Solo: A Star Wars Story


“Chewie, I’ve got a bad feeling about this..”

(2018) Science Fiction (Disney/Lucasfilm) Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau (voice), Phoebe Waller-Bridge (voice), Erin Kellyman, Linda Hunt (voice), Ian Kenny, John Tui, Anna Francolini, Andrew Woodall, Warwick Davis, Clint Howard, Anthony Daniels, Charlotte Louise. Directed by Ron Howard

 

Prequels can serve one of two purposes; to give insight to an established character or franchise, or to forever tarnish them. The much-anticipated Solo: A Star Wars Story could go either way…or both.

Han Solo (Ehrenreich) is an orphan committing crimes for a kind of reptilian Fagin named lady Proxima (Hunt). He and his best girl Qi’ra (Clarke) plan to get out of the life and find a life of their own but their plans go awry and the two are separated. Indy..I mean Han…resolves to come back for her and joins the Imperial Stormtroopers as a pilot. Eventually, he meets scoundrel Tobias Beckett (Harrelson) who along with his squeeze Val (Newton) are planning a big heist, one which may finally get him the opportunity to finally rescue his girl. First he will have to avoid the wrath of the crime boss Dryden Vos (Bettany) and meet up with future allies Chewbacca (Suotamo) and Lando Calrissian (Glover).

This is a movie in which the sum of its parts exceeds the whole. An underrated cast, writer Lawrence Kasdan who wrote arguably the best installment in the series (Return of the Jedi) and one of Hollywood’s most respected directors (Oscar winner Ron Howard). Still, despite exceptional turns by Harrelson and particularly Glover (who at one time was rumored to be toplining a Lando Calrissian movie of his own) the movie feels curiously flat. Perhaps it was because Howard was brought in late after much footage had already been shot by departing directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who were (depending on who you ask) shown the door or found it on their own after artistic differences with Disney brass. More likely, it’s because Ehrenreich who is a very talented actor, was given a no-win situation in which he was given. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is one of the most iconic roles of the last 50 years and most people can’t see anyone playing Solo except Ford. I will say that Ehrenreich does his level best but for whatever reason his performance didn’t resonate with me. Great effects, great pacing and great cinematography can take a movie so far but it also has to connect, to inspire and amaze. Solo does none of those things.

REASONS TO GO: Glover and Harrelson do bang-up jobs.
REASONS TO STAY: The film left me feeling flat and was overall a disappointment.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some science fiction-type violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The fertility idol from the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark can be seen on a table in the meeting room of Dryden Vos, the villain.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Movies Anywhere, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 70% positive reviews: Metacritic: 62/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Then Came You

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How It Ends


Theo James gets a glimpse of how it ends.

(2018) Action (Netflix) Theo James, Forest Whitaker, Grace Dove, Kat Graham, Nicole Ari Parker, Mark O’Brien, Kerry Bishé, Aaron Hughes, Lanie McAuley, Josh Cruddas, Aidan Ritchie, Eric Keenleyside, RJ Fetherstonhaugh, Nancy Sorel, Storm Greyeyes, Haig Sutherland, Cory Chetrybok, David Lewis, Charis Ann Wiens, Juliette Hitchcock, Anett Rumanoczky. Directed by David M. Rosenthal

 

How will the world end? Will it go out with a bang or a thud? What will become of those who survive? These are questions that people have wondered about since…well, since there have been people. The movies wonder about it too, offering generally special effects-heavy looks at nuclear holocaust, approaching meteors, deadly plagues and so on and so forth. Sometimes the end of the world is the sound of the power being switched off.

Will (James) is a lawyer in Seattle whose girlfriend Samantha (Graham) is pregnant. They want to get married; she wants him to, in the best traditional sense, ask her father for her hand in marriage. That’s not something Will is especially looking forward to as Sam’s dad Tom (Whitaker) is a very conservative ex-Marine who doesn’t look with much favor upon Will who moved his baby girl all the way to Seattle and worse yet crashed his boat.

The meeting between potential father-in-law and son-in-law goes awkwardly and then falls apart. Will is about to head back home to Seattle and calls Sam to let her know he’s on his way when the phone call is abruptly cut off with Sam uttering a disturbing “Something’s wrong! I’m scared…” before the connection goes dead. Then the power goes off in Chicago and pretty much everywhere.

Tom, being a man of action, determines to drive to Seattle since air traffic is grounded. He gets Will to go with him, reluctantly at first. What they encounter in America’s heartland is nothing short of disturbing, with civilization falling apart, roaming bandits murdering and stealing with impunity and signs that the military has attempted to regain control unsuccessfully. The two manage to get Native American auto mechanic Ricki (Dove) to accompany them West in hopes that she can make it to California. Seattle’s in that general direction after all.

While this movie is beautifully shot (thank you cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg!) it feels like you’ve seen this movie before in a dozen disaster end of civilization films that have come before it. I don’t mind a movie borrowing ideas from other movies – after all, as Shakespeare once said, there is nothing new under the sun – but a movie needs to add something, something that at least reflects a point of view. At first, I thought that would be the relationship between Will and Tom which seems to be at the center of the film. And yes, Whitaker and James both put forth some fine performances which you would expect from Whitaker but James delivers what I think is his best performance so far. The problem is that the chemistry between the two is often cold; there should be more heat between them. After all, Tom neither likes nor trusts Will but grudgingly realizes he needs him if he is to save his baby girl – assuming she’s still around to be saved

There’s just too much typical post-apocalyptic cliché here, with people turning into selfish monsters willing to kill for anything that would allow them to survive for one day longer. There are signs that it didn’t all totally go tumbling down the drain – a small town which has essentially cut itself off from the chaos around it but one gets the sense they probably won’t be able to stand too long intact.

And I have to talk about the ending. I won’t reveal too much about it, only that it’s godawful and abrupt  You are left looking at whomever you are watching the movie with and wondering aloud “Why did I just watch this if that’s all there is?” Of course, you might ask the same question if viewing alone but the answer is likely to be you throwing your TV (or laptop) across the room in frustration. The moral is, don’t watch this alone.

That’s not to say that this is all bad; there are some poignant moments and Dove’s character Ricki actually has some memorable scenes but it gets lost a bit in the march to lawlessness. I think we all get that civilization is a terrifyingly thin veneer and that it won’t take much to strip it completely away. It just gets tiresome to see that concept being demonstrated over and over again with the characters refusing to learn that lesson along the way.

REASONS TO GO: Whitaker is as mesmerizing as always and James delivers his best performance to date.
REASONS TO STAY: The pace is a bit slow and the ending a bit abrupt.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of violence as well as profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first film to be directed by Chang-dong Lee since Shi in 2010.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/28/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews: Metacritic: 36/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: On the Beach
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Dead Ant


Rock on!!!

(2017) Horror Comedy (Cinedigm) Tom Arnold, Sean Astin, Jake Busey, Rhys Coiro, Leisha Hailey, Michael Horse, Danny Woodburn, Sydney Sweeney, Joy Llaye, Natasha Blasick, Michelle Campbell, Angelica Chitwood, Cameron Richardson, Nick Mason, Amber Martinez, Nic Novicki, Ewart Chin, David A. Lockhart, Camilla Jackson, Cortney Palm, Abigail Johns. Directed by Ron Carlson

 

Some movies should be seen in an art house, preferably one with a bar where you can hang out with fellow film buffs and discuss the nuances of the filmmaking you just witnessed – this isn’t one of those. Other movies should be seen in the local multiplexes with lots of popcorn and ice cold soda – this isn’t one of those either. No, this is the type of film that should be seen in a Times Square grindhouse circa 1979 – or in my case, the Jose Theater in downtown San Jose circa 1985.

Aging metal band Sonic Grave hasn’t gotten the memo that the 80s are long over. They’ve essentially made a career milking their one and only hit, a power ballad that now the band detests. They have been just hanging on through the machinations of their ruthless manager Danny (Arnold) but even he knows the band is fast approaching the end of the line. They have one shot at a comeback; a gig at a music festival in the California desert. No, not that one; the organizers of Coachella wouldn’t even take his calls. Instead, they’re going to “No-Chella,” a kind of Slamdance to the better-known festival’s Sundance

Danny knows they need to write some songs that will blow everyone away and get the band’s name known again so he takes the into the desert with a brief pit stop for some shrooms so that the band can get creative. They meet with Native American shaman Bigfoot (Horse) and his bodyguard Firecracker (Woodburn) who I must say has an impressive arsenal. Bigfoot is known for his variety of psychedelic mushrooms called The Moon but he has an even more potent fungus for sale – The Sun. He warns them that while under the influence they must not harm any living thing on the sacred grounds and that the mushrooms must be taken after sundown.

The rockers, being rockers and all, don’t listen and their train wreck of a bass player, Art (Astin) goes out to – um, relieve himself – and drowns a hapless ant in a stream of his own relief. The group, including shrieking singer Merrick (Busey), stoner guitar God Pager (Coiro) and level-headed drummer Stevie (Hailey) as well as two party girls Sam (Sweeney) and Lisa (Llaye) are attacked by ants that grow in size every time the hapless musicians kill one of them. Can these metalheads outwit the giant ants or will they become ant food?

This movie is actually a mash-up of a lot of different kinds of grindhouse films, from giant critter horror to stoner comedy to 80s music videos to psychedelic road trip. It never takes itself completely seriously but it doesn’t fail to deliver the goods either. That’s not to say there aren’t some missteps, but at least they are honestly come by. The movie declares it’s intentions from the very first scene in which a nubile hippie chick is chased through the desert by a gigantic ant. As she flees, she sheds her clothes and throws them in the general direction of the oncoming ant. I don’t know how much more grindhouse a film can get than that. Oddly enough, that is the last nudity seen in the film so arrive at the theater on time for those who are fans of the female form.

Arnold has made a career out of playing the same sort of guy pretty much in every role (which I suspect is pretty much the same guy that Tom Arnold actually is, although not as much of a schmuck). Most of the really funny lines in the movie are his and to his credit he gives it the same kind of effort that he gave in True Lies. That’s what you call a pro, right there.

The movie is filled with the kind of clichés that metal lovers have had to endure for years and I suppose some of them are earned, but there are plenty of people who play and love heavy metal who aren’t dumber than rocks and not all of them have fried their brains with sex, drugs and rock and roll, not necessarily in that order. Some of you fans of the music may find the portrayal of your kind to be wearisome, but I think (I may be wrong about this one) that it is meant in good spirit.

The mainly CGI special effects are cheesy as all get out and that may not necessarily be a bad thing. It at least keeps with the film’s oeuvre. While this isn’t going to break any records for originality, the filmmakers at least have the courage of their convictions and have crafted a pleasant and occasionally charming entertainment that wouldn’t feel out of place in Quentin Tarantino’s VHS collection (if ever a 21st century movie screamed for a VHS release it’s this one) and that’s pretty high praise in my book.

REASONS TO GO: The film is goofy and charming from the get-go.
REASONS TO STAY: The special effects are downright cheesy.
FAMILY VALUES: Where to begin? There’s plenty of violence and gore, a whole lot of drug use, a boatload of profanity, a few horrific images and some nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Carlson’s last film was set in a cold climate. Not wanting to undergo that kind of hardship again, he deliberately wrote this film set in a warmer climate.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/27/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Colossal
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
How It Ends

The Final Wish


Mirror, mirror on the wall…

(2018) Horror (Cinedigm) Lin Shaye, Michael Welch, Melissa Bolona, Spencer Locke, Tony Todd, Kalwi Lyman, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Jean Elie, Christopher Murray, Douglas Tait, Larry Poole, Garrett Edell, Michelle Burke, Timothy Oman, Dey Young, Gordon Woloson, Mohamed Mohson, Diane Markoff, Jeffrey Reddick, Zebulun Huling, Barbara de Normandie, Randi Lamey. Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr

 

The old saying goes “Be careful what you wish for” and that is especially true in a horror film. Wishes may from time to time be granted, but almost never in the way you expect and always – ALWAYS – at a price.

Aaron Hammond (Welch) graduated law school from essentially an online school but that hasn’t led to the dream job at a prestigious firm he was dreaming of. He is basically unemployed, unable to pay his rent on his squalid Chicago apartment and being demeaned at interviews by haughty lawyers who prefer Ivy League candidates.

Locked out of his apartment for failure to pay the rent, his day goes from awful to horrible when his ex-girlfriend calls to inform him that his father has passed away. Coming home to his small central California town isn’t exactly the tonic he was looking for; his mom Kate (Shaye) is almost bi-polar, at turns happy to see him and then furious at what she sees as his abandonment of his parents. The aforementioned ex, Lisa (Bolona) is married to Derek (Lyman), known as “Douchebag Derek” back in high school in Aaron’s circle and now the town sheriff when he isn’t busy physically abusing his wife.

Clearing out Dad’s antique shop has yielded some curious looking artifacts, including an urn with a ram’s head on the cover. As a depressed Aaron wishes for a better life, his wishes start to come true but in awful ways; a wish that he could be better looking results in him being hit by a car driven by his friend Jeremy (Elie) and requiring plastic surgery. A wish that his mother could be happy leads to his father returning as a zombie. You know, those sorts of things.

This is where Dad’s antiques buyer Colin (Todd) drops into the picture to explain what’s going on. It turns out that the urn is actually the receptacle for a djinn and no, this is not the kind of blue genie that croons “You never had a friend like me.” This is a hideous creature that draws its power from wishes and once seven of them have been granted, takes possession of the soul of the user. And Aaron has used up six of them…

This is a fairly clever horror flick from the writer of Final Destination. Some of the death scenes have that kind of Rube Goldberg-like complexity to them which made that franchise so entertaining; some are much more straightforward. Some of these complex scenes have nothing to do with deaths either which is an interesting twist on the FD franchise.

Any horror movie that has Lin Shaye in it is welcome and in that regard The Final Wish doesn’t disappoint. Shaye is at the top of her game, giving Kate a truly hard-to-read character. She may be a little over-the-top in places but only when the scene calls for it. Horror icon Tony Todd also has a cameo and while he does as good a job as always, the part feels like it was hastily added for expository purposes, dropped suddenly into the film and dropping just as suddenly out of it.

Welch is a competent lead; Aaron is something of a selfish jerk and Welch is able to make the character somewhat sympathetic nonetheless. This is a good performance for the resume. Bolona is pretty and present as the girlfriend but she’s given not a lot to work with. I did like Jonathan Daniel Brown as the nerdy best friend who carries with him a whopper of a secret.

I have to say that the production design is impressive; the interior of the house is suitably spooky with Dad’s very creepy antiques scattered around. Since a lot of the action takes place at night, the shadows add to the tone. It’s not haunted house spooky but you are always nervously glancing at the shadows waiting for something to leap out; something with fangs and horns, most likely.

I can’t say that this is groundbreaking; it really isn’t. There are plenty of djinn tales that are plenty more interesting than this one. Frankly it could have used a little more camp. However, it has enough going for it that horror buffs are likely to find this entertaining. Everyone else it’s probably not going to be too high on the list, although the end twist is a pretty cool one.

REASONS TO GO: The production design is really well done.
REASONS TO STAY: The writing is more than a little bit sloppy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence and gore, plenty of profanity, some disturbing images and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the same house that was used in Annabelle: Creation.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 86% positive reviews. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wishmaster
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Dead Ant

New Releases for the Week of January 25, 2019


THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING

(20th Century Fox) Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Rebecca Ferguson, Denise Gough, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Angus Imrie. Directed by Joe Cornish

A young British kid who has gotten beaten up for standing up to bullies discovers that he is the heir to Excalibur, King Arthur’s legendary sword. He must learn to believe in himself if he is to save Britain from a mystic menace.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language)

Cold War

(Amazon) Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza. In the 1950s during the height of Soviet occupation of Poland, a music director in Warsaw falls in love with a beautiful singer and tries to convince her to flee with him to Paris.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for some sexual content, nudity and language)

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi

(Zee) Kangana Ranaut, Jishu Sengupta, Suresh Oberoi, Danny Denzongpa. Rani Lakshmi Bai was the Queen of Jhansi and one of the greatest heroines in Indian history. As Queen, she refused to cede her country to the British Raj and became one of the leading figures of the Rebellion of 1857.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

Qué León

(Spanglish) Raymond Pozo, Ozuna, Clarissa Molina, Miguel Céspedes. Nicole León and Miguel León may have the same last name but they are from completely different fantasies from opposite sides of the tracks. Still, that doesn’t prevent them from falling deeply in love – much to the consternation of both their families.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

Serenity

(Aviron) Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Diane Lane. Baker is a fishing charter captain who has moved into a quiet life after years that he’d rather forget. When his ex-wife comes back into his life, begging him to save her and her son from her violent, abusive new husband by taking hubbie on a fishing trip and then throwing him to the sharks, he is caught in a moral dilemma but not everything is what it appears to be.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, sexual content, and some bloody images)

Shoplifters

(Magnolia) Lily Franky, Sakura Andō, Mayu Matsuoka, Kirin Kiki. A Japanese family that survives through petty crime find a little girl freezing in the snow. At first reluctant to take her in, the matriarch is at last convinced. However, the family bonds and those with the newest member are tested when unforeseen circumstances arrive. This is a finalist for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some sexual content and nudity)

Stan & Ollie

(Sony Classics) Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston. In 1953, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had fallen on hard times. Once one of the greatest comedy duos in the world, they are largely forgotten. They decide to embark on a tour of England where they got their start. However, ghosts from their pasts and failing health threaten to split the pair apart forever.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Daytona Cinematique, Old Mill Playhouse, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some language and for smoking)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

An Acceptable Loss
The Girl in the Orange Dress
In Like Flynn
King of Thieves
Mr. Majnu
Pledge
Rust Creek

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear
Mr. Majnu
Sicilian Ghost Story
Thackeray

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Antiquities
The Challenger Disaster
Heartlock
Mikhael
Mr. Majnu
Thackeray

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Mikhael
Mr. Majnu

.SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

An Acceptable Loss
Cold War
Pledge
Rust Creek
Serenity

Dolphin Kick


I don’t know what that kid said but that dolphin wants to kick his butt.

(2019) Family (Epic) Tyler Jade Nixon, Axle McCoy, Travis McCoy, Alexis Louder, DeVaughn Gow, Tim Ogletree, LaVaughan Hamilton, Maya Simmons, Quddus Newton, Tomli Culver, Jordan Pedreira, Erin Reign, Matthew Scott Miller, Barry Askham, Ana-Alicia Carroll, Dwayne Shockley, Frank Salas Jr., Myron Roberts, Carson Doll, Ryan Gonzalez. Directed by Philip Marlatt

 

I suppose that it could be said that of all the creatures on this green earth, the dolphin is probably the most intelligent. Certainly they have the ability to communicate and to learn. They have complex social structures within their pods. It also could be said that if it weren’t for family movies and Sea World they might just be more intelligent than humans.

Clint (T. McCoy) is grieving. His vivacious wife recently passed away and both of his kids – sunny Skyler (Nixon) and her older brother Luke (A. McCoy) are both devastated in their own way. While Skyler who in most ways seems like her late mom seems to be ready to move on, Luke remains introspective. Once an avid swimmer like his mother, he has refused to put so much as a toe into the water since his mom died.

What this kind of tragedy calls for is – a family vacation in an island paradise and not just any island paradise – the one here Mom and Dad got married on. Luke is about as excited to go as a cat would be to a rocking chair convention but he puts a stiff upper lip on and off he and his sister go with Dad bravely leading the way.

At first Skyler is entranced; the island is beautiful, tropical and the family has rented a gorgeous house on the sea. They’ve also rented a boat…and with the house apparently comes a dolphin who strikes up a friendship with the desolate Luke.

At first Luke is terrified of the cetacean but eventually begins to accept him, naming the dolphin “Echo” – and even to rely on him. As Dad makes friends with a group of marine biology students, particularly the smart and sassy Nova (Louder), the group of students is excited about the bond that Luke has made with the playful Echo. However, reality intrudes; Echo needs a pod and finding him one won’t be an easy task.

In the meantime surly fisherman Naz (Gow) has noticed that the lines to his buoys have been cut and he suspects a rival fisherman to be the culprit. But as the sabotage begins to spread to the other fishermen on the island Naz and his first mate Moe (Hamilton) realize that the lines haven’t been cut so much as chewed through and the logical culprit is the playful dolphin who has grown fond of playing fetch with stray buoys. Naz determines that in order for the fishermen to be able to retain their livelihood, Echo is going to need to meet up with an “accident.”

As family movies go this one is fairly harmless and even has some lovely underwater photography to boot. While Echo is partly rendered in CGI, there are plenty of practical effects as well. While the setting is a beautiful Caribbean island, the movie was actually filmed in Louisiana, specifically in the tropical paradise of Slidell. Talk about Hollywood magic, right?

Travis McCoy as the dad has lots of charisma and could have a good career ahead of him playing the “hot dad” if he so chooses. The kids are about as annoying and precocious as is standard with a family film and the juvenile actors who play them actually do a pretty credible job without feeling too forced, a common mistake with young actors. Kudos for that which is also a function of how the director handles them, so that’s to the plus side for Marlatt.

My issue though is that if feels like they got the overall tone of the family wrong. My understanding from the film is that the death of the mom was a fairly recent event. Only Luke displays any sort of melancholia that would be associated with grieving. Young Skyler has moments where something reminds her of her mom but these are fleeting and most of the time, she seems to be incredibly bubbly and positive. The husband who is now tasked with raising two kids by himself, almost never seems to show any sort of feeling one way or the other about his late wife. I think it would be a healthy thing for kids to see that daddies and mommies grieve too.

Other than that this is basic family film 101 with a likable dolphin who is apt to leap above the waves at any given moment, a pair of precious but precocious kids, ecologically committed young people and villains who really aren’t all bad a’tall. While I don’t think that a theatrical release is in the cards for this one, it is already available on most of the major streaming services and on DVD as well – it’s even region free so you can play it no matter where you are. If you have a kid or two who are into the ocean in a big way (and dolphins in a bigger way) and you’ve worn out your copies of Dolphin Tale and Free Willy, this might just be what your family needs.

REASONS TO GO: The kids will love this, particularly those who love animals or the ocean (especially dolphins).
REASONS TO STAY: Being kid-friendly doesn’t have to mean the movie is predictable and formulaic.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dolphin Kick is the first screen credit for young Axle McCoy.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/23/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dolphin Tale
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Final Wish

Burning (Beoning)


That which reminds us of things we can’t bear to look at must sometimes be burned.

(2018) Mystery (Well Go USA) Ah-in Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jun, Soo-kyung Kim, Seung-ho Choi, Seong-kun Mun, Bok-gi Min, Soo-Jeong Lee, Hye-ra Ban, Mi-Kyung Cha, Bong-ryeon Lee, Wonhyeong Jang, Seok-chan Jeon, Joong-ok Lee, Ja-Yeon Ok. Directed by Chang-dong Lee

 

Human relationships are by their very nature complex, particularly when sexuality is part of the equation. Sometimes we find someone who we can’t believe could possibly be interested in us; other times we see things in someone that they don’t see in themselves. All the while, our desires burn brightly within us.

Jong-su Lee (Yoo) is a country bumpkin living in Seoul. Hailing from the farming community of Paju, near the DMZ that borders North and South Korea – so close in fact that the propaganda broadcasts from the North can clearly be heard in Paju – Jong-su has managed to get himself an education and yearns to be a writer, admiring American authors like William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

To make ends meet while he writes his novel, Jong-su works as a delivery boy. One day he accidentally encounters Hae-mi Shin (Jun) who grew up with him in Paju although he scarcely remembers her. Where he is colorless, she is vibrant; where he is taciturn she is outgoing and she is energetic where he is lethargic. She is everything he’s not and everything he wants. To his surprise they strike up a friendship which turns into something more. She is getting ready to go on a previously planned trip to Africa and needs him to watch her pet cat; he agrees.

While she is gone, he haunts her apartment, missing her presence and her sexual energy. There is some evidence of a cat – a litter box that fills with poop, a bowl that he fills with food which is empty when he comes back – however he never actually sees the cat whom she names Boil on account of that she found him in a boiler room.

Jong-su has had to move back to Paju in the meantime – his father has been arrested for assaulting a government official and eventually is convicted and sent to prison. Jong-su must take care of the family farm. When he receives a phone call from Hae-mi that she needs to pick her up at the airport, he is overjoyed – until she materializes with a new boyfriend, the wealthy Ben (Yeun) in tow. Ben is a handsome, charming, and charismatic sort and Jong-su is certainly aware that Ben is more attractive as a boyfriend in every way conceivable. Ben seems to enjoy Jong-su’s company and often invites Jong-su to parties and on dinner dates with him and Hae-mi.

Outwardly Jong-su seems okay with this arrangement but inwardly he is seething and when he boils over and yells at Hae-mi, she breaks off communication with him. After a few days of frantic calling, Jong-su begins to realize that nobody has seen Hae-mi since then. He begins to get an uneasy feeling, particularly when Ben confesses while high that he likes to burn down abandoned greenhouses for kicks. Suddenly Jong-su is beginning to wonder if there isn’t more to Ben than meets the eye.

Chang-dong Lee is considered one of South Korea’s most gifted and respected directors. His films tend to be deeply layered, very complex and sublimely nuanced. In many ways, Burning is his most accessible work to date. Still, there is as with all his works much more than meets the eye which is saying something given the often breathtaking cinematography.

The triangle at the forefront of the movie has some delicious performances. Yoo has the rubber-faced expression of a comedian but rarely varies it beyond befuddlement and bewilderment. He is a child-man in a fast-paced world of naked consumerism; he is the Nick Carraway to Ben’s Jay Gatsby (the film even references the book directly), fascinated and yet envious. Jong-su becomes obsessed with Ben, first as Hae-mi’s new paramour and later in a different way after the girl’s disappearance.

Yeun, who most American viewers will remember as the good-hearted Glen from The Walking Dead has a very different role here. He is part of the one-percent and has all the arrogance that you would expect from those used to getting everything they want. He also can be cruel, sometimes inadvertently but one has to wonder if he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. Ben is, after all, a very bright young man. Yeun does a bang-up job here.

Jun leaves the most indelible impression. Hae-mi is both desperately lonely and wonderfully outgoing. She is very sexual but very naive at the same time. She is a hot mess from a personal standpoint and she breaks the heart of Jong-su who in their last scene together throws it back in her face. She is an enigma, never more so when she disappears and one wonders if she, like her cat, was not real to begin with.

The movie takes a definite turn after Hae-mi goes missing; it goes from a romantic Dramedy to a mystery which seems to be the crux of the film. When a friend who had previously seen the movie asked me what I thought of it, I responded “It’s like getting two movies for the price of one” and so it is but this isn’t such a wide turn that the audience is left with whiplash. Rather, it is an organic change that allows the viewer to go along for the ride without getting too uncomfortable.

This was South Korea’s official submission for the Best Foreign Film Oscars this year and while it didn’t make the shortlist – despite being a favorite to do so – it certainly deserved to do so. There is a purity to this work that transcends cultural lines; I do believe that one can feel the truth in it regardless if you are Korean, American or from anywhere else. Some truths are universal after all.

REASONS TO GO: It’s like getting two films for the price of one. The filmmakers wisely leave a lot of aspects to the imagination. The audience is never 100% sure of what took place in the film.
REASONS TO STAY: The first third of the film is a bit of a slog.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of profanity as well as sex and nudity and some shocking violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first film to be directed by Chang-dong Lee since Shi in 2010.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/22/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews: Metacritic: 90/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Girl on the Train
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
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