Review: 'Shoplifters' is an intimate look at Japan's underclass - Silver Screen Beat
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‘Shoplifters’ review: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest offers an intimate look at Japan’s underclass

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Shoplifters
MAGNOLIA PICTURES

In addition to evoking a barrage of emotions, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winner Shoplifters is a film that begs many questions, especially in its final act, that have to do with family: What defines a family? Can you choose your family? Does giving birth to a child automatically grant you the title of being a parent?

To some, those questions are probably quite simple to answer. To others, they might be a little more complex. But Shoplifters, which opens in New York and Los Angeles today, dares to challenge each of those questions, making the case that it is love, not blood, that defines a family. And it makes a pretty good case too.

Following the day-to-day lives of a dysfunctional band of outsiders living in a modest home in contemporary Tokyo, the film mostly follows Osamu (Lily Franky, a face you may recognize from Kore-eda’s 2013 effort Like Father Like Son) who, when he isn’t shoplifting goods from the local supermarket or convenience store with the assistance of Shota (Kairi Jyo), the boy who he refers to as his son, works as a laborer at a construction site.

His wife, Noboyu (Sakura Andô), is also in the business of theft, pocketing the small, forgotten items she finds in the laundry she cleans at the hotel she works at. Another young woman who lives with the family, Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), makes a living by performing for horny, lonely men at a local peep show venue. The matriarch of the makeshift family, Hatsue (Kirin Kiki, who passed away in September and delivers a wonderfully charming final performance here), generates income via her late husband’s pension.

Between the work they do at their full-time jobs and selling off the items that they steal along the way, like a pair of pricey fishing rods, the family manages to just barely get by. But things become increasingly more difficult for them when the arrival of an abused, quiet little girl named Juri (Miyu Sasaki) puts them in a tough situation, which forces them to make an even tougher decision; one that can tear them apart for good.

Shoplifters, a film that is as socially conscious as it is empathetic, never feels like some sort of poverty porn that has been robbed of all of its humanity, which is something it easily could’ve been had it fallen into the wrong hands. Kore-eda handles the film with such incredible love, care, and affection, painting this captivating portrait of poverty and the underclass using his unique style and expert storytelling.

A master of his craft and one of the greatest filmmakers Japan has to offer, Kore-eda proves once again with Shoplifters, a rare treat of a film and one of the best in Kore-eda’s career, ranking among the likes of Still Walking and After Life, that he knows the definition of family better than almost anyone else.

Shoplifters is now playing in New York and Los Angeles and will be released in additional select cities in the weeks to come.

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‘Roma’ review: Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white family drama is nothing short of a masterpiece

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Roma
CARLOS SOMONTE/NETFLIX

As someone who has long championed Alfonso Cuarón‘s 2006 dystopian thriller Children of Men as being the best film in the Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker’s career, I was astonished when I slowly began to realize about halfway through watching Roma, Cuarón’s latest offering, that my opinion about Children of Men was no longer the same.

Roma, Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical black-and-white love letter to his hometown of Mexico City and the women who raised him, is arguably his best work to date for an assortment of different reasons, mostly because it’s a stunning achievement not only in Cuarón’s personal filmography, but rather cinema as a whole.

Set in the early 1970s in the bustling, upper-middle-class neighborhood of Colonia Roma, Cuarón’s most personal project to date follows the day-to-day life of Cleo (played extraordinarily by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), who is based on Cuarón’s actual real-life nanny, Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, to whom the film is dedicated to.

Cleo is relatively quiet and mostly keeps to herself as she does chores around the house of the family she works for like picking up laundry, cleaning up dog poop, and making sure all of the bedrooms in the house are tidy. She even puts the children to bed late at night and is there to wake them up bright and early in the morning when it’s time to start getting ready for school.

In her off hours, Cleo enjoys gossiping and reminiscing with Adela (Nancy Garcia), the family’s cook, and going to the local movie theater with Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), a martial-arts enthusiast with whom Cleo shares somewhat of a distant relationship with—a relationship that will eventually set them even further apart as the film goes on.

It’s somewhat of a shame that not every person will have the pleasure of experiencing Roma, which is currently playing in theaters in select cities before launching globally on Netflix later this month, the same way I did, in a theater, to fully absorb Cuarón’s masterpiece for the remarkable piece of work that is truly is.

Cuarón’s exquisite 65mm black-and-white photography beautifully captures every detail that comes into frame, making excellent use of long takes and wide shots, while Cuarón’s equally impressive editing allows the story to unfold with an incredible amount of patience, yet it does so with efficiency, never letting the film lag for even a second.

There’s also something to be said about Skip Lievsay’s marvelously complex sound design, whether it’s the sound of a splash of water hitting the ground or gunshots ringing out as a student protest turns deadly, and Eugenio Caballero’s meticulous production design, which utilizes sets that are so simple, yet so intricate at the same time.

A film that is packed with an overwhelming amount of beauty, emotion, and intimacy, Roma is a mighty impressive feat on the part of Cuarón and evidently sets forth a new standard when it comes to this type of personal filmmaking. Or perhaps just filmmaking in general.

Roma’s limited theatrical run is currently ongoing in select cities including New York, Los Angeles, and London. Find out if it’s playing in your city here. The film will launch globally on Netflix on December 14.

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‘The Favourite’ review: Yorgos Lanthimos’ oddball period piece runs out of steam far too soon

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The Favourite
FOX SEARCHLIGHT

A year after the release of his brutal, absurdist dark family drama The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos is back again with The Favourite, an unsurprisingly bizarre, rather over-the-top glimpse into the life of England’s least known ruler, Queen Anne, and the lesbian love triangle at the center of her life in the early 18th century.

The story of The Favourite is actually grounded in some fact, if you can believe it, and follows an obese, gout-ridden, emotionally unstable Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) as she struggles to help guide the country of England through its ongoing war with France from inside the confines of her Royal Palace, a place where she spends most of her time holed up in her bedroom.

Oddly enough, though, for some who’s a Queen and ruler of her nation, Anne is deeply insecure and highly susceptible to manipulation, and so she yearns for the love, attention, and guidance of Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), her life-long friend, political advisor, secret lover, and one of few people who know how to keep her in check.

But when Sarah’s younger, mud-covered peasant of a cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) comes around the palace looking for a job, before eventually becoming a royal herself, things begin to take an absolute turn for the worst as the two battle it out for Anne’s love—even if it means lying to and taking advantage of the Queen herself.

While there’s certainly something to be said about Colman, Weisz, and Stone, who are all beyond extraordinary in their respective roles and deliver what are undoubtedly some of the best performances of the year, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat annoyed by some of The Favourite‘s wild antics and extreme nature.

By the middle of the second act, it felt as though the once witty, profanity-laden jokes had grown old, while the story itself had quickly begun to lose the momentum it so excellently was able to keep up during the first half of the film, leading us into a ridiculously abrupt final act, which features an ending that felt more like a cop-out than anything else.

Nonetheless, though, I still very much admire and respect The Favourite‘s commitment to being an oddball period piece. The posh costume and production designs are downright stunning, to say the least, and the soundtrack, which includes classical compositions from the likes of Handel and Bach, fits it all just so well.

Not to mention there’s Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s dark, gritty 35mm photography, which captures every moment in the film in such incredible fashion. Perhaps he utilized the fisheye lenses one too many times for my liking but the rest of his camerawork is so flawlessly executed that it’s an issue I’m willing to let slide.

Despite its flaws, many of which I believe to be more the fault of Lanthimos than it is of screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite is still an exceptional piece of work and will undoubtedly continue to win over the support of awards voters as the Oscar race rolls on thanks in part to its three leading ladies.

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‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ review: Rami Malek shines in this flawed, lackluster Queen biopic

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Bohemian Rhapsody Queen Bryan Singer
20TH CENTURY FOX

Sigh…If only this movie had been directed by Bradley Cooper and starred Lady Gaga.

Bohemian Rhapsody is the long-awaited Queen biopic that has been in development since 2010 with Sacha Baron Cohen originally attached to star as the band’s lead singer Freddie Mercury. After going through a multitude of changes behind the scenes, including a change in directors last December, the film will finally hit theaters on Friday. Unfortunately, this is just another example of wasted potential. One of, if not the, biggest band on the planet deserves to have an interesting and well-developed biopic about them—but Singer fails to deliver.

Bohemian Rhapsody follows the life of Farrokh Bulsara (Rami Malek) as he meets a few musicians outside a club who happen to be looking for a new lead singer for their band. These small-time rockers go on to become one of the most influential and adored bands of all time: Queen. While Bulsara evolves into the extravagant showman known as Freddie Mercury, he struggles to fight off his own personal demons. Balancing his personal life, relationships, stardom, and sexuality all prove to be a challenge as Mercury’s extraordinary life unravels before the audience’s eyes.

Malek has proven himself in the past few years to be one of the most talented and versatile young actors. He was an incredible choice to portray Freddie and captured his essence beautifully. Malek was able to portray the nuanced tenderness yet outwardly flamboyant sides of Freddie throughout the different stages of his life. The chemistry between Malek and the other members of the band was fantastic as well. John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and Brian May (Gwilym Lee) were all integral parts in shaping Freddie into the legend that he is and the actors embodied their respective band members very nicely. The most emotionally believable performance, however, came from Lucy Boynton, who played Mary Austin, Freddie’s first true love interest. The raw acting in their scenes together, especially towards the end of their relationship, was so hard-hitting and truly showcased both Malek and Boynton’s talents.

The technical aspects of Bohemian Rhapsody were not nearly as satisfactory as the performances, though. The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel was very underwhelming and had the potential to be much more creative, especially during the many concert and performance sequences. The editing by John Ottman, however, was mildly interesting. While standard in its function, it changed throughout the film depending on the stage of Mercury’s life; slower and more deliberate during his early years, then quicker and more unfocused once Mercury got into the drug-fueled party scenes. The costuming by Julian Day was very impressive too, giving a very accurate and aesthetically-pleasing feel to every character in every scene. Music obviously plays a large part in this biopic as well and was utilized decently, despite Malek not actually performing the majority of the songs, which is ironic considering there’s a scene where the entire band voices their strong opposition to lip-syncing.

When you watch a biopic about a particular musician or band, it’s pretty much expected that you’ll have left the theater having learned something new about them, whether it’s something to do with their personal demons or some other area of their private life that has been previously unexplored. Bohemian Rhapsody did not accomplish any of that. The information that was included about Freddie’s life was presented so haphazardly and did not go beyond the surface at all. Freddie’s battle with HIV and his relationships with his many partners through the years were a big part of his identity in the 1980s, but these aspects of his life were simply tossed aside as minor subplots. While the film did do its job of telling the basic story of Freddie and the band leading up to the 1985 Live Aid concert, it did not delve deep enough into either Mercury or the entire band to make the story remotely interesting. Again, this iconic band deserves so much more, and this film did not do them justice.

The most evident issue with this entire production was the directing from Bryan Singer. Despite all of the horrendous sexual harassment and rape accusations, Singer is a wildly mediocre director. He does not have any notable style, which is a bad choice for a film about one of the most exuberant bands in musical history. Singer brings along his experience with directing X-Men blockbusters to this film, which, again, was a huge mistake. This “grand-scale” mentality is suitable for some of the concert sequences in this film, but not at all for the more riveting, biopic parts. Imagine going to a concert for a band that you adore, only for them to not play your favorite song of theirs—that crucial part was missing.

Singer desperately attempted to squeeze in every last detail of Freddie and the band’s lives, but even with the painfully long 2-hour and 14-minute runtime, could not manage to do that. The story throughout was very unclear and could not decide between focusing on the story of Freddie or the story of Queen. There is not a single one of the band’s smash hit songs that were excluded from this film and while classic rock aficionados will be pleased, it felt much too stuffy. Many of the transitional scenes were simply recreations of legendary performances and because of this, it began to feel like a concert rather than a film. An exploration of Freddie’s life would have been far more interesting, but this movie has regrettably bit the dust.

Freddie Mercury deserves much better treatment than what he was given in Bohemian Rhapsody and, despite Malek’s royally zealous performance and an expectedly great soundtrack, this film provides nothing more than what a quick Google search could probably accomplish.

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