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Film Review: A Traveler's Needs (2024) by Hong Sang-soo

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Film Review: A Traveler's Needs (2024) by Hong Sang-soo

“Who is that person? Who is she?!”

Festival audiences might already be used to the fact that Hong Sang-soo provides a new cinematic experience almost every year – in this regard, 2024 is no different. The latest movie by this productive director, “A Traveler’s Needs”, had its world premiere at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, and was nominated for the Silvestre Award at the IndieLisboa International Film Festival.

The film, surprisingly for the Korean director who has a habit of working without a prepared script, is relatively well-structured and might be one of his most intelligible works, though still quite puzzling. The story follows Iris, a French woman (Isabelle Huppert) who tries out an innovative method of teaching languages. She thinks that the learning process is quicker if the sentences her pupils try to memorize are emotionally significant to them. The viewer can see her simple everyday life as she goes from place to place, interacts with others, and sometimes gets lost.

In his seventh film in three years, Hong Sang-soo tackles the topic of language barriers and teaching a language by a foreigner. In a humorous way, he seems to be critiquing the idea that just because someone is a native speaker of a certain language, they are also good at teaching it. Between elements typical for his works, like showing characters who drink a lot of alcohol (this time it’s Makgeolli, not Soju) and discuss their love life, he also presents how Koreans treat a foreigner: some with distrust, but some with ka ind of fascination or what one might call “reverse orientalism”, which is especially visible through the character of Inguk (Ha Seongguk) who offered Iris a place to stay, and seems to be infatuated by the simple fact that she is from “another world”.

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The movie is shot in the aesthetic that’s typical for Hong Sang-soo – scenes are usually located indoors, and consists of a single hand-held shot with few instances of using zoom. When asked about his filming style at the Berlinale he said, “This might sound very irresponsible, but I don’t know what I’m doing” – this quote might perfectly encapsulate the “charming amateurism” of this creator.

Isabelle Huppert who plays the main character, commented on her third collaboration with the Korean director as follows: “It’s very difficult to project yourself into the story or role because there is no role or story. There is just the way he captures the present moment and the state of a person confronting a certain world.” Just like actors had to improvise on set, Iris’s behaviour also seems improvised – she is a somewhat mysterious character that doesn’t have a clear objective, and just lives in the moment.

“A Traveler’s Needs” is perplexing, but also witty and light-hearted. For the fans of Hong Sang-soo, it doesn’t really offer anything significantly new, but the subjects he touches on feel quite refreshing. For people that are not familiar with his work, it seems like a great starting point to get introduced to his rich filmography.

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Movie Reviews

Fresh Kills (2024) – Movie Review

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Fresh Kills (2024) – Movie Review

Fresh Kills, 2024.

Written and Directed by Jennifer Esposito.
Starring Emily Bader, Odessa A’zion, Jennifer Esposito, Domenick Lombardozzi, Annabella Sciorra, Nicholas Cirillo, Ava DeMary, Stelio Savante, Franco Maicas, David Iacono, Anastasia Veronica Lee, Taylor Madeline Hand, Maya Moravec, Nicole Ehinger, Luciana VanDette, Amanda Corday, Annie Pisapia, Camryn Adele Portagallo, Colleen Kelly, Beatrice Pelliccia, Charlie Reina, and Bettina Skye.

SYNOPSIS:

Follows the story of the loyal women of an organized crime family that dominated some of the boroughs of New York City in the late 20th century.

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A film for anyone who wonders about the specifics of what goes on in the lives of the mothers, daughters, and granddaughters part of a mobster family household, writer/director/producer/star Jennifer Esposito’s Fresh Kills, for all its clunky pacing and overreaching ambition, is fresh and packs a cumulative punch about this inescapable lifestyle.

Spanning several points in time across the 1980s and 1990s while primarily fixated on tightknit sisters Rose and Connie, Fresh Kills homes in on how these girls, especially as they grow up, couldn’t be any more different from one another, especially when it comes to the privilege of wealth and the expectations of being born into a family dynamic where the women stay at home while the men are involved in the Staten Island Mafia.

Played by Anastasia Veronica Lee and Taylor Madeline Hand as young girls before turning things over to Emily Bader and Odessa A’zion upon growing up, the former, Rose, is the quiet one (you would be forgiven if you assumed she was mute during the first 15 minutes or so) whereas Connie is upbeat and playful. Connie is seen encouraging Rose to “fly” by spreading apart her hands while being boosted on top of her knees. It’s a silly game they play in front of their new home, still innocent of what their father, Joe Larusso (Domenick Lombardozzi), does for a living. Moments later, an unnerving dialogue exchange is overheard in the garage, somewhat clueing them int to different extents. Little do the girls know, it seems no women born into this type of toxic family dynamic truly get to fly, at least independently.

Then there is the matriarch Francine (Jennifer Esposito), aware and horrified by much of her husband’s actions. At one point, in hysterics, she exclaims that she needs to get away. Yet, much like Connie when she ages, she sticks up for this spoiled lifestyle, whether from fashion, a spacious home or simply being blessed with a healthy family. Once upon a time, she did dream of being something more, apparently approached to get into modeling, yet instead ended up around the arm of Joe. Naturally, Connie becomes her favorite since she is the one to embrace and carry on the more traditional roles, whereas Rose finds herself talked down to over having goals beyond marriage and motherhood.

There is the instinct to label Francine a bad mother for trying to enforce such a status quo, and even the screenplay from Jennifer Esposito never fully gets around fleshing out all of the multidimensional characters; she comes across as a complex figure. She is someone who gave up on her dreams and has not chosen to actively go against a daughter trying to make something of herself (Rose is interested in beauty just like her mother was) and escapes something that she knows has been dysfunctional, hostile, unhealthy, and traumatic for quite some time.

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The performances from Emily Bader and Odessa A’zion are also rich, going beyond playing two characters gradually transitioning into opposites. Connie is played with such tornado-like ferocity, preaching family first and asserting that she has made the right choice in getting married and having a child, one suspects that she is trying to convince herself just as much as she is verbally tearing her sister down. Meanwhile, Rose gradually tries to come out of her shell and embark on a different path, but at every turn, she is devastatingly and tragically reminded of what she has been born into and might never escape. Naturally, Domenick Lombardozzi is wisely kept off to the side (this is not a mobster movie about the crimes themselves), but is also part of an emotional scene with Rose that ends on such a powerful note you can’t help but pity him. It’s a vicious, towering toxic masculinity takedown.

As mentioned, the pacing in Fresh Kills is sometimes off, with jumps forward in time frustratingly undercutting other developing character dynamics. One also wishes Jennifer Esposito felt more confident as a filmmaker, doing away with unnecessary needle-drops to heighten the importance of certain moments. However, she does find cohesive, full-throttle momentum for her passion project in its third act, which is riveting, heartbreaking, and empowering, retroactively shading in more depth to what comes before.  

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/playlist

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Movie review: 'Inside Out 2' updates emotional complexity, humor – UPI.com

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Movie review: 'Inside Out 2' updates emotional complexity, humor – UPI.com

1 of 5 | Joy (L) meets Anxiety in “Inside Out 2.” Photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar

LOS ANGELES, June 12 (UPI) — Inside Out imagined the human mind as a vast, expansive Pixar world run by five basic emotions. Inside Out 2, in theaters Friday, applies that world and those emotions to the next stage in life.

Riley (voice of Kensington Tallman), who was 11 in the first film, turns 13, and her emotions grow more complex as she approaches high school. Joy (Amy Poehler) still leads Riley’s brain with Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Tony Hale) and Disgust (Liza Lapira).

As Joy catches up the audience on Riley, she explains Riley’s new interests and developing beliefs that form her sense of self. Just when that sounds way more organized than human personalities really are, puberty turns it all into chaos.

The sorts of issues Riley has at 13 are universal and relatable. Though she is attending an ice hockey camp, trying to impress high schoolers, the specific situation speaks to general tendencies to hide parts of ourselves to impress new people or overthink our interactions.

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Those tendencies are represented by brand new personified emotions. Anxiety (Maya Hawke), Envy (Ayo Edebiri), Ennui (Adele Exarchopoulos) and Embarrassment (Paul Walter Hauser) vie for control of Riley’s brain and cause her to act out.

Personified emotions have emotions and character arcs of their own. Joy is actually not happy when Anxiety succeeds at helping Riley anticipate negative outcomes.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that anxiety can overtake other emotions in teenage years, sometimes for the rest of life. But Joy has to learn that denying other valuable emotions also can make things worse.

Inside Out 2 has a sophisticated take on anxiety. While a healthy amount can protect Riley, making too many projections on possible outcomes can make her spiral.

Anxiety alone cannot produce confidence. That Anxiety learns that lesson at age 13 bodes well for Riley’s future.

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The film uses the Inside Out milieu to address a new stage of life. The Toy Story films did that, too, as each sequel was really about what happens when children outgrow their toys, or their actual childhood.

Those are the themes but the story is that Riley trashes her sense of self to fit in, making Inside Out 2 a literal quest for Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust to rescue Riley’s sense of self from volatile new emotions.

Like the imaginary friend in the first film, the emotions encounter some other remnants of Riley’s childhood. Those artifacts make fun references to children’s shows and video games without overstaying their welcome or usefulness to the story.

The catacombs of Riley’s mind have changed since Joy last had to explore them and Riley’s imagination has been updated with new interests. The actual mechanism connecting Riley’s beliefs and sense of self looks like Avatar in the mind with bright lights and colors.

The physics of how the emotions traverse Riley’s mind work more at the behest of narrative convenience. They have fun encountering puns on sarcasm and brainstorms that manifest literally in her mind.

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Puberty also introduces a crew of construction workers handling the chaotic rebuilding, who are blatantly blue versions of the Minions. That’s fair, though, because Minions were blatant rip-offs of Pixar’s green aliens from Toy Story.

Perhaps the most impressive animation is the hockey scenes. Pixar artists animate ice skating and puck-handling worthy of the Mighty Ducks.

Inside Out is the franchise that could most naturally run forever, as there are intimate possibilities to explore pivotal life moments from this interior perspective. Follow Riley to college, postgrad life, her wedding, having kids, growing old.

Spinoffs then could explore other characters’ emotions because every single person’s life is unique.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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Movie Review: 'The Watchers' – Catholic Review

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Movie Review: 'The Watchers' – Catholic Review

NEW YORK (OSV News) – Will moviegoers want to watch “The Watchers” (Warner Bros.)? That largely depends on their tolerance for twaddle.

Bloodletting is kept to a minimum in writer-director Ishana Night Shyamalan’s horror tale, her feature debut. But so too, alas, is viewer interest.

Some woods are just not suitable for a teddy bears’ picnic. And such proves to be the case with the vast, uncharted forest in Western Ireland into which we follow Shyamalan’s protagonist, Mina (Dakota Fanning).

An emotionally troubled American living in Galway, Mina is too preoccupied with being miserable to devote much attention to her work as a pet shop attendant. Still, when her boss asks her to transport a rare tropical bird to a zoo in Belfast that wants to purchase it, she agrees readily enough.

Despite an opening voiceover that has previously assured us that the remote region that will serve as the film’s primary setting appears on no map, Mina is relying on GPS when her car abruptly breaks down in its midst. Ah, well, perhaps continuity is overrated.

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Mina quickly cottons on to the fact that it’s not going to be easy to get out of the area and that being stranded there has left her subject to the mysterious predators who populate it. As they flit about, mostly unseen but audibly slobbering in a most unhealthy manner, Mina becomes understandably unnerved.

So when a stranger suddenly appears and offers her shelter, Mina is swift to accept. Her rescuer turns out to be stately matron Madeline (Olwen Fouéré), the strong-willed leader of a small household made up of people in a similar plight to Mina’s. Its other members are artsy sensitive type Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and callow youth Daniel (Oliver Finnegan).

Settling in, Mina learns the rules of survival in her new environment, most of them laid down by Madeline. They include the necessity of entertaining the creatures of the title by allowing them to observe the details of the group’s daily life through a one-way mirror. It’s all as claustrophobic as it is bizarre, however, and Mina continues to long for escape.

As adapted from A.M. Shine’s novel, Shyamalan’s script hints at an allegory about “Big Brother”-style voyeurism. Yet any such commentary remains underdeveloped and ultimately gets bogged down in a swampy morass of mythology at once so offhand and over-elaborate that it would have given H.P. Lovecraft a headache.

With proceedings more menacing than graphic, though, “The Watchers” is at least appropriate for a wider audience than many chillers. As for sexuality, an early sequence in which Mina disguises herself with a wig and goes forth to troll for bedroom companionship in a bar is both discreetly depicted and treated as a symptom of her unsettled state of despondency.

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The film contains brief harsh violence with little gore, an offscreen casual encounter, at least one profanity, several milder oaths and a couple of instances each of crude and crass language. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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