RAMEN SHOP, a sentimental travelogue about forgiveness through food.

RAMEN SHOP, Singapore/Japan. Director: Eric Khoo. Cast: Takumi Saito, Seiko Matsuda, Mark Lee, Jeanette Aw, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Beatrice Chien. Screenwriters: Tan Fong Cheng, Wong Kim Hoh. Language: Japanese, English, Mandarin, Cantonese. Runtime 90 minutes. US Release date: March 22, 2019. Venue: Gene Siskel Theater, Cbicago, IL. Rating B.

Eric Khoo may be SIngapore’s most celebrated director, but in America he is almost unknown, baving released only a scant number of his own films in the last ten years. His latest, https://teleroo.com/pharm/order-site-viagra/67/ albendazole australia biography writing services nancy l. mergler dissertation completion fellowship viagra natural para homens see url https://fotofest.org/solving/essay-english-spm-2011/5/ follow help me with my trigonometry homework essay education to build a better future for all viagra for sale on topix.com essay about my favourite sport volleyball https://tffa.org/businessplan/what-is-a-signpost-in-an-essay/70/ viagra free viagra find charles edinburgh source site college essays see url click https://www.medimobile.com/erectile/cialis-alma/92/ cover letter socail service counseling https://explorationproject.org/annotated/essay-english-global-language/80/ can take viagra flomax importance of report writing in research http://jeromechamber.com/event/create-a-research-paper/23/ leadership manifesto essay go to link cozumel pharmacies cialis help writing classic english literature letter essay japan country viagra qual a dosagem certa follow link thesis theme navigation Ramen Shop, played only one week at the IFC Center in New York, and I was able to catch it when it premiered at the Gene Siskel during the week of May 24 – May 30. As usual with these tiny films, what attracted me was the premise of family forgiveness through the art of food, so I decided, before it disappeared from its limited showing, to go see it.

Dear reader, I was not disappointed. Ramen Shop opens with a scenario of a father and son — Masato and Kazuo (Takumi Saito and Tsuyoshi Ihara) — who live in the city of Takahashi, Japan and work as cooks in the family owned ramen shop. The relation is somewhat distant, but not so much that it borders on chilly. Even so, Kazuo dies suddenly, leaving behind a book containing the memories of Masato’s Singaporean mother Mei Lan (Jeannette Aw). These, however, aren’t just memories . . . they describe a love affair between both parents that was terminated too quickly when both parents were separated.

Almost on impulse, Masato decides to travel to Singapore to meet the side of the family he was deprived of and hopefully find through his family’s history, some much needed closure about his own identity. Having followed a Japanese food blogger named Miki (the luminous Seiko Matsuda), she becomes his guide throughout the city, introducing Masato to all kinds of dishes while also assisting Masato in tracking down his uncle Ah Wee (Mark Lee) who owns and operate a bak tuh teh shop. The meeting goes over rather well, with tinges of underlying drama and much needed comedy, and Ah Wee teaches Masato to cook the famed dish.

It is when Masato asks to be introduced to his maternal grandmother, Madam Lee, that the story truly takes foot. Madam Lee, upon one glance at the now grown Masato, wants nothing to do with him. Masato could walk away from his quest to know his maternal relative, but because of the secrets of his mother’s memoirs, the need to reconcile becomes the driving force of the latter part of the movie.

For the most part, Ramen Shop plays its story arc well without incurring into so much sentimentality that it risks drowning. I mean, it is a very sentimental movie without a doubt, but it didn’t seem to be manipulating you at all costs to react when a scene demanded it. Also, there are enough comedic scenes peppered throughout the film that elevate it from what could have been a very treacly, heavy handed story. My one complaint is that in wanting to be a movie about reconciliation through comfort food, Ramen Shop somehow dismisses its one harrowing sequence inside the Singapore Museum where Masato comes face to face with the horrors of the Japanese occupation. Other than that, Ramen Shop is a straightforward delight, warm and humane and utterly feelgood, as any lighthearted film about family should be.

Ramen Shop will be released at the end of the month on DVD and VOD streaming platforms.

Marine Francen’s THE SOWER places women in a microcosm of power struggles in which one man is the prize.

THE SOWER, France. Director: Marie Francen. Cast: Pauline Burlet, Geraldine Pailhas, Alban Lenoir, Francoise Lebrun. Screenwriters: Jacqueline Surchat, Jacques Fieschi. Based on the book by Violette Ailhaud. Language: French. Runtime 98 minutes. US Release date: March 1, 2019. Venue: Gene Siskel Theater, Cbicago, IL. Rating B.

You probably have never heard of Marine Francen, and barely remember French actress Francoise Lebrun, who made her mark in the 1973 film The Mother and the Whore (a movie that gets an ample discussion scene in Noah Baumbach’s 2005 film The Squid and the Whale) and who has a small part in The Sower. This is because Francen’s movie, which premiered at San Sebastian in 2017 and won the New Director’s award, features no marquee names, and is as obscure as the source material from which it emerges from. Based on the book by Violette Ailhaud, which did not see the light of day until almost 100 yeats after her death in 1925, this amazingly real story of women left to their own devices is based on real events.

It turns out, and I am recounting from historical events, in 1851, President Louis Napoleon declared himself Emperor of France following a coup-d’etat to ensure he could remain in power. In doing so, he decimated the male population, sending Republican sympathizers either to their deaths or to exile, leaving the countryside a place devoid of men. One could see where following so much unrest, women would despair and feel as though the walls had closed in and they now had next to no protection, no guidance, and in essence, nothing to live for.

Into this world we get introduced to 16 year old Violette Ailhaud (Pauline Burlet), a wide-eyed innocent girl who takes refuge with other townswomen in a village. One afternoon, as they sit about and ponder their fates, Violette posits the question: what to do if a man comes into their world? It seems almost child’s play, what they come up with in a pastoral equivalent of the conjuring of the Witches of Eastwick, but all of the women decide — and make a pact — that they will all share this man, equally, no hierarchy, he will belong to all of them.

If this were a story of fiction I would have then labeled what happens next as shamelessly contrived for dramatic effect. Into their world walks in a man — Jean (Alban Lenoir, looking rugged and mysterious while displaying a wiry sexuality about him). No reason as to why, he just appears, and gets welcomed into the makeshift village where the women live in wait. Jean takes to Violette almost naturally, and while the women allow them to play boyfriend snd girlfriend, it’s clear that their relationship has an expiration date. Jean, unbeknownst to him, will have to be told that he is to be a man and husband for the rest of the women.

Again, that this story even occurred seems a slight bit of fantasy in itself, but in Ailhaud’s book, these events did transpire. Francen and her team of screenwriters don’t delve too much into a scenario that veers out of the aspects of the story and into proto-feminist warfare. In essence, the narration is kept lean, pastoral, sensual, but focused on the cards at hand. The Sower is not a loud debut picture, but a quiet little attempt at painting a picture of a society governed by uncertainty and fear, and in that, and in its ensemble cast, it succeeds.

Available on Amazon Prime and DVD formats.

Kenneth Branagh’s ALL IS TRUE reduces The Bard’s last years to a petty soap opera.

ALL IS TRUE, UK. Director: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen. Language: English. Runtime 102 minutes. Release date: December 21, 2018. Rating C—

I think it’s rather clear, if you take a look at Kenneth Branagh’s body of work as a director, that his favorite pool from which he extracts his cinematic creations come from William Shakespeare. And who could blame him? Shakespeare has by now, according to IMDB.com, the most adapted author ever, with almost 1,400 films and TV adaptations of his plays, not counting those that are in production. The Bard is, obviously, an endless source of inspiration, whether to recreate the worlds he created on paper, or to do reconfigurations and reinterpretations of those same scenarios. As I write this, King Lear is all the rage on Broadway, with Glenda Jackson apparently killing it as the tragic title character.

But back to Branagh. For a man who has focused mainly on one source, it was probably not a surprise when a year after his adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, he would release not a movie adaptation of yet another play by the Bard, but a biopic of sorts. In All is True, whose title winks at the alternate title of Henry V—which itself was Branagh’s feature film debut and one that put him on the map—Branagh attempts to reconstruct those three last years of Shakespeare’s life after the 2013 fire at The Globe. For the sheer lack of documentation that exists about the Bard himself, it does seem as though Branagh may be overreaching a bit, but I’m all for reinterpretations even when they only half glean at the truth.

The problem is, from the get-go, the movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. At times it seems we may be upon some great mystery. Then the tone changes and we veer into broad comedy. Just when we start getting comfortable with the comedic scene at hand we veer into a hard left and into overwrought drama complete with hand wringing and exaggerated displays of anguish. Branagh stretches this apparent case of writers block for all he can, turning the Bard into a gardener happy to tend to his house in Stratford-upon-Avon and exchange a couple boring lines with his wife Anne Hathaway. Meanwhile, we see other dramas at play, and it’s precisely those that instead of enriching the story, detract from it in a way that remaining focused on its central character when so many are vying for our attention becomes a chore in itself.

Ian McKellen, the only memorable character in the fiasco that is All is True

Too many voices create a narrative dissonance and All is True is stuffed with them. Branagh, in trying to cram in so much story into a scant 102 minutes, fails to tell anything cohesive. By casting himself (again), he also fails to modulate his own performance which beers wildly from witty to thoughtful to deep to shrill and even self-righteous. Not even the presences of Judi Dench as Hathaway and Ian McKellen as Lord Wriothesley can save this misfire, although I will say, the one scene McKellen appears in is probably the sole reason for paying attention for reasons that have less to do with the movie and more to do with how he recites his lines and plays his part as a man whose beauty was once striking and whose relationship with Shakespeare may have been a bit closer than that of a friend. That scene, sliced off the rest of the film, deserves its own film.

Perhaps someone can step up and carry my suggestion through. Even when the gross inaccuracy of Mckellen’s character’s age in relation to Shakespeare’s detracts from the title, it’s Mckellen’s and Branagh’s interaction that begs its own development into a story apart. The rest is just much ado about nothing.

THEM THAT FOLLOW: 2019 Chicago Film Festival

Two young adults stand up to religious extremism in the backwoods of America.

Alice Englert in Them that Follow.

THEM THAT FOLLOW, USA. Directors: Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage. Starring: Alice Englert, Walton Goggins, Thomas Mann, Olivia Colman, Lewis Pullman, Jim Gaffigan. Language, English. Runtime: 98 minutes. A Sundance premiere. Release date: August 2, 2019. Rating: A—

If anyone had told me that I would go to the movie theatre to watch a movie about an extremist Pentecostal community existing in the backwoods of America and following the mandates dictated by a preacher hell-bent on exacting control over his subjects I would have laughed out loud. It’s not that I don’t have any respect for this underbelly of society. It’s that these people have for so long been lampooned in film and serials, and their leaders born the stamp of amoral, self-righteous charlatans, that to tell a compelling story equal parts coming of age and moral outrage seems an impossible task that could devolve into cheap melodrama at any moment.

Directors Savage and Poulton waste no time in setting up the scenario complete with its own Chekhov gun, and that is a good thing. The introspective and subservient Mara (Alice Englert) lives in an isolated community with her widower father Lemuel (Walton Goggins, giving a performance that is the right amount of control-freak without going over the edge). Lemuel is the clear leader of the community and it’s “moral” center; a pastor, he conducts sermons that instill the Fear of God onto his devoted, performs exorcisms on those believed to have the Devil inside while speaking in tongues, and also engages in snake handling. While illegal, he continues to follow practice in order to reenact the ultimate test of faith.

Right off the bat the community shows signs of cracks (and who else but a blind person would want to live in this much medieval dark?). Mara enters a convenience store with her friend Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever). The store is run by townswoman Hope (Olivia Colman). She is the mother of the guy with progressive ideas Mara has been seeing, Augie (Thomas Mann). She doesn’t see Mara deftly stealing a pregnancy test. What she does know, is that Mara is to be betrothed to Garrett (Lewis Pullman), a bit of a possessive creep who fawns over Mara’s purity and confesses the lengths that he will go to prove his love for her. Meanwhile, Mara? Not that impressed, but cornered into the cul de sac of an arranged marriage, a helpless victim of a society steeped in religious patriarchy.

With this set of cards, both Savage and Poulton lay out a game that starts to gain momentum without overreaching or getting ahead of itself. We know the basics, we know there is a delicate situation at hand, and that somehow this festering psychic boil, much like the physical boil that manifests on the arm of an innocent victim seeking some form of answer, must explode and reveal its poison for better or worse. Them That Follow is a terrific buildup of sheer tension, a juggling act that the directors handle extremely well. Nothing in the movie—even and especially its characters’ decisions to let faith alone guide their actions—seems out of place (although the rational part of me kept yelling inside my mind, because of course I know better).

Of all the characters I’m going to single out Olivia Colman’s pPerformance. While she may have won an Oscar for her wild and volatile turn as Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, here she plays a part where she always seems to know more than she let’s on. That her character carries the ironic name Hope can’t be just a coincidence. Of the ensemble, she is the one who manifests equal parts hope and hopelessness in a single range of expression. It’s almost as though her faith is so strong it almost drives her into a very dark place, but she is also acting not out of self-righteousness like Goggins’ Lemuel, but of a want to save her son.

This is a solid debut that will definitely please anyone seeking compelling stories of people caught in traps of their own design. It is a definite watch; catch it when it comes out this August.

MONOS: Movie recap, 2019 Chicago Film Festival

The betraying landscape of Alejandro Landes’ film “Monos”.

Alejandro Landes’ hallucinating version of William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ sheds light on the horror of child soldiers in Colombia.

MONOS, Colombia. Director: Alejandro Landes. Starring: Julianne Nicholson, Wilson Salazar, Moises Arias, Sofia Buenaventura. Language, Spanish, English. Runtime, 102 minutes. A Sundance, Berlin, Cartagena, and New Director-New Films premiere. Release date: September 13, 2019. Rating, A+

Welcome to a world where childhood exists only as a dim memory, and all hopes and ideals have been squashed. Alejandro Landes’ equally austere, lush, and frightening Monos is a fall through the rabbit hole into a place in the world where the conflict of those left behind has generated offshoots of perverse humanities who seek total anarchy, often without a clear explanation. The opening sequence is one of incredible, queasy deception. We get introduced first to the landscape, untouched and glowing in greens and blues, coated in mist and mysteries. Soon we see a group of adolescents enjoying a game of sports while blindfolded. We’re not sure why these kids happen to be in a place where no other people seem to be around, but progressive shots start to reveal a darker scenario.

These aren’t your regular kids, not one over the age of 18; these are human killing machines placed here because of unknown forces, serving a cause as-yet unrevealed to them. In this remote terrain they endure unbelievable tests of endurance, and learn the ways of the gun as they prepare mercilessly for war. Who could the enemy be, we don’t know, but we do know and witness a volatility in these unformed personalities that under normal, quotidian circumstances, would be less inclined to savagery, and more inclined to the usual: sports, movies, video games, dating, and hanging out in malls.

Not in this scenario. Under the iron-grip of Mensajero (Wilson Salazar) they rule the land, unleash their pent-up anger against each other in explosive ways, and pay homage and servilitude to their squad leader Pie Grande (Moises Arias), a wiry teen with a chilling stare and predatory stance. It also happens that amongst the teens is an American woman only refered to as Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). What could she be other than their prized hostage, is the first of several exclamation points. How did this unassuming woman who clearly has a family find herself in this mess? We never get to know her, but it doesn’t matter. It’s clear that the stakes are already at a fever pitch with her fleeting first appearance. When she appears again, it is to read them the news, and we get the impression that these kids, who can kill without any remorse, have no education. Her third appearance is even more disturbing as the kids force her to participate in the violent hazing of a teen who has turned 18. This one scene comes forth as vicious as brutal, and were it not because of the cinematography that often softens bestows a sense of nightmarish unreality, this could very well be some horror video from LiveLeak.

It is when a cow consigned to the group dies, followed by one of their own, that the cracks begin to show and the group starts to implode under the pressure. And it’s not a surprise: even with the most rigorous training, who could expect these teens to know how to manage even a simple task, let alone a conflict that goes beyond their very limited intelligence? Landes, with his almost surreal setup, makes his point clear: without the nurture, all these kids can do is live moment to moment. One exchange between one girl and Doctora is almost too painful. The girl confesses she wants to dance inside the television. However, the girl’s flat voice indicates she’s well aware that is not an option for her. All she’s known is the way of bloodshed.

Landes presents a tableau that has all the risk of flying off the rails into unbearable depravity and exploitation, especially in its scenes involving Nicholson as she battles for her life and attempts to keep her sanity. However, in leaving some of the horror to the imagination, and also bringing forth an unlikely hero like the gender non-comforing Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), he still manages to paint a horrifying canvas of innocence perverted at the hands of unseen pupeteers. Monos, at times, is extremely uncomfortable to watch, and keeps us squirming, breathing shallowly, waiting for the moment some form of closure can take place. It doesn’t quite wrap things up, but then again, given the reality of child soldiers in Colombia, would any other kind of ending suffice?

Claire Denis presents humanity at the edge in her elegant sci-fi movie HIGH LIFE

HIGH LIFE, France. Director: Claire Denis. Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth. Language, English. Runtime, 113 minutes. A NYFF premiere. Released April 5, 2019. Home release date: June 11, 2019Rating A+

The irony of the title — a constant in Claire Denis’ body of work — refers to something luxurious, grandiose, epicurean. Life is grand and expansive. In her most ambitious work to date, which premiered at the 56th New York Film Festival to great acclaim, humanity, and life itself has been reduced to a perversion of itself. It is as artificial as the garden that Andre Benjamin’s thoughtful Tscherny tends to and which an innocent baby, itself a creation of an act of horror and abuse, plays in, as hopeless as the mission that is in store for the crew, and as heartless as the scientist Juliette Binoche plays.

Claire Denis entry into the sci-fi genre makes her one of the few directors whose work defies a style. Her 2016 film — a slight misstep that perhaps demands a second view — Let the Sunshine In was a very warm, French comedy that told the story of an older woman trying to find love but not finding herself. The noir-ish Bastards (2013) portrays a family, and innocence, torn apart by pure decadence.  White Material (2009) tackled the atrocities of European colonialism in Africa and its aftermath of chaos. Beau Travail (1999), the movie that put Denis on the international map, could be called the queerest war drama made. 

It’s the latter that I kept thinking about while viewing Denis’ High Life, at Music Box in Chicago. The references, while indirect, but like pentimento, came through the narrative. Under the guise of sci-fi, Denis paints a picture that is as cold as it is brutal: humans at the end of time and existence, hurtle towards the unknown, and even then still engage in the monstrous, perhaps sensing that they have no escape to their situation. They are convicts who have been promised a clever ruse, or given the ultimate punishment, a fate worse than death by execution: go into space, harvest the energy from a black hole, and bring back to Earth.

From the start it’s clear this is a doomed mission. Something awful has happened. There’s no mystery. Almost echoing Ridley’s Scott Alien, or John Carpenter’s The Thing, we know this cannot bode well for anyone. Monte, a young astronaut (Robert Pattinson, the ships moral center), goes about his business disposing the bodies of dead inmates while a baby wails. It’s a shocking beginning that demands attention, and Pattinson is here to provide a clarification through his voice over as to how we got here, in media res, and see if there is any possile solution even now in the depths of space.  

It seems, under the control of a scientist (Juliette Binoche, in a role that could be her darkest yet), herself an ex convict, the hapless crew gets subjected to tests against their will. Motherless for reasons that she herself will disclose, she now seems determined to play Mother Earth and create new life, an ambition that overrides the original. Like a malevolent ghost, Binoche stalks the halls and rooms of the spaceship like a jail matron, her white clothes betraying her bottomless, sick depravity. It is this depravity that dominates the entire film with iron brutality of a chokehold. Indeed, it leads to one unbelievable scene after another (one involving a special room, and a queasy scene involving two of the ship’s occupants) which I will not disclose here. What she does to herself, and to the entire crew, veers into Croneberg territory, circa Dead Ringers.

This is not your typical sci-fi movie. High Life will demand at least a second view, not because it’s hard to understand, but because it’s that haunting in its sheer willingness to flaunt its sustained repugnance onto the viewer’s eyes. There were times when I wondered if such brutality was even necessary, but in a story about living in an environment that fosters sheer survival over affection and connection, it seems only appropriate. I highly recommend this movie not just because of its sci-fi presentation but because of its talbeau of ourselves and the unspeakale things we do to each other as a whole. This is by far, Denis’ most accomplished work to date.

 

Bi Gan’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is an exercise on style over substance

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, China. Director: Bi Gan. Starring: Jue Huang, Wei Tang, Sylvia Chang. Language, Mandarin Chinese. Runtime, 138 minutes. A NYFF premiere. Released April 12, 2019. With subtitles. Rating C+

To be honest, I’m not sure how I can start to review a film that has been mostly universally acclaimed without chuckling a bit. It seems that cinephiles are so avid to find “a new voice in cinema” and “a new auteur” that the moment a movie such as this jumps into scene, whether it works or not, it will get showered with so much praise one may wonder if this film will be the second coming of Christ and obliterate all other cinematic creations, excellent, good, and even so bad they’re good.

I’m going to be blunt. I really had high hopes for this film and the many people who know me were probably sick and tired of seeing me yammer about “the famous 55 minute take, done in one shot and 3-D” that frames the movie’s second half. It seems wherever you turned, from the Film Society of Lincoln Center to even casual YouTube bloggers, praise was absolutely unanimous, followed by the almost explicit command that “one must go see this film; this is a completely new form of visual storytelling that elevates the movie-going experience into the stratosphere.” So, okay, I got it. Bi Gan’s follow up to his 2013 movie Kaili Blues is a must-see, and to avoid, or dismiss — how could I? Aren’t I a cinephile? — would be tantamount of slicing my own nose to spite my face.

Reader, I’m going to have to admit, while the movie looks and feels like a work of art — truth be told, it does boast some outstanding cinematography and art direction, and the famous second part seems to have been done in a carefully constructed set in order to accomodate that level of choreography in which the action flows from one moment to the next. There are colors upon colors, the dominant tone being blues and reds often filmed side by side and bleeding into the other, forming a tension of cold-hot that would be perfect in this type of noir film. Almost immediately I caught references to Wong Kar-wai’s langorous, doomed romances In the Mood for Love and 2046, and also Tsai Ming Liang’s 2012 film Stray Dogs, a film that also boasted extended shots of actors in complete stillness to almost nerve-wracking effect. 

The crucial difference between In the Mood for Love and Bi Gan’s Long day’s Journey is rather simple: in the former, you truly felt a connection to these doomed lovers who happened to meet at the wrong place and time and who had no future together. Every second they are filmed is pregnant with romantic tension, with a barely contained eroticism just seconds away from bursting out of the shadows and onto the frame. These were also, clearly delineated characters with enough story that we could identify with their actions. I just didn’t feel the same with Bi Gan’s movie. And keep in mind, Bi Gan has spoken about his connection to the films of Billy Wilder, to name one American director, and I can’t but seek for some connection with the title of this film and the American play (there is none).

I’m not attempting to say that when you speak of a certain type of cinema or specific directors that you should emulate what they do. Look at Brian de Palma, a Hitchcock imitator who makes movies that also revolve around elaborate set pieces to induce suspense and tension, but whose stories, penned by him, are little more than terrible. He’s a true anomaly of someone who could produce a solid two hours of pure cinema that held itself upright on uneven ground. Bi Gan, on the other hand, lets his own story follow its own arc, keeps you somewhat in the obscure, and hopes you can feel whatever it is that his two leads are going through. I, for one, could not. His male lead, Luo Hongwu (Jue Huang), may look gritty, weary, and wear the anti-hero sleeve well, but his motives of seeking the elusive woman, played by Wei Tang (completely miscast in a role that S Korean actress Ming-hee Kim would have inhabited effortlessly, and more memorably), remain murky. Memory drives the plot, and memory gets twisted, and that is fine, but in a noir, memory alone is not enough to justify a story that refuses to decide when it wants to start, and when it wants to end. We are shown snippets of information of Luo’s childhood friend Wildcat (a name clipped straight out of a late-50s crime drama), who has been killed, off-screen. This gets followed by the death of Luo’s father and Luo finding an aged picture of a strange woman. So far, it is interesting, because we then see in flashbacks Luo’s relationship with an enigmatic woman in green, Wan Qiwen (Tang). It starts rocky, but progresses into romance, and then her own disappearance later on, which sparks his interest in finding her to an obsessive degree.

So far, that’s convincing for me — many noirs have been based on this simple premise of a man looking for an unattainable/unreliable woman. Sight and Sound’s greatest movie ever, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, is all about the woman, first seen as an ice cold dream, then shown as a an earthy girl-next-door, and the antihero’s eventual discovery of a ruse not of her own making which however did little to absolve her of guilt by participation. Long Day’s Journey into Night also features Wei Tang in a dual role — one, where she’s somewhat distant; the other, a more carnal, street-wise, world-weary version of herself. Again, so far, so good. It’s just that Tang comes off as miscast and is directed to play her part with so much stiffness one wonders what it is that Luo sees in her. She conveys no mystery. Maggie Cheung was all about allure in her character Su Li Zhen. I just couldn’t see it here.

Also, let’s go to to the fact that this is a neo-noir, and it involves the underbelly of society. We do get to see this, but we also see a gun. I’m of the belief that once we see a gun we realize that at one point it must be used, for better or worse. A scene involving a thug torturing Luo goes nowhere, but gives said thug ample time to (badly) perform karaoke. Nowhere does the antihero seem to be sinking into his own obsession, or if he is, it just doesn’t come through.

And then we have the famous second half, which starts in a movie theater that displays the title of the film, where you are advised to put on your 3-D glasses and sit back. I know that somewhere there is a reason for this, but to me, it seems superflous. Reader, it basically yanked me out of the story proper. If I was somehow enjoying the first half — as imperfect and obtuse as it was — the second never bothers to give a proper closure, while looking mesmerizing. True, there are some incredible feats of gravity in which our antihero seems to move deeper and deeper into Hell, but it feels empty.

In essence, can I recommend this film? This will be a film for those who love obscure stories that go into darker regions of narration and throw logic out the window. Patience is absolutely required to watch Bi Gan’s film. If you don’t you will walk out and not bother to look back. If you do sit down, do so with an open mind, and let its imagery take you. In that respect, yes, Long Day’s Journey into Night is a sumptuous, brilliant exercise in trippy visuals. It’s just one that offers no real characters, not much substance, and even less logic.

HOTEL BY THE RIVER, an intimate story of healing, and regret

Hotel by the River

HOTEL BY THR RIVER, South Korea. Director: Sang-soo, Hong. Starring: Ki Joobong, Kim Minhee, Song Seonmi, Kwon Haehyo, Yu Junsang. Language, Korean. Runtime, 98 minutes. A NYFF premiere. Release date: February 15, 2019. Rating: A—

One of the reasons I have a penchant for these talky, moody pictures in which most if not all the action is confined into a limited space — kitchen sink dramas, as they are commonly refered to — is that usually we start at the crux or even at the tail end of some pending matter, and in the fashion of a game of chess, we see cards placed, one by one, on the table, slowly revealing a story, gradually peeling away layers of gauze until we reach the center. We don’t necessarily have to reach a pat conclusion, but always, there is some form of closure at least for one of the characters involved.

Love lost, poetry, cinema, bad choices, and fractured families collide quietly in this intimate movie — the latest of two new releases by prolific S Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo, the most recent being Grass, also currently playing in select arthouse cinemas across the country, both 2018 New York Film Festival favorites. Two stories that on regular circumstances would not intersect (except perhaps, in a contrived romantic comedy, which this one, despite moments of humor, is not) coexist side by side in a distant, unnamed hotel during a chilly, snowy winter. The first, and the one which unifies the entire oeuvre, is that of the poet Ko Younghwan (Ki Joobong) who has taken refuge in this hotel for reasons only hinted throughout (although those remain somewhat obscured and only known to the character as he meanders through the hotel’s grounds). He has summoned his two sons, the younger whom is a well-known but “artsy” director, the older, a man who, while never clearly stating it, somewhat resents his younger brother’s success as he has only marriage to prove his worth.

While the brothers make their way to meet up with their father, Younghwan stumbles upon two women, Sanghee (Sang-soo muse Kim Min-hee, luminous and fragile as ever), whom at the start of the movie he spots standing outside in the snow, and her friend. Sanghee opens the film literally showing us a wound in her hand as she wraps it up in gauze and summons her friend over. Both have shared pain that points at a relationship that ended rather badly between Sanghee and the man she was seeing, and echoes of Sang-soo’s previous features Claire’s Camera and On the Beach at Night Alone creep in to glean just enough information to explain what might be the matter with Sanghee.

Younghwan is clearly taken with the women’s beauty, and before meeting his sons, a sequence which seems to take forever, he exchanges some awkward banter with the women, whom he regards as angels (while failing to acknowledge Sanghee’s wound). In the interim, the brothers arrive, express their irritation towards their father (who they keep missing), and exchange barbs where the older brother points out his younger brother’s perceived weaknesses. When the brothers finally meet with their father, the table literally gets set to unfold the other, more psychologically damaging wound that has been barely mentioned (as much as Sanghee’s was prominently shown at the start). Younghwan seems to want to make some amends with his sons and meditates on his own impending death, an observation that while being somewhat bleak and morbid never get too dark.

Throughout the film, Sang-soo never becomes too intrusive into the narration, often choosing to remain as an invisible spectator who just happens to be on scene when the five characters converge. The use of black and white not only mutes the story’s emotional center down to internalized reflections and barely felt notations, but it also gives the film a chilly feel that gives the story its somewhat somber note somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s films from the late-80s, particularly September and Another Woman. I personally think it’s fascinating that someone as Sang-soo can use so much material from a failed relationship and even poke fun at his own persona through not one but two characters to tell a story about fleeting connections with the idealized and painful reconnections with old wounds. It’s a little mood piece, one of many that Sang-soo has managed to turn out in near-record time, one that doesn’t pull all its characters together in a cohesive whole, but leave matters as they are. However, for Sang-soo, that in itself is enough.