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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 2019 Reviews

Too Late to Die Young (2019)

Dominga Sotomayor’s film, Too Late to Die Young takes a personal and authentic look into the lives of a close-knit and isolated community in Chile. The events take place in 1990, right before the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. It’s a coming-of-age story that focuses on three kids in the community.

A film like this is only as strong as its performances and the young non-actors are excellent. Sofía (Demian Hernández), Lucas (Antar Machado), and Clara (Magdalena Tótoro) are the leads of this ensemble film. In the interview with BFI (on the Criterion Channel), Sotomayor spoke of her directing style and how many of the actors didn’t have any prior experience. She tried to keep the performances as real as possible by guiding them and not having them focus on the script too much. She directed them in a way that in the end, the film follows the screenplay closely. All three of them feel real and you will become attached to them. You might find yourself wanting to know what happens to them next. I would love to get a follow-up film with the three of them.

My favorite performance came from Antar Machado. He wears a boyish sadness that is brutally honest. You can tell how much he loves Sofía (Demian Hernández) just by how he looks at her. Machado and Sotomayor perfectly capture a teenage boy’s first love and the heartache that comes when the other person doesn’t feel the same way. Even when Lucas knows it’s hopeless he still wants to try. It’s heartbreaking.

Dominga Sotomayor’s Too Late to Die Young is a touching and unforgettable film. Her screenplay has some clichés, but her characters are so real that the clichés come off more as stereotypes than lazy screenwriting. I highly recommend Too Late to Die Young. It feels criminally unwatched right now.

7.7/10.0

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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 2019 Reviews

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot Almost Falls Flat

I want to start this review with stating that I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan. Clerks is one of my favorite low-budget films of all time and Smith made a huge impact on me during my later teen years. I’m also not a “fan” who’s actually a former fan and wants every opportunity to hate on Kevin Smith. With that being said, this review is coming from a real fan who wants Kevin Smith to succeed.

Holy cow, the first twenty-thirty minutes of this movie are awful. The beginning of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot attempts to taint the legacies of Clerks, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and every other movie he’s ever made. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot’s start is even bad by 90s standards. What the heck was Justin Long doing? The writing is lousy and the jokes are lame. It’s so annoyingly and overtly self-aware I wanted to shut it off. The self-awareness isn’t as frequent as the rest of the movie goes on, so it makes you wonder why it’s so constant in the beginning. It ends up feeling like an incredibly misguided fan service.

In the beginning, the movie attacks reboots, but also is one. It feels like they’re picking on the fans who wanted Jay and Silent Bob Reboot in the first place and they’re being forced to make it. Is the beginning intentionally bad in order to make a commentary on the value of reboots? Was it a defense mechanism for the inevitable criticism and hate Kevin Smith planned to receive?

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot has plenty of cameos. Matt Damon gives the best one while Justin Long gives the worst one. Jason Lee does his best with the awful dialogue he’s given and it was nice seeing him after all these years. The cameos are more favorable than bad, which is good because when the film first kicks off it doesn’t seem like this will be the case. Adam Brody is funny and Ben Affleck has a really good cameo. Ben Affleck’s Holden McNeil serves as a vessel for Kevin Smith to do some self-reflecting. The conversation also serves as an explanation for Smith’s fans on why the quality of his films may have gone down. It’s a touching scene, especially coming from someone who doesn’t always put his personal life into his movies in such a straightforward and honest way.

The rest of the movie is much better if you can get through the first twenty minutes. The beginning is awful, the middle is good, and the ending is unrealistic, weak camp. There are positives within Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. Jason Mewes gives his best performance to date. He shows more depth than he ever has due to his character’s relationship with his daughter Milly (Harley Quinn Smith). Through this relationship, Smith’s writing reaches a level of maturity I don’t remember seeing and his jokes blend with the narrative well when it’s dealing with its serious topics. It’s relatively easy to get through Jay and Silent Bob Reboot if you’re a longtime Kevin Smith fan. If you’re not, this will very likely be insufferable.

It’s starting to look more and more like Tusk is going to be Kevin Smith’s last great movie. He seems to be content with that and if he’s content with that, I am too. I just want Kevin Smith to be healthy and happy and I’m really glad he seems to be.

4.2/10.0

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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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2010-19 Reviews 2019 Reviews

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