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2010-19 2010-19 Reviews

Porto (2016)

I have found myself struggling with this film. Porto is a film that I enjoyed a great deal when I was watching it. But now that a distance from it has been established, the film feels like a justification or defense for Jake (Anton Yelchin) stalking and physically hitting Mati (Lucie Lucas). I know that is probably not the intention of the film, but that scene is such a profound moment that is enhanced even more due to the film’s structure. 

The audience is shown both point-of-views (Jake’s and Mati’s) and the film feels much like a “how did they get here” kind of film. I know there is probably a more nuanced way of saying that, but that’s how the film works. The structure is also a little complicated to explain because you see moments and flashes of images from all different time periods. You have moments of Jake and Mati before they met, moments of them together, moments of them right after they were together, and moments in the distant future. Director Gabe Klinger plays with the film’s structure by showing some scenes from different timelines back to back and does it with different point-of-views as well. 

It’s a very well-made film. With beautiful compositions, great acting from Yelchin and Lucas, and its clear love for European cinema, it’s hard not to be charmed and wrapped up in Porto. I can’t help but feel that if the film removed Jake hitting Mati and toned down his stalking, the film would feel way different. I found its structure and screenplay very compelling, although it’s not perfect. Mati feels much less fleshed out than Yelchin’s character, Jake. Porto begins with Jake and he seems to get the filmmaker’s sympathy, but it’s structure suggests Mati and Jake are supposed to equal, which makes it troublesome that Jake is more developed than Mati.

The message I gathered from Porto is people want different things in life and they sometimes make decisions that affect others in negative ways without anticipating the outcomes. It’s all about perspective and without it, it’s hard to understand why another person did what they did. I think this is rather interesting and Klinger’s structure helps sell this point. However, when you have a scene where one character hits another and have that serve as the turning point in the film it’s hard to move past it since it completely reshapes the film.

4.4/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2018 Reviews

Zama (2018)

I find Lucrecia Martel to be a fascinating filmmaker. Before Zama, the only film of her’s that I had seen was La Ciénaga. I’m not much of a fan of La Ciénaga, but it has stuck with me since watching it. I think that shows the impact she has as a filmmaker. She has a unique vision and doesn’t seem interested in conforming to a “norm” that other filmmakers do.

Martel is important as a filmmaker because she does the opposite of what American filmmaking teachers would tell you. She often focuses on the mundane, something your teachers would tell you to cut out of your film. Martel succeeds because of her great abilities as a visual storyteller and dedication to her vision.

The most admirable trait of Lucrecia Martel for me is that she doesn’t seem to be out to impress anyone. She doesn’t want to be flashy or show-off. Her films have a very literal approach. She seems to showcase things as they are and doesn’t try to dress them up.

Zama has beautiful images, but not in a way that asks us to pat Martel on the back for creating them. In Zama, the closest shot we have to that is when men are riding on horses across a field with a bright blue sky behind them. We should respect Martel for showing us the beauty of life and nature and resisting the urge to fabricate it in any way that lacks subtlety.

Lucrecia Martel is clearly a very gifted visual storyteller. The story in Zama could have been more engaging for me, but it was enough to support the cinematography. I would recommend Zama to anyone who just wants a film to wash over them and see attractive images.

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

Beanpole Will Blow You Away

I was blown away by Beanpole. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie with so much darkness and beauty packed into it. Like many of the other movies I’ve watched during this month, Beanpole is not an easy watch. It is a slower movie and has moments that remind me of the films of Carlos Reygadas. Dialogue is not consistent and the characters will sometimes move at a slower pace. Director Kantemir Balagov will sometimes show characters doing mundane actions in their entirety. Due to its structure, Beanpole‘s more vicious moments will hit you harder. There are a few scenes that will be difficult to watch.

Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina are incredible in this! You feel so much sadness and compassion for Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko). Her condition and unhealthy relationship with Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), while repeatedly being called “Beanpole” by her peers, make her a very empathetic character.

I also want to give immense credit to the cinematography and production design. The brooding atmosphere these two help create take Beanpole to the next level. This film will stay with you days after you watch it.

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

Diamantino is a Silly, but Fun Ride

This was a really nice surprise. Diamantino is funny, silly, and tackles the need for human connection. The film also manages to tackle political issues such as immigration, the refugee crisis, and Brexit. Perhaps what is most striking about Diamantino is despite its sci-fi and surrealist elements, it is still rooted by its humanism. Diamantino is a fun ride even though it disappoints with its ending.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

I think the ending of Diamantino is what hurts it from being a better film. It may leave a bad taste in your mouth. After watching the interview with directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt I understand they were influenced by the films of Ernst Lubitsch. With that in mind, I still don’t think the ending works. I don’t think the relationship between Diamantino and Aisha is comparable to the relationships in Lubitsch’s films.

It’s very off-putting to see what was previously a father-daughter relationship – regardless of how comical and transparent it was for the audience- turn into a romantic one. For Diamantino – because of his stupidity – the father-daughter relationship was very real. Aisha and him becoming sexual so soon after Aisha reveals who she really is feels incestuous and gross. Their relationship never needed to become romantic especially since it seemed so innocent before. Every male-female relationship doesn’t need to become romantic. What would have been wrong with them becoming close friends?

However, given the circumstances, it might have made more sense for them to drift apart.

6.4/10.0

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Corpus Christi’s Oscar Nom is Well-Deserved

I can see why Corpus Christi snuck in and grabbed a Best International Film nomination at the Academy Awards this year. With an excellent performance from Bartosz Bielenia and a captivating story, Corpus Christi deserved its nomination.

Corpus Christi criticizes organized religion while maintaining optimism for the future. Director Jan Komasa and writer Mateusz Pacewicz point to the hypocrisy often found within parishes and religious individuals. Usually, when you see movies with this approach, the outlook is bleak and there isn’t room for hope. Komasa and Pacewicz show that there is work to be done, but it isn’t a lost cause. They are optimistic for the future and highlight that organized religion may have some outdated customs, but with a new voice and outlook, we can move in the right direction. The only thing we have to do is be open to new approaches and give them a chance.

Pacewicz’s screenplay shows that different people have the capacity to provide spiritual guidance to others. He has a multilayered screenplay, tackling the rights of convicts following release, people using money to have too much power over people, and ultimately, at the forefront of the film: the hypocrisy and room to grow within organized religion. There are many themes compiled into Corpus Christi, but Pacewicz blends them together to create a sophisticated screenplay. He shows a film can be about more than one thing and still not bite off more than it can chew.

8.1/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

The Burial of Kojo (2019)

When I look back on this film now – I watched it a few weeks ago – I fail to remember anything good about it. All I can think of is negatives. My main issue with The Burial of Kojo is it feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Narratively and creatively it feels disjointed. It seems to want to be a straightforward narrative film, but have its surrealist cake and eat it too. You have moments with pretty images – Esi holding a clear umbrella while fireworks rain down on her – but these images are just that: pretty images. They offer very little to the story and atmosphere. The shots are in the movie because they look cool and it seems like that’s it.

If director Blitz Bazawule wanted to make a 100% surrealist film, having images like this would be totally fine, but when you are trying to have a traditional narrative film these shots feel disruptive. Bazawule might have been able to help these shots feel less unruly if the film flowed better. If I had to guess, the blame for its lack of flow should probably be given to the screenplay more than its editing, although the editing should still take some responsibility. The story, cinematography, and editing were hardly ever in sync.

The Burial of Kojo switches back between high quality shots with good lenses to others that look like the filmmakers used a GoPro. It is clear The Burial of Kojo was a micro-budget film and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m personally taken out of a movie when there appears to be changes in resolution. I still remember seeing Transformers: Age of Extinction in IMAX and the continual aspect ratio changes. Granted, frequent aspect ratio changes are far more jarring and unpleasant than resolution changes, but the impact they have on me are the same. I’m even bothered when resolution changes occur when stock footage is used for overhead views of cities.

These GoPro shots are not used as transitions or establishing shots. I may be misremembering, but I feeI like I remember some scenes using two different cameras. It was as if their main camera ran out of batteries and they used the GoPro to finish shooting the coverage of the scene. It’s possible this may have just been an aesthetic choice, but it’s not one that I believe adds great value to the story or movie as a whole.

I’ve seen comparisons between The Burial of Kojo and Beasts of the Southern Wild and at first I didn’t agree with the comparison, but now I see it. The Burial of Kojo could be considered a film that wants to be Beasts and borrows a lot from it, but never fully understood what made Beasts so successful.

2.3/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

And Then We Danced Will Make You Stand and Cheer

Challenges like “March Around the World” are great because not only do they show us different cultures and experiences, but they also result in us watching films that might not have been on our radar. And Then We Danced taught me about Georgian dance, which I honestly had no knowledge of beforehand. I also never would have watched it if it wasn’t for this month’s challenge. When I saw And Then We Danced was playing near me and was from Georgia, I figured it was definitely worth checking out.

I love going into a movie almost completely blind and really digging it. I feel that some of the best moviegoing experiences can come from that circumstance. And Then We Dancedcompletely blew me away in terms of how much I liked it considering I knew nothing about Georgian dance and don’t even have any experience with dance myself. I think that is testament to the power of And Then We Danced and how good it is.

And Then We Danced is led by Levan Gelbakhiani, who plays Merab, a character you root for immediately. Right from the start, Merab wants his teacher’s praise and acceptance, something that we can tell from the very beginning he will not get. Merab, probably somewhat aware of this, tries to not let it phase him because his passion for dance is too strong. Gelbakhiani wears the passion, kindness, and yearning on his face for the entire movie. He gives a moving, internal performance, which makes the ending that much more powerful.

Gelbakhiani is complemented by Bachi Valishvili, who looks like the love child of Jack Reynor and Christopher Abbott. Valishvili plays Irakli, a dancer that replaces someone in the National Georgian Ensemble. He is instant competition for Merab and this disdain Merab feels for Irakli transforms into strong affection. Despite director Levan Akin falling into familiar clichés with Merab and Irakli’s relationship, the rest of the film is so strong and the ending so astonishing it doesn’t matter. It’s an ending that makes you want to stand up and clap when the credits roll.

8.2/10.0

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Cats is NOT the Worst Movie You’ll Ever See, But it’s Not Great

Well… Cats surely is something.

It’s very easy to pick on Cats and everyone has stormed the Internet in masses to do so ever since the first trailer aired many months prior to its release. At the time, I had held out hope that Cats was going to be a good movie. Tom Hooper directed Les Miserables (2012) and that was very good, so maybe this would be too. Cats seemed to have potential. The trailer, although not perfect, showed some promise and was enhanced by Jennifer Hudson’s powerful voice.

The hate coming from the first trailer could be attributed to its somewhat new technological approach (cats, but with human faces!) which made it easily meme-able for Internet trolls and other people farming for impressions. And people wonder why Hollywood never tries anything new. However, leading up to its release, like Dolittle (2020), the more dialogue you started to see from the movie, the worse it looked. Therefore, when the movie was finally released and critically panned, it didn’t come as much as a surprise to me. What I wonder though is, if it was actually good, average, or even intended for a very, very small audience to be enjoyed, would the hate had still been there because it’s so easy to make fun of and hating things is the Internet’s favorite pastime? I guess we’ll never know…

Cats has many, many problems and it deserved the criticism it deserved. I’m not denying that, but there are some good moments in it. Cats isn’t the total dumpster file you were led to believe. Sure, the first thirty minutes might be the worst thirty minutes of a movie I’ve seen in a long time, but the film is not all bad.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many things done so bad and so well in one movie. They had high quality actors and some of them give poor performances. Cats signifies a career low for James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellan, and Ray Winstone. The only actors who come out fully unscathed (in my opinion) are Francesca Hayward and Jennifer Hudson. Most of the musical numbers and songs are lame, but there are two that are compelling and one that is a blast. Francesca Haywood singing “Beautiful Ghosts (Victoria’s Song” (a song that deserved an Oscar nomination more than other songs nominated this year) and Jennifer Hudson singing “Memory” are the emotional high points of the movie. Steven McRae singing and tap-dancing “Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat” is just pure fun. Third, for the most part, the visual effects are very impressive, but there are other times they look awful.

Just to keep it simple, some of the actors are good, but most of them give performances below their talent. The visual effects are great the majority of the time and bad all the other times. I guess you could say consistency is the main problem for Cats. I think Tom Hooper may have bitten off more than he could chew in regards to how much time he had to make the film and the amount of money he was allotted. It’s possible that the technology to make Cats is not yet at the level it needed to be to fulfill Hooper’s vision. Nevertheless, I respect him for taking a risk.

I find it hard to understand how Cats is even a compelling musical because although Cats feels like a film and not a recording of stage performance, the film still feels very theatrical. This is partially due to the difficulty – I’m sure – of the visual effects for the settings as well as the actors themselves, but even as a film it feels very much like watching a play, which doesn’t work for it. Cats does have its moments and breaks from its minimal locations, but the story, performances, and conversations that take place are not compelling enough to sustain its low number of settings.

Yeah, Cats is bad, but it’s not the worst movie you’ll ever see. At the end of the day, at least we got to see Hayward and Hudson sing, as well as Steven McRae dancing and singing along railway tracks.

3.0/10.0

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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

American Woman (2019)

At first glance American Woman may look like a crime film or mystery, but it’s actually a family drama and character study. Sienna Miller’s Deb Callaghan serves as the character study, a gentle and loving one at that. Despite the film not being a mystery, her daughter’s disappearance is always on your mind, her presence felt in every scene, giving you a glimpse of what Deb feels and what others feel when a child has gone missing.

Sienna Miller carries the movie on her shoulders, but is supported greatly by her costars, including, but not limited to, Christina Hendricks, Amy Madigan, and Aaron Paul.

You might have missed this one during 2019 (like I did), but if you really like character studies you will be pleasantly surprised. However, if you’re looking for a clear cut crime drama, American Woman probably isn’t for you.

7.6/10.0

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21 Bridges (2019)

The main problem with 21 Bridges is that nothing sets it apart from the rest. In a few years or less, we’re going to think back and either have forgotten this film or have merged it in our minds with the films that it mimics.

The story is interesting, albeit a little cliche, but good enough to keep us entertained. Nevertheless, I cannot help but believe that the more interesting story lies with Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch). I think their point of view is the only aspect of the film that keeps it mediocre. Chadwick Boseman’s Andre Davis is the paper thin son-of-a-cop archetype we’ve seen too many times. It is amusing to think how riveting 21 Bridges may have been entirely from the lens of Michael and Ray. Changing this point of view would have prevented the filmmakers from building up a half-baked twist.

The “twist” of 21 Bridges is so obvious from the very beginning and you can tell the filmmakers know it too. Anyone who has seen a cop movie in the last ten years could probably tell you that there are dirty cops and also point out who they are. The filmmakers telegraph to the audience who is dirty and narratively the audience knows the cops are dirty way before Davis does. All it becomes is a matter of figuring out who the dirty cops are. It appears that the filmmakers were handcuffed to this genre cliche “twist” because they barely commit to it.

At the end of the day, 21 Bridges is a decent movie, but not worth seeing if you’re looking for something a little more fresh.

5.0/10.0