Friday, July 29, 2016


Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne official site On the eve of Democratic Convention, news broke about how the Russia hacked D.N.C. and released the documents to WikiLeaks. But that hacking incident is quite elementary compared to what the C.I.A. can do in the beginning of the director Paul Greengrass's new installment of the Jason Bourne franchise, named simply "Jason Bourne" (USA 2016 | 123 min.). Its crispy action sequences and its fast pace make the film both gripping and relevant to the current events, until it disappoints us by piling up clichés and nonsense toward the end.

The hacker at the beginning of the film is a former C.I.A. agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). She breaks into C.I.A.'s network to steal some documents about top-secret C.I.A. operations. Without even a search, she is able to pin-point to the folder to find out the background information about Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) who has been off the grid surviving on underground fighting gigs. In order to give the information to the visibly weathered Jason, Nicky comes to Greece where political unrest is running high on the streets.

However, their every move is under the surveillance of a stone-faced C.I.A. cyber-security officer Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who is even able to remotely shut down the power of a building in another country. She can also zoom in a camera to just about every corner of the world and monitor it on the giant screen in a central control room. Next to her is the aging C.I.A. director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) who is willing to do anything to eliminate Jason and Nicky and keep his operations a top secret. He deploys a ruthless contract assassin code-named Asset (Vincent Cassel) who basically shoots everyone that appears in front of him including C.I.A. agents.

But Jason Bourne is not an ordinary individual. Despite being hunted by the C.I.A. and Asset, he gets where he wants to go with a little help from his sympathizers. He is determined to uncover the truth about his past.

Jason Bourne Official Site

It might look like a ridiculous fantasy in a sci-fi fiction when you see how powerful Heather is under the name of surveillance. However, after what Edward Snowden has revealed, we are no longer sure what the government might be able to do in secret. But that still doesn't give the film a free pass on its credibility. No hacker would be stupid enough to use his real IP address in action and let himself be tracked back by the C.I.A. to have his computer wiped clean. The film often omits the details about how the agents can pin-point the target even at night, except "Find My iPhone" must have contributed to the tracking. That illustrates how limited the script writers' knowledge is about computer technology.

Fortunately, the non-stop action and effective visual in a better first half of the film leave you no room to question the plot's credibility. It keeps us captivated during Jason Bourne's globe-trotting adventure in the name of truth seeking. It's also remarkable that the film incorporates or mirrors many current events as the plot's backdrop. Is any high-tech start-up teaming up with the C.I.A.? You bet.

But when the truth eventually comes out, the film seems to run out of ideas about what to do next. Somebody must have come up with the lousy idea to let Jason fight with Asset. It's unwatchable not because the fight scene is brutal, but because of its absurdity. The unoriginal and overly long car chase scene of Asset driving a stolen SWAT vehicle only leaves us with a bad taste, because it will remind us about the recent tragedy in Nice.

Nevertheless, we can take some comfort in knowing that Jason Bourne didn't go to the Russians for help—at least he is a patriot.

"Jason Bourne," a Universal Pictures release, opens on Friday, July 29, 2016.

Friday, July 15, 2016


Our Little Sister (海街diary)

Our Little Sister official site If you appreciate the small things in daily life, you will be a much happier person and live a fuller life. That philosophy toward living is often embedded in characters terrifically crafted by renowned Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda (是枝 裕和). From "After Life" (ワンダフルライフ | 1998) to "Still Walking" (歩いても 歩いても | 2008), he allows us to experience the simple yet rich lives of his lovely characters who almost uniformly cherish family, love, heritage, and nature. He inspires us to reflect on our own lives and lift our spirits film after film. In his latest work "Our Little Sister" (海街diary | Japan 2015 | in Japanese | 126 min.), a leisurely-paced family drama based on a manga, he once again delights us with a story centering on four charming sisters.

Three young sisters in their twenties live in a plum tree-hugged old house in the scenic coastal town Kamakura (鎌倉市). The eldest Sachi Kōda (Haruka Ayase) works in a hospital and is dating a married doctor Yasuyuki Inoue (Ryôhei Suzuki). The outgoing middle sister Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) works in a bank and has an unflattering track record on boyfriends. The youngest Chika (Kaho) works in a sporting goods store with her amusing boyfriend. After their father left the family for another woman when they were young and their mother abandoned them thereafter, Sachi has been the head of the household and has kept their sisterhood bond strong.

When they receive the news that their father has just died, they come to his funeral. For the first time, they meet their polite pre-teen half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose) who lost her mother when she was young. Perhaps that similar fate instantly connects the sisters. The trio invites Suzu to come live with them and Suzu moves in with them in a heartbeat.

Suzu naturally fits in the harmony in the house. She not only shares the blissful spirit among the sisters, but also inspires them to mend their grudge and resentment toward their parents and reach peace and reconciliation.

Our Little Sister Official Site

As the Japanese title "Sea Street Diary" suggests, the director Hirokazu Koreeda structures this film like diary entries in chronicle order. He often fills each scene with seemingly trivial daily happenings, yet they bring these mesmerizing characters to life bit by bit little. It makes you feel like sipping a cup of top-grade tea in a tranquil Zen garden, you literally can smell the aroma and sense the delight while watching the film.

Although almost every character in the film is kind and warm, they are never dull and one-dimensional. Each sister has her own personality and quirkiness, as well as flaws. The fact that many actors in the film also appeared in the director's previous films adds more enjoyment. It feels like a nostalgic reunion to see these familiar faces and characters in this new work.

We watch them enjoy childhood meals, drink plum wine, tell stories, glue window paper, pray to the dead. Without moving in with them, you experience their lives that are both life-affirming and inspiring, thanks to Hirokazu Koreeda's masterful filmmaking—he gently paints lives worth living, one stroke at a time.

"Our Little Sister," a Sony Pictures Classics release, opens on Friday, July 15, 2016 in San Francisco Bay Area.

Friday, July 8, 2016


Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople official site A police car is driving on the left side of the road to a farm house surrounded by gorgeous mountains. Although people drive on the opposite side of the road in New Zealand, they've got the same problem as in America—many orphaned children need foster homes to stay, and the police car is transporting a troubled chubby teenager to his new foster home. Upon his arrival, the teenager surveys the house and sits right back into the police car without a single word. That first impression of disapproval hilariously opens New Zealand director Taika Waititi's delightful new film "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" (New Zealand 2015 | 101 min.). The film is based on the novel "Wild Pork and Watercress" by beloved author Barry Crump, and it carries a humorous tone throughout the boy's odyssey with his new foster parent.

The chubby kid is Ricky (Julian Dennison). According to Paula (Rachel House), the comical social worker who escorts Ricky to his new home, Ricky is absolutely untamable and he has been behaving badly in his previous foster homes. But cheerful Aunty Bella (Rima Te Wiata) can't care less. She opens her arms and fully embraces Ricky as a new addition to the family while her grumpy husband Hec (Sam Neill) is far less enthusiastic about Ricky and forbids Ricky from calling him uncle.

Just when Ricky begins to like his new home and enjoy life on a farm, a tragic turn triggers Paula to be on a mission to take Ricky back to the child service system. Ricky refuses to leave Hec and they escape into the forest.

A nationwide manhunt begins to search for them. While on the run, Ricky and Hec develop stronger bond and they come to realize that nothing will separate them apart again.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Official Site

The director Taika Waititi surely knows how to please us with two quirky and likable characters. The exchange between Ricky and Hec is so irresistible that you turn a blind eye on the credibility of the plot. You don't question how they can continue to walk in their only pair of shoes after they crossed a river in them, or how Hec is able to heal his broken leg in the wild without proper food and shelter. As long as they continue their journey and be each other's company on the screen, you'll be entertained by their optimistic spirit and slapstick humor. When the chase finally comes to an end in a scene similar to the one in "Thelma & Louise" (1991), you can't help but admire the duo's accomplishment.

The film proudly showcases the grand landscape where the characters wander. It makes you believe that you would want to be in the woods and meet a slew of eccentric people instead of going back to the child service if you were Ricky. The arresting performance by an ensemble of fine cast is constantly charming and amusing.

Who would have thought that getting a foster kid can be so dramatic and so much fun? No wonder Aunty Bella is so excited to meet Ricky. Who wouldn't? But pray you will not encounter a social worker like Paula.

"Hunt for the Wilderpeople," an Orchard release, opens on Friday, July 8, 2016 in San Francisco Bay Area.

Friday, June 17, 2016


Finding Dory

Finding Dory official site Contrary to the common myth that fish's memory only lasts for three seconds, it actually might last for months. Although that's still not a very long time, it's long enough for Dory to claim that she suffers from short-term memory loss. That symptom is shown in the most adorable way when she cannot count past five at the beginning of Pixar's new animation "Finding Dory" (USA 2016 | 97 min.). Despite the fact that Dory's memory problem is proclaimed numerous times in the film, it isn't the focus. The film tells an improbable tale about how Dory searches for her parents while charming the audience with the familiar Pixar cuteness. Perhaps "Finding Parents" may be a more appropriate title for the film but that would be out of sync as a sequel to the immensely popular "Finding Nemo" (2003).

Even though Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) cannot remember much, she can recall her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). With the help from Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Nemo's dad Marlin (Albert Brooks), Dory goes on a quest to reunite with her parents.

That certainly sounds like a mission impossible. Luckily, Dory gets plenty of help, particularly from an elusive octopus Hank (Ed O'Neill). In return, Hank wants the tracking tag placed on Dory by the staff of Marine Life Institute in California. That tag is the ticket for Hank to go to an aquarium in Cleveland, because he doesn't want to be released back to the ocean upon rehabilitation. Strangely, it seems every creature in the water as well as on the land knows where Dory's parents are. Finally, joining the forces of a near-sighted shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and a white whale Bailey (Ty Burrell), an over-the-top climax concludes a predictable happy ending for this fairy tale.

Finding Dory Official Site

The film's plot is basically set at the comprehension level of a toddler, so if you are out of that age group, you have to look elsewhere to be entertained by this film. Fortunately, Pixar animation has plenty of cuteness to offer, including in this film. No matter how much you get bored by the unconvincing story, you may forgive the movie when you are charmed by the expressive big fish eyes and when you hear the laughter from children in the theater. How can you not to be delighted with the "stop the traffic" scene toward to the end of the movie?

Occasionally, the humor in the film works both for children and grownups, and Ellen DeGeneres is excellent in delivering timely comedy. However, this sequel is nowhere near the high bar set by "Finding Nemo" and it stimulates little thought as other Pixar films. This film may stay in our memory as briefly as Dory counts the numbers at the beginning of the film, and that's not due to short-term memory loss.

"Finding Dory," a Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release, opens on Friday, June 17, 2016.

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