Author: Jason Ooi

New on Amazon Prime Instant Streaming: American Honey is a Rapid Fire Dream

Originally published on May 14, 2016. American Honey is now available through Amazon Prime’s Instant Streaming Service. Overview: A teenage girl joins a group of travelling magazine salespeople; A24/Focus Features; 2016; 162 Minutes. The Crew: Andrea Arnold’s 162-minute road trip movie is an absolute joyride through the American Midwest, brimming with the spontaneity and energy of modern youth. American Honey follows Star, portrayed with a naked vulnerability from newcomer Sasha Lane. With no responsible parents and two siblings under her care, she finds an easy escape as a member of a door-to-door magazine sales troupe. She becomes smitten with...

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New on Amazon Prime Streaming: The Handmaiden Is Erotic and Gorgeous

Originally published on May 15, 2016. The Handmaiden is now available on Amazon Prime instant streaming. Overview: A con man hires a pickpocket to help him, but things go awry when unexpected love develops. CJ Entertainment; 2016; 145 Minutes. The Web: Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden builds a web of deception and manipulation, a story in which the roles of puppeteers and puppets are indistinguishable. The film tangles the relationships between three primary people. Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) is a wealthy Japanese heiress promised to her predatory uncle.  Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) is a young thief disguised as Lady Hideko’s eponymous servant. And con...

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Anthropoid Is An Uneven Slowburn

Overview: A telling of the titular operation, in which Czechoslovakian rebels planned the assassination of the third highest ranking SS Officer. Bleecker Street; 2016; Rated R; 120 minutes. A True Story: The word “anthropoid” signifies a physical resemblance to human-kind. It is appropriate to define the characters of the film as such. One would, however, be perplexed to imagine any other adjectives for the paper-thin characters at the core of the film who seem to exist only to complete the next objective. Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik – heroes of both Anthropoid and the war – are both brave men...

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Criterion Discovery: A Touch of Zen

Background  A Touch of Zen (Spine #825) is one of the pinnacles of Chinese cinema from none other than director King Hu. It is his only film in the collection, though more are expected to arrive soon enough. Film historian David Bordwell, in the essay attached to the release credits the film with bringing “Chinese martial arts cinema to a western audience.” Story If you’re jonesing for an epic, look no further than Criterion’s latest batch of releases; visionary Taiwanese director King Hu’s A Touch of Zen has finally received a transfer worthy of the film’s high stature within filmic culture....

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The Childhood of a Leader Offers a Promising Directorial Debut

Overview: An American child grows up in post-war France. IFC; 2016; Not Rated; 113 minutes. Running Before Walking: Brady Corbet, who is particularly well known for his work with other extremely controversial but still well-regarded auteurs (Lars Von Trier, Michael Haneke, Antonio Campos), now in the director’s chair himself has crafted a work full and worthy of their various influences. Yet Corbet directs The Childhood of a Leader with such striking ambition and confidence that this debut itself carries with it an inherent air of fascination. The film is a singular piece of work. Comparisons to Haneke’s The White Ribbon exist...

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Lights Out Reignites Our Fear of the Dark

Overview: A mother’s mental state conjures up a violent entity which only exists in the dark, and her two children struggle to overcome it. Warner Bros.; 2016; Rated R; 81 minutes. On: David Sandberg’s Lights Out, based on the 2013 viral short of the same name, is quite an ingenious horror film. It manipulates an inevitable and primordial childhood phobia which, while it does disappear with age, still manages to be inescapable. By mirroring childhood with Gabriel Bateman’s ten-year-old Martin and contrasting it with the presentness of Teresa Palmer’s Rebecca, Sandberg invokes youth and adulthood and unites them both...

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Free State of Jones is Watchable By Way of Relevence

Overview: Newt Knight, a deserter from the Confederate Army, returns home and forms a small militia to fight back against the rebel government. STX Entertainment; 2016; Rated R; 139 minutes. The Historical Figure: The recurring pattern of McConaughey’s white Newton Knight taking command of and saving the African American slaves has drawn quite a bit of criticism and does get tiring at points. Although it is historically accurate, and the bulk of the biopic rests on modern, progressive sensibilities, the film still makes the Civil War about its company-sized group of white men, as well as African Americans. It is not about race,...

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Swiss Army Man Could Save Your Life

Overview: A shipwrecked man finds hope in a washed up corpse. A24; 2016; Rated R; 95 minutes. Beginning Before the Beginning: The sheer satisfaction of Swiss Army Man begins before the film does. That a movie with such an absurd premise can exist deserves applause and perhaps hints that Hollywood (or at least production studio extraordinaire A24) is becoming bolder in rewarding new and similarly audacious ideas. The Players: Daniel Radcliffe, once The Boy Who Lived, finds himself in the role of farting corpse here. Somehow, his performance is perfect. His Manny, so dubbed by Paul Dano’s struggling shipwreck survivor Hank,...

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Cannes Review: The Last Face is Insultingly Bad

Overview: Physicians work together in West Africa with a relief organization. FilmHaven Entertainment/Gerber Pictures/Matt Palmieri Productions/River Road Entertainment; 2016; 132 Minutes. Utter Failure: The Last Face is not a film built to do well at Cannes, but it’s not really a film that will do well anywhere. Director Sean Penn attempts to channel his inner Malick and is only able to conjure up a slick, insipid parody. Several of Penn’s attempts at pathos are unbearable or laughable. For this project to have been approved, at some point there must have been a version of this film that does the...

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Cannes Review: Neon Demon is a Tone Poem

Overview: A young model’s beauty make her vulnerable to danger in the modeling industry; Amazon Studios/Broad Green Pictures/ Scanbox Entertainment/The Jokers; 2016; 117 Minutes. The Surface: Neon Demon begins with bursts of light and color and a pounding electronic score. Shards of fractal glass decorate the opening credits sequence. At its core, under slick surface appearances, Neon Demon is a giallo horror movie about a superficial industry and this structure is also its commentary. The artifice of the model industry is replicated in the film’s heavily-lit aesthetic and extremely theatrical performances. Beauty is a deception that leads to an...

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Cannes Review: Graduation Presents Moral Question and Social Commentary

Overall: A father processes an untimely attack on his daughter; Les Films du Fleuve/Mobra Films/Romanian Film Board; 127 Minutes. Hope: Whereas it is common for Romanian New Wave films to cynically chastise the nation’s politics and government – Director Christian Mungiu’s earlier 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, for example, criticizes the difficulty of receiving an abortion under the iron rule of the state – Graduation seems to approach the future of the country with a bit of hope, electing optimism over despair or uncertainty. The film discusses hope in terms of the country’s youth, following the patriarch of a family, Romeo (Adrian Titani), a...

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Cannes Review: Julieta is Almovodar Light

Overview: A film based on three short stories from Alice Munro’s book Runaway. Warner Bros.; 2016; 96 Minutes. Minor Key: Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta represents a muted return to form. It holds all of the trademarks of the directors more powerful films: the twists, the feminine focus, and the loud theatrics reminiscent of theater or Spanish soap melodrama. But all these elements feel like less. The twist is more embedded, the premise more grounded. Returning plot devices from earlier films are used and the vivid aesthetic remains, each utilized in much lesser effect. It is difficult to say whether Almodovar has...

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Cannes Review: Personal Shopper is Driven by a Powerful Performance and Creative Vision

Overview: A woman who works as a personal shopper for a model deals with the death of her brother. Les Films du Losange; 2016; 110 Minutes. Reunion: In Clouds of Sils Maria, Writer/Director Olivier Assayas helped elevate Kristen Stewart to a critical acclaim that had previously been stubbornly withheld in spite of (or perhaps due to) her popularity. Like her character Valentine, a secretary to a famous aging actress, Stewart was initially overshadowed by the performance of costar Juliette Binoche. Eventually, within both the film and its critical reaction, Stewart and her character stole a majority of the spotlight. So it makes...

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Cannes Review: Loving is an Early 2016 Favorite with Oscar Potential

Overview: An interracial couple are sentenced to prison in 1958. Focus Features; 2016; 123 Minutes. A Star Still Being Born: Jeff Nichols has quickly become one of film’s strongest and most reliable dramatic directors, concerning himself with small but powerful core values in big narrative ways. Loving, a biopic about an interracial couple in 1958 – the white Richard Loving and his half-black, half-Cherokee wife Mildred – falls directly in line with the Nichols’ trend, tackling a landmark court case but focusing primarily on the individual lives of those involved. After the couple is exiled from their home in Virginia...

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Cannes Review: From the Land of the Moon is a Laughable Anomaly

Overview: A woman in a marriage of convenience falls in love with another man. Studiocanal; 2016; 120 Minutes. Too Familiar: From the Land of the Moon offers ageneric French period piece melodrama. The premise is too familiar: forbidden and unrequited love disrupts the life of a young and at least somewhat insane Gabrielle (Marion Cotillard). Garbielle is married off to a stranger for whom she has no feelings and simultaneously unable to start a relationship with an officer in the army for whom she does. There is little that differentiates this film from the others like it. It is generic, painfully over-dramatic,...

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