The Truth Beneath (Bi-mil-eun eobs-da)


Being a power couple isn’t always enough.

(2016) Thriller (CJ Entertainment) Ye-jin Son, Ju-hyuk Kim, Yu-hwa Choi, Cheol-woo Han, Eui-sung Kim, Gin-goo Kim, Min-jae Kim, So-hee Kim, Sang-hee Lee, Gene Woo Park, Ji-Hoon Shin. Directed by Kyoug-mi Lee

There aren’t many things worse than a missing child. Your mind is filled with the worst possible case scenario but at the same time you are holding out hope that said child will return home safe and sound. It’s the not knowing that drives us crazy.

Jong-chan (J-h Kim) is a former news anchor running for the Korean national assembly against entrenched politician No Jae-soon (E-s Kim). His wife Yeon-hong (Son) is the perfect political wife; beautiful, loyal, elegant and erudite. On the first day of their campaign however their mercurial teenage daughter Min-jin (Shin) disappears. At first nobody seems to be all that worried; even though Min-jin is an honors student and by all accounts a good girl, she wasn’t always that way.

Yeon-hong is frantic, particularly when her husband’s campaign managers and the police seem unfazed by the girl’s absence. No is making hay on the incident as Jong-chan is running on a family values platform with the ironic catchphrase “Protecting your children.” No shows no shame in pointing out that Jong-chan is having problems protecting his own.

The more that Yeon-hong looks into her daughter’s disappearance, the more troubled she gets. It turns out that Min-jin was a much different girl than her mother believed. She was being bullied at school and had taken up with a kind of pop punk girls band (the music for whom isn’t half bad). She was best friends with Choi Mi-ok (S-h Kim) who seems unnaturally possessive towards her friend. The more Yeon-hong finds out, the more convinced she becomes that the trail to her daughter’s disappearance leads to a shadowy link between her school and her father’s campaign.

This starts out as a political thriller but as the investigation of Yeon-hong continues it becomes more of a standard potboiler. That’s not to say that this isn’t head and shoulders over most of the ilk – there is a lot here to like, chief among them the performance of Son which would be getting her all kinds of notice were this film made in Hollywood.

For those who like acclaimed director Park Chan-woo, Lee is a disciple of the Korean filmmaker and in fact got Chan-woo to co-write the script. There is much of his influence on the film overall, from some of the more taboo elements of the plot (which I won’t reveal here) to the labyrinthine plot that twists and turns through a maze of characters, red herrings and half-glimpsed clues.

Lee has an excellent visual sense which he exercises a little too freely perhaps. There is a surfeit of flashbacks and special effects shots (raindrops frozen in mid-air for example, an Asian staple) to the point where it can be difficult to keep up with the plot. Eventually the audience is left feeling that they don’t have a clue what’s going on which is to say that few of the characters in the film have either.

Still despite the occasional forays into “look ma, I’m directing” territory, the movie is a solid thriller that will keep the viewer guessing while making some occasionally dazzling sequences that will either throw you for a loop or leave you breathless. Korean cinema is an equal to its counterparts in Japan and China although most true cinema buffs already know that. It’s time the world in general discovered that too.

REASONS TO GO: The film starts off a little choppy but ends up pulling together nicely. There is an eerie feeling here that isn’t supernatural. Son gives an exemplary performance.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie starts off as a political thriller but eventually morphs into a generic thriller. The flashback-heavy plot is occasionally hard to follow.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of profanity, some grisly images, brief graphic nudity, sexuality and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The lead actors Son and J-h Kim both previously starred together in the 2008 comedy My Wife Got Married.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Ides of March
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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The Campaign


 

The Campaign

Zach Galifianakis isn’t sure he’s going to get the top billing Will Ferrell promised him.

(2012) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, Brian Cox, P.J. Byrne, Sarah Baker, Karen Maruyama, Grant Goodman, Kya Haywood, Randall Cunningham. Directed by Jay Roach

 

In an American presidential election year, politics tend to move towards the shameless side. Outrageous lies and half-truths are spoken; candidates are smeared, rumors are mongered and dirty tricks are perpetrated.

In a North Carolina congressional district, Cam Brady (Ferrell) prepares to run unopposed for his fourth term in office. He’s always been more interested in being called “Congressman Brady” rather than in doing anything with the office but his popularity takes a huge hit after accidentally sending a racy voice message on the answering machine of a devout Christian family who didn’t appreciate it so much.

This brings a bit of unease to the Motch brothers (Lithgow, Aykroyd), a pair of billionaire industrialist siblings who have outsourced millions of jobs to China. However, they’ve come up with a brilliant scheme to save millions on shipping their products back to the U.S. – it’s called “insourcing” and involves having the Chinese buy huge….tracts of land…and putting up factories, then staffing them with Chinese workers who continue to make pennies an hour. To make it happen, they need a Congressman who can insure they get exemptions on the minimum wage and it doesn’t look like Brady, whose district the Motches have designs on, will have enough political capital after this latest escapade, to help them much.

The Motch brothers need a new pliable candidate, one they can control and they think they’ve found one in Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) who is a somewhat simple and somewhat effeminate tour guide operator in the county whose father (Cox) is the oily, rattlesnake-mean former campaign manager for Jesse Helms. Marty, who’s always wanted to run for office, wants to make his daddy proud. Daddy wants Marty not to embarrass him. And Marty’s brother Clay (Goodman) just wants to tickle Marty because Marty’s bowels tend to void when tickled.

Marty’s kind of a shlub but that all changes with the arrival of Tim Wattley (McDermott), a snake oil-slick campaign manager who proceeds to do a life makeover on the new candidate, much to the chagrin of Mitzi (Baker), Marty’s timid BBW of a wife.

Thus the campaign ensues, with each candidate smearing the other through attack ads, debates and innuendo. Things start to get messy; Cam’s hot but ambitious wife (LaNasa) moves out when it looks like Marty might win; Cam accidentally slugs a baby in the jaw with a closed fist.

However, when Marty finds out what the Motch Brothers, in collusion with his father, are up to, he grows himself a pair and stands up to them. This leads to Tim moving over to Cam’s moribund campaign…and resurrecting it. But which one of these two knuckleheads will win out in the end?

This is meant to be political satire which I suppose circa century 21 makes some sense. Still, when I think of political satire I think of classics like, for example, Dr. Strangelove. This doesn’t measure up to that nor should you go in expecting that it would.

This is more or less an Apatow-esque comedy masquerading as political satire. While the identity of the Motch brothers isn’t fooling anyone (Koch brothers anyone?) and Cam Baker shares some DNA with John Edwards, the movie studiously tries to avoid party mudslinging on the surface by making the Democrat (Brady) as objectionable as the Republican (Huggins). The reality though is that they’re both essentially Republicans – and the joke is that there really isn’t much of a difference between them, even to them both finding out they are good-hearted in the end (not that it’s much of a spoiler).

Ferrell has played this character dozens of times, a combination of Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby and George Bush. For Galifianakis, this is a character not unlike the one he played in Due Date. It’s not a bad mix, the two of them – but it ends up with a kind of Frank Capra-esque ending that belies the cynical tone most of the rest of the movie takes.

I could have used a bit more laugh-out-loud sequences, although there are a few moments which got me chortling but to me the movie seemed on the bland side and never really had the courage of its own convictions. Trying not to alienate the electorate? Don’t make a political satire then.

REASONS TO GO: Satirizes the current American political process without getting too party-specific.

REASONS TO STAY: Not nearly as funny as it should be. A bit more cynical than some might like.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of crude sexual content, a bit of nudity, some semi-foul language and a bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Aykroyd plays a wealthy brother like the type he bested in Trading Places. Life imitating art?

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/14/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 67% positive reviews. Metacritic: 49/100. The reviews are mixed but trending towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Primary Colors

EASTBOUND AND DOWN LOVERS: Shawn Harwell, one of the co-writers of the movie, also is a writer for the quirky cable series.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Jack and Jill

The Adjustment Bureau


The Adjustment Bureau

Matt Damon tries to explain that the Sarah Silverman music video was a joke.

(2011) Science Fiction (Universal) Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp, John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Anthony Ruvivar, Lauren Hodges, Jennifer Ehle. Directed by George Nolfi

There are a couple of schools of thought about how the universe works – one in which things are pre-determined, planned in advance and that we are helpless to escape our destiny. The other says things are random chance and our own free will determines our choices.

David Norris (Damon) is an ambitious politician who was the youngest man ever elected to Congress. He’s running for Senate and has a big lead in the polls until a photo from his college days sinks him. He is in a hotel bathroom, running over his concession speech when he meets Elise Sellas (Blunt) who was hiding from hotel security in a stall when he walked in. They meet, flirt, kiss…and Norris is inspired to deliver a speech that makes him an immediate frontrunner for the next election.

David goes to work for his friend and former campaign manager Charlie Traynor (Kelly), a venture capitalist. David is on his way to work when he meets, quite by chance, Elise on a bus. A man in an old-fashioned suit wearing a fedora who we later found out is named Harry Mitchell (Mackie), chases the bus, trying desperately to spill coffee on the former Congressman. He is unsuccessful and David not only gets Elise’s phone number, he gets to work on time.

There he finds things a little strange. Nobody is moving…the people are frozen in position. Strangely dressed men are holding up strange instruments to Charlie’s forehead. David takes off in a dead run to try and escape but he’s captured. He is brought to a large warehouse-like space where another man – dressed similarly to Harry in a grey suit and a fedora – named Richardson (Slattery) tells him that he’s seen behind a curtain he wasn’t supposed to know existed.

You see, life is supposed to go according to plan – a specific plan – and they’re the guys who make sure it does. David and Elise were not supposed to meet again, as it turns out – they’re not meant to be together. Richardson burns the number Elise gave him and sends him on his way with a warning never to tell anybody about the Adjustment Bureau – or else he’ll be lobotomized.

Thus begins a cat and mouse game between David and the Adjustment Bureau. David trying to get back together again with Elise…the Bureau trying to keep them apart. Eventually, a higher-up named Thompson (Stamp) is drawn into the case but how can David find the love of his life when men who can alter reality itself are arrayed against him?

George Nolfi is directing for the first time; he’s better known as a writer for such movies as Oceans 12. He shows a surprisingly deft hand at the helm – he’s got a solid future in directing if he continues to direct.

He also scripted, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, whose works have been turned into such films as Minority Report, Total Recall and Blade Runner. Movies based on Dick’s work have varied in execution; this one, I’m happy to say, is one of the better ones. It brings up an age-old argument in a sci-fi setting and while Dick was firmly on the free will side of the discussion (as is Nolfi), he does make a credible argument for the other side as well.

Damon is one of the more appealing A-list actors; he has become a terrific everyman in the vein of Jimmy Stewart, and he continues to improve with every performance. This is another one, and he is certainly solid again, dependable and likable. He also has good chemistry with Blunt; while her character is a little bit bland, she does an admirable job filling it. Their back and forth reminds me a bit of the romantic comedies of the 50s.

There aren’t a lot of special effects; mostly the effects are optical, particularly in sequences involving doorways that transport the bureau men from one place to places far away. There’s a chase sequence involving David and the Bureau men late in the film that’s dazzling but also dizzying…it’s a little disorienting even as David goes by a variety of New York landmarks, including Yankee Stadium and the Statue of Liberty. It’s on the breathtaking side.

Mackie is emerging as a tremendous actor. An Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker, he is very solid here as a Bureau man with a conscience. Slattery, who is one of those “you’ve seen his face but don’t know his name” kind of guys, also does real well as the bureaucrat (pun intended). Terence Stamp is, well, Terence Stamp.

While the movie is being marketed in Bourne-like fashion (Universal has worked with Damon on those films) this really isn’t. It’s a bit of a pastiche – part romantic comedy, part morality play, part sci-fi action thriller. It’s unusual and while not innovative, it fits the bill for a springtime action movie that probably would have drowned in the summer with all the more spectacular blockbusters. Still, it’s a solid and surprisingly thoughtful movie that even has a few religious overtones – you draw your own conclusions as to who the chairman is. This is the kind of movie that has good juju – it’s entertaining and smart. You can’t ask for more than that.

REASONS TO GO: An interesting concept nicely accomplished. Damon is becoming a 21st century Jimmy Stewart.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the plot ideas are a little hard to follow and the final chase scene is disorienting.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of sex, a little bit of violence and a little bit of strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the short story which the movie is based on, the lead character is an insurance salesman rather than a politician.  

HOME OR THEATER: While some of the overhead city shots benefit from the big screen, most of the rest of the movie works on the small screen just as nicely.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: What Goes Up