Say what you will about Darren Aronofsky, but he sure knows how to make an interesting film. From Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler to Black Swan and Noah, his filmography is rife with intrigue and surprises. Yes, some of his titles will elicit polarizing if not negative reactions from viewers, but if you ask me, there’s value in a film that seeks to do more than just tickling my senses and providing a break from reality. Aronofsky’s latest, mother!, is admittedly not as polished as his previous pictures, but it’s undoubtedly fascinating to watch this provocative film unfold.
Another month, another High-Low Report on a Stephen King adaptation! Though The Dark Tower left Andrew and Jun feeling numb, they weren’t in a funk for long; It was coming, and there was reason to be excited. Like they did for The Dark Tower, MediaBrewPub’s low-brow and high-brow decided to visit (or, in Andrew’s case, revisit) the source material before the film came out, so they read King’s celebrated novel and watched the Tim Curry-fronted 1990 miniseries, finishing in the nick of time. So, you may ask, did the film have them floating? Read on to find out. While they will venture into spoiler territory, spoiler tags have been added, so consider this a safe read if you haven’t seen the film.
Since I’m not familiar with the Death Note manga and anime, I can’t comment on the recent Netflix movie’s fidelity to the source material, but I can say that as a movie, it’s a wild mess that leaves much to be desired. The plot moves at such a rapid pace that investing in the characters and buying what unfolds prove to be difficult (if not impossible) tasks, though the movie is admittedly never boring. It doesn’t help that the characters act stupidly and make downright inexplicable decisions, requiring ridiculous suspension of disbelief. Despite its intriguing concept, the movie is scared of expanding its mythology and truly diving into the wider implications of using the Death Note. The tone routinely veers left and right, providing (unintentionally?) hilarious moments aplenty. His high-pitched screaming aside, a miscast Nat Wolff cannot save the character of Light from blandness. Margaret Qualley makes Mia fun to watch, and Lakeith Stanfield’s jittery performance as investigator L actually suits the movie’s pace and tone. The death god Ryuk is mostly sidelined, which is a shame because Willem Dafoe tackles him with much gusto. Director Adam Wingard is quite the visual stylist, with David Tattersall’s cinematography enlivening the frame through shadows and neon colors. Ironically, it feels like this movie wrote its own name in the Death Note itself, and we are here to witness its demise.
* Photo courtesy of Netflix
With the intentionally titled Gook, writer/director/actor Justin Chon crafts a vivid picture that slowly builds in intensity. Despite leading into the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the film doesn’t center on the unrest at all, instead using it as the backdrop for an intimate and deeply compelling story about the friendship between an African-American girl named Kamilla (Simone Baker) and Korean-American women’s shoe store owner Eli (Chon). The characters – particularly Eli – initially see-saw erratically between extremes with their behavior (the first act feels choppy as a result), but Chon patiently peels away their layers to reveal their complexity, and from that answers any questions the story raises. While apolitical, the film confidently navigates through a rich symbolic and thematic landscape, exploring keenly felt motifs like displacement, inter-generational conflict, and masculinity. Baker’s magnetic performance showcases a tremendous maturity, and Chon often lets his expressive face and body language speak for Eli. Also terrific are the other cast members, namely David So, Sang Chon, and Curtiss Cook, Jr., who command the screen with their dynamism. The decision to shoot in black and white results in some striking images, though the camera’s twitchy and zippy movements make the frame difficult to comprehend at times. An unflinching exercise in empathy, this film boasts incredible heart.
* Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
Steven Soderbergh is back, and it feels so good. After flirting with the possibility of retirement since 2011, the filmmaker – known for his eclectic filmography – took a sabbatical from directing feature films in 2013 after completing Behind the Candelabra. That isn’t to say he hasn’t been busy since; aside from serving as an executive producer and cinematographer (credited as Peter Andrews, his longtime pseudonym) on a few films and TV shows, he directed the entire two seasons of The Knick, Cinemax’s acclaimed TV series. At long last, he brings his sabbatical to an end with Logan Lucky, a gleeful, rip-roaring, and surprisingly poignant flick.
Capping off his frontier trilogy that consists of Sicario and Hell or High Water, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan gets behind the camera for Wind River, a somber picture that’s rough around the edges yet thoughtfully told. Sheridan once again proves to be a great storyteller, as he not only raises questions and provides key answers at the right times, but also trusts his audience to connect the dots. The story here operates well as a meditation on grief and how people deal with it, though it stops short of reaching its full potential. It’s not as immersive as the other two films in Sheridan’s trilogy, which impart a strong sense of their environments and the lifestyles they portray. What plays a significant part in this is that the picture doesn’t really dive deep into the Native American characters and their way of life. Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen are quite solid, with the former effortlessly carrying the film. Gil Birmingham is the real highlight here, as his performance as a grieving father boasts incredible weight. The film’s production values are fairly decent, with Ben Richardson’s cinematography capturing some impressive vistas of the Wyoming wilderness. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score features a haunting leitmotif, though the sound mixing is a bit off since dialogue can’t be heard very well at times. Overall, the film makes for a satisfying adult drama to catch at the theater.
* Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company
Title: A Taxi Driver | Rated: Not Rated | Runtime: 137 min | Theaters limited (expanding)
To me, A Taxi Driver feels like a culmination. Ever since the news of last year’s South Korean political scandal broke, I’ve been following the nation’s political chatter and goings-on with great interest. Assessing the impeachment of disgraced former president Park Geun-hye, the months-long peaceful protests against her that mobilized millions of citizens, and the presidential elections naturally led me to read all that I could about modern Korean history. As I explored further and further, I couldn’t help but think of my father, who grew up in Korea for most of his now 57 years. I remembered his stories about how he – as a university student – protested against the regimes of Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan and also how he argued with his father regarding those presidents. I remembered him being distraught for days when former president Roh Moo-hyun committed suicide. I remembered all the times when I asked him for his opinion on various South Korean political figures and issues. Following the news coming out of my native country certainly put my father’s experiences and thoughts in perspective, but if there’s one thing that encapsulates all that I just described, it’s this heartfelt and polished picture.