Tag Archives: ShouldSee

Disobedience

[3.5 stars]

Sebastián Lelio has had a hell of a run on screen. His last few films have all been quiet, emotionally powerful stories of women finding their feet in the world. With Gloria, he looked at an older woman reassessing her life. With A Fantastic Woman, he took on a transgender woman accepting herself and the loss of her love. With co-writer Lenkiewicz (Ida), in Disobedience, he tackles the intersection of deep, fundamentalist beliefs, desire and, as with all his films, escaping the weight of the past.

This film boasts a triumvirate of powerful characters embodied by Rachel Weisz (Denial), Rachel McAdams (Game Night) and Alessandro Nivola (Selma). Each of these people must navigate a complex web of connections and expectations as well as their own inner demons to find a way forward. While the main focus is on the women, there is history to the three that is only slowly revealed. The less you know going in, the better to appreciate the work that Lelio put into the film.

Lelio is a patient director. He lays out stories and insists that they slowly reveal themselves and build, much like life. We only see so much at a time and, rarely, do we get explanations. We have to intuit the issues or wait for an inciting moment to get details, but the information is there. Disobedience is no exception. He presents a situation and hints at unspoken tensions, but doesn’t explain them immediately, driving tension into otherwise mundane and quiet situations.

When you have a couple hours and want to see some real craft, both on screen and behind it, put this on. It tackles a culture that is rarely depicted with care and appreciation, and it is packed with brilliant acting and direction.

Disobedience

Eighth Grade

[3.5 stars]

For his first film, writer/director Bo Burnham gives us a painful gem of what it is to be 13-ish. I can’t say I ever wanted to go back there in my mind but, despite the technology aspects, clearly little has changed. And that is part of the point.

What the technology brings to the story is a wonderful mirror for Elsie Fisher (Dirty Girl) to play with and against as we see her inner and outer voices. Her performance is wonderful and honest, with only a few forced hitches. Josh Hamilton (13 Reasons Why), as her father, also turns in a wonderfully subtle performance as a foil for Fisher. There are many other young actors who fill out Fisher’s school and world. Of them, Jake Ryan’s (Isle of Dogs) awkward tween Casanova is the most memorable.

Despite its particular and narrow focus, Eighth Grade is a reminder of just how alone and together we all are, regardless of age or family situation. It is honest to the point of making you cringe. The result is a great indicator of what Burnham and Fisher each may be capable of down the road. A24 continues to show off their ability to find unique and resonate films to distribute; see this at some point.

Eighth Grade

Equalizer 2

[4.5 stars]

Straight up, this is the best film I’ve seen yet this summer. There are other films out there which were more pure entertainment (Deadpool, Avengers), but Equalizer is also just a damned good film.

This is both Denzel Washington’s (Roman J. Israel, Esq) and Antoine Fuqua’s (The Magnificent Seven) first ever sequel, and they chose to do it together. And damn if they didn’t make a good choice.

The first installment of The Equalizer was fun, but frankly it was a riff on the old TV series and a bit of a money grab with some cheap emotional content. This sequel is much more personal, much more unique, and one hell of a suspense-filled ride. Richard Wenk’s (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) script is clever and tight. In Fuqua’s hands it sails through its 2 hours with its hands at your throat. This isn’t a Liam Neeson Commuter kind of romp. Our man McCall is active and purposeful, and, in this movie, driven to improve the world. The story is filled with layers, complexity, and metaphors. They could have called it The Oncoming Storm if that wasn’t already taken by Doctor Who.

Melissa Leo (Furlough) reprises her role with a bit of glee and sharp wits. Her partner, Pedro Pascal (Kingsman: The Golden Circle), expands that aspect of Washington’s world and brings in a new perspective. There are some other nice performances and side stories, but it is the interplay of these three that bring it together.

In the current times, where the rule of law and accountability seems to have vanished at the highest levels, a story about someone applying justice is compelling. It comes at a high cost in the film, but it also provides payment. There are a couple dropped threads in the story overall, but it is a great ride, fully satisfying, and should leave you catching your breath by the final scene.

The Equalizer II

Mama Mia! Here We Go Again

[3.5 stars]

Here we go again, indeed. And why the hell not? Sure, it is treacly pointlessness with a beat, but it is certainly a welcome break from reality. This installment does suffer a bit from sequel-itis in that it is a bit less focused and not quite “new,” but the cast and production throw themselves into the story to bring it all nicely full-circle.

The original cast return, picking up where they left off, but the real focus is very much in the past. Lily James (The Darkest Hour) as the young Meryl Streep (The Post) is magnetic and wonderful. And Jessica Keenan Wynn, in particular, nails Christine Baranski (Into the Woods) beautifully.

What is most interesting, at least for me, was watching how director/writer Ol Parker (Now is Good) structured the movie to get the effect he wanted. The initial songs and performances are purposefully lack-luster to leave room for the bigger and better-known numbers and stars later on. The first 15-20 minutes of the movie is all about breaking down the happy ending of the previous film so the characters have something to fight for. The inter-cuts from past to present are expertly and interestingly woven together. And the drive to the finale is inevitable. The rhythm builds like Grand Budapest Hotel, compressing as we get closer to the ending.

But therein lies the rub. For me, the film never quite peaked. We’re promised a huge finale, and there is a nice emotional one on some levels, but we never quite have the musical finale we deserve. Think The Greatest ShowmanMoulin Rouge, or Across the Universe or just about any Broadway show. And I say this especially because Cher (Burlesque) was in the mix. The fault really lies with the music arrangements. In every case they seem to hang back or back off the blow-out ending. Whether that was to accommodate the actor’s abilities or to keep Cher from stealing away the film, I don’t know, but it was very palpable for me. The trailers had more showmanship for me than the movie itself.

All that said, the two hour diversion was welcome and entertaining. If you liked the first, you’ll like returning for the second. There is a sweet story, both romantic and personal, being told and ABBA’s music remains unavoidably foot-tapping. Just stay through to the end of the credits for a final, short scene.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Everything is Illuminated

[3.5 stars]

This is a sneaky little film, and all to the good. Liev Schreiber (Pawn Sacrifice) pulls off a clever bit of structure that would often destroy a film in less sure hands. Here it works wonderfully. And given that this was his first attempt at both writing and directing, it is an even more impressive result.

Elija Wood (The Last Witch Hunter) is the only readily recognizable face in the film. He provides a great spine for the tale. An equally strong performance is from a face you may or may not recognize, Boris Leskin. The interplay of these two characters is part of the magic that Schreiber pulls off.

I don’t know how much of the story from the original book is true, but the impact forgives it any embellishments. If you missed this in the past, make time for this story at some point. Let its quiet pace and wry humor take you along to unexpected places and endings. It is powerful and, sadly, still very relevant in today’s world.

Everything Is Illuminated

A Fantastic Woman (Una Mujer Fantástica)

[4 stars]

Like his award-winning Gloria, this award-winning film by Sebastián Lelio focuses tightly on an individual woman’s experience of family and death. He re-teamed with Gonzalo Maza to write the script as well. Daniela Vega, who brought her very real experiences to the set and story as a consultant and who ended up playing the lead role, is powerful in her portrayal.

The story is a simple one and one almost everyone has experienced: The death of a family member and the resulting fallout and personalities that are released. Admittedly, Vega’s character and situation add some wrinkles to everything, and certainly serves to expose a seething sort of bile in a good number of Santiago’s residents, but the situation itself is common. While the story is quiet, it is held so taut in Lelio’s hands as to make emotions sing even while Vega navigates it all with a calm reticence.

Also like Gloria, A Fantastic Woman taps into emotions anyone can understand and mines a deep intensity in its characters with few words and simple gestures. It is a beautiful film and emotionally battering at times. While it doesn’t quite reach the same triumphant moment in its finale as Gloria, it makes its point nonetheless. Just be prepared to look up the opera reference unless you know your music really well or your subtitles are better than mine were (which didn’t translate the obviously important lyrics). If it weren’t for that choice at the very end, which shifts from an emotional core to something a bit more intellectual, this would have been a five star movie. That shift, however important and poignant, took some of the intensity and deflected it for me. It did not in any way ruin the film.

See this one when you get the chance. And keep Lelio on your list of directors to follow. He has an uncanny ability to strip away the surface of a character and present the core in wonderful ways.

The Bridge (Bron/Broen) – Series 4

[5 stars]

The fourth, and last, series of this Swedish/Danish phenomenon goes out in style over eight episodes and with a feeling of completeness. The previous series had left Sofia Helin’s (The Divine Order) Saga in a precarious place; this series picks up a few months later. With her series three partner, Thure Lindhardt (The Borgias), the two assail a wonderfully complex mystery while also tackling their own demons. Helin’s performance continues to evolve and impress while Lindhardt really comes into his own this series.

The Bridge has always done its homework, even if it has pushed the limits of credibility at times. This most recent round is no exception. Through to the end they are getting things right, even when you think they’re getting them wrong. Series 4 will not disappoint anyone who has come to love and appreciate a storyline that has launched several copies and riffs (The Tunnel, The Bridge (US), etc), and helped open the door wide for more mysteries from its corner of the world.

I really give credit to the writers and producers who were willing to leave it on a high note rather than stretch it out until it lost its quality. That takes guts…but it also frees them up to give us new and different shows. Kudos and luck to them!

The Bridge

Incredibles 2

[3 stars]

The largest part of what made The Incredibles so successful and ripe for a sequel was Brad Bird (Tomorrowland).  Up till now he never treated any of his animations as cartoons, he approached them like drawn movies. Few animators (and their studios) took that approach before him, though it is more common now. It isn’t just in the subject matter, it is in the composition of the frames and the choices of the edits. Watching a Bird animation you could sometimes forget these aren’t real people on screen, unlike, say the Despicable Me series.

But while this sequel picks up seconds (and 14 years) after the original ended, some of the Bird magic seems to be missing for me. For starters, the whole point of the first movie was the family learning to accept who they were and to work together. This second throws that out and starts again, admittedly for different reasons, but it still feels a bit like a loop rather than a progression. The action, probably thanks a lot to Jack Jack, is broader and more cartoon-y. And the mystery…just isn’t in this one. Or at least it wasn’t to me.

This is certainly enjoyable family fare…and with more going for it than most family movies. There are nods and comments for adults throughout that were noticed and enjoyed by the crowd. But I expect a bit more from Bird instead of a, basically, a solid Pixar action flick that took very little time to build characters. There weren’t even any voice performances worth calling out as anything special, though Catherine Keener (Nostalgia) and Bob Odenkirk (The Post) come close. Keener’s exchanges with Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) also verge on something unique, but never quite get there. Overall it felt like Bird was afraid to let the action lull too long and so quickly left any quiet moment. To be fair, it certainly seemed to work to keep the kids all engaged through the 2+ hours (including the uneven, if ultimately surprising, short, Bao).

Certainly, make time for this rollicking and entertaining distraction. But it isn’t quite everything I had hoped for, though it was great to spend time with these Supers again after so long; they deserved a new adventure. Perhaps we’ll get that next time.

Incredibles 2

Saturday Church

[3 stars]

Like many, when I first saw Paris is Burning back in 1990 I was floored by the stories and the window into a world I only knew from the fringes. It is easy to think the world has moved on since then, but Saturday Church makes it clear the progress has been minimal in many ways, even though it is fiction rather than documentary.

In the lead is Luka Kain who, despite being intensely quiet, manages to hold the story and film together. He is surrounded by capable actors and singers, though most are unknown. Of that collective, it is Kate Bornstein who stands out as the matron of the titular refuge. She is understanding but strong, and incredibly charismatic.

This is a positive leaning, if open-eyed, look at the challenges and all-too-common tales of what it is to grow up gay or trans in a repressive household. As a movie it is passable, but its heart is solid and the original music surprisingly good. It is also a good bet for you if you find documentaries like Paris is Burning or Pageant intriguing.

Should the story move you at all, you can learn more about its real life inspiration (St. Luke’s in the Fields) and support it.

Saturday Church

In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts)

[3.5 stars]

In the Fade packs a lot of story into its shy two hours. And while I’m not a Diane Kruger (The Host) fan, often finding her stiff and unemotional, she is powerful and painfully exposed in this film; she carries it utterly. In fact, the only other actor that leaves a real impression is Johannes Krisch, who’s super creepy and foul lawyer will twist your guts as he does his work.

Director/co-writer Fatih Akin tackles what is becoming an all-to-common story in the last ten years. However, he focuses the story very personally and small, expertly guiding Kruger and the cast, keeping it paced and under control. The story, however charged, stays ensconced in the painfully mundane, which is part of how it earned the many awards it was was nominated for and/or won last year.

Admittedly, In the Fade is not a light film for a night of simple distraction, but it is a well-done film that should be seen at some point. Because it focuses on the individual rather than the broader societal threads, it is oddly more palatable. We connect with Kruger and invest in her need for meaning, even when her actions are far from anything we may personally identify with…and even more so when they are.

In the Fade