangri-La covered by verdure and powered by pneumatic energy, becomes the linchpin to thwart this seemingly inexorable annihilation, even if this means she must sacrifice herself.

But what becomes involute is Miyazaki's off-beat sensibility to seek transcendent beauty beneath (in its very literal sense) the overwhelming darkness and venom, perchance those ohms are not aggressors but protectors of the planet earth, the purifiers to detoxify it from human's undue contamination, this revelation strikes like a gut-punch to our anthropocentric conformity, and instantly gives this anime a rightly cynical yet self-examining heart that seminally elevates it to the stratosphere of this unique art form, apart from the artifact's sweepingly fluid craftsmanship of redoubling narrative integration and bizarrely awe-inspiring cel animation imagery, to say nothing of Miyazaki's vibrant palette that often exceedingly appeals to kids and adults like.

As enterprising and edifying as any masterpieces hammered out under the brand of Studio Ghibli (in truth, the studio was founded in 1985, after the film's success), NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND might lose a modicum of plaudits for its rapid-fire agenda-divulging, viz., the motives behind Tolmekia and Pejite peoples are somewhat discombobulating for subtitle-reading first-timer, also the prophecy-fulfilling finale might crop up a tad slapdash and sappy if one is familiar with Miyazaki's other works.

At any rate, quibbles do not obscure all the virtues of Miyazaki's thought-provoking masterwork, garlanded with Joe Hisaishi's synth-generated bravura and a humble reverence to the animistic existence, NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND is a timeless classic, indeed, not for anime aficionados alone.

Somewhere (2010)

Coppola's meditative account of an ennui-overlapped individual deliberately and artfully sidelines plot development in favor of an understated mood of detachment Sofia Coppola's fourth feature, the controversial Venice's Golden Lion winner (as the head of jury that year was her ex Quentin Tarantino), SOMEWHERE, promulgates Coppola's aesthetic credo right in its first shot, a static shot patiently observing a black Ferrari running in circles on the race track in the desert, four circles later, our protagonist, a listless Hollywood personage Johnny Marco (Dorff) steps out, which heralds a standstill he cannot escape and suggests that a soupçon of forbearance is a sine qua non during the viewing process.

While a privileged life (with all its Tinseltown trappings) is vested to Johnny, a Hollywood movie star in his prime, he is, perversely, stricken by anhedonia and acedia, and Coppola's close-quarters camera watches his numb status at lengths but has little intention to vamp up the subject's tediousness and banality (sporadically, two voluptuous pole-dancing twins, an uncanny spell of dead silence when Johnny is latex-covered for his makeup transmogrification, plus a homoerotic massage incident, are the zenith in terms of its narrative conceit), a method one might extol for its pseudo-documentary resolution, but nevertheless, significantly cripples the film's essential watchablity, if you are not a fan of Stephen Dorff's bad-boy persona, chances are it would be a long 98 minutes to while away.

That dreadful mundaneness are potentially alleviated when Johnny's 11-year-old daughter Cleo (Fanning) comes into the scene, cute as a bunny, a sylph-like Cleo obligingly brings a whiff of vitality and sensibility to Johnny's empty life and through their resultant bonding time (including an award-collecting jaunt to Rome, which is beneficial to both the movie's rhythm and a viewer's diminishing attention span), a palatable tonal shift engenders and leads us to Johnny's tearful confession of his existential crisis near the end, though, Coppola doesn't coddle him with any easy solution in return, ergo, he must extricate himself off his own bat, and the ending can be read as an ouroboros to the beginning, stepping out and heading on, there might be still hope left for him anyway.

Taken from a distinctive male perspective, Coppola's meditative account of an ennui-overlapped individual deliberately and artfully sidelines plot development in favor of an understated mood of detachment that is bespoke of her central character, but the end product is still a snooze-fest stuck in the middle of the road, with little sparks fly.

Love, Simon (2018)

a wholesome USA confection accomplishes that baby step of normalization which queer cinema truly needs presently Plugged as the first major Hollywood studio movie featuring a gay protagonist and received a wide release in the home turf (and become quite a money-spinner, globally earns $64 million against a $14 million budget), the third feature from queer director Greg Berlanti, LOVE, SIMON is a milestone in a sense that the once-tabooed LGBT subject has finally (however belatedly) reached the threshold of normalcy in the United States as it is an unadulterated teen romance aiming to an impressionable young demography.

Benefiting from its source novel's popularity and drawing on a John Hughes-que brisk tone, LOVE, SIMON has no pretense to become a massive crowd-pleaser with its positive vibes around coming-out, sincere friendship, familial support and looking for the anonymous "Blue", Simon's first crush, a pen-pal he bonds through emails (yes, Gmail is the inner sanctum for closeted teens). Simon Spier (Robinson), a typical American high-schooler, outfit by immaculate trappings: fairly good looks, fit physique, open-minded parents and thick-as-thieves friends, which all intend to deaden the gravity of his forthcoming coming-out, and it is a clever tactic well delivering the movie from the usual reaction of lachrymose dramatization or vehement opposition, that can be considered too passé at this point of human history.

What is at stake is actually Simon's cordial friendship with his closest chums, namely Abby (Shipp) and Nick (Lendeborg Jr.), who are quite an item and whom Simon has thoughtlessly betrayed in order to comply with the blackmailing from a fellow student Martin (Miller), who stumbles on Simon's secret and craftily uses it to importune the latter to hook him up with the gorgeous Abby, then to appease his discomfiture after a public love-declaration fiasco, Martin selfishly outs Simon on the internet. There is a red flag here pertinent to the rather vexing Martin, albeit his unsavory behavior, the movie seems to make great effort to whitewash it as some minor characteristic foible (even with a tint of encouragement for his "be himself" candor and temerity), however, in reality, more often than not, it is not, Martin's failing to take the consequence might send a not-so-salubrious message to its susceptible core audience.

By comparison, the portrayal of Simon is more sensible, he has several apologies to issue before riding to that first kiss, and it is very gratifying that it is not his sexuality that disappoints his friends but his senseless manipulation and insensitivity (the antediluvian trope of cottoning to one's best friend is still wielded as a plot device in secrecy, which does precipitate some eye-rollings here), that is "the" crux of the matter here, and it is a rousing experience to watch it unfold heartily in front of one's own eyes (especially when its relevance is too close to home on a personal level), and then paves the way for the saccharine but irresistibly adorable finale.

Barring a vainglorious turn from Logan Miller, the cast is a fine conglomerate of sympathy, sincerity, charm and affection, both Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel punch above their weight as Simon's perspicacious mother and misty-eyed father respectively, which says a lot about the rest, especially a spontaneously bubbly Alexandra Shipp as the major discovery for this viewer. As our protagonist, Nick Robinson successfully sloughs off his miffed temperament in Colin Trevorrow's JURASSIC WORLD (2015), and brings about a genuinely affecting versatility out of his teen heartthrob carapace.

Gingered up with catchy songs and music numbers (whether illusory or Cabaret-lite), LOVE, SIMON is a wholesome confection that has all the i's dotted and t's crossed, in order to accomplishes that baby step which queer cinema truly needs, for what it is worth, a watershed is set in stone, what's next, Hollywood?

Ocean's Eight (2018)

A diverting fluff whose feel-good afterglow quickly wanes when you think it back Under the good name of righting the wrong of Hollywood commodity's sexism predilection, this Ocean's heist female spin-off has a glamorous appeal that stems from its exuberant comedic pizzazz and a jaunty pace bringing glitterati and posh pageantry to the fore, but that uplifting feeling doesn't last too long once the movie wraps up, for this reviewer's two cents, its rinky-dink plot and uninspiring characterization of its dramatis personae are the culprits.

Formally divvied up into the genre's standard third-act mode, recruitment and preparation, the action, and its aftermath, directer Gary Ross builds a conflict-free sororal bond among his stellar cast,even to a point of antiseptic, lead by Sandra Bullock's Debbie Ocean, a role right up her alley, bristle with a bland-ish charm and self-knowledge. A second-billed Cate Blanchett earns her fat check as Lou, Debbie's partner-in-crime, but her butch élan is only swung by a very superficial touch, one might presume that Ross balks at the proposition of making a prominent lesbian character in a mainstream production with a high price tag, a shameful cop-out not only because it flags up the studio's craven conservatism and deep-fish avarice, but when you have Blanchett at your disposal, you don't waste her talent like that, not when she is so game and telegenic in form to sweep any preys off their feet.

In the third tier, we have a jittery Helena Bonham Carter doing her best "bad acting" as the fashion designer Rose Weil, Sarah Paulson pulls off her deceitful innocuousness as fellow con artist Tammy, then the racial card should be routinely designated, Mindy Kaling, Rihanna and Awkwafina duly line up for their sleight-of-hand (either literally or figuratively), but 17 years after Steven Soderbergh's OCEAN'S ELEVEN (2011), an Asian, still takes the short end as a petty filcher, retrogression is the operative word here.

The only major twist (there is a minor one bringing back one old friend in a blisteringly edited flashback that should make their escapade more plausible, but few would care) lands on the shoulder of Anne Hathaway's Daphne Kluger, a red-hot celebrity who becomes the "seemingly" unwitting mule to wear Cartier's $150 million necklace "The Toussaint" in the annual Met Gala, which Debbie and co. intends to steal. But, if you notice the movie's title and your math is passable, the surprise is not that surprising when she tips her hand in the fallout, a radiant Hathaway runs away with the film in sheer self-mocking ease.

Yet, out of all its run-of-the-mill wheezes in the cohort's daring (if over-simplified) shenanigans, there is a glaring plot-hole that sticks in this reviewer's throat, a priori, the Toussaint can only be unclasped using a special magnet by the jewel's bodyguard, so why on earth no one makes a fuss about it being mysteriously lost during the gala dinner, allegedly without the aid of that exclusive magnet? Or, at the very least, any investigator would surmise the bodyguard could be a accomplice in the subterfuge. That is the dead proof of crummy work in the script department, a kick in the teeth of an otherwise ephemerally diverting fluff.

Giant (1956)

a significant American tome that takes us through an elemental learning-curve of open-mindness and righteousness that flouts the specious "winner takes it all" precept George Steven's epic western GIANT, based on Edna Ferber's roman-fleuve about a wealthy Texas rancher household that spans over decades, rightfully won him a second Oscar for BEST DIRECTOR, but this is the sole trophy out of the picture's 10 nominations (although Mercedes McCambridge's coattail nomination is a fluke in hindsight, she has nothing to wield but a frosty front), mostly lost out to Michael Anderson's less time-honored AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956), another taint forever besmirches the Academy's credibility.

The couple under the limelight is Jordan "Bick" Benedict Jr. (Hudson), the said rancher and his wife Leslie Lynnton (Taylor), a socialite from Maryland, who must adapt herself to the a completely different lifestyle but never flinches from her modern view of treating their Mexican employees (yes, they are referred as wetbacks) with equal respect, which collides with Bick's more entrenched racist frame of mind, and this "progressive East Coast vs. traditional Western Inland" leitmotif maintains as the pillar of the film and later evolves into Bick's epic defeat of his paternalistic arrangement in relation to their three children. Throughout, it is Bick's glacial change of his old-world attitude that flourishes during all the long years, Rock Hudson gives an endearingly no-nonsense impersonation that not unlike his first name, becomes a bedrock of the film, a pretense-free Texan learns to brave a new world that beyond his widest imagination and eventually transmutes into a better person, a titular "giant" in the end, even he is beaten up for standing up for the right cause, why it is so inspiring because it is a personal victory, and means the world to them, good deeds must be carried out no matter how formidable adversity looks, who can refute that?

Taylor, on the other hand, dazzles in Leslie's bluff honesty and impeccable integrity that makes us root for her right out of box, Leslie's life orbit is less tectonic, but incredibly, both she and Hudson acquit themselves convincingly under their senior makeup, to parent fresh-faces like Dennis Hopper and Carrol Baker, and a strong sense of affinity between the two never get attenuated, not even during their not-so-infrequent spats.

Of course, the biggest selling point is James Dean in his final picture, although for sentimental reasons, he received his second posthumous Oscar nomination in the leading actor category, but his indecipherable upstart Jett Rink is a substantial supporting character in the whole picture, and he would be a shoo-in to win if he could have competed in the category where his character truly belongs, however, his name had already become too big a legend to be relegated at that point. His portrayal of Jett, emphatically registers a false layer of insouciance that defies operatics, vaguely masks his touching vulnerability and troubling uneasiness towards the unattainable object of his desire, Leslie, whose footprint inadvertently strikes gold for him, but whose heart he can never conquer.

Thus, it is the black gold that sounds the death knell of the Western genre as we know it, Stevens and DP. William C. Mellor employ stunning imagery to exhibit the burgeoning modernization that invades the vastness where materialistic gain lies beneath and beckons, as an answer to the prior un-warped long shots which retain the Old West in its most august splendor, the cattle herd sequences, or the majestic take on Benedicts' singular mansion for instance, but at the end of the day, it is the story's sagacious message that transcends its racist, patriarchy milieu, and makes GIANT a culturally, historically and aesthetically significant American tome that takes us through an elemental learning-curve of open-mindedness and righteousness that flouts the specious "winner takes it all" precept, without forging its tangy nostalgia for a bygone era.

Peeping Tom (1960)

a presciently sympathetic take on sexual perversity that torpedoed Powell's career Historically, PEEPING TOM is a presciently sympathetic take on sexual perversity that torpedoed Michael Powell's career, thanks to islanders' true-blue insularity, but has earned its overdue cachet through years when it reaches a wider audience around the globe, partially because its then-controversial topic now can be liberally appreciated as an incisive meta-reflection of cinema itself.

Watching films is a de facto act of voyeurism, albeit a passive one, a prerequisite a spectator might subliminally intend to overlook when its more overtly entertaining value is in full swing, and in PEEPING TOM, Powell, drawing on Leo Marks deviant if dumbed-down script, formulates a lurid mise-en-scène of a fear-collector-turned-murderer young cinematographer Mark Lewis (Böhm, of SISSI trilogy fame), who is (sexually) obsessed with mortal fear engendered by his female victims when their last breaths begin to dawn on them, and he films their last moments and savors them in his solitary dark room. Also, he has a unique way to magnify their terror, which Powell tactfully reveals in the climax, as an answer to the film's innovative killer's viewfinder's POV in its prologue.

Albeit its slasher (avant la lettre) template (suspense and horror is downplayed in favor of a manner of poised characterization), PEEPING TOM looks directly into the psychological cause of Mark's perversity, a child guinea-pig of his senseless scientist father, grows up in a disturbed, recorded and wired environment that substantially alters his perception and psyche. Critically, by dint of Böhm's taciturn, sensitive and inner-struggling performance, Powell pegs Mark as both a victimizer and a victim, an approach doesn't fall in line with moral rigidity but sequentially humanizes our monster, particularly, by pairing him with a guileless if somewhat cheeky girl-next-door Helen Stephens (a feisty Massey, holds our attention in her brilliant reaction shots when the crunch demands), to whom he might have a slender chance of a normal relationship if he can suppress his morbid proclivity (at one point, she even successfully persuades him to have a date with her without his phantom limb, the 16mm movie camera), yet that faint, precious chink of warmth is inevitably diminished after his another wanton surge, he has no alternative but to exact his final act to seal his preordained seal, and simultaneously, sate his persisting fixation.

Apart from Massey's counterpoising presence of innocuousness, other two supporting performances are also noteworthy, famed ballerina Moira Shearer (in her third and last collaboration with Powell), as a clueless stand-in Vivian, obliviously twirls around Mark as he carefully prepare for her impending quietus, makes a striking example of a beauty's tragic end, which is sheer in contrast to Maxine Audley's steely lucidity as Helen's blind mother, who is luckily spared for her visual unresponsiveness, a thinly veiled metaphor of an aging/unassuming woman's vanishing sex appeal (she is only three years older than Shearer).

Deeply steeped in its counter-genre variegated shades and musician Brian Easdale's compelling virtuosity and cadenza, to all intents and purposes, PEEPING TOM thrives as a thought-provoking tall tale whose message might be well ahead of its time, but in terms of cinematic grandeur, it is a trailblazer that often imitated but rarely eclipsed.

Aus dem Nichts (2017)

Kruger is powerful, arresting through and through in Akin's woke indictment On paper, Fatih Akin's searing revenge cautionary tale has a by-the-rote plot, a bereft woman seeks justice on her own terms after legal system fails her, but seen through Akin's dark-colored glasses, IN THE FADE (named after the song of Queens of the Stone Age, whose lead singer Josh Homme provides a sparse but effectual score here), grittily grapples with the deplorable injustice on the strength of Diane Kruger's cracking central performance, eventually, it hits the mark as a woke indictment of the surging neo-Nazism, a pernicious global pathology that should be nipped in the bud.

Making allowance for Akin's Turkish ethnicity, the story seems too close to home, it takes place in Akin's hometown Hamburg, and like THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (2007), is divided into a triptych: The Family, Justice and The Sea, each is introduced by a faux-documentary snippet, delineating those happy moments in the past.

Kruger plays Katja, a German woman marries to a Turkish ex-con Nuri (Acar), and they have a young son Rocco (Santana), but their bliss is smashed to smithereens when Nuri and Rocco are killed by a nail-bomb, as the intended targets by Neo-Nazis, but ensuing police investigation makes heavy weather of Nuri's immigrant background and his drug-dealing history, a strategy too topical under today's climates.

Granted, one must hand it to Akin for not white-washing Katja and Nuri's foibles, she meets him the first time through a drug transaction in college and it is equivocal whether Nuri still conducts some illegal goings-on sub rosa. Consumed with shock, disbelief and inconsolable grief, Katja resorts to narcotics for comfort, another unwise decision that boomerangs in the Justice segment, also coincidentally, Akin employs a gory suicidal-wrist-slitting-saved-by-a-phone-call happenstance that echoes Ildikó Enyedi's more mystical yarn ON BODY AND SOUL (2017).

In the following courtroom drama, even with seemingly ironclad evidences, Katja and her lawyer Danilo (a benignly vociferous Denis Moschitto) still lose the prosecution case against two suspects, one of whom she spots right on the crime scene earlier that day, this is where the story becomes a bit vexing, because of Akin's blatant intention to show audience how lousy the legal system is, for one thing, he completely eschews the angle of the two suspects, projected as the incarnation of pure evil, they are not even being questioned during the entire trial, only sporadically seen through Katja's strung-out point-of-view. Also the two suspects' flimsy alibi provided by a Greek fellow extremist is thoughtlessly skirted around, without doubt it takes more than a doctored hotel record to prove two people's presence in another country during the explosion, but Akin doesn't care to dwell on that, all leverage is left to Johannes Krisch's vile defense lawyer to chew the scenery, one wonders how soon he will be summoned by Hollywood to amp up his superb dastardliness.

Finally, the third act spirits us away to a picturesque Greece where Katja traces down the two perpetrators and exacts her tit-for-tat retribution (alarmingly, there must be a do-it-yourself manual of nail-bomb available, presumably on the internet), commendably Akin graces her desperation and intrepidity with meaning pointers (the sight of an alighting bird which changes her initial decision, or that menstruation resumption), and rounds off the film with a poetic ending despite its violent means, the reverberations are appreciable.

A tour-de-force from Ms. Kruger must be ranked among any year's-best list, a grueling task that she takes it to herself in devoting all her body and soul through the unimaginable fire and brimstone with conviction, verve and unstinting sympathy, as she clearly realizes that the film lives and dies with her portrayal as the sole pillar of the narrative, the upshot is arresting, powerful through and through, Cannes' BEST ACTRESS laurels are definitely not for nothing.

Still of the Night (1982)

a shoddy whodunit doesn't do justice to a shimmering Streep shoehorned in a role in which you have never seen her before A less-heralded movie from La Streep's impeccable track record, which is rather unanticipated because, STILL OF THE NIGHT is the much-anticipated follow-up of writer-director Robert Benton's Oscar champ KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979), which as we all know, won Streep her first golden statuette. So it is quite intriguing to dredge it up from oblivion and burrow into the unwonted qualitative drop.

Gestated by Benton and his regular collaborator David Newman well before KRAMER VS. KRAMER, this neo-Hitchcock pastiche probably is a carte blanche reward in the wake of his landslide triumph with the former, however, the last thing one might expect from an acclaimed screenwriter like Benton is the cockamamie plot in this shoddy whodunit, which toys with a man's dreadful thought of smitten with a woman, whom he suspect might want to rub him out, a tantalizing nod to human's morbid obsession with sex and death.

As this lean psychosexual study plays out, a personable if overtly dithering Roy Scheider moderately ekes out that peculiar ambivalence, he plays Dr. Sam Rice, a Manhattan shrink bewitched by Brooke Reynolds (Streep), the mistress of his recently murdered client George Bynum (Sommer), and every evidence intimates that Brooke is the killer, including a slipshod second murder which doesn't make much sense in light of the context, or lousy filmmaking so to speak, for sure, relegating a paper-thin secondary character as the knife-wielding culprit in the reveal doesn't help, whose schlocky comeuppance is as phony as that preposterous "green box" dream analysis.

Hopping on the film's slim pickings of merits, Benton at least, keeps the film's noir and nocturnal ambience in check, hoarily utilizes jump-scares and (repeatedly) a grisly dummy to amp up suspense and spookiness in spite of its strangely languid pace, but what captures our attention is none other than Streep's sole bash as a femme fatale spiffed up with Hitchcockian blonde tresses (of course, Benton is not above to sexualize her in that ludicrous back-massaging episode, which only leaves us wondering the incredible work ethic of her oriental masseur), she is gorgeous but beset with jitters, calculated, defensive and somewhat bluntly standoffish, conferred with a munificent long take for poignant explication of her past (a treatment would otherwise be replaced with action-packed flashback if the actress is not up for the task), and she nails it beautifully, again, which comes off as a maddening case of underutilizing a real trouper's talent, short-changed by the story itself, so is a hale Jessica Tandy, not a man's nattering mother stereotype, but a more rational mind that had it been given the chance, might solve this nonsensical mystery way ahead of her libido-driven son.

The Snake Pit (1948)

THE SNAKE PIT still pluckily holds court after seven decades have elapsed Touted as the first film explicitly recounting a patient's baptism of fire in a mental institution, THE SNAKE PIT, directed by Anatole Litvak and starring a doughty Olivia de Havilland (102-year-old-young as of today) as our protagonist Virginia Cunningham, still pluckily holds court after seven decades have elapsed.

Litvak's opening swiftly plunges audience together with Virginia in her wandering mental state in medias res, a woman discernibly suffers from amnesia and dogged by hallucination (the voice in her head), has no inking of her whereabouts and the impending revelation of being locked up inside a psychiatric hospital for women shocks her to the core and simultaneously piques our curiosity, what is wrong with her?

The puzzle will be solved by a meandering but ultimately satisfying and commendably less lurid approach, through the intermittent flashback fragments, first from Robert (Stevens, a carbon copy of Dennis Morgan, the star in Sam Woods's KITTY FOYLE, 1940), her clueless but all-too-understanding foil hubby, and in time, by way of the radical therapies at the behest of Dr. Kik (Genn, exceptionally transmits a clinical yet personable poker-faced sensibility), through Virginia's own endeavor, which accumulatively dredges up her subconsciously suppressed memories, and traces the root of her condition in her Electra complex at a very young age and ensuing guilt germinates after the death of her father and another father figure.

The script conscientiously shirks any shocking-value manipulation, and patiently unfolds Virginia's tale-of-woe with a limpid sense of scientific correctness (electro-shock therapy, hypnotherapy, hydrotherapy and straitjacket, the whole package is here) and a winning consideration toward our heroine, whose taxing waxing-and-waning battle (the lowest point is to being thrown into the titular snake pit, a place for those who are beyond help, with an added figurative signification of the extreme means subjected to them, to treat insanity with insane action) against schizophrenia earns the auspicious ending over the long haul fair and square.

The story's positive overlook on Virginia's recuperation doesn't necessarily overshadow Litvak's unsparing depiction of an overpopulated institution, regulated by its own echelons and bureaucracy, yet, in presenting the often vilified hospital staff, he maintains a perspicacious mind, there are good apples and bad apples, but mostly they are just trying to do their overloaded job and occasionally are afflicted by career fatigue, even the most callous one, nurse Davis (quite a scene-stealer Helen Craig), turns out to be driven more by her self-seeking consciousness than sadistic vileness. Time and again, the film proves that each head case is an entrancing thespian per se (great cameos from Celeste Holm, Beulah Bondi, Lee Patrick, Betsy Blair and then some), but a striking vibe of sororal unity points up Litvak and co.'s humane disposition that overpowers any attempt of caricature or exploitation.

A de-glamorized de Havilland pours herself all on her character, brilliantly alternates between Virginia's manifold frames-of-mind, running the gamut from intense distress to heart-felt compassion, and makes the movie a compulsive viewing even just for the sake of her performance alone, whereas in those quieter moments, she can also make her marks in imparting Virginia's transient displacement with nuances and bonafides, a sterling showcase for her acting chops, and a compelling case study that doesn't relinquish its rapier-like perception for the sake of dramatization, more importantly and edifyingly, THE SNAKE PIT alerts us that it is not that rare for a person to go off the trolley, damage might have be done from the very start.

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