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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Movie Review: 1917 (2019)

There's no need to compliment Sam Mendes and his amazing cinematography. While he might be in the public consciousness mainly thanks to Skyfall and Spectre, in my mind, he's still the man who made history come alive as a present contemporary movie in American Beauty. In 1917, he again showcased his ability to compress small into big and vice versa, showing individuals' lives as a representation of the wider, bigger and the more unknown collective experience.

Also, as a clear work of passion, it is hard not to compare the film with Dunkirk, another unusual war movie from a brilliant director. Yet, while Nolan's work leaves that sense of trying to be something much grander while forcing itself to stay (not completely successfully) grounded in real people, 1917 is all about the people it features.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Short Film Showcase: Fallin' - The Official Movie

Out of all the numerous evils in the world, it is easy to understand why so many feel that domestic violence is an especially heinous one. The idea of someone turning a home - which should be a place where family members feel loved and safe - into one of danger, humiliation and pain is truly terrible. What makes it even worse is that it often takes place all around us, hidden (or barely hidden) behind closed doors and dark sunglasses.

Fallin' is a short film that explores precisely this dark but very important topic. It was directed by Romel Moralez of the Moralez Motion Pictures and from the first moment, it starts to build its tension. Like domestic abuse, it takes place in a seemingly ordinary home where a woman is frantically packing her belongings, all the while keeping a gun close to her. She is interrupted by the doorbell, which begins a cascade of disturbing and ever more serious events. With a run time of just four minutes, the movie is blunt and even shocking in its portrayal of domestic abuse and its potential bloody resolution.

As a showcase of a horrible process that is happening around the world, including many developed nations like the US (where the film takes place), Fallin' shows the reality of domestic abuse. This reality is not pleasant to watch or even think about, which is why movies like this are so important as a means of raising awareness of the problem. With the work of Moralez and other artists who cover domestic abuse, the possibility of things actually changing for the better will slowly take shape in everyday life. Watch the entire film right here:

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

The thing about Jojo Rabbit is the fact that it is basically Life Is Beautiful made for the Age of Instagram. Yes, it seeks to present the same emotional punches (aiming often right for the gut of the viewer) but has no time for a process of buildup or gradual racking up of tension. Instead, it skips a few beats and immediately delivers the viewers to the end stage of WW2 where a small German town is about to be liberated but both the Russians and the Americans. There, a small boy has an imaginary friend called Adolf Hitler and a real future friend hiding in his attic.

Now, while Taika Waititi is clearly talented and driven, his sensibility remains that of a sketch-maker. The movie from the start to the finish, including its attempt at a cathartic ending, remains broken down into chunks that mainly barely work together. This is best seen in the endless and not so clever Gestapo sequence. Lastly, while Waititi is funny, the movie is still missing its Roberto Benigni and it's unrealistic to expect that the young Roman Griffin Davis in his main role does the same. Because of that, the movie remains somewhat entertaining, but not particularly enlightening about the human condition in one of its darkest hours.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Indie Showcase: Home With a View of the Monster (2020)

There is an endless pool of inspiration when it comes to horror movies. While most prefer to use cliche stories that have been seen a thousand times, others go for more unique concepts. Here, the most audacious try to find that uniqueness but also to connect it with something mundane and universally-known thing that is not often seen in a horror light. In the case of Home With a View of the Monster that concept is the idea of services like AirBnB and other home rental options. Here is how the movie describes itself:

Needing a major life change in order to save their rocky marriage, a young couple (Dennis and Rita) decide to place their secluded lake house on a vacation rental app. When the couple returns home early, they find that their current tenant (Kate) has disappeared, leaving only their belongings as well as cryptic and increasingly eerie clues. Dennis and Rita have few clues as to where Kate could have gone. That is until Kate’s boyfriend (Chance) mysteriously shows up not only terrified of the events that he had experienced in the house, but with a warning of what is to unfold next. Joining together the haunted house genre with the world of vacation rentals, Home with a View of the Monster provides a gripping glimpse into the lives of individuals who are each as haunted as their surroundings. This genre blending, psychological thriller takes you on a wild ride, full of unsuspecting turns that all lead to the monster at the end.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Two-Paragraph Review: Bloodline (2018)

If you grew up with movies in the 1990s, chances are that even today, you're rooting for Seann William Scott. After all, he's talented, entertaining and someone who didn't really have a whole lot of good luck in his career. Yet, movies like Bloodline show how big of an injustice that was - thought this serial killer thriller/drama, Scott paints a completely believable and understandable monster. His character is caring high school counselor by day, but by night, he’s a murdering avenger of downtrodden kids (like the kid he had been years before).

While this directorial debut from Henry Jacobson has some flaws - especially in terms of how it treats and manages other characters - Scott carries it through. This presents once again the gigantic Holywood injustice that was brought upon this actor, either by malice and design or by stupidity and indifference. Hopefully, Bloodline will help Scott get into more smaller but well-made films and right the decades-long wrong that has beset him. He very clearly deserves it and has the talent and drive to work on a wide range of different genres and film types.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Film Review: The Irishman (2019)

Recently, I got a chance to check out a list by RT.com where the author examines the list of 2020 Oscar nominations based on how good and “woke” they are. Now, it’s an interesting read even though unlike some Canadian professors, I don’t think that the PC culture is the world’s biggest problems, as for example, not many koalas are on fire right now because of it (in my simpleton mind) Yet, one thing caught my eye the most. The article states for the movie the Irishman:

“Producers behind the movie tried to win over politically correct social media mobs before the flick’s release by talking up the story’s supposed takedown of “toxic masculinity."

Now, this is art, so we’re by default all correct in our views about practically anything related to it. However, the entire approach of the movie was something completely different to me. No, I didn’t see The Casino or Goodfellas as laden with toxic masculinity - even though, yes, there is a quote from one of the producers of The Irishman saying this.