Review: ‘EO,’ starring Sandra Drzymalska, Lorenzo Zurzolo, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz and Isabelle Huppert

November 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

EO (played by Tako) in “EO” (Photo courtesy of Janus Films and Sideshow)

“EO”

Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski

Polish, Italian and French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Poland and Italy, the dramatic film “EO” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A former circus donkey named EO experiences highs and lows and different levels of freedom and captivity during his travels. 

Culture Audience: “EO” will appeal primarily to people interested in an emotionally moving film that follows the life of a specific animal for a certain period of time.

Lorenzo Zurzolo and EO (played by Tako) in “EO” (Photo courtesy of Janus Films and Sideshow)

“EO,” a dramatic film made to look like a documentary, tells the fascinating and sometimes-harrowing story of a lovable donkey named EO, whose life becomes uncertain after losing his circus home. The “EO” film is so impressive with its realism, some viewers might think that it’s a non-fiction movie. Of course, one of the biggest indications that “EO” is a fictional film is that Oscar-nominated French actress Isabelle Huppert has a role as a fictional character in the movie. Her screen time in “EO” is less than 15 minutes, but she makes her screen time very memorable, as she almost always does in her on-screen roles.

Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski (who co-wrote the “EO” screenplay with Ewa Piaskowska), “EO” is filmed cinéma vérité-style, shown entirely from EO’s perspective. “EO” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie won the Jury Prize and Cannes Soundtrack Award for Best Composer. “EO” composer Pawel Mykietyn’s score is certainly the musical soul of the film, because there are some sections of the movie with no human dialogue. “EO”—which also screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2022 New York Film Festival—is Poland’s official entry for Best International Feature Film consideration for the 2023 Academy Awards.

“EO” begins in Poland, where is EO performing in a circus tent with his handler, an actress named Kasandara (played by Sandra Drzymalska), who treats EO with kindness and respect. Kasandra’s boyfriend is a circus co-worker named Wasyl (played by Maciej Stepniak), who is controlling and mean-spirited. An early scene in the movie shows Wasyl hitting EO because he doesn’t think EO is moving fast enough. Sensitive viewers be warned: There’s even worse animal cruelty later on in the movie.

The circus is under pressure because animal-rights activists are protesting outside while the circus operates. The activists want the circus to be shut down because they think that circuses and carnivals have rampant animal torture and other animal abuse. Early on in the movie, the circus goes bankrupt, so all the circus’ animals are repossessed. Kasandra is devastated.

The rest of “EO” shows what happens in EO’s life as he goes from place to place. His journey takes him from Poland to Italy. And his travels include living on a farm; being a stray animal; encountering a truck driver named Mateo (played by Mateusz Kościukiewicz); and befriending a young nomad named Vito (played by Lorenzo Zurzolo), who is training to be a priest and has a history of being the lover of an unnamed wealthy countess, played by Huppert.

There’s a lot more that happens in the movie, but it’s best if people know as little as possible about “EO” except the basic concept of the film and why EO ended up as a donkey without a permanent home. Viewers will be swept up in the suspense over what will happen to EO. And although it’s not really accurate to say that the movie’s donkey (whose real name is Tako) is acting, he certainly shows enough personality for viewers to feel empathy for him.

One of the standout characteristics of “EO” is the stunning cinematography by Michal Dymek. Many of the scenes are drenched in rich hues, such as red and blue, making the movie sometimes look like a very artsy nature documentary. And because the camera angles are often from the donkey’s perspective, viewers will get EO’s outlook on the contrasting beauty and horror at that exists this world for animals that are treated like property instead of like a member of Earth’s ecosystem family.

“EO” isn’t a completely perfect film, because the movie is occasionally slow-paced and has scenes that seem to drag on a little longer than necessary. However, the point of “EO” is that life for animals (especially when living in harsh conditions) can often be depressing and dull by human standards, even if the animals are surrounded by a gorgeous landscape. This isn’t the type of fantasy movie where a stray animal has to find a home and almost every scene is an adventure scene. “EO” is a striking and effective reminder that how we treat animals represents the best and worst of humanity.

Janus Films and Sideshow will release “EO” in select U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Emergency Declaration,’ starring Song Kang-ho, Lee Byung-hun, Jeon Do-yeon, Kim Nam-gil, Yim Si-wan, Kim So-jin and Park Hae-joon

November 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Yim Si-wan in “Emergency Declaration” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Emergency Declaration”

Directed by Han Jae-rim

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly on a plane flight from South Korea to Hawaii, the action film “Emergency Declaration” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A plane carrying about 150 passengers about gets hijacked by a mysterious stranger and has to make an emergency landing. 

Culture Audience: “Emergency Declaration” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching suspenseful movies about airplane crises.

Song Kang-ho in “Emergency Declaration” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Emergency Declaration” does not do anything groundbreaking in its depiction of an airplane hijacking, but this action flick delivers plenty of suspense to make it memorable. The movie’s acting performances are also worth seeing. The scenarios portrayed in the movie are so harrowing, people who have a fear of flying will probably be even more afraid after seeing “Emergency Declaration.” The movie’s total running time is about two hours and 20 minutes, but it doesn’t feel that long, because the pace doesn’t drag.

Written and directed by Han Jae-rim, “Emergency Declaration” (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival in France) follows an expected formula for plane hijacking movies. Some of the passengers are first seen in the airport before boarding the plane. There’s at least one person on board the plane who’s acting suspiciously because their plan is to hijack the plane. And then all hell breaks loose.

In “Emergency Declaration,” the ill-fated airplane flight is Sky Korea Airlines Flight 501, going from Seoul to Hawaii. The plane is carrying 150 passengers. Two of these passengers are Park Jae-hyuk (played by Lee Byung-hun) and his daughter Soo-min (played by Kim Bo-min), who’s about 9 or 10 years old and has skin eczema. (Her skin condition becomes an issue later in the story.)

At the airport, a man in his mid-30s, who viewers later find out is named Ryu Jin-seok (played by Yim Si-wan, also known as Im Si-wan and Siwan), approaches a ticket agent at Sky Korea Airlines to buy a ticket. “I want to go someplace where a lot of people go,” he tells the female agent. She suggests Hawaii and tells him that the next plane to Hawaii is leaving on Flight 501.

Jin-seok asks the ticket agent how many people are on the flight. When the ticket agent tells him that she doesn’t have the authority to tell him that information, he looks annoyed and walks away. And then, Jin-seok walks back to the ticket agent and coldly tells her: “For God’s sake, don’t smile like that. You look like a whore.”

In a private area at the airport, Jin-seok places a vial underneath his right arm by cutting his arm and sewing in the vial. His hateful remark to the ticket agent already showed that he’s a nasty person. But once he sews a vial into his arm, you just know that this passenger will probably be up to no good with that vial when he gets on the plane.

Meanwhile, a police detective in his 50s named Gu In-ho (played by Song Kang-ho) has been scheduled to be on this flight with his wife Gu Hye-yoon (played by Woo Mi-hwa), because the spouses are taking a vacation. However, In-ho has to cancel being on the flight because he’s suddenly called to be at work for an emergency: A man uploaded a video threatening to hijack a South Korean plane that day. Hye-yoon decides she will take the trip by herself.

In the waiting area before boarding the flight, protective father Jae-hyuk notices that Jin-seok has been staring at Jae-hyuk and his daughter Soo-min. Jin-seok begins asking Jae-hyuk personal questions, such as where they are going and if Jae-hyuk is married. Jae-hyuk says that they’re going to Hawaii, but he’s starting to feel uneasy around this nosy stranger.

Jin-seok starts asking more personal questions. Jae-hyuk gets so uncomfortable, he eventually snaps at Jin-seok and tells him to mind his own business. Jin-seok then decides to buy a one-way ticket to Hawaii on Sky Korea Airlines Flight 501. In the X-ray area before boarding the flight, Jin-seok has an inhaler that’s detected. He tells the security employees that he has an inhaler for asthma.

Meanwhile, police have burst into an apartment and found the bloody corpse of a man encased in plastic. The initial cause of death is determined to be poisoning. This man was apparently killed by the same poison that killed some rats in a glass tank nearby. It won’t come as too much of a surprise that this death has something to do with what happens on Sky Korea Airlines Flight 501.

On the flight, Jae-hyuk is unsettled when he sees that Jin-seok is on the same plane, which eventually takes off for its destination. He tells a flight attendant about the uncomfortable encounter that he and Soo-min had with Jin-seok, and that this stranger could be a suspicious passenger. Jae-hyuk feels even more uneasy when he sees Jin-seok put something under Jin-seok’s armpit.

When Jae-hyuk reports this suspicious act to a flight attendant, Jin-seok denies that he did anything wrong. Jin-seok also says that he’s a scientist on his way to a convention in Hawaii. But, of course, Jin-seok is not the harmless passenger he pretends to be. And you can easily guess what happens next.

The rest of “Emergency Declaration” shows the chaos that ensues when Jin-seok takes the plane hostage. He’s not armed with a gun, but he has another weapon that causes damage to people on the plane. In-ho becomes the police detective who gets involved in the rescue mission, which is obviously very personal for him because his wife is on the plane.

Other people on the ground who are involved in the rescue mission are transport minister Kim Sook-hee (played by Jeon Do-yeon) and a presidential crisis management center chief named Tae-su (played by Park Hae-joon), who try to assist the plane in making an emergency landing, in addition yo trying to negotiate with the hostage taker. On the plane, a co-pilot named Choi Hyun-soo (played by Kim Nam-gil) and a flight attendant named Hee-jin (played by Kim So-jin) are the main people who try to keep the plane passengers as calm as possible, which is no easy task because there is some death on this plane.

In addition to the nerve-racking action that takes place in the movie, there’s the mystery of Jin-seok and why he decided to hijack this plane. This mystery unfolds during the story and the answers are eventually revealed. The movie drops major clues before Jin-seok took the plane hostage, so observant viewers probably won’t be surprised when his secrets are revealed.

However, the revelation is still compelling enough, because it explains why there is such an urgent “race against time” aspect to the story. The performances by Song and Yim stand out because they are written to be the most obvious opponents in this crisis and therefore have the most emotional depth. It’s a classic “good versus evil” plot, but Jin-seok’s motivations for his heinous crimes are explained enough so that he’s not portrayed as just a shallow villain who wants to kill people.

The editing and cinematography of “Emergency Declaration” are so well-done, some viewers will feel like they’re experiencing the terror along with the passengers, as well as the anxiety of the rescuers on the ground. The movie’s storyline doesn’t offer a lot of surprises. However, “Emergency Declaration” will make viewers think more about why this type of hijacking occurs in real life and to look for any warning signs to possibly prevent it.

Well Go USA released “Emergency Declaration” in select U.S. cinemas on August 12, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea on January 22, 2022. “Emergency Declaration” is set for release on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on November 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Armageddon Time,’ starring Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb and Anthony Hopkins

October 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins in “Armageddon Time” (Photo courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features)

“Armageddon Time”

Directed by James Gray

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1980 in New York City, the dramatic film “Armageddon Time” (inspired by director James Gray’s own childhood) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An 11-year-old, middle-class Jewish boy, who befriends a working-class African American boy from school, learns some of life’s harsh lessons about bigotry and privilege. 

Culture Audience: “Armageddon Time” will appeal primarily to people interested in retro movies that explore the loss of innocence in childhood.

Jaylin Webb and Banks Repeta in “Armageddon Time” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

The talented cast’s performances elevate “Armageddon Time,” a drama that apparently wants to condemn racism, antisemitism and social class snobbery. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t have anything new to say about people who enable these types of bigotry. The cast members’ acting should maintain most viewers’ interest, but parts of “Armageddon Time” (written and directed by James Gray) might annoy or bore viewers who feel like they’ve seen this type of “loss of childhood innocence experienced by a future movie director” many times already.

That’s because there have been several movie directors who’ve done movies based on their real childhoods, with the childhood versions of themselves as the protagonists of the movies. In these semi-autobiographical or autobiographical films, these directors depict their childhood selves as inquisitive, imaginative and often misunderstood by many people around them. The child has at least one parent who usually doesn’t encourage the child’s artistic inclinations, because the parent thinks it’s not a good career choice to be any type of artist.

All of these clichés are in “Armageddon Time,” Gray’s dramatic retelling of what his life was like for a pivotal two-month period when he was 11 years old. “Armageddon Time”—which takes place from September to November 1980, mostly in New York City’s Queens borough—can be considered semi-autobiographical, because the characters in the movie are based on real people without using the real people’s names, except for members of Donald Trump’s family. At a certain point in the movie, viewers can easily predict where this movie is going and what it’s attempting to say.

However, because the cast members deliver good performances and have believable chemistry with each other, “Armageddon Time” has moments that can be entertaining and compelling. “Armageddon Time” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France. The movie then made the rounds at several other film festivals in 2022, including the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, the Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland, and the New York Film Festival in New York City.

The story is told from the perspective of 11-year-old Paul Graff (played by Banks Repeta, also known as Michael Banks Repeta), who has talent for drawing illustrations of people. Paul has a mischievous side where he makes caricatures or illustration parodies of people he knows. He’s also a science-fiction enthusiast who has created an original superhero character named Captain United.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s September 8, 1980—Paul’s first day of school as a sixth grader at P.S. 173, a public school in Queens. One of the first things that happens in a classroom led by a cranky teacher named Mr. Turkeltaub (played by Andrew Polk) is that Mr. Turkeltaub has found a drawing that depicts him as a turkey. An infuriated Mr. Turkeltaub demands to know who made the drawing, and Paul eventually confesses that he did it.

Just a few minutes later, a classmate named Johnny Davis (played by Jaylin Webb) tells a harmless joke as a reply to the teacher’s question. Johnny’s flippant response gets Mr. Turkeltaub even angrier. He hisses at Johnny as he points to Johnny’s head, “You’ve got nothing up here.” Johnny snaps back, “Look who taught me.”

Paul and Johnny both get mild punishments for their disobedience, as Mr. Turkeltaub orders them to clean the chalkboard in the classroom. Johnny and Paul become very fast friends from this shared bonding experience. Their friendship is defined by a lot of the rebellious things that they do together.

Johnny and Paul also share a passion for outer space. Johnny dreams of becoming an astronaut for NASA, while Paul wants to illustrate comic books about space travel. Although both boys talk about a lot of things with each other immediately, they’re not as up front about each other’s home lives when they first meet.

Paul’s family is middle-class, but he lies to Johnny by saying that his family is rich. Johnny, who doesn’t like to talk about his parents, comes from a low-income household and lives with his grandmother (played by Marjorie Johnson, in a quick cameo), whom Johnny describes as “forgetful.” (It’s implied that she has dementia.) Eventually, Johnny opens up to Paul about what’s really going on with him at home, but Paul keeps up the lie about his parents being rich for as long as Paul can keep telling this lie.

Paul’s tight-knight family at home consists of his energetic mother Esther Graff (played by Anne Hathaway), who is the president of P.S. 173’s Parent Teacher Association; his stern father Irving Graff (played by Jeremy Strong), who is an engineer; and Paul’s smug older brother Ted Graff (played by Ryan Sell), who is about 15 years old and almost the opposite of Paul. Ted is a popular, outgoing student at his private school, and he gets good grades. Paul is introverted, somewhat of a loner, and an average student, even though he has the intelligence to get better grades in school. Paul is much closer to his mother than he is to his father, who has a bad temper and tells Paul that being an artist is not a wise occupation.

Frequent visitors to the Graff home for family dinners are Paul’s grandparents, aunts and uncles. Esther’s father Aaron Rabinowitz (played by Anthony Hopkins), who is from the United Kingdom, is Paul’s favorite of these relatives. Grandfather Aaron is kind and patient with Paul, who feels like Aaron is the only family member who truly accepts Paul for who Paul is. Aaron is also the only one in this family who teaches Paul the realities of antisemitism and racism and how not to be a bigot.

Many of the Graff/Rabinowitz family members, including Aaron, are originally from Europe and survivors of the Holocaust. Aaron’s mother was a Ukrainian refugee who eventually settled in England. Aaron and his wife Mickey Rabinowitz (played by Tovah Feldshuh) are both retired schoolteachers. Other relatives who are in the story are Paul’s aunt Ruth (played by Marcia Haufrecht) and uncle Louis (played by Teddy Coluca), who are both very opinionated.

Family conversations around the dining room table reveal that although members of this family have experienced prejudice for being Jewish, many of the adult family members are racists who don’t like black people. Some of the family members are more blatant about this racism than others. Aaron is the only adult in the family who doesn’t come across as some kind of bigot or difficult person. He’s not saintly, but the movie depicts Aaron as the only adult who comes closest to having a lot of wisdom and a strong moral character.

Meanwhile, at school, Johnny and Paul get into some more mischief. In Mr. Turkeltaub’s class, Johnny tends to get punishment that’s worse than what Paul gets. Johnny is a year older than his classmates because he’s had to repeat sixth grade. Johnny usually get blamed first by Mr. Turkeltaub if there’s any student trouble in the classroom.

It doesn’t help that Johnny sometimes curses at the teacher in response to being singled out as a troublemaker, whereas Paul tends not to go that far with his disrespect for authority. However, Mr. Turkeltaub seems to deliberately pick on Johnny to get him angry. There are racial undertones to the way that Mr. Turkeltaub treats Johnny, who is one of the few African American students in the class.

Through a series of events and circumstances that won’t be revealed in this review, Paul transfers to the same private school where Ted is a student: Kew-Forest School, located in the affluent neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens. Paul is very unhappy about this transfer because he will no longer get to see Johnny at school. Paul also experiences culture shock, because most of the students come from upper-middle-class and wealthy families.

Members of the real-life Trump family are major financial donors to Kew-Forest School and sometimes stop by the school to make speaking appearances to the assembled students. “Armageddon Time” shows Fred Trump (Donald Trump’s father, played by John Diehl) and Maryanne Trump (Donald Trump’s older sister, played by Jessica Chastain) in cameos, as they give condescending lectures disguised as pep talks at Kew-Forest School. Maryanne Trump, who inherited her fortune from her father, even has the gall to say in her lecture that she worked hard for the wealth that she has.

Because “Armageddon Time” writer/director Gray didn’t change the names of Fred Trump and Maryanne Trump in the movie, the only conclusion that viewers can come to is that Gray wanted to show some kind of disdain for the Trumps in the movie, by depicting them as out-of-touch rich people whom he did not like or trust, even as a child. The only other semi-political statements made in “Armageddon Time” are scenes where the 1980 U.S. presidential election is in the news and discussed in the Graff family home. Irving and Ethel Graff are Democrats who want incumbent Democrat president Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan (a Republican), to win the election.

Because “Armageddon Time” takes place during the height of the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia (then known as the Soviet Union), the movie makes some references to the fear that many people had that a nuclear war could be imminent and would cause an apocalypse. In the production notes for “Armageddon Time,” Gray says that the movie’s title was named after the reggae song “Armagidion Time,” which had a cover version released by The Clash in 1979. (The Clash’s remake of this song is in the “Armageddon Time” movie.) Gray further explains in the production notes that the movie is about Paul’s personal Armageddon.

It’s during Paul’s experiences as a new student at Kew-Forest School that he begins to understand how race, religion and social class are used as reasons for bigots to inflict damaging prejudice on others. When Johnny shows up near the Kew-Forest School playground to talk to Paul, it’s the first time that Paul is fully aware that many of his peers at Kew-Forest school look down on someone like Johnny, just because Johnny is a working-class African American. One of the Kew-Forest students uses the “n” word to describe Johnny, and Paul is shocked.

Paul’s mother Esther also disapproves of Johnny, mainly because she blames Johnny for being a “bad influence” on Paul. There are some racial undertones to Esther’s dislike of Johnny, mainly because Esther wants to deny that Paul is a willing and active participant in whatever rebellious and rude antics that he and Johnny decide to do. Paul, who has an angelic face, is not as “innocent” as Esther thinks he is.

Repeta skillfully plays the role of Paul, a boy who starts to see life in ways that Paul did not expect. His performance is an admirable anchor for the movie, which at times is hindered by writer/director Gray’s self-indulgent nostalgia. And although Hathaway and Strong give solid performances as Esther and Irving, Paul’s emotional connections to his parents at this particular time in Paul’s life are secondary to the emotional connections that Paul has with his grandfather Aaron and with his new friend Johnny. Hopkins and Webb deliver fine performances as Aaron and Johnny, but much about how these two characters are written (the wise grandfather and the rebellious kid) are reminiscent of characters seen in many other movies.

One of the problematic elements of “Armageddon Time” is that Johnny is often treated as a “black token” in the movie. He has all the negative stereotypes of what many racists think black boys are: troublemakers who can’t be as accomplished or as intelligent as their white peers. It would have been better if the movie had at least a few other African American people in prominent speaking roles for some variety (after all, this movie takes place in racially diverse New York City), instead of putting almost all of the African American representation in the movie on a troubled adolescent boy.

There’s a point in the movie where Johnny runs away from home, because he suspects that child protective services will put him in foster care, and he asks Paul for help in having a place to stay. Paul’s reaction is realistic, but it seems like Gray wants to gloss over how Paul contributes to a lot of Johnny’s pain. “Armageddon Time” is less concerned about the root causes of Johnny’s problems and more concerned about making Aaron the noble sage who preaches to Paul about the evils of racism. However, the movie doesn’t actually show Aaron helping anyone from an oppressed racial group, or even caring about having anyone in his social circle who isn’t white.

“Armageddon Time” is a lot like watching people say repeatedly, “Isn’t bigotry terrible?” But then, those same people don’t really do anything to actively stop the bigotry that they complain about. The Graff household also has some domestic abuse that seems to be put in the movie for some shock value, and then the matter is dropped completely. The ending of “Armageddon Time” could have been a lot better, but the movie has enough good acting and memorable characters to make up for some scenes that wander and don’t serve a very meaningful purpose in the movie.

Focus Features released “Armageddon Time” in select U.S. cinemas on October 28, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022.

Review: ‘Aftersun’ (2022), starring Paul Mescal and Frankie Corio

October 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal in “Aftersun” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Aftersun” (2022)

Directed by Charlotte Wells

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Turkey in 1999, and briefly in the United Kingdom in 2019, the dramatic film “Aftersun” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Middle Eastern people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Through home movie footage, a Scottish woman looks back on the last childhood vacation that she took with her single father in 1999, when she was 11 years old and not fully aware of his personal demons.

Culture Audience: “Aftersun” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching a well-acted dramatic movie that doesn’t tell a straightforward narrative but trusts the audience to piece together the meaning of the film.

Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal in “Aftersun” (Photo courtesy of A24)

It’s best if viewers know up front that “Aftersun” is mostly a series of “slice of life” flashback scenes shown through videos taken during a family vacation in Turkey in the 1990s. What’s more intriguing is the melancholic mystery behind these flashbacks. The story is told in fragments, so viewers who have the patience and curiosity to figure out what the movie is trying to say will be emotionally moved by the quietly devastating implications of why these home videos are on display. “Aftersun” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, and has since made the rounds at several film festivals in 2022, including the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival.

“Aftersun” is a boldly unique feature-film directorial debut from writer/director Charlotte Wells. Most filmmakers telling a flashback story with an adult looking back on childhood memories would make the predictable choice of having the adult narrating the story in a voiceover. “Aftersun” doesn’t do that. The adult who’s doing the reminiscing is not at the forefront of the story, almost as if she wants the happy childhood memories that she’s conjuring to overshadow the sadness and vulnerability that she is feeling now.

In the production notes for “Aftersun,” Wells says that the movie was inspired by an experience she had when she was looking at childhood photos of a vacation that she took with her father, and all the memories that came flooding back about this vacation. However, Wells says that “Aftersun” is not an autobiographical film. The movie has something to say about anyone who has experienced looking back at a cherished moment in time with a loved one that turned out to be the last time being with that loved one.

The beginning of “Aftersun” shows video footage a 11-year-old Scottish girl named Sophie Patterson (played by Frankie Corio, also known as Francesca Corio) making a home video of herself and her single father Calum Aaron Patterson (played by Paul Mescal) while they’re on vacation together in Turkey. It’s 1999, and Sophie has a very good relationship with her father, even though she doesn’t see him as often as she would like.

Throughout this trip, Sophie is usually the one filming with the video, but Calum also does some filming too. Other times, the video footage scenes are just recreated memories of the adult Sophie (played by Celia Rowlson-Hall), who is seen in the movie occasionally looking sadly at these old videos that she took 20 years before. Why is Sophie looking so glum? Those answers aren’t obvious, but they are hinted at in fleeting glimpses throughout the flashback scenes.

In the footage shown in the movie’s opening scene, Sophie states her age and jokes to her father that he’s 130 years old. Calum is actually 30 years old, but he looks young enough to be mistaken for Sophie’s older brother, which occaisonally happens during this father/daughter trip. Sophie lives in Scotland with her unnamed mother, who is never seen or heard in the movie. Calum moved to England an unspecified number of years ago. (“Aftersun” was filmed on location in Turkey and the United Kingdom.)

It’s unclear if Sophie’s mother and Calum were ever married, but their breakup happened long-enough ago that Sophie has gotten used to living apart from Calum. She knows about some of the women whom Calum has been dating, and she openly discusses his love life with him. Durng this vacation, Sophie asks Calum what happened to a woman he was dating named Claire. He matter-of-factly tells Sophie that the relationship is over because Claire decided to get back together with a previous boyfriend. Calum seems disappointed by the end of this relationship, but not devastated.

Sophie is a naturally curious child. She asks Calum why he still tells Sophie’s mother, “I love you,” even though they’re not a couple anymore. Calum answers that it’s because he still considers Sophie’s mother to be like a family member. Sophie also teases Calum when she mentions one of her female schoolteachers, and Calum admits that he remembers this schoolteacher because he thinks she’s pretty.

Calum and Sophie are staying a middle-class resort in Turkey, where most of the resort’s other guests are also white Europeans. Many of them are families who have underage kids. The home videos show that Sophie ends up hanging out with some teenagers, who are impressed with her skills at playing pool.

Sophie also has a mild flirtation with a boy close to her age named Michael (played by Brooklyn Toulson), whom she first meets when they play a race car simulation game together. Michael initially acts like a brat with Sophie, but later she notices that it’s all an act, because he’s attracted to her. When Sophie and Michael are alone together at a public swimming pool, they kiss each other for the first time.

Viewers who look beyond the surface can see the signs that this vacation is not the fun-loving getaway that it might first appear to be. At first, Calum seems to be a loving and attentive father. There are moments when he shows some impish qualities, such as when he and Sophie are watching a singing performance while having dinner at the resort, and Calum comes up with the idea to harmlessly throw food toward the stage and quickly run away like pranksters. Calum also appears to be interested in spiritual wellness, since he’s avidly practices tai chi (which 11-year-old Sophie misidentifies as martial arts) and has many self-help books about inner peace and personal enlightenment.

Early on in the movie, Sophie tells Calum how she copes with not being able to see him as often as she would like. She explains that she sometimes looks up into a sunny sky and thinks about if he is looking up at the sky too, wherever he is. Sophie says to Calum, “We’re both underneath the same sky, so we’re kind of together.” As soon as Sophie says that, it’s easy to know why this movie is called “Aftersun.”

Eventually, the cracks begin to show in this seemingly idyllic vacation. First, there are signs that Calum is living beyond his means but is too embarrassed to admit it to Sophie. When he and Sophie visit a carpet shop, he tries to pretend that he can afford the merchandise, but they eventually leave without making a purchase.

Later, in a pivotal scene, Sophie and Calum are watching some other people at the resort doing karaoke. Sophie defies Calum’s wish for her not to get up on the stage and do a karaoke performance. She goes on stage anyway and sings a very off-key and stiff rendition of R.E.M.’s 1991 hit “Losing My Religion.” Something about the song’s lyrics triggers Calum, but it’s not quite obvious at first.

After the performance, Calum tells Sophie that he can pay for her to get singing lessons if she wants. Sophie is slightly offended and asks him if that means he thinks she’s a terrible singer. Calum says no, but Sophie snaps at him: “Stop offering to pay for something when I know you don’t have the money!” Calum is stunned into the silence and seems deeply hurt by this comment.

After that karaoke performance, Calum is seen by sobbing by himself. And there’s a time on the trip when Sophie goes back to their resort room and finds Calum fully naked and sleeping face down asleep on his bed. The implication is that he’s passed out while drunk.

Earlier in the movie, there’s a more subtle sign that Calum might be abusing substances, or at least is on some type of medication, when the video footage picks up the off-camera sound of Calum opening a bottle of pills. Calum also has a cast on his right arm during this vacation. How he injured is arm is never really explained, which implies that he doesn’t want to talk about it.

The movie also reveals that Calum is perhaps haunted by an unhappy childhood. When Sophie asks him what his birthday wish was when he was 11 years old, Calum seems uncomfortable answering the question. However, Sophie asks him again, so he tells her that no one remembered his birthday when he turned 11. He tells Sophie that when he reminded his mother that it was his birthday, she got irritated and told Calum’s father to take him to a toy store to buy a birthday gift for Calum. Calum says he chose a red phone as his toy.

The movie has some scenes that are not video footage but appear to be a montage of the adult Sophie’s memories speculating that Calum was spending some time at nightclubs during this vacation while Sophie was asleep. These nightclub scenes show Calum on the dance floor, with strobe-light effects, and are filmed like fever dreams that mix the past and the present, since the adult Sophie is seen in these visions. There’s a particularly revealing sequence of this “nightclub fever dream,” with David Bowie and Queen’s duet “Under Pressure” playing on the soundtrack, where the adult Sophie shows some anger at her father.

Viewers should not expect to find out much about the adult Sophie. There are brief hints of of what her current life is like as a 31-year-old in 2019. She’s in a live-in relationship with a woman, and they have an infant son together. And whatever Sophie’s memories are of her father, they are bittersweet. It’s not said out loud, but the emotional tone of the film is that this vacation in Turkey was the last time that Sophie and her father were together.

“Aftersun” is not the kind of movie that will please people who want a more traditional narrative structure for a movie that relies mostly on flashbacks to tell the story. Some viewers might get bored at what seems to be a compilation of meandering home video footage. However, observant viewers will notice that in order to fully appreciate the story, it’s about understanding that this footage is being looked at by an adult Sophia to make some sense of what happened to her father, to see if there were any clues that she missed in the video footage that she took back in 1999.

Mescal and Corio give riveting and believable performances as father and daughter Calum and Sophie. There’s nothing that looks fake or contrived in their depiction of this relationship, which is filled with love, tenderness, a little bit of mischief and some underlying tension that is sometimes expressed and sometimes left unsaid. In other words, it’s a lot like many parent/child relationships, but the relationship that a 11-year-old girl has with her father is usually not explored as the central story in a movie.

One of the other standout qualities of “Aftersun” is a nostalgia-driven soundtrack of well-placed pop hits from the 1980s and 1990s. They include Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” from 1997, Los Del Río’s Macarena” from 1993, and Blur’s “Tender” from 1999. Each song enhances the mood intended for the scene and doesn’t come across as “needle-drop shilling” for the movie’s soundtrack.

“Aftersun” is not a movie that’s filled with big, dramatic, emotional scenes. The story shows that much of life’s biggest lessons are not necessarily “in your face,” but are presented as subtle clues that a child might not be old enough to fully understand until adulthood. The storytelling of “Aftersun” also takes this subtle approach and offers a quiet commentary about appreciating loved ones while they’re still alive and being aware of the not-always-obvious signs that someone might be crying out for help.

A24 released “Aftersun” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie is set for release in the United Kingdom and Ireland on December 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Stars at Noon,’ starring Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn

October 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn in “Stars at Noon” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Stars at Noon”

Directed by Claire Denis

Culture Representation: Taking place in Nicaragua and Costa Rica in the early 2020s, the dramatic film “Stars at Noon” features a cast of white and Latino characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An American journalist, who’s stranded in Nicaragua and doing sex work for money, gets involved with a mysterious British man, who has shady people chasing after him.

Culture Audience: “Stars at Noon” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of filmmaker Claire Denis, but this frequently dull misfire of a film will disappoint anyone looking for an intriguing, well-written story.

Joe Alwyn and Margaret Qualley in “Stars at Noon” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Stars at Noon” is a messy and boring drama that’s an example of the worst type of pretentious self-indulgence, not only from the main characters but also the filmmakers. The dialogue is awful and unrealistic. And the acting isn’t much better. The cast members who portray the would-be couple at the center of the story do not have believable chemistry with each other. “Stars at Noon” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France, and its U.S. premiere at the 2022 New York Film Festival in New York City.

Directed by Claire Denis, “Stars at Noon” is adapted from Denis Johnson’s 1986 novel “The Stars at Noon.” Denis, Andrew Litvack and Léa Mysius co-wrote the “Stars at Noon” adapted screenplay. The screenplay is the weakest link in this dreadful movie, which is filled with cringeworthy conversations that sound very fake and nonsensical. Denis’ direction also falters in “Stars at Noon,” by making what should have been an engaging thriller into a sluggish and annoying jumble of self-important garbage that rambles and stumbles until the movie’s underwhelming conclusion.

“Stars at Noon” irritates from the moment that viewers find out it’s peddling a “Pretty Woman” fantasy, where an irreverent sex worker expects one of her male customers to come to her rescue and save her from a life of desperation and degradation. That’s essentially what the entire movie is about, even though the filmmakers try to dress it up and fool audiences into thinking it’s an adventerous story about two “outlaw lovers” on the run. The “Stars at Noon” movie changes the book’s 1980s time period, so that the movie takes place in the early 2020s, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The era might have been updated for the movie, but “Stars at Noon” is filled with a lot of old-fashioned misogyny.

The misogyny is very apparent in how lead character Trish Johnson (played by Margaret Qualley) is written and presented as a whiny ditz who gets herself into predicaments and doesn’t have the common sense to get herself out of them. Trish is an American who’s stranded in Managua, Nicaragua, because a police officer called Subtenente Verga (played by Nick Romano) has taken her passport. Why? Verga suspects she’s doing an undercover investigation as a journalist.

“The Stars at Noon” book was set in the backdrop of the Nicaraguan Revolution, during the Contra War phase, when the left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew the right-wing Somoza dictatorship. The entire Nicaraguan Revolution spanned from 1961 to 1990. Because the “Stars at Noon” movie takes place in the early 2020s, the Nicaraguan political turmoil is never fully explained. There are some vague references to Trish trying to uncover government corruption.

Trish calls herself a journalist, but she doesn’t do any journalism work in this movie. All she does for money is have sex with men, including Subtenente Verga, because she’s hoping that having sex with him will convince him to give her passport back to her. It isn’t necessarily misogynistic to show that Trish is doing sex work for money. (Sex workers are often desperate people who shouldn’t be judged too harshly by society.) What’s misogynistic about this portrayal is that Trish (who likes to tell everyone how smart and resourceful she is) is made to look like an idiot who hasn’t figured out other ways to make money where she doesn’t have to sexually degrade herself.

Trish speaks fluent Spanish. Apparently, it never occurred to her to get work as a translator/interpreter. And as a so-called journalist, she’s so lacking in basic common sense, it’s embarrassing. You don’t have to be a journalist to know that if you’re an American citizen whose passport is lost or stolen in a foreign country, you can go to the U.S. embassy in that country to get an emergency passport re-issued. Trish does none of these things, of course, because there would be no “Stars at Noon” movie if Trish actually had the intelligence that she thinks she has.

Trish has a very off-putting way of trying to make people she interacts with seem inferior to her, when her whole life is such a train wreck, she’s in no place to judge. She actually doesn’t have a journalist assignment to be in Nicaragua. Trish apparently went there hoping to find something to “investigate” and then sell the story later.

A scene that comes about midway through the movie shows that Trish is also a failure as a journalist. She makes a videoconference call to an unnamed American magazine editor (played by John C. Reilly, making a cameo), and she begs him to give her an assignment. The editor works at a monthly magazine about sustainable, high-class travel. Trish pitches a story idea to him, by saying she can do an article about a nature reserve in Costa Rica.

The editor gives Trish an emphatic “no” to her pitch. He also reminds Trish that the last time he gave her an assignment, she just took the advance money and never delivered the assignment. In other words, Trish has burned her bridges with this editor. He tells her to lose his number and never contact him again.

Before this unpleasant conversation happened, Trish had gotten sexually involved with a British man named Daniel DeHaven (played by Joe Alwyn), whom she met at a bar in Managua. Daniel, who likes to dress in immaculate white suits, tells Trish in their first meeting that he’s a consultant for a British oil company named Watts Oil. Daniel isn’t really telling the truth about his identity. It soon becomes apparent that some menacing-looking people are chasing after Daniel.

This is the vapid conversation that Trish and Daniel have when they first meet in the bar. Daniel tells Trish that he’s from London, and he asks her where she’s from. Trish replies, “From here, there and yonder.” She then tells him, “You have the kind of manners that can get you killed out here.” Trish then says that she’s a special correspondent in “the north area.”

Daniel asks her, “Are you for sale?” Trish replies, “I’m press.” Daniel says that he’s a member of the press too. (He’s really not.) Trish answers, “Then, we’re all for sale.” Trish asks him to have supper with her, but Daniel declines because he says it’s too late in the night. Trish then bluntly tells him, “For a price, I’ll sleep with you.”

Trish insists that Daniel pay her in American dollars. Her price? A measly $50. It’s just more of the film’s misogyny on display. And to make Trish look like even more moronic, she doesn’t get the payment up front, like a street-smart sex worker is supposed to do. She gets the money after she has sex with Daniel.

So what does this tell audiences about Trish? She’s not only stupid, but she also sells herself short as a sex worker. And yet, throughout the entire movie, she acts like a know-it-all, when she actually knows very little. It’s very hard to respect any character who is this aggressively obnoxious and dumb.

During the first sexual encounter between Daniel and Trish, this is the type of mindless conversation that they have. Trish tells him, “Your skin is so white, it’s like being fucked by a cloud.” Is that supposed to be a compliment?

At some point during this encounter, Daniel tells Trish that he’s married. “I commit adultery often.” Trish doesn’t care. After Daniel pays her, Trish tells him, “I’m not here for the dollars. I’m here for the air conditioning.”

If you have the patience to sit through all of “Stars at Noon,” get used to more of this eye-rolling, mind-numbing, extremely aggravating dialogue, because the movie is full of it. Of course, since the movie is pushing a tale of “outlaw lovers on the run,” it isn’t long before Trish finds out that Daniel has dangerous people who are after him.

Because Trish is desperate to get out of Nicaragua, and she knows Daniel has the type of money that she doesn’t, Trish figures that she can go on the run with Daniel, and he can help her in some way get back to the United States. Daniel and Trish commit some crimes and end up in various places in Nicaragua and then Costa Rica. And the movie tries very hard to convince viewers that Daniel and Trish fall in love. But it’s never believable.

Trish is just a self-absorbed flake who complains a lot. Daniel is a blank void who hides a lot of information about himself and never comes across as someone who could genuinely fall in love with someone like Trish. Qualley seems to be making an effort to bring sympathy in her portrayal of this very silly and selfish character, but Trish is just too much of a babbling mess for most viewers to care about her. Alwyn seems to be going through the motions in his performance.

Daniel sees right through Trish’s insecurity, and makes some cutting remarks to her in a scene that happens shortly after they had sex for the first time. In this scene, Daniel and Trish are hanging out together in a bar in Nicaragua. Trish is acting superior to him, as usual. But then, Daniel tells her that prostitutes like to think that they’re in control of their customers, when they’re not, because the prostitutes depend on their customers for money. There’s enough truth in this statement that it leaves Trish (temporarily) speechless, because she can’t think of a snappy comeback.

It’s one of the few times in “Stars at Noon” where a conversation actually resembles something that could take place in real life. But the vast majority of this bloated movie (which has a too-long total running time of 136 minutes) is just a shambolic and tedious slog of Daniel and Trish trying to avoid capture while sometimes arguing and having sex. The Daniel/Trish sex scenes, which are very monotonous and generic, fail to convince that Daniel and Trish are together because of passionate lust.

The supporting characters in “Stars at Noon” are so hollow and underdeveloped, most of them don’t even have names or distinctive personalities. An unnamed Costa Rican cop (played by Danny Ramirez), who’s one of the people chasing after Daniel and Trish, does a lot of predictable sneering and smirking. An unnamed CIA operative (played by Benny Safdie), who’s also looking for this “outlaw couple,” spouts horrendous lines of dialogue while looking smug.

This what the CIA operative says when he comments on female sex workers: “They’re all as lonely as widows. They haven’t had a man’s hand on their thighs since Jesus was in diapers and Moses had a pacifier.” If this the type of trash screenwriting that you think is quality filmmaking, then perhaps you might like “Stars at Noon.” Everyone else is best advised to steer clear of this horrible movie.

A24 released “Stars at Noon” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 14, 2022. Hulu will premiere the movie on October 28, 2022.

Review: ‘Decision to Leave,’ starring Park Hae-il and Tang Wei

October 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tang Wei and Park Hae-il in “Decision to Leave” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“Decision to Leave”

Directed by Park Chan-wook

Korean and Chinese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2020 and 2021 in the South Korean cities of Busan and Ipo, the dramatic film “Decision to Leave” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A police detective becomes emotionally involved with a widow whom he investigates in the suspicious death of her wealthy husband.

Culture Audience: “Decision to Leave” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Park Chan-wook and well-made psychological dramas that keep viewers guessing about what will happen in the story.

Park Hae-il and Tang Wei in “Decision to Leave” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“Decision to Leave” plays with any viewer’s preconceived notions on how the story is going to end. The pacing sometimes becomes too slow, but this well-made movie skillfully blends noir, romance and mystery with talented acting. It’s a cinematic rollercoaster ride that offers food for thought about how people handle power, wealth, loyalty and love on individual levels and in society at large.

Directed by Park Chan-wook (who co-wrote the “Decision to Leave” screenplay with Jeong Seo-kyeong), “Decision to Leave” is does not take sex and violence to explicit levels in ways that can be seen in two of Park’s most well-known previous psychological thriller films: 2003’s “Oldboy” and 2016’s “The Handmaiden.” Much of what is going on with the “Decision to Leave” characters isn’t “in your face” obvious, but rather is lurking underneath the surface and can be intelligently observed through facial expressions, body language and unspoken thoughts that are later revealed in certain characters’ actions. It’s why the movie’s principal cast members deserve a lot of credit for bringing complexities to these characters that look authentic.

With a total running time of 138 minutes, “Decision to Leave” is the type of movie that requires patience and perhaps more than one viewing in order to fully appreciate many of the subtleties in this drama. “Decision to Leave” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France, where the Park won the prize for Best Director. The movie has since made the rounds at several other film festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival; Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas; and the New York Film Festival in New York City. “Decision to Leave” is South Korea’s selection to be a contender for Best International Feature at the 2023 Academy Awards.

“Decision to Leave” begins iin 2020, in Busan, South Korea, where a police detective in his 40s named Hae-jun (played by Park Hae-il) is shown at work asking for a transfer to the smaller city of Ipo. Viewers later find out that Hae-jun has made this request mostly because his wife Jung-an (played by Lee Jung-hyun) thinks being a big-city cop has taken a toll on their 16-year marriage.

Jung-an wants to Hae-jun to work in a smaller city, where she thinks his work will be less stressful. She tells him half-jokingly that “55% of all sexless marriages end in divorce. It’s the first indication that the sex life of Hae-jun and Jung-an has dwindled. Later, this apathy is shown when she tries to be sexually intimate with Jung-an, and he shows a lack of interest. Jung-an feels insulted by this rejection, but she also seems to not be surprised by it.

What becomes obvious after a while is that Hae-jun is a workaholic, so moving to a smaller city won’t automatically end his addiction to police work, nor will it automatically fix the problems in his marriage. Before his transfer officially takes place, Hae-jun and some of his colleagues are called to the scene of a mysterious death. The deceased body of man in his 50s named Ki Do-soo (played by Yoo Seung-mok) has been found at the bottom of the cliff. Was this death caused by suicide, murder or an accident?

Investigators find out that Ki Do-soo was a part-time interviewer at a South Korean immigration office, but he was also wealthy. His widow is a Chinese immigrant named Seo-rai (played by Tang Wei), who doesn’t seem shocked when the police arrive at her home to tell her that her husband is dead and to interview her. In real life, Tang is much older than the Seo-rai character whom she portrays in the movie. Seo-rai is supposed to be in her 30s and is presented as a “trophy wife.”

Hae-jun (who is leading the investigation) is both puzzled and intrigued by Seo-rai’s calm, cool and collected demeanor during the police interviews. Hae-yun’s younger hothead cop partner Soo-wan (played by Go Kyung-pyo) immediately believes the theory that Ki Do-soo was murdered, and he zeroes in on Seo-rai as the prime suspect. Hae-jun doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions until he gets all the facts and evidence that he can.

Seo-rai, who is a hospital nurse, tells the investigators that she had nothing to do with Ki Do-soo’s death. She says she doesn’t speak Korean very well, but viewers later see that doesn’t mean Seo-rai isn’t highly intelligent and manipulative. She reveals to investigators that not only did her husband Ki Do-soo physically abused her and that she also had self-inflicted injuries. Seo-rai has recent bruises and medical records to prove it, as well as photos of past injuries that she said were made by herself and Ki So-Doo.

Seo-rai also tells the investigators that she and her husband argued because she didn’t like him to take these mountain hiking trips because she thought they were too dangerous. They also argued about her self-harming activities and would get into physical fights over it. (Their volatile marriage is shown in some flashbacks.)

Seo-rai is told by the cops that another person’s DNA was found underneath Ki Do-soo’s fingernails. And so, Seo-rai explains that if her DNA is found underneath his fingernails, it was probably because of one of the physical fights that they had before he went on the hiking trip that resulted in his death. Throughout much of “Decision to Leave,” viewers are kept wondering if Seo-rai is really a victim, a villain or both.

More suspicion falls on Seo-rai when the investigators find out that she is the only heir to her dead husband’s fortune. Until the cause of death can be determined, Seo-rai because the most likely person of interest if the medical examiner rules that Ki Do-soo’s death was by murder. In the meantime, Hae-jun decides to put Seo-rai under surveillance, and he’s the main person doing the stakeouts outside of her house.

As time goes on, Hae-jun becomes more obsessed with Seo-rai, who sensed from ther first meeting that he was romantically attracted to her. And Seo-rai, who seems to be starved for compassion, seems to be feeling the same way. Meanwhile, Hae-jun’s wife Jung-an become increasingly agitated that he’s spending so much time working on this case. Hae-jun won’t tell Jung-an many details about the case, but she begins to suspect that Hae-jung is having an affair.

Seo-rai has seemed to stirred up some long-dormant feelings of romance in Hae-jun, who goes to great lengths to show her that he is a gentleman and doesn’t want to betray the ethics of his job and his marriage. Another change has come over Hae-jun as he gets to know Seo-rai better: Before Hae-hun met Seo-rai, he seemed to be an incurable insomniac. After he met her, he began to sleep better.

What happens in the rest of “Decision to Leave” revolves around how Seo-rai and Hae-jun affect each other, as the story continues into 2021. It’s enough to say that even after Hae-jun transfers to Ipo, Seo-rai is still a part of his life. And his experiences with Seo-rai in Ipo cause even more confusion and angst.

“Decision to Leave” is a very stylish film to look at, thanks to stellar cinematography from Kim Ji-yong. The movie, which uses water in some pivotal scenes, is often awash in various shades of blue. Depending on the scene, these blue palettes contribute to feelings of melancholy or hope.

Even with a possible romance brewing between Seo-rai and Hae-jun, “Decision to Leave” never lets viewers forget that this relationship could be dangerous for either or both Seo-rai and Hae-jun. Whose motives are really pure and genuine? Through the immersive storytelling in “Decision to Leave,” that question hovers throughout as a reminder to viewers that in this movie, just like in real life, not everything is what it might first appear to be, and people can be taken to unexpected places.

MUBI released “Decision to Leave” in select U.S. cinemas on October 14, 2022. The movie was released in South Korea and France on June 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Triangle of Sadness,’ starring Charlbi Dean, Harris Dickinson and Woody Harrelson

October 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson in “Triangle of Sadness” (Photo by Fredrik Wenzel/Neon)

“Triangle of Sadness”

Directed by Ruben Östlund

Some language in German and Russian with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly somewhere off the coast of Greece, the comedy/drama film “Triangle of Sadness” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black person and one Filipina) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A dating couple, who are both young fashion models, must navigate conflicts over gender roles in their relationship, which is put to the test when they end up stranded on an island with other people from a luxury cruise yacht. 

Culture Audience: “Triangle of Sadness” will appeal primarily to people interested in a story that lampoons how youth, good looks, gender and wealth are used in social climbing and perceived power.

Arvin Kananian and Woody Harrelson in “Triangle of Sadness” (Photo by Fredrik Wenzel/Neon)

The darkly comedic “Triangle of Sadness” is an incisive satire of social class prejudices and gender-based power dynamics. The cast members’ skillful performances outweigh the movie’s flaws, such as a story that sometimes rambles and has a vague ending. “Triangle of Sadness” tells a memorable if uneven story about how constructs of power are frequently built around superficial qualities such as physical looks, youth and wealth, and how those constructs can radically change in life-or-death situations.

Written and directed by Ruben Östlund, “Triangle of Sadness” is a movie that is meant to make audiences laugh at uncomfortable truths and near-parodies of how people conduct themselves when they are in the presence of wealth and power—and what people are willing to do to have wealth and power. “Triangle of Sadness” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France, where it won the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize. The movie also made the rounds at other film festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival, Fantastic Fest and the New York Film Festival.

“Triangle of Sadness” is told in three separate parts. “Part One: Carl and Yaya,” “Part Two: The Yacht” and “Part Three: The Island.” The first two parts of the movie are really just introductions to the various people who end up stranded on an island off of the coast of Greece, after a yachting disaster. The last part of the movie is the most intriguing part, but it’s also the part of the movie that will be the most frustrating to viewers.

“Part One: Carl and Yaya” shows the relationship the London-based couple at the center of the story: Carl (played by Harris Dickinson) is British, in his mid-20s and is a former mechanic who now works as a fashion model. Yaya (played by Charlbi Dean) is originally from South Africa, in her early 30s, and is also a fashion model. Carl and Yaya have been dating each other for less than a year. (Tragically, Dean died on August 29, 2022, of septicemia, the medical term for blood poisoning, which came from an untreated lung infection. She was 32.)

Carl is first seen during a casting call audition for a runway show. He and other male models, who are all shirtless, are being interviewed by a flamboyant social media personality named Lewis (played by Tobias Thorwid), who openly flirts with the models. Lewis asks Carl and the other models to show the different facial expressions that they use for haute couture modeling (a serious face) and commercial mass merchant modeling (a smiling face).

When Lewis yells out “Balenciaga,” Carl and the other models put on their serious faces. When Lewis yells out “H&M,” Carl and the other models put on their smiling faces. Lewis keeps repeating “Balenciaga” and “H&M,” and the models keep changing their facial expressions, like they’re robots being ordered to do someone’s bidding. It’s the movie’s way of showing how models are often treated like robots.

When it’s Carl’s turn to go in front of the judging panel, a snooty male casting agent comments to Carl about the middle of Carl’s forehead: “Can you relax your triangle of sadness?” In the production notes for “Triangle of Sadness,” writer/director Östlund comments on why he chose this phrase as the title of the movie.

“It’s a term used in the beauty industry,” Östlund says. “A friend sat next to a plastic surgeon at a party and, after a quick look at her face, he said, ‘Oh, you have a quite deep triangle of sadness… but I can fix that with Botox in 15 minutes.’ He was referring to a wrinkle between her eyebrows. In Swedish, it’s called ‘trouble wrinkle,’ and it suggests you’ve had a lot of struggles in your life. I thought it said something about our era’s obsession with looks and that inner well-being is, in some respects, secondary.”

It’s no coincidence that the central couple in this movie are models in the fashion industry, which places a high value on youth and outer beauty. Modeling is one of the few jobs where women make more money than men. And because Yaya’s income is much higher than Carl’s income, this disparity has caused some problems in their relationship.

The problems become evident when Carl and Yaya have what is supposed to be a romantic dinner at a restaurant, but this date devolves into an argument over who is going to pay for the dinner. Carl has flown out to visit Yaya, who’s on a modeling assignment. And he’s been consistently paying for their meals during this trip.

But at this particular dinner, Yaya had offered to pay, and Carl accepted the offer. When the bill is placed on the table, Yaya pretends that she doesn’t see it and silently puts the responsibility on Carl to pay the bill. When he reminds her that she offered to pay for the dinner, it leads to a disagreement that isn’t really about the bill about it’s about power and control in the relationship.

Carl says that if women want equality, they should be willing to pay for dates on occasion if they offer to do so. Yaya agrees to pay for dinner. Carl concedes that he didn’t mean to raise his voice with Yaya and tells her, “Now, I feel bad.” However, Yaya gives a passive-aggresssive insult to Carl when she tells him, “It’s okay. I make more money than you.”

And then, it’s Yaya’s turn to be embarrassed. The credit card that she uses to pay for the dinner is declined. And so, Carl ends up paying for the dinner in cash. On the cab drive back to their hotel, Carl wants to talk about this money issue, but Yaya doesn’t. She tells Carl: “It’s not sexy to talk about money.”

Carl replies, “We shouldn’t slip into the same gender-based roles everyone else seems to be doing. I want us to be equal.” Carl won’t let the issue go, and he confronts Yaya about something that he saw her do at the restaurant: She took a €50 bill that was meant for the dinner payment, and she kept it for herself.

It leads to an even bigger verbal blow-up between the couple, who end up shouting at each other in the hotel elevator. Eventually, Carl and Yaya call a truce, but they both know that the argument isn’t about the money for that dinner. Yaya admits that she’s materialistic and says that one of the reasons why she became a model was to become “someone’s trophy wife.”

Yaya also confesses that she purposely ignored the restaurant bill when it was placed on the table because she really wanted Carl to offer to pay for dinner. Yaya tells Carl, “I need to know that if I fall pregnant that the person I’m with will take care of me.” All of these comments are Yaya’s obvious ways of telling Carl that if he eventually doesn’t make more money than she does, she’s going to lose interest in him.

In the “Triangle of Sadness” production notes, Östlund says that this argument over who would pay for dinner happened in real life with him and his fashion photographer wife, Sina, before they were married. Ruben and Sina Östlund might have had a happy ending after this argument, but things are much rockier for Carl and Yaya. The first part of the movie is focused on this argument as a foreshadowing of some turmoil to come.

In “Part Two: The Yacht,” Carl and Yaya have been invited by one of Yaya’s fashion connections to go on a luxury cruise on a yacht. Yaya is a social media influencer, who makes money by endorsing products and services on her social media accounts. During this trip, she fulfills these sponsor obligations by posing for photos on the yacht, with Carl as her photographer.

This part of the movie introduces several other people on the yacht and puts further emphasis on the social class divisions that separate the yacht’s subservient workers and the yacht’s privileged passengers. Carl and Yaya eventually meet several of these other passengers, some of whom are quirkier than others. Carl comes from a working-class background, and he often feels like he doesn’t quit fit in with these people who are accustomed to being rich.

Not long after their yacht trip begins, Carl and Yaya meet Dimitry (played by Zlatko Burić), a Russian agriculture mogul who made his fortune from selling fertilizer. Dimitry is on this yacht with his snobby and demanding wife Vera (played by Sunnyi Melles) and his mistress Ludmilla (played by Carolina Gynning), who is young enough to be his daughter. Dimitry and Vera seem to have an open marriage, because Vera and Ludmilla know about each other and hang out together with Dimitry on the yacht. Dimitry likes to brag to other people about how he became wealthy in a “rags to riches” story, but there’s a nouveau-riche crudeness in the way that Dimitry talks and acts.

An elderly British married couple named Winston (played by Oliver Ford Davies) and Clementine (played by Amanda Walker) are very polite and proper, but viewers might perceive these seemingly harmless senior citizens differently when it’s revealed why these spouses are rich. Another couple on the yacht are German spouses Uli (played by Ralph Schicha) and Therese (played by Iris Berben), who uses a wheelchair because she had a stroke. Uli is very attentive and devoted to Therese, who is mostly mute, except for when she utters the only words that she seems capable of saying: “in de wolken,” which is German for “in the clouds.”

Later in the movie, Yaya and Ludmilla meet a lonely, rich bachelor named Jarmo (played by Henrik Dorsin) at the yacht’s main bar. Jarmo invited a woman to be his companion on this trip, but she stood him up for this date. Jarmo wants to show this woman that he’s having a good time without her, so he asks Yaya to take a photo of him at the bar, because he wants to send the photo to the woman who snubbed him.

When Yaya and Ludmilla hear Jarmo’s story about the woman who rejected him, they both offer to take a selfie photo with Jarmo, so that Jarmo can send a picture looking like he’s having fun with two beautiful women on this yacht. Jarmo is so grateful, he immediately tells Yaya and Ludmilla, “I’m very rich,” and he offers to buy Rolex watches for Yaya and Ludmilla as thank you gifts. They both decline the offer, but it’s an example of Jarmo’s insecurity in thinking that he has to tell people that he’s rich, in order to impress people and buy friendships.

The yacht’s workers include a perky yet no-nonsense staff director named Paula (played by Vicki Berlin), who is a combination of a task master and a cheerleader for the employees. Paula is fanatical about the ship remaining tidy and orderly, and she tells the staffers to say yes to anything that the passengers ask them to do. Paula also leads the employees in pep talks and group chants to build team solidarity and loyalty.

Two other yacht staffers are a maid named Abigail (played by Dolly de Leon) and a repairman named Nelson (played by Jean-Christophe Folly), who are mostly in the background during “Part Two: The Yacht,” but their personalities emerge during “Part Three: The Island.” Abigail and Nelson are two of the few people of color who work on the ship, and they are both given jobs where they don’t interact much with the passengers. Observant viewers will notice that on this yacht, only white employees have the jobs that require the most interaction with the passengers.

The movie shows an example of how far Paula wants her employees to go to please the wealthy passengers on the yacht. A young and relatively new employee named Alicia (played by Alicia Ericksson) is asked by Vera to go for a dip in a jacuzzi with her, while Alicia is on duty. Alicia is reluctant to do so, but she also remembers that Paula ordered the staff to always say yes to a passenger’s request, no matter how unusual or difficult the request is.

Alicia doesn’t have a swimsuit with her at that moment, but Vera says that Alicia can strip down to her underwear. Vera can see that Alicia is uncomfortable, but Vera doesn’t seem to care. Eventually, Alicia obliges this request. But when Paula hears how reluctant Alicia was to say yes to this request, Paula overcompensates by ordering the entire staff to go on the water slides with the passengers.

The yacht’s leader is Captain Thomas Smith (played by Woody Harrelson), who is a drunken mess. In the “Triangle of Sadness” production notes, Östlund describes the captain as “an idealist, an alcoholic and a Marxist.” Paula and the ship’s first mate Darius (played by Arvin Kananian) spend considerable effort trying to get the intoxicated Captain Smith out of his room in time for the captain’s dinner with the yacht’s most influential and richest passengers.

It’s at this dinner when all hell breaks loose. Something causes the passengers to get sick and violently vomit. Things get worse when the yacht explodes and not everyone makes it out alive. It’s enough to say that the people who do survive end up stranded on a remote island. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

Being stranded on this island strips away a lot of the social hierarchies and perceptions of power that existed on the yacht. This third and final part of the movie has some twists and turns that make “Triangle of Sadness” worth watching. However, because this major shift in the story comes so late in the movie, much of it feels crammed-in and rushed.

With a total running time 149 minutes, “Triangle of Sadness” could have used tighter film editing. The movie took a little too much time with “Part Two: The Yacht,” which is a bit repetitive in showing how these vacationers take their privilege and social status for granted. “Part Three: The Island” also has some scenes that wander, although the scenes in the last third of the movie have more of an overall purpose. Despite these imperfections in the movie’s film editing, the dialogue in “Triangle of Sadness” remains sharp and engaging.

Dickinson and de Leon give the movie’s standout performances as Carl and Abigail. On the surface, Carl and Abigail both seem to have very little in common. But beneath the surface, they both have something big in common: They feel like underappreciated outsiders in their own worlds. And they both show some rebellion and resentment as a result of feeling like they have been denied access to things that they think they deserve.

The very last image in “Triangle of Sadness” can be interpreted in many different ways—and that open-endedness at the movie’s conclusion will either frustrate some viewers, or it will invite viewers to come up with theories about what really happened at the end of this story. Despite this ambiguous ending, “Triangle of Sadness” has a lot of interesting commentary and observations about why society’s divisions between the “haves” and “have nots” can affect how people treat each other—and how these divisions are often based on shallow criteria that do not truly reflect someone’s inner character.

Neon released “Triangle of Sadness” in select U.S. cinemas on October 7, 2022.

Review: ‘All That Breathes,’ starring Nadeem Shehzad, Mohammad Saud and Salik Rehman

Salik Rehman in “All That Breathes” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Submarine Deluxe)

“All That Breathes”

Directed by Shaunak Sen

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Delhi, India, the documentary film “All That Breathes” features a group of working-class Indian men involved in rescuing pollution-affected and injured birds, especially black kites.

Culture Clash: The members of this rescue group face obstacles such as civil unrest in India, a shortage of funds, and some disagreements about the direction of the group, when one of the members wants to relocate to the United States.

Culture Audience: “All That Breathes” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in unconventional documentaries about animal rescue groups and the environment.

A scene from “All That Breathes” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Submarine Deluxe)

With immersive cinematography, “All That Breathes” offers contemplative moments that tell more than just a documentary story about rescuing birds. Viewers can look at the bigger picture of how people’s decisions on what to save can affect our ecosystem. Rather than preaching what people should think, “All That Breathes” lets the story unfold so that viewers can make up their own minds by watching this moving and effective story about humanity and nature.

Directed by Shaunak Sen, “All That Breathes” focuses on a specific group of people in a specific place, but the themes in the movie are universal. The movie centers on three men involved in the grassroots group Wildlife Rescue, which was founded in 2010 by two brothers who live in Delhi, India. Older brother Nadeem Shehzad is the group’s intellectual leader, who plans to temporarily relocate to the United States to get more training on animal rescuing. Younger brother Mohammad Saud (who prefers to be called Saud) is the most extroverted member of the group featured in the documentary.

Nadeem (who gives voiceover narration) and Saud have had a specialty in rescuing birds, particularly black kites. As Needem says in a voiceover, they were teenage bodybuilders when they first noticed an injured bird. They took the bird to a veterinary clinic, which refused to give the bird medical treatment because it wasn’t a “vegetarian bird.”

The brothers’ bodybuilding experience gave them some knowledge of bandaging muscles and treating injuries, so they rescued the bird and gave it medical treatment on their own. It led to the formation of Wildlife Rescue, a makeshift animal sanctuary/clinic, which they operate out of their home with a great deal of compassion and care. The brothers have since rescued thousands of birds that have been sick or injured. Because of Delhi’s rampant air pollution, there’s been a crisis of black kites and other birds being afflicted with pollution-related diseases and injuries.

A third person who’s part of the Wildlife Rescue is Salik Rehman, who started volunteering for the group in 2010, and he officially became a staffer in 2017. The documentary shows that Nadeem has taken on most of the administrative duties, while Saud and Salik do most of the “leg work” in going out and rescuing birds that need help. Salik is not as confident as Saud, who often trains Salik or gives him encouragement when Salik wants to do something where he feels he doesn’t have enough experience.

Of the three men, Salik is the most tech-savvy, almost to a fault. Nadeem says in a voiceover, “Salik belongs to the digital age. He doesn’t understand mercury monitors.” Salik is also the one who’s the most caught up in social media. He has an easygoing, sometimes goofy personality that can lighten the mood when things get grim. And things do get very grim.

During their rescue efforts, the members of this tight-knit group of Muslims grow uneasy about the increasing civil unrest in India, where Muslims are being targeted over citizenship issues. Just as the black kites and other birds are at risk of being displaced from the sky because of air pollution, so to do the Wildlife Rescue team start to feel that toxic elements are making them uncomfortable about where they live. It shouldn’t be lost on viewers of this documentary why the members of this Wildlife Rescue Group can relate to the animals that are under siege from life-threatening factors.

If “All That Breathes” were a conventional nature documentary, it would go into much more detail about the technical aspects of these rescue efforts. And there would probably be at least one bird who would get its own story and possibly even a pet name. Although some information is given about black kites (for example, they use cigarette butts as repellents to attacking insects), and there are some scenes of birds getting medical treatment, this isn’t a documentary where viewers will learn a lot of about ornithology. After all, Wildlife Rescue is not a group of scientists.

“All That Breathes” has made the rounds at several film festivals, including the 2022 Sundance Film Festival (where the movie won the jury prize for World Cinema Documentary), the 2022 Cannes Film Festival (where the movie won the GoldenEye Award, the festival’s top documentary prize) and the 2022 New York Film Festival. The movie doesn’t have a lot of dialogue and gives a lot of screen time to showing visually striking scenes of the beauty and the grime of a crowded big city such as Delhi. If the point of “All That Breathes” isn’t made clear enough, Nadeem sums it up when he says in a voiceover, “Life is a kinship. We are a community of air.”

Sideshow and Submarine Deluxe in association with HBO Documentary Films will release “All That Breathes” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. HBO will premiere the movie in 2023, on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘Enys Men,’ starring Mary Woodvine

October 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mary Woodvine in “Enys Men” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Enys Men”

Directed by Mark Jenkin

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1973, off the coast of Cornwall, England, the horror movie “Enys Men” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A volunteer researcher goes through mysterious rituals while studying a group of wildflowers, as nightmarish visions from the past seem to haunt her.

Culture Audience: “Enys Men” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching artsy and enigmatic horror movies where the movie’s plot is a mystery for viewers to solve.

Mary Woodvine in “Enys Men” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Steeped in 1970s cinema nostalgia, “Enys Men” is a unique horror movie that’s presented as a puzzle for viewers to figure out on their own. People who want a straightforward horror story will be disappointed. Viewers who like mysteries will be challenged. It’s a movie that looks deceptively disjointed, but it actually requires complete attention from viewers, in order for the clues to tie everything together as the story goes along.

Written and directed by Mark Jenkin, “Enys Men’ reunites Jenkin with Mary Woodvine and Edward Rowe, who also co-starred in Jenkin’s BAFTA-winning 2019 drama “Bait.” In “Bait,” Rowe played the role of the movie’s protagonist. In “Enys Men,” Woodvine is the movie’s central character. “Enys Men” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France and its North American premiere at the 2022 New York Film Festival in New York City.

Jenkin is also the cinematographer and editor of “Enys Men.” He used 16mm film to make the movie look like it was actually filmed in 1973. In this strange story, where all of the characters do not have names, Woodvine plays a character listed in the end credits as The Volunteer. She is woman in her 50s, living by herself in a remote cottage located off of the coast of Cornwall, England.

The movie, which takes place from April to May 1973, shows that The Volunteer has a journal, where she’s been keeping a daily record of what she is there to observe. In each journal entry, she notes the outdoor temperature, which ranges from 14.2 to 14.5 degrees Celsius, which is about 57 degrees Fahrenheit. However, what she’s really observing is a group of wildflowers growing on a cliffside near the cottage.

Up until a certain point in the movie, her journal entries note “No change in temperature” next to each listed temperature, even though the temperature does slightly change during the course of the month. The Volunteer also wears the same clothes every day: a red wind jacket, a beige sweater, blue jeans and hiking shoes. She usually walks on the same path every day to get to the flowers on the cliffs.

Every day, she also goes through a ritual of dropping a rock into a nearby well. The water in the well can be heard when the rock splashes into it. The Volunteer has a CB radio, which she uses to communicate with unnamed people and where she also receives messages. early on in the movie, The Volunteer gets a message from a man on the radio. He tells her that he’ll be there before the end of the week. She gives a small smile in response.

Throughout “Enys Men,” there are visions of other people who disrupt The Volunteer’s daily routine. The movie plays guessing games with viewers over whether not these people are ghosts or are hallucinations from The Volunteer. Look beneath the surface, and the story can eventually be pieced together.

A teenage girl (played by Flo Crowe), who’s listed in the movie’s end credits as The Girl, keeps appearing. The Volunteer sometimes sees this girl, who does not speak. A major clue about who this girl is revealed later in the story. Hint: It has to do with a diagonal scar across her abdomen and how she got the scar.

Meanwhile, The Volunteer tells The Girl: “Please don’t climb up there. I don’t want to keep telling you, but I have to.” The Girl seems to have psychic abilities because she knows in advance what The Volunteer is saying and ends up repeating the same words simultaneously.

The Volunteer also encounters a character listed in the end credits as The Boatman (played by Rowe), who visits The Volunteer and seems to have a romantic interest in her. (There’s a brief scene of The Volunteer and The Boatman having sex up against a wall.) At one point, The Boatman sees a wildflower in a drinking glass of water on a table in the cottage. The Boatman tells The Volunteer, “I thought you weren’t supposed to pick them.” She answers, “I’m not. I’m not here on my own.”

In a nearby chapel, The Volunteer sees a dedication plaque listing the names of the seven men who were lost at sea on a lifeboat in May 1897. And when seven men in identical hooded fisherman’s outfits suddenly appear on the cliffs, it’s easy to deduce who they are. But what exactly are they doing there?

“Enys Men” has several references to lichen, a plant-like organism that has symbiotic association with algae or cyanobacteria. It’s another big clue that makes sense when certain visuals are presented in the movie. A scene with a preacher (played by John Woodvine, Mary Woodvine’s real-life father) in the chapel is a pivotal moment.

“Enys Men” is not supposed to be a showcase for memorable conversations, since most of the movie shows The Volunteer by herself, and the movie intentionally wants viewers to feel a sense of foreboding isolation in a remote area that The Volunteer eventually feels. Because there isn’t a lot of dialogue in “Enys Men,” viewers have to carefully observe the actions of the movie’s characters. It’s also a slow-paced movie that doesn’t have a lot of jump scares but is more of a psychological mystery.

“Enys Men” has some haunting images that will either intrigue or frustrate viewers (or maybe do both), because this movie does not present easy answers about the story’s narrative and what it all means. It might seem chaotic and confusing, but there’s a method to the madness. The purpose of “Enys Men” becomes clear to viewers who have the patience to pay attention and deduce what this movie is trying to say about human beings’ connection to nature.

Neon will release “Enys Men” on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘Moonage Daydream,’ starring David Bowie

September 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

David Bowie in “Moonage Daydream” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Moonage Daydream”

Directed by Brett Morgen

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the world (but particularly in London, New York City, Los Angeles and Berlin), the documentary film “Moonage Daydream” features a compilation of archival footage of entertainment superstar David Bowie (who died of cancer in 2016) and his various admirers and colleagues, who are mostly white, but include some black people, Latino and Asians.

Culture Clash: Bowie’s life as an artist is chronicled in this montage-styled film, including his unconventional stage personas and lifestyle; his insecurities about his work; and his personal struggles with finding true love. 

Culture Audience: “Moonage Daydream” will appeal primarily to Bowie fans and people interested in seeing a visually immersive documentary about an entertainment icon.

David Bowie in “Moonage Daydream” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Die-hard fans of David Bowie will not learn anything new from the all-archival documentary “Moonage Daydream.” The movie skips over some big parts of his life, but it’s a visually immersive experience that shows Bowie’s music and talent in an artsy way. “Moonage Daydream” is the first feature-length documentary authorized by the Bowie estate since he died of cancer in 2016. Bowie was 69 when he passed away.

Directed by Brett Morgen, “Moonage Daydream” includes voiceovers from some of Bowie’s media interviews that serve as intermittent narration. The documentary is a mix of media footage, live concert footage and music videos. Much of this footage is presented in Andy Warhol-influenced montages. “Moonage Daydream” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.

The “Moonage Daydream” documentary gets its title from the Bowie song of the same name that’s on Bowie’s 1972 album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Bowie (who was born David Robert Jones in London, on January 8, 1947) was famous for frequently changing his image and musical styles over the years. During his “Ziggy Stardust” period, he performed as an outer-space alien rock star named Ziggy Stardust, whose backup band was named the Spiders from Mars.

Becoming the Ziggy Stardust persona was a pivotal period of time in Bowie’s career. He went from merely being a hit artist to a superstar know for celebrating acceptance of all sexualities, at a time when it was still very taboo for entertainers to openly embrace or be any sexuality that wasn’t heterosexual. To legions of fans and other admirers, Bowie represented people who wanted to express themselves and their genders in whatever ways they wanted.

Bowie was a recording artist from the 1960s until his death in 2016, but what he created in the 1970s was considered his most influential and therefore gets the most screen time in the “Moonage Daydream” documentary. Out of all all the 1970s footage in “Moonage Daydream,” the documentary features the “Ziggy Stardust” area the most. The “Moonage Daydream” documentary has several clips from director D. A. Pennebaker’s 1979 documentary film “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” which chronicled a 1973 concert that Bowie and his band did in London.

Unfortunately, for people who are unfamiliar with Bowie, “Moonage Daydream” does not tell Bowie’s story in chronological order, nor does the movie identify years in which any of the footage was taken. For example, one section of the documentary goes into Bowie’s work in the early-to-mid-1980s, but then jumps back to talking about his work in the late 1970s when Bowie collaborated with Brian Eno in Berlin. This jumping around in the timeline is one of the documentary’s flaws. The only people who can truly appreciate the historical context of the footage shown in the documentary are people who know what years Bowie’s songs and albums were released, or people can discern what year the footage was taken, based on what Bowie is wearing and his hairstyle in the footage.

However, the documentary greatly benefits from having several Bowie songs, as any credible film about Bowie should. “Moonage Daydream” has many of Bowie’s biggest hits, including “Space Oddity,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Diamond Dogs,” “Changes,” “Starman,” “The Jean Genie” “Life on Mars?,” “All the Young Dudes” (a Bowie-written song made famous by Mott the Hoople), “Heroes,” “Let’s Dance,” “China Girl” and “Modern Love.” Also included are some of Bowie’s lesser-known songs, such as “Moonage Daydream,” “Cracked Actor,” “Serious Moonlight,” “Outside” and “Earthling.” There’s also a brief snippet of Bowie performing the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” on stage in 1973 before launching into “The Jean Genie.”

“Moonage Daydream” dutifully includes mentions of Bowie’s acting career, including showing movie clips from 1976’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” 1983’s “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and 1986’s “Labryinth.” There’s also some quick footage of Bowie’s Broadway acting debut, in his starring role as the title character in “The Elephant Man,” which he played from September 1980 to January 1981. David Bowie’s 1980s musical duets with Queen and Tina Turner fly by in quick snippets that don’t do these collaborations justice. Bowie’s work as the lead singer of experimental rock band Tin Machine (from 1988 to 1992) is not in the documentary at all, but the documentary includes some footage of Bowie as an illustrator artist.

What you won’t see in “Moonage Daydream” are any mentions of his first wife Angie Bowie (they were married from 1970 to 1980); his son Duncan Jones (formerly known as Zowie Bowie) from that marriage; and his daughter Alexandria “Lexi” Jones, from his marriage to second wife Iman. In fact, Iman (a supermodel/beauty entrepreneur who’s originally from Somalia) is the only woman mentioned in the documentary as someone Bowie fell in love with in his life. It’s obviously very selective information. Iman and Bowie were married from 1992 until his 2016 death.

Except for some brief audio and video interview clips, “Moonage Daydream” offers very little insight of Bowie talking about his personal life. He mentions his distant relationship with his mother; his schizophrenic older half-brother Terry Burns, who was the first person to influence Bowie’s interest in art and music; and his soul mate Iman, whom he says he fell in love with at first sight. There’s some archival footage of a divorced Bowie in the ’80s, where he talks about living a nomadic existence for years and confessing that falling in love is scary for him.

In the 1970s, Bowie was seriously addicted to cocaine, which was an addiction he candidly talked about years later in interviews. However, don’t expect “Moonage Daydream” to go into details about sex and drugs in Bowie’s life. Even without these explicit details, anyone can see in the early-to-mid-1970s archival footage there were plenty of signs that Bowie was a cocaine addict, including his sniffing and constantly touching his nose, his fidgety mannerisms in some of his interviews, and his unhealthy physical appearance.

In addition to footage of Bowie, “Moonage Daydream” also includes a lot of pop culture and news clips that somehow relate to whatever music is playing. For example, footage from the documentary “Apollo 11” is briefly shown in keeping with the “moon” theme. The closest to anything “new and orginal” that “Moonage Daydream” offers is some brief sci-fi footage bookended at the beginning and ending of the movie. This footage shows a woman with an animal’s tail while she’s on the moon and looking at a skeleton in an astronaut suit.

It seems that “Moonage Daydream” director Morgen went out of his way not to do a conventional documentary, since Bowie was not a conventional artist. But in doing so, the documentary loses some coherence. After a while, “Moonage Daydream” looks like a mishmash of montages resembling a very long music video. “Moonage Daydream” also has some editing that’s sometimes frustrating to watch. There are at least three different times it looks like this 140-minute movie has ended, and then it drags on some more.

People who are casual fans of Bowie will be intrigued by “Moonage Daydream” but might occasionally get bored. “Moonage Daydream” is worthwhile but not essential viewing for Bowie fans. For any Bowie fans who saw the outstanding “David Bowie Is” museum exhibition world tour that took place from 2013 to 2018, that museum exhibition remains the ultimate Bowie multimedia experience since Bowie’s unfortunate passing.

Neon will release “Moonage Daydream” in select U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on September 23, 2022. The movie is set for a sneak preview in select IMAX theaters on September 12, 2022.

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