Friday, April 22, 2022

Film Reviews: Korean Action "Spiritwalker" is Bonkers Fun, "Petite Maman" is a Sweet Short Story and "Apollo 10½" is Effective American Nostalgia.

Spiritwalker (c) Well Go USA Entertainment

Film Review: Spiritwalker 
On Demand Streaming and Blu-Ray 

Leave it to the homeless man to speak the truth about the plot of Yoon Jae-geun’s “Spiritwalker”: “I’ve seen all sorts of shit in my life. But, this is the craziest shit I’ve ever seen.” The homeless man (Park Ji-hwan) plays an integral role in a story that feels part “Memento,” a lot of HBO’s “The Tourist” and a dash of Marvel’s “Moon Knight.” Kang I-an (Yoon Kye-sang) or Ian as everyone calls him, is a man with an identity problem – he is brought to a hospital with a gunshot wound and no memory after a car accident. The only thing Yoon gives us as a hint to Ian’s personality disorder is that whenever he looks in a mirror, he sees a different reflection. But before he can even try to figure out who he is, his reality collapses on itself and he becomes an entirely different person, now at lunch in a restaurant. When he finally meets up with the homeless person (who was at the site of the car accident), the two try to figure what’s going on, who is the woman (Lim Ji-yeoh) Ian keeps having visions of and why are people trying to kill him. I have always been an admirer of auteur Korean directors like Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”), Lee Chang-dong (the excellent “Burning”) and Park Chan-wook (“The Handmaiden”), but I have never really gotten into the horror or action genre of Korean cinema like “The Train to Busan” or this movie. But I had a fun time with “Spiritwalker” mostly because of the unique mystery of Ian and his condition. And when the movie is done, you might essentially understand what happened; it’s only on second watch do you get the artistry of the plot (when he finds himself at that lunch, pay attention to the woman he’s with). The plot is bonkers. Suffice it to say, the condition is not just brain trauma from a car accident. Yoon gets points for being stylish, especially how he represents Ian’s condition. The film premiered in the U.S. at the 2021 New York Asian Film Festival where it won the Award for Excellence in Action. Well deserved. It is no surprise that Hollywood has already optioned this for a remake. I can see Ian being played by Ryan Gosling, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II or (as a nod to its Korean roots) Steven Yuen. Anyone but Jared Leto. Until the American remake, take a chance on the crazy, funhouse ride of the original. 

Petite Maman (c) NEON

Film: Petite Maman 
In Cinemas 

Céline Sciamma made one of my favorite movies of the last five years with her dreamy and beautiful “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” from 2019, and I couldn’t wait to see what she comes up with next. “Petite Maman” premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2021 before playing in French cinemas later that year. It has finally arrived in the US, and fans of “Portrait,” should temper their expectations for her latest, as it is essentially a meditative, short story of a film, running less than 75 minutes. Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) is an eight-year-old girl whose grandmother just died and now she and her parents have arrived at the house to put everything in order. Overwhelmed by the task, Nelly’s mother (Nina Meuisse) leaves and it’s up to Nelly and her father (Stéphane Vasupenne) to finish up. Missing her grandmother and sad for her mother, Nelly bonds with a young neighbor girl, Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). A lot of critics have gone overboard for this beautiful but minor film with much ado being made of a surprise halfway through. For me, it was totally obvious where the movie was going since Sciamma tips her hat from the very beginning. And while I still found the relationships between the characters moving, Sciamma doesn’t really delve into the psychological complexities she exposed skillfully in “Portrait” that I was craving so much here. The movie rests on the shoulders of the two young actresses and they are quite sweet together in a melancholy way, as their friendship can only last a short amount of time since Nelly lives in another city. Sciamma has always made provocative films about the secret lives of women in films like “Girlhood” and “Tomboy.” “Petite Maman” never reaches the power of her earlier movies, but as a contemplation of life and death through the lens of a little girl, it is compelling in its petite way. 

Apollo 10 1/2 (c) Netflix 

Film: Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood 
Streaming on Netflix 

I have never really gotten into the films of Richard Linklater. “Boyhood” was an intriguing experiment that lacked a narrative arc, thus reducing it to a rather pretty but uninvolving home movie. “Before Sunrise” was fine in its aimless and hopelessly romantical way, but the subsequent sequels felt unnecessary, especially since you couldn’t ignore the actors’ improvisations embedded in the films’ DNA. I seem to enjoy Linklater’s less ambitious movies like “School of Rock” and “Bernie,” and that’s where I put “Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood,“ loosely based his childhood in Houston, TX, which coincides with the Space Race of the 1969. This is a leisurely look at life in the mostly white, middle-class world of Linklater’s upbringing. It’s as if he was filming his diary, which details what he and his many brothers and sisters did each day, referencing long-extinct food products, TV shows and fads. Unlike “Boyhood,” there’re no illusions to profundity, giving us an enjoyable, almost documentary approach. Linklater incorporates two big cinematic leaps (for moviekind) in this film: one works, the other is a head scratcher. The choice that works is a fantastical subplot in which the main character, the adolescent Stanley (and Linklater stand-in), is asked by NASA to helm Apollo 10½, the next space test, because they built the modular too small for an adult to fit. This blends in nicely with the whole kid’s perspective angle of the movie, as how many of us daydreamed of being astronauts as kids. The second choice that feels odd is that although Linklater filmed the movie with actors, he decided to copy over the footage with animation, similar to what he did with “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly.” There is no real reason to make this an animated film, except maybe during the astronaut training scenes. I got used to this style eventually, but why not just show us the live action footage? The animation doesn’t add much to the story, and sort of robs us of some of the nostalgic vibes. Still, this is a pleasant and satisfying watch, especially on those warm summer nights on the iPad. Right, Boomer?

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