1970s Oldies

Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976)

I have a strong dislike for movies where a woman is dating or married to a man who is awful to her and she stands by him. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands would actually be a perfect example of this kind of movie. From ones I’ve seen, I would put this film at the bottom of my list. I found Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands to not have any redeeming qualities. 

The characters are so one-dimensional that the actors aren’t given the room to have good performances. The cinematography is standard, so there isn’t anything impressive about it. When Dona and Her Two Husbands tries to implement humor it doesn’t work. I didn’t find the situation of Dona Flor’s husband groping two women with her right next to them funny or the rest of his behavior for that matter. It makes perfect sense that when he comes back as a ghost he’s completely nude.

Dona Flor’s first husband was a womanizing jerk. I found it difficult to watch him gamble and fool around with other women for the first hour of the movie. This behavior made the film become repetitive. He was so devoid of any depth that we knew what he was going to do for the first thirty minutes and nothing changed. 

I think one of the film’s biggest problems is its structure. It begins with the death of Dona Flor’s bumbling idiot husband, but then proceeds to give us a summary of his marriage to her, which was simply uninteresting. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands might have worked better if the film had flashbacks during the time after his death and while she was married to her second husband.

The icing on the cake is the ending. Dona Flor ends up with both of her husbands. The irony is she becomes exactly what she despised about her first husband. She gets the husband who will give her all of the crazy sex she desires and another husband who is loyal and nice to her. I’m honestly not even sure what to make of this ending. Is it to show no one is perfect? Everyone is a hypocrite? Or is it some sort of revenge for how she was treated before? I’m honestly not sure.

I didn’t like anything about Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, but I have to give it a 2/10 because it was still competently made.


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.


2020 Reviews

Daniel Radcliffe Can’t Save Guns Akimbo

The latest shoot-em-up movie stars Daniel Radcliffe, and yes, you heard that right. He’s easily the best part of the film. I got so much enjoyment out of watching Daniel Radcliffe run around in a bathrobe with guns bolted to his hands. Radcliffe has done really interesting work since completing the Harry Potter franchise. I really respect him being game for pretty much anything.

Guns Akimbo focuses on Miles (Radcliffe), a computer programmer, who makes a poor decision and trolls an underground fight club organization’s stream. The organization, Skizm, doesn’t enjoy the trolling too much and wants to to make Miles pay. They end up bolting firearms to his hands and forcing him to fight in their next competition, against the baddest killer: Nix (Samara Weaving). 

I so badly wanted to like this movie more than I did. The concept is comical and cool. I’m a sucker for great posters with nice color schemes and Guns Akimbo has one of those. Initially, it checked all of the boxes, but in the end it didn’t deliver for me.

If you take away the initial set-up of having a character get guns bolted to his hands and having to participate in a fight to the death, the rest of the screenplay is pretty generic. It doesn’t bring anything new besides its tagline. While watching Guns Akimbo, you may find yourself thinking of other movies it reminds you of. I made a shortlist of ones I could think of right off the bay. Those movies are: the John Wick franchise, GamerNerveCrankHardcore HenryReady Player One, and The Running Man.

Usually when a film combines this many different films it will create a more interesting movie because it has so much to pick and choose from. However, Guns Akimbo feels pretty derivative. One could see Guns Akimbo as an algorithmic movie created from other daring action movies that have come out over the last two decades. I say that because there seems to be no passion or strong voice behind it shining through. The film has a lot of fun in the beginning, with its sleek editing and really interesting compositions, but it takes a step back and doesn’t take any risks. Guns Akimbo then came off as lazy, borrowing shots and successful artistic choices from other films. To top it off, the villain, Riktor (Ned Dennehy) is cartoonishly goofy. Ned Dennehy gives a 80s-esque performance in a movie with a modern feel.

Daniel Radcliffe does everything he can to save the movie and he’s supported greatly by Samara Weaving, who has made a habit herself of making the movies she’s in much better than they’d be without her. Nevertheless, uninspired direction and a common action screenplay prevent this from breaking through the mold of the action genre.


2000s Oldies

Japón (2003)

Japón is Carlos Reygadas at his most aimless and self-indulgent. The film begins great and maintains its quality until about halfway through. What starts as a story of a man going to a small village slowly turns into a story of a man who grows affection for an older woman he wants to receive sex from. It takes such a sharp turn thematically it was hard for me to go along with.

The film shifts from being about a man who is unsatisfied with his life, in the middle of a deep existential crisis, to the man being unfulfilled due to his lack of sex life. I realize this may be a crude and elementary way of looking at the story, but when the actions of “The Man” (Alejandro Ferretis) feel one-dimensional I’m more inclined to think that way. To say his actions are due to a natural primal instinct due to his newly acquired isolation only ends up minimizing his initial, complex issues. It’s an arguably pessimistic and unfair interpretation of human beings. I also don’t think you can write off his feelings for Ascen (Magdalena Flores) as love either because he knows almost nothing about her and proposes sex to her in such an entitled and manipulative way.

Japón has this quality of feeling like everything is spur of the moment and the narrative is constantly shifting. I think this could have worked if what was going behind the camera didn’t feel the same way. The film feels unfocused during the second half. Reygadas’s film eventually starts to feel like a collection of images that don’t always flow together seamlessly. After a while the editing starts to feel choppy.

There’s a weird moment where a non-professional actor addresses the camera crew of Japón. I was instantly reminded of the ending of Taste of Cherry. I personally don’t like the ending of Taste of Cherry, but that had more intent behind it. The one-off line one of the workers utters could have easily been removed or even edited around. It’s such a weird moment.

If Reygadas wanted to remind everyone that they were watching a movie, like director Abbas Kiarostami did, more thought should have been put into it. Or, if the line was completely unscripted – which it probably was – he should have found a way to double down later on the line if he knew he was going to keep it in.

You can expect to see the typical Reygadas flourishes you get in his later films: longer takes, minimal dialogue, and beautiful cinematography. Japón is mostly let-down by his hazy screenplay. He might have been able to save the film if he had a stronger conclusion, but it ends in a cheap way.

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.


Ichi the Killer (2001)

One of the most violent and gruesome movies I have ever seen, Ichi the Killer seems to exist solely to be just that. Director Takashi Miike seems to make the film brutally violent just for the sake of being brutally violent, which is fine, but I don’t always enjoy movies of that nature. I’m definitely not going to enjoy it when it’s done in such a sadistic and confrontational nature. Miike might have been able to get away with it if he was commenting on the brutality of man or violence in general, but he seems to enjoy it too much to go anywhere near that territory.

I might have found it easier to get through Ichi the Killer if it wasn’t plagued by misogyny and sickening violence towards women. With the exception of the scene with Suzuki hanging from hooks, the women get tortured and beaten way worse than the men. The women in the film are merely sexual objects meant to be used and deposed as the men wish.

Despite its gratuitous violence, rampant misogyny, and unlikable characters, there are positives with Ichi the Killer.

The practical effects are incredibly well-done, which makes the torture scenes harder to watch than other movies you may watch. Considering Ichi the Killer was made in 2001, I think it’s a good argument for the effectiveness of SFX vs. VFX considering the CGI in the film looks very cheap by today’s standards, but the SFX still holds up nicely.

Takashi Miike still manages to make the film watchable through his visuals and editing. Ichi the Killer is both easily digestible and arresting to one’s eyes. He gets committed performances from the cast, especially from Tadanobu Asano, who plays Kakihara. Also, fortunately for him, he had interesting source material to help combat particular choices he made.

This film is definitely not for everyone. I’d look heavily into Ichi the Killer before considering watching it.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.