Cameron Edward, a fiftyish host of a failed kid’s TV show, is having a difficult time. His wife, Erin, doesn’t respect him. His daughter isn’t too impressed either, though she at least seems to be somewhat sympathetic toward him, and his son barely speaks at all. His kid’s show airs at midnight, being overlooked for more traditional Saturday morning time slot. And as we quickly discover, his wife is filing for divorce.

Then, one day, as he’s biking home from work a red corvette drops upside-down from the sky. He goes to look at the driver, and it’s him. Not the current him, but a younger, better-looking version of him.

If that weren’t confusing enough, nobody seems to have heard about this odd happening and the driver of the red Corvette, one Nick Armstrong (and his car) are not only fine, but apparently slated to replace him as the host of the TV show he created.

The icing on the cake is when a rocket, a Sputnik or some similar space debris crashes in his backyard and the government won’t let him see it and won’t let him back in his own house.

Welcome to Linoleum, writer/director Colin West’s odd little slice-of-life drama which is also (erroneously) labeled as a comedy. There are funny parts to it, and “funny” parts to it, but this is straight up drama, the presence of Jim Gaffigan (as Edward and Armstrong) notwithstanding.

It’s a good party if you float out of it.

This is such a refreshing film to find in this, the two-thousand and twenty-third year of Our Lord. It reminded me a bit of Donnie Darko, but without the pretensions. Also refreshing: Every aspect of this movie makes sense and fits into the larger narrative, once you understand what’s going on. Anybody can drop a Corvette upside down from the sky; not everyone can have that make sense.

The main drives of this movie are Edward reclaiming his youthful dreams of doing something fantastic—like building a working rocket from the detritus that fell from the sky—and reclaiming his relationship with Erin, and secondarily the relationship between Edward’s daughter Nora and Armstrong’s son Marc. Toward the end of the second act, I began to feel like the movie was focusing too much on the Nora/Marc relationship, only to discover I was completely wrong.

Not even nearly 29. Too young to be interesting. Or are they?

The movie never gets so enamored of its central conceit that it loses sight of its characters, their drives, and their essential humanity. West, perhaps because he wrote the story, is content to let it play out without going overboard with tricky photography, though there are plenty of nice shots.

I suppose it must be asked, alas, if it is woke or woke-ish? In normal times, I’d say no, not at all. Though it certainly leans on the trope of the evil Christian—Nick Armstrong is the movie’s main foil and a hypocritical churchgoer. Nora, who is clearly attracted to Marc, but denying it, claims to be either lesbian or bisexual, while Marc wears women’s underwear but this all works out to be typical teenage posturing. The movie itself itself is a validation of heterosexuality and “normal” lifestyles. Which is a weird thing to type, but I know also that some of y’all are hypersensitive to any odd sexuality (and who can blame anyone for that after the past decade’s full-on cultural onslaught?), so I feel obliged to point it out.

For what it’s worth, the film’s other villain is Erin’s wine-drinking Karen of a friend, Linda, who speaks in new-agey terms while positively salivating at the thought of Erin dumping Cameron and slutting it up for a while.

Local science kid show teaches about the illusion of time.

Top-notch acting all around. Of course we’re sympathetic toward Cameron, but Gaffigan manages to create a sympathetic vibe for Nick as well. As a character, Nick could’ve been drawn with a little more depth (though there are story reasons why he isn’t), but Gaffigan doesn’t give off monster vibes. I attribute that partly to Gaffigan’s performance but presumably also West didn’t want him to appear that way either.

Even so, I felt like Rhea Sheehorn (as Erin) had the more challenging role: She starts off a little shrewish, as her doughy, aimless husband meanders through life and she has given up on her own dreams in exchange for a little security. As Cameron becomes more obsessed with building a rocket, she gets more convinced he’s going through some midlife crisis, and it’s really Linda, with her glib “take the big city job and start over again” attitude that causes her to reflect on whether or not that’s really what she wants. The subversiveness of this movie (in 2023) is that not abandoning your loser husband but helping him through the tough spots is actually celebrated. It’s a fine line for an actress to walk and remain appealing, and Sheehorn pulls it off beautifully.

It’s not easy being a good wife.

The teen would-be lovers, played by Katelyn Nacon and Gabriel Rush, also do a good job. Marc (Rush) is cowed by his father but also defiant. Nacon is appealing despite the (again, very teenage) outsider-ism, too-cool-for-school attitude. As the movie unfolds, her relationship with her father (whom she insists on calling Cameron) is one of the strongest aspects of the film: When you get to the end of the film, you want to re-watch it in light of all the new information. The kids do well in the movie.

As I watched this, I sorta figured the cast was relatively low profile to keep the budget down. That said, Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”) has a surprising role as a nursing home director. Michael Ian Black (“The State”) didn’t even register with me as Cameron’s unctuous boss who gives his show to Nick.

The music is just so. Not too heavy-handed. Not not-there-at-all.

Overall, it’s a nice little movie. (Again, it’s not a “dramedy” or a “comedy/drama”, unless you view a “drama” as being completely humorless. It’s a drama where odd things happen.) It’s the sort of movie you’d expect to be any movie studio’s bread-and-butter, and (while very modern) pleasantly recalls old school melodramas.

It also very much feels like an expanded version of the intro to another recent classic, but I can’t say more without spoilers.

Ground control to Major Jim…


I was going to subject you all to a post about The Whale but an eleventh hour viewing the new Bill Nighy picture, Living, changed my mind. They are, in many ways, similar pictures, in that they are low-stakes dramas, primarily acting vehicles that rely heavily on their lead actors with all parties keenly aware of the prospect of winning awards “late in life”. (Brendan Fraser, the “pretty boy” action/comedy star at 52 and Billy Nighy at 71, who didn’t really break through internationally until he was about 50.

But my capsule for The Whale is pretty much, Brendan Fraser (and the other actors) are great in a story that is just really gross (in many meanings of the word). I can’t recommend it unless you’re a Fraser completist. (Actually, I have a 1,200 word review castigating it because, while I didn’t hate it, it gets more loathsome the more I think about it, and the more keenly I become aware of how its twisted obeisance to wokeness destroyed a potentially fine story.)

Living, on the other hand, while super low-key and very, very British is easy to recommend, if you’re in the mood for a drama, and almost the anti-Whale. It chooses, at every point, to lowball the delivery and let the audience bring their own intensity to the proceedings.

A man so punctual, him being late is grounds to call the police.

If you know Nighy from his lighter roles, Shaun of the Dead or Love, Actually, this movie may surprise you. All of the little comic tics—the ones that made it apparent he was the voice behind Davy Jones in Disney’s Pirates series, e.g.—are gone. Nighy is a buttoned-down functionary in a massive post-war English bureaucracy whose main talent is calmly burying things no one wants to handle.

One day, he gets the bad news: He’s going to die. Soon.

Now, “man (or woman) gets walking papers, goes berserk” is common enough as a setup to be a subgenre. (The comedy version, like Joe vs. the Volcano, typically has the hero discovering at the end that he’s actually fine.) Comedy or drama, the point of the journey is to put into focus what’s important in life—what it means to be living.

Living, which is based on an Akira Kurosawa screenplay and hews pretty closely to it as far as I can tell, has our protagonist, Williams, dabbling with the obvious. He finds a disreputable fellow to go drinking and clubbing with. Then he finds himself enamored of one of his underlings, though less in a sexual way than an admiration for her joie de vivre. This leads him back to his job, of all things, where he decides to actually do it and get something, however small, done.

Movies, while enjoyable, are no substitute for living.

This movie transcends many others of its kind because it doesn’t end with the death of the main character. Williams definitely finds some joy and redemption in his last act of bureaucratic defiance—the building of a playground in a bombed out grotto between low-rent flats—but it’s not like most movie moments where the playground gets built and everyone lives happily ever after. No, he leaves behind a legacy for his colleagues to follow.

It’s a legacy they embrace heartily and then just as quickly abandon as things go back to normal. I mean, this isn’t a fairy tale. We can’t pretend that English bureaucracy got better from 1953, can we?

But there is a secondary character, a young version of Williams auspiciously named Peter Wakeling (Alex Sharp). He joins the bureau the day before Williams gets his prognosis, and Williams sees in him the potential for change. The last part of the movie, then, becomes an arc where Wakeling grows to understand Williams more, and to understand what this last gesture should mean for him personally as well as the world at large.

I don’t need to tell you the acting is good. It’s freaking English. They have a crèche where they genetically engineer good actors. As someone who appreciates Shatnerian levels of hamfoolery, it was very nice to see acting that was low-key without being flat and dead (which is how American actors define “natural”). As someone who loves Nighy’s comedic tics, I missed them here, but only briefly: His performance is unlike anything I’ve seen out of him; he becomes this other person to where it seems like his face has changed shape.

There should be scads of frames from this movie that showcase its cinematography and lighting, but 99% of the pictures are of Nighy.

Aimee Lou Wood is very appealing as the girl who’s too lively for County Hall. With her overbite and wide-spaced eyes, she’s very “girl next door” (cf. the French girl next door). It’s very hard for me to place the other actors correctly with their names as 90% of the photos I can find are of Nighy and Wood at an event for the movie. But there’s a character, the one who shows Nighy a “good time”, who reminded me of Orson Welles.

I mention this because the movie is shot very interestingly. It begins with stock footage, I believe, from about 1956, over which a classic font is used for the title and copyright notice, very much like Pearl. And then the opening shots of the movie are filmed (again like Pearl) as though they were in Technicolor, with a beautiful shot of a train going through the English countryside. In fact, a great many of the shots are provocative: Drab bureaucrats marching up and down stairs completely oblivious to the staggering beauty around them. And then most of the conversations are shot Finch-ian, with faces in heavy, heavy shadows. (A particularly great one had Wood’s camera-side in utter darkness, except for a tiny point of light reflecting from her earring.)

But a great many of the shots evoked The Third Man. Long shadows. Post-war wreckage. Things swallowed up by or emerging from darkness.

In contrast to the acting, the lighting of this film is very dramatic. It never gets into showy movement or cartoonish angle-tilting, but it’s one of the most thoughtfully aesthetic movies in terms of composition, blocking and lighting, than I’ve seen in a long time.

It’s nigh (heh) perfect in that it succeeds fully in what it’s trying to do. The only part I felt was a little overplayed was in the final notes of the score. The Boy disagreed with me, but I felt like the score (which was just right all the way through) was trying to do some (unneeded) heavy lifting. The most minor of points.

It may not be one’s cup of tea, as it were, but I don’t expect to see a better Oscar-bait movie this season. And I don’t have to list 40 caveats about political correctness or gross sex stuff.



The anti-Japanese animus is so prevalent in Korean pop cinema, I sometimes forget to take note when I leave the theater of all the Koreans walking out of the Daiso store with their “Hello, Kitty” merchandise. And so I was a little surprised to discover the great Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda directing an all-star Korean cast in a movie about baby brokers and abandoned children.

If you’ve followed along with my Korean pop cinema journey, you might recall Ma Dong-Seok’s homage to Over The Top called Champion, where I discovered that Koreans call the orphans that adopted by Americans and Europeans “the Abandoned”. Since orphans are routinely referred to as “abandoned” in this movie, that term may not be specific to children adopted by foreigners. It’s a real issue and sore point for Koreans, as is the topic of baby drop boxes, which apparently first started in 2014 and the focus of some negative attention. (They make it easier to abandon a baby on the one hand, and they prevent abandoned babies from dying on the other.)

That, however, is a topic for a documentary, and this move is the sort of exploration of family we have come to expect from Kore-eda, who first came to our attention with Like Father, Like Son (where two families discover their six-year-old sons were switched at birth), and followed up with Our Little Sister, After The Storm and Shoplifters, all of which deal with unusual families. His movies avoid melodrama, relying on empathy and provocative situations rather than big acting and splashy events.

No one could ever love a baby with such scrawny eyebrows.

As such, Broker has that best quality of Asian cinema: that of being able to tackle serious, even dark subjects while actually being a fun watch. We liked it so much we felt like we needed a Kore-eda film festival to re-watch all his movies. They seem like they’d get better over time.

The story is simple: Our two brokers, a middle-aged man, Sang-hyeon, has his accomplice Dong-soo working the Sunday overnight shift at the orphanage. When a girl (named So-Young, heh) drops off her baby, Dong-soo grabs it, erases the tape and hands the baby off to Sang-hyeon, with the idea that they’re going to sell it. The wrinkle is that So-Young comes back to the orphanage the next day to get the baby and of course there’s no record of it. Rather than risk police involvement, Dong-soo cuts her in on the deal. But when they meet the potential parents, they try to haggle over the price (by insulting the baby’s eyebrows!) and So-Young refuses to sell.

Now, all of a sudden, the movie is a road picture, with our protagonists traveling all over Korea to find a good price for the baby to whom, of course, they’re increasingly attached. At one point, they end up with an older orphan boy who is “too old” (eight?) to be adopted, and the five of them engage in various hijinks and impromptu acting as they spontaneously create cover stories for their situation. In essence, they’re forced to imagine the family they would like to be.

I remember when my mother would hold me up for my brother to laugh at my eyebrows.

And now you have a mom in the car with the men her baby could become as a result of her choices. Dong-soo, for example, was himself an orphan, but he claims to have liked it and he’s kind of a celebrity at his former orphanage. Sang-hyeon is divorced (and pining for his ex) and alienated from his daughter, while also in serious debt to a local gangster. The young boy, Hae-Jin, is high-spirited but how long can he withstand being rejected?

They can’t escape the darker parts of life forever: So-young is a prostitute. The events leading to her abandoning her baby are not pretty. Sang-hyeon owes money to the same gang that pimps out So-young—and the connection goes further than that, which I won’t spoil, but N.B. that the gang is a traditional family. Our thugs do not come from a broken home, ironically.

Adding another dimension to the proceedings are two lady detectives who, tired of being relegated to checking plates on potentially stolen cars, stake out the orphanage with an eye toward catching baby brokers. They form an extension of our dysfunctional family—the role usually taken on by spinster aunts. They want the bust, but it gets harder and harder for them to see their way clear to playing everything by-the-book.

Our unmarried, childless Inspectors Javert.

An earlier Hollywood could’ve done this story, sort of, with a ridiculous (but wonderful) happy ending. Kore-eda is a little more grounded in reality. There’s a hopeful ending. He’s not going to tie up everything with a nice little bow, but he’s also not going to bury you in ennui and despair.

From a movie-viewing perspective, the punchline to me was that this is a very Japanese film. Korean movies make Korea look beautiful: The hills are lush and green, and the homes are picturesque and rich with tradition. Kore-eda makes it look like just another place. That’s very appropriate to the movie. There is a discussion of regional pride (the way people in America might talk about being from New York or from The South), but as always Kore-eda’s characters are meant to appeal to our shared humanity.

It’s a mystery how babies can simultaneously be sold for tons of money but not adopted easily.

The acting is top-notch. Song Kang-ho (as Sang-hyeon) was in this year’s Emergency Declaration as well as (the underrated) The King’s Letters, (the overrated) Parasite, SnowpiercerLady VengeanceThe HostSympathy for Mr. VengeanceMemories of Murder—a fair percentage of modern and influential Korean classics. Despite being one of the biggest actors in Korea, he always seems to disappear into the role. Similarly with Bae Doon, playing the dogged female detective, who co-starred with Song in Lady Vengeance and played his shrewish, melodramatic sister in The Host.

Gang Dong-won (Peninsula, 1987: When The Day Comes) and Ji Eun-Li (a K-Pop teen mega-idol who goes by “IU”) also just vanish into their roles (the younger baby broker and the mother, respectively), which in some ways are more challenging. Dong-won has some aspects of the “comic relief sidekick”, but he does that without becoming clownish or unappealing. This is important, or the feelings he develops for Eun-li would just seem pathetic. For her part, Eun-li has to dance on the edge of audience sympathy. She convinces us she’s capable of bad stuff, but then also convinces us she’s capable of good as well.

A particularly poignant scene between Ji (as the mother) and Bae (as the female detective) has them arguing over the fact that it’s more “respectable” to have an abortion than to give your child up for adoption, a sentiment Ji’s character rejects and Bae’s character has seemingly never considered. Although it was perfectly natural and not at all political, it made me pretty sure Broker wasn’t going to win any Oscars. (The movie also won the “ecumenical prize” at Cannes, which probably works against it winning awards from heathens.)

The mother is scrutinized when society’s preferred option (killing the baby) is not taken.


Skinamarink: Run, don’t walk, as fast you can away from this. A 10-minute idea padded into a 100-minute film.

The Old Way: Nic Cage as Clint Eastwood in the surprisingly solid story of a retired gunfighter who takes his daughter on a quest for revenge. Nic Searcy as the lawman trying to hold him back.

The French Brigade: A “very French film” where “very French” doesn’t mean “sexually weird”. A lovely little bit of pro-refugee propaganda about a snooty woman who finds herself making genuine chefs out of (mostly sub-Saharan) immigrants.

Babylon: The worst thing to happen to Singin’ In The Rain since A Clockwork Orange! A very fine 3+ hour film about silent movie stars and their inability to transition to sound from the director of Whiplash and La La Land.

The Whale: Brendan Fraser shows he still has his chops in this confused, bombastic melodrama from the guy who brought you Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream.

The Runner: Cool slice-of-life story about an Iranian orphan boy after the revolution who lives in a rusted out boat and hustles refundable bottles and shoe shines.

No Bears: Your reminder that there are brave filmmakers in the world, in this case Jafar Panahi who pokes the Iranian Revolutionary lunatics and is currently in jail. I’ll be watching that while you’re reading this!