Les Misérables (2019)
“Les Misérables” stars Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Zonga, Issa Percia, Al-Hassan Ly, Steve Tientcheu, Almany Kanoute, and Nizar Ben Fatma. Released in France on November 20, 2019, the film has a police officer attempting to prevent the spread of chaos across the commune.
The film featured the directorial debut of Ladj Ly, and it is based on the 2017 short film of the same name by Ly. In times like this, when there’s nothing new for me to review this week, I go with the alternative plan, which is to play catch-up with the older films that I missed, whether they’re from last year or the years before that. There were plenty of films for me to choose from, even the ones that didn’t make their way to my closest theater. After spending countless minutes of searching, I managed to find a film that was able to capture my attention. The best part of my selection is that it’s an international film from Amazon Prime. This is one of the films that were nominated in the “Best International Feature Film” category at the 2019 Oscars. It is also one of the films that lost that award to Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite”. On the plus side, it won the Jury Prize at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, so I guess that counts as a victory. The first time I heard about this film was from its trailer that appeared in front of “Honey Boy” back in December. From what I saw, it looked pretty intense, which might be the reason why my cinema didn’t get it during its theatrical run. Either that or it wasn’t popular enough to expand into more theaters. When I saw that it was available to watch on Amazon Prime, I decided to give it a shot and see why it got so much praise. Don’t worry, I’ll do my best to keep this review spoiler-free for people who haven’t seen it yet.
Set after the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the story follows Stéphane Ruiz (Bonnard), a police officer who moved to Paris and joined an anti-crime team that consists of squad leader Chris (Manenti) and Brigadier Gwada (Zonga). When they received word that a lion cub was stolen from the circus, the squadron works double time to retrieve the cub and bring the thief to justice. What seemed like an ordinary mission for them turns out to be a series of events that could lead to a much larger crisis. There are plenty of uncomfortable stuff that this film covered, most notably police violence and abuses against the lower-class population, including teens from the African or Arabic cultures. So if you’re not a fan of films that deal with these types of themes, “Les Misérables” may not be your best option for movie night. However, if you’re someone who likes to support international filmmaking, this film should suit you well. While I don’t think it’s the best international film I’ve seen so far, it’s still something that’s worth looking at if you’re an Amazon Prime member. One of the reasons why is the film’s combination of thrilling drama and provocative themes. Under the direction of Ladj Ly, the film offered a clear balance of uncomfortableness and thrills that fuels the nerves as well as the mind. It’s not too disturbing by any means, but it doesn’t refrain itself from showcasing the harsh reality of the situation either. It had the right amount of unsettledness and intrigue to provide some entertainment and maybe spark up a conversation or two. The film does take a while to get going during the first act and the appeal of the characters can be a bit troublesome, especially Chris, but once they start looking for that lion cub, the rest is nothing but smooth sailing. In addition to taking advantage of its cast, especially Damien Bonnard as Ruiz, the film also did a nice job with painting the characters as actual people without treating them as just good guys or bad guys. I was entirely interested in the character of Ruiz because of his own beliefs as a police officer compared to the beliefs of the other members. Ruiz believes that they can handle situations without being aggressive while Chris thinks that being aggressive towards the troublemakers is necessary to keep them in line. It’s the different perspectives from these characters that drive the film as a whole, which I thought was nicely handled. Another thing I would like to mention is the film’s third act. There are plenty of things that I enjoyed from that sequence alone, such as Ly’s direction and the intensity surrounding it, but there’s also that one thing that left me feeling conflicted, and that’s the ending. I can understand why they had to end the film like that, but I also don’t like to be left hanging. Thankfully, it didn’t affect my feelings towards its intense finale.
Overall, “Les Misérables” is best described as a well-acted and compelling depiction of police brutality rather than another adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel. Aside from the film’s slow first act and my conflicted feelings towards its ending, it’s a well-deserved debut from French filmmaker Ladj Ly thanks to some solid performances from the cast and his respectable sense of direction. It’s not as fantastic as the other international film “Parasite”, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of international filmmaking.
“Parasite" stars Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Chang Hyae-jin, Jeong Ji-so, and Jung Hyeon-jun. Released in South Korea on May 30, 2019, the film has a poor family attempting to work for a wealthier family.
The film is directed by Bong Joon-ho, who also directed films such as “The Host”, “Snowpiercer”, and “Okja”. I once thought that I’ve seen enough movies that are nominated for an Oscar this year. When I found out that this film is finally showing at my closest theater, I realized that my quest is far from over. Out of the nine Best Picture nominees I have watched this year, I have only seen eight of them. Guess which ninth film I missed. This latest project from acclaimed Korean director Bong Joon-ho is the only Best Picture nominee that I have not witnessed for myself…until now. I was originally planning on seeing this back in October, but due to personal reasons, it was not to be. Three months later, I received a sign that states it was my destiny to see all of the films that are nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars, and that sign is that “Parasite” is showing at my closest cinema this weekend. Considering the fact that it earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, it makes total sense. With no time to waste, I took the opportunity to visit it and see if it’s worth the high praise.
The film’s story follows the Kim family, which consists of father Kim Ki-taek (Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Hyae-jin), son Ki-woo (Woo-shik), and daughter Ki-jeong (So-dam). The Kim family is struggling to earn money from their low-paying jobs. When Ki-woo poses as a university student to take over his friend’s job as an English tutor for Da-hye (Ji-so), the daughter of the wealthy Park family, the rest of the Kim family follow suit by posing as sophisticated skilled workers and integrating themselves into the Parks’ lives. While enjoying the Park family’s luxuries, the Kims discover a shocking secret that could put their whole plan in jeopardy. It's a film that showcases not just the two different types of class (the poor and the rich), but also the consequences of chasing greed and making poor choices to achieve that goal. Once you get used to the English subtitles and its excessive runtime, you'll find that this film brilliantly represents its social themes by providing a compelling and intense plot that combines dark comedy with nerve-wrecking thrills. The main reason for its thrills has to be the tension-filled buildup. Similar to “Joker” and “The Lighthouse”, “Parasite” has Bong Joon-ho inviting his audience to the film’s world and introducing them to its characters. Once the plot kicks in, he provided plenty of intense moments that kept them engaged until the shocking finale. That’s pretty much my experience with this film. This is an extremely well-crafted piece of work that’s both entertaining and meaningful. Bong Joon-ho has a unique sense of vision that’s fascinating to witness due to his direction and his top-notch screenplay. He understood the qualities of making a heart-pounding and darkly humorous thriller without losing sight on its social commentary. Everything about his craft is nothing but artistic and riveting, ranging from its cinematography to the stellar production design. Speaking of production design, I want to mention that the Park family’s house looked amazing, both inside and outside. If I were to live on my own, I would love to live in the house like that. The main cast who portrayed the two families were all great in their roles, especially Kang-ho as Kim Ki-taek. Despite them being a group of unknowns, they sure do know how to make their presence known with their acting talents. I also thought the musical score by Jung Jae-il was nicely executed in terms of the film’s dark comedy and subtle thrills. It’s not memorable enough to be Oscar-worthy like the music from “Joker” and “1917”, but it’s respectable in its own right.
Overall, “Parasite” works as both a nerve-wrecking and beautifully-shot thrill ride and a brilliant viewpoint on a poor family’s attempt to gain wealth. From its flawless cast to the technical aspects, Bong Joon-ho continues to showcase his remarkable talent as a determined filmmaker with a deeply appealing masterpiece that will satisfy everyone who’s into international cinema. Now that I have finally seen every film that is nominated for Best Picture, I am now set to take on this year’s Oscars. Bring it on.
Weathering with You (2019)
“Weathering with You” stars Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri, and Tsubasa Honda. Released on July 19, 2019, the film is about a young man who encounters an orphan girl who can control the weather.
The film is written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, who is best known for writing and directing “Your Name”. Before I get to the other bunch of films that are coming out this weekend, I would like to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on another anime film that is not made by Studio Ghibli. This latest animated feature wasn’t able to earn a slot at this year’s Oscars, but it did receive a few nominations at the Annie Awards, so that’s something. The only reason why I wanted to check this film out was Makoto Shinkai himself. I was able to watch his last feature, “Your Name”, a while ago, and I was really impressed with what he can do with the animation in terms of storytelling and the visuals. Plus, I am a sucker for animation, especially the ones that are made in Japan. Similar to what I did for certain anime films like “Mirai”, I managed to attend a fan preview screening of the film thanks to Fathom Events and GKIDS, the ruler of independent animation, before its official release to the United States. If you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t worry, I will do my best to keep this review spoiler-free so that you can experience it for yourself without knowing anything about it. I will be looking at the English dub version of the film, which features the voice talents of Brandon Engman, Ashley Boettcher, Lee Pace, and Alison Brie.
The story follows Hodaka Morishima (Daigo), a high-school freshman who runs away from home and moves to Tokyo. While attempting to live on his own and earn some money, he encounters a writer named Keisuke Suga (Oguri) who hires him to work at his small publishing company. Hodaka later finds out that Keisuke and his niece, Natsumi (Honda), are investigating strange legends that involve the ever-lasting rainy weather in Tokyo, including the mysterious weather maiden who can control the weather. The so-called weather maiden happens to be Hina Amano (Mori), a young woman who has the ability to clear the sky just by praying. After his encounter with Hina, Hodaka decides to start his own business with her, which has her clearing the weather for special events. As their relationship grows, they soon run into plenty of obstacles that will test their bond. This is a typical boy-meets-girl story that is combined with some fantasy elements and real-world concerns about the weather, which is to be expected because fantasy works well with Japanese animation. In terms of the narrative, the film didn’t have a lot of special moments to rival Shinkai’s last film, “Your Name”, but it’s still a stunning and engaging piece of animation art that relies on Shinkai’s greatest strength, which is visual storytelling. It did have a couple of familiar elements that were borrowed from the other teen romance films. However, “Weathering with You” was able to use those elements and portray them in a way that’s both clever and thought-provoking. It’s a well-told and heartfelt story about finding a ray of sunshine not just in the sky above, but also in our lives. The characters in the film ranged from likable to relatable, especially the two main characters, Hodaka and Hina, and the English cast did a pretty solid job at giving them their respective voices. Compared to the relationships in the other generic teen romance films, the one between Hodaka and Hina in “Weathering with You” is the type of relationship that’s both believable and sweet. I would gladly take this relationship over “Twilight” any day. Then again, I usually think that any relationship is better than the one in “Twilight”. Also, if you love “Your Name”, this film has a couple of surprise cameos from that film that will surely please you. The animation served as the true heart of the film, and just like the animation in “Your Name”, it’s dazzling, nicely detailed, and downright beautiful to look at from the city of Tokyo to the tiny raindrops that hit the ground. Shinkai has a creative mind when it comes to portraying Japanese animation as an art form in his films, similar to how Hayao Miyazaki has his own in his animated films, which is obviously the main reason why I keep supporting these types of animated films.
Overall, “Weathering with You” is a wonderful follow-up to Makoto Shinkai’s successful film, “Your Name”, even though it didn’t come close to that film’s freshness and craftsmanship. Aside from a couple of similar teen romance elements, the film represents Shinkai as a talented and passionate filmmaker thanks to some likable characters, its thought-provoking and charming story, and its incredible animation. It is a ray of sunshine that will easily light up everyone’s damp mood, especially those who are into Japanese animation.
Just Mercy (2019)
“Just Mercy” stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, and Brie Larson. Released on December 25, 2019, the film is about a defense attorney who takes the case of a man who is wrongfully imprisoned.
The film is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, who also directed “Short Term 12” and “The Glass Castle”. It is based on the book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson. It’s always frustrating when you’re arrested for a crime you didn’t actually commit. What makes it even more frustrating is that the reason for the arrest is the color of your skin. It’s no surprise that Hollywood still wants us to stop repeating the events that happened in the past, especially the ones that involve race, which is why we still keep getting films like this. This legal drama showcases another trial that involves an African-American man who is wrongfully accused of harming (or in this case, murdering) a white woman. Like “1917”, this is another film that was released in a small amount of theaters on Christmas Day in order to compete in this year’s awards season. Sadly, it wasn’t able to earn any nominations at the Golden Globes and the Critics’ Choice Awards, but who cares? It’s still an important movie for me to go check out.
The story chronicles one of the trial cases that defense attorney Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) tackled, in which he is tasked to defend Walter McMillian (Foxx), an African-American man who is falsely arrested for the murder of a white woman and is sentenced to death. With the support of his friend Eva Ansley (Larson) and McMillian’s family, Stevenson works against the clock to prove his innocence before he receives his unnecessary punishment. This film reminded me of another legal drama, “Marshall”, in terms of its plot because they both involve fighting against racial injustice. “Just Mercy” offered a more personal and emotional approach on how people manipulated the justice system based on race and class in the Southern part of the United States, especially those who are supposed to honor it. It’s the “To Kill the Mockingbird” for the modern age. This is a frustrating and disgusting situation that is still going on today, and the film didn’t pull any punches in showcasing it. It’s the type of film that plays with your emotions rather than forcing them down your throat. There were some happy scenes, some depressing scenes, and scenes that make you want to punch these stupid people in the face. Destin Daniel Cretton was able to successfully balance these emotions and deliver an inspiring and complex drama about courage, determination, and the search for equal justice in terms of his direction and his screenplay. If you’re wondering how many times I cried while watching this film, I’ll give you a hint: it’s more than once. That’s how I knew that the film works in more ways than one. Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx were fantastic in their roles as Bryan Stevenson and Walter McMillian respectively. It’s great to see that Jordan is still going strong since his breakout debut in “Fruitvale Station”, and Foxx still proves that he has talent both on stage and on the screen. I have a feeling that their incredible performances might get overshadowed by some of the other award-worthy actors and actresses during the Oscars, including Joaquin Phoenix, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do manage to earn the nomination slots for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor during Monday’s announcements. Brie Larson also turned in a solid performance as Eva, a mother who helps Stevenson with his case, which isn’t too surprising since she’s a remarkable actress in her other works outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What I liked about these types of dramas is that they showcase the qualities of a person that we all want to be deep down inside, especially during the time where people mistreat one another based on the color of their skin. They didn’t take any shortcuts whatsoever. They understood the complications of this scenario and represented them in an honest light. “Just Mercy” is no exception when it comes to Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson didn’t become an attorney to earn money. He became an attorney to make a difference, to help people in a time of need, and to address social injustice. That’s what makes him a great person overall, both on screen and in real life.
Overall, “Just Mercy” is a powerful and riveting perspective on a real-life injustice. This is another thought-provoking and well-acted drama that serves as a call to action to make sure that everyone deserves mercy, whether they’re black, white, rich, or poor. With its strong cast, a confident director, and its complex script, the film is an emotional roller coaster with a relatable message. A great way for me to end another awards season with a bang. If you’re a fan of these types of dramas, this film is definitely worth checking out.
“1917” stars George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Released on December 25, 2019, the film has two British soldiers going on an impossible mission during the First World War.
The film is directed by Sam Mendes, who also directed films such as “American Beauty”, “Jarhead”, “Revolutionary Road”, and “Skyfall”. You ever dreamed about being a part of the World War experience without literally being in that time period? Well, with this film, now you can. The new year has already begun, but the awards season is far from over. This weekend sees the release of two 2019 films that were playing in a limited amount of theaters since Christmas Day. Today, I’ll be talking about the one that I’ve been dying to see since its marketing began last year. There was no doubt in my mind that my interest in this latest war film was high for various reasons, like its director, the cinematography, the genre, and its high-stakes concept. The fact that it won two Golden Globe awards last weekend is also another main reason why I wanted to check it out as soon as possible. So far, it has earned plenty of strong reviews from those who already saw it before I did, and it has received many more award nominations from the Critics’ Choice Awards and the British Academy Film Awards, which should count as a good sign for people who wanted to get the taste of the other war film, “Midway”, out of their mouths, especially me. Now that it has made its way to a wider audience, let’s see if the film is really worth a trip back to the gritty event.
Taking place during the First World War in the spring of 1917, the story centers on two British soldiers, William Schofield (MacKay) and Tom Blake (Chapman). They are tasked to hand-deliver a message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, which states that the soldiers must call off their planned attack on the Germans. Little do the soldiers know that the Germans hosted a fake retreat to the Hindenburg Line and are prepared to ambush and kill every last one of them, including Blake’s brother (Madden). These two soldiers will have to race against time and face every obstacle known to man in order to deliver the message before it’s too late. The film is supposedly based on one of the stories that Mendes heard from his grandfather, Alfred Mendes, who was involved in that time period. I honestly didn’t realize this until I first started studying this film. It’s actually quite cool to see that a director like Sam Mendes is related to someone who fought in the war a long time ago. This is a war film that doesn’t heavily rely on violence to get your heart pounding. Instead, it relies on the soldiers’ perilous journey from point A to point B to make the audience feel more attached to the urgency and the drama. It’s a pretty straightforward film that can be a bit much for those who couldn’t handle that type of intensity, but it can be quite riveting for people who are into that type of stuff, and that’s exactly what this story needed to be to make the entire experience amazing and consistently heart-pounding. Everything about this film had me immediately hooked since the beginning and it never lets me go until its satisfying conclusion. This is a highly immersive and startling tale of two messengers who are willing to risk their lives to save countless soldiers from the Germans, and it was brilliantly told with precision and majesty. George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman were both great in their roles as Schofield and Blake respectively. They’re basically the main characters that you will spend two hours with, and they’re actually worth giving a crud about. Thanks to the talents of the main leads, I was able to feel what they’re feeling during the slow parts and the intense parts. The biggest selling point of “1917” was that it was made to look like it was shot in one continuous take. Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins relied on long takes and choreographed moving camera shots to capture the exact feeling of being in that time period with the characters. This had to be a massive struggle for Mendes and the crew because of the high risk of doing it all over again if anything went wrong during filming. Lucky for them, it paid off extremely well. Combined with the film’s stellar production design and the sound effects, “1917” is a technical marvel that acts like a time portal. Cinematography-wise, this is the best-looking war film I’ve seen in a while. Despite being in one take, Roger Deakins was able to capture every landscape and every action in stunning detail. I’m going to have to say this right now. This film has to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography. No excuses. The musical score by Thomas Newman was just as captivating as the journey itself. It had the right mixture of suspense and calmness to match the intended emotional core of its concept.
Overall, “1917” is an astounding cinematic experience that represents the harshness of that time period and the soldiers’ treacherous quest with sheer tension and beauty. It’s intense, it’s engaging, and it’s epic in its own right. From its talented cast to its brilliant technical achievements, the film is not only a non-stop edge-of-your-seat ride from start to finish, but it is also a darn good war film. I would’ve put this in my top ten films of 2019 list in a heartbeat if I saw it sooner, but again, stuff happens. I’m glad that I was able to watch this film and I’m hoping to see it again real soon. I would highly recommend this one to those who are into war films and to those who are familiar with Sam Mendes’ other works.
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