Monday, June 22, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Force of Nature (2020)

Everything about the movie Force of Nature looks cobbled together. From tired-looking and disengaged main actors, especially the abysmally tuned-out Emile Hirsch, to the lame placeholder script about a heist taking place in a run-down building in Puerto Rico during a hurricane. Of course, the runtime of the movie, which is only 90 minutes, actually morphs into something like 180 minutes of crappy action, mixed in with bland character development. The narration jumps from one group of villains or survivors and goes round and round through the film, never picking up speed or any kind of engagement with its protagonists.

The only bright spot of the film is Mel Gibson, who somehow remained awake during his parts and does give the movie a bit of energy where it otherwise has almost none. But, his presence is nowhere near enough to compensate for the gray puddle that is most of this film, even the conceptual parts like the object of the heist. Also, there was an incredible opportunity to mold the entire film into a glorious so-good-that-it’s-bad work of art, but that somehow failed as well. Force of Nature is not laughably bad. It’s just plain, old boring-bad.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Midsommar (2019)

If there's a highlight in this movie for me, it's the endless bickering it often showcases and which takes place often and among its different characters. Here, their animosity, hidden feelings, ambitions, cult secrets, and social missteps all come to the forefront in a weird and viscerally uncomfortable feeling. This covers everything in their lives from the moment when Dani and Christian, a university couple with a strained relationship, decide to go with their friends to Sweden and celebrate the summer solstice in an isolated commune.

However, as the main storyline of the film picks up speed - which is essentially the Wicker Man all over again - the movie loses this odd but definite edge it has. To make things worse, the ending itself is completely devoid of talking and focuses only on imagery. In theory, I can see how this should have been a huge, allegory of a deteriorating relationship, but the problem is that it took its sweet time getting there. For me, the same trippy experience exchanged bodily horror for some missed opportunities in domains of poetry and natural celebrations. And that won't do at all. After all, nature hates wasting time - just look at the mayflies.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Film Review: Nada - A Story About Hope (2020)

The movie Nada - A Story of Hope, which "nada" directly translates to "hope" from Bosnian (and most other Ex-Yugoslav languages) starts off with a poem. It's a simple poem about a street, while at the same time the frame showcases an image of a town that could be anywhere in the Balkans. Some old house roofs, a mosque minaret, and cheap residential buildings in the bare concrete, long pass their socialistic hay day. Above them, calm blue skies. All seems peaceful as the poem unravels, almost outside of any present space-time continuous.

Then, the story kicks in in a moment, showing the residents of the same town. They try to get by while they go to work, drink with their lowlife friends, or scramble to get their first job. One of them is Damir, an ordinary teen looking to do the same for his life. However, the brutal and bleak reality of modern Bosnian life, now well in its third post-war decade, is still a harsh and grinding reality. For Damir, this means a violent pull into the world of petty but relentless crime, personified in Kiki, a local street thug with driving ambition.

There's a smoothness in the way Dino Longo Sabanovic, who wrote and directed the film, showcases Damir's story. Using a lot from both natural settings and (I'm guessing) local and amateur actors, he creates a piece of art that easily communicates on a very emotional basis. For example, sequences where Kiki leads Damir and the rest of the gang to a derelict tavern after a job includes a very interesting process of applying two soundtracks. One is the atmospheric music in the actual club and the other is a classical piano tune taking place over it. All the while, the ramblings of Kiki are heard as well as his deal to sell the stolen goods goes down.
In theory, none of this should work, but it blends seamlessly in a form of outer manifestation of what is to be Damir. Yes, you can get high, you can get drunk or even feel euphoric, but you’re still trapped and wedged between all the wrong, humiliating and even tragically final choices you can make. Yet, throughout the film, you see glimmers of hope, just like its name says - from the serene nature that surrounds the town to the images of Josip Broz Tito, which is presented almost like a divine figure or long-lost saint and finally, in the character of Merima.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Extraction (2020)

Even with the massive success of Extraction, I still have mainly one takeaway from the movie and it's not a rational idea, but a feeling. The movie, for the lack of a better word, feels tiresome to me. Yes, it's action-packed and the story tries to do what it can with a pretty limited setup - it's about Tyler, an Australian mercenary entering the city of Dhaka to extract a boy named Ovi Mahajan Jr. As the son of an Indian drug lord, he was kidnapped by a rival gang in Bangladesh. It's up to Tyler to save Ovi once his mission goes seriously wrong.

If anything, the movie showcases the potential of the modern Indian and Bangladeshi film industry outside of their regular genres. However, the film itself is based on Chris Hemsworth as Tyler killing people at close and sometimes medium range. Sadly, that one-trick pony gets used up quickly. At the half-point mark, all this killing becomes exceedingly tiresome and tedious, while the film as a whole never recovers from being a FPS live-action footage someone else is playing. Extraction is the biggest film Netflix made and overall, a watchable action, but it will still most likely leave you tired once it ends.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Arkansas (2020)

Back in 2009, John Brandon wrote one mean novel - I know that even though I read only the first chapter. It tells a simple story of two drug-runners who get to live in a park, fronting as rangers and working for a mid-ranking criminal who is connected to what is loosely known as Dixie Mafia. In the run-down South, the two of them, played by Liam Hemsworth and Clark Duke (who also directed and co-wrote or adapted the script) settle into the life of career crime and anonymity, while a massive calamity is slowly rolling toward them unseen.

In essence, a neo-noir that meets Southern Gothic, the movie is one hell of a start to Duke’s directing career. It’s somewhat of a dreamy mess at points, but still, one unique movie where the humor and seriousness blend in a nice world of its own that Duke builds. Yes, there are many odd moments that might not work, similar to, for example, Cold in July, but as a whole, the film still has that crucial breath of fresh air it exhales from start to finish. A big help in that is both John Malkovich and Vince Vaughn. Vaughn, in particular, has a good showing, offering probably the best character since Brawl in Cell Block 99 (and a chattier one). So, Duke got something here, just like Arkansas. Keep an eye out for both.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Pain and Glory/Dolor y gloria (2019)

There’s no need to underline the level of skill and artistic sensibility that Pedro Almodóvar brings to his works. Yet, like all great artists, he is anything but a one-trick pony. Pain and Glory or Dolor y gloria in original is a fantastic drama that tries to do the impossible and examine the life of a single individual, from its start to the (nearly) end. The subject is Salvador, a lonesome and hurting movie director who tries to come to peace with his conflicting experiences while living in Madrid.

Played masterfully by Antonio Banderas, Salvador is a genius, but also a human being, burdened by his mistakes and the choices he made. In a tale that encompasses many other in-movie stories of both theatre and cinema, Almodóvar tells this personal epic as a mirror reflection of performances and the way they add and/or detract from the unknowable source material. Through a lot of pain and glory, beauty is born and it shines a special kind of light on the most ordinary of moments. As it does, the audience slowly comes to a sobering but also empowering conclusion: we’re all Salvador, each in our tiny yet infinite universe of memories, experiences and undying hopes.