WOMEN TALKING (2023)

January 12, 2023

Greetings again from the darkness. Do nothing. Stay and fight. Leave. Those are the three options a group of women debate in the loft of a barn on the edge of their religious commune. The true story that inspired Miriam Toews to write her 2018 novel is horrific. Between 2005 and 2009, there were more than 150 cases of females being drugged (with livestock tranquilizers) and violently raped. They ranged in age from three to sixty-five, and this occurred in a deeply religious Mennonite community in Bolivia. The great writer-director Sarah Polley has adapted Ms. Toews’ novel for her first feature since STORIES WE TELL (2012), and we welcome her back as a voice always deserving of a platform.

When two girls spot a rapist running away one evening, an emotional fire is lit. The man is charged, and this leads the women to organize their own meeting to discuss the three options noted above. Rooney Mara plays Ona, the good-hearted optimist. Claire Foy plays her sister Salome who spends much time in rage mode. Jessie Buckley is Mariche, the often brutally abused woman who has her own strong ideas. If you are a movie lover, you immediately recognize that these three are among the best young actresses working today. What a pleasure to watch them do what they do … despite the material often being extremely uncomfortable and stress-inducing. This new generation of community women are joined in debate by the elders: Agata (Judith Ivey) and Greta (Sheila McCarthy), who both carry the burden of shame having raised their daughters in this environment. Scarface Janz (Oscar winner Frances McDormand, also a producer on the film) only has a couple of scenes, as she is stays strong in her ”do nothing” stance.

As the dialogue continues in the loft, we learn much about what these women, as well as the generations before them, have endured. Over the years, whenever victims have spoken up about the horrible abuses, their accusations have been dismissed as “wild female imagination.” The religious patriarchy has led to many years of submission and resignation to a lesser life – one that includes manual labor and a lack of education. These women cannot read or write, so they have asked August (an excellent Ben Whishaw) to take notes and list the pros and cons of the options. August is a gentle soul and the local schoolteacher who has an eye towards Ona.

Revenge, forgiveness, protecting one’s self and their children is all part of the discussion, as is the difference between fleeing and leaving. These women are finding their voice through the strength of each other. Cinematographer Luc Montpellier uses mostly black and white with some subtle color gradation for effect, as well as a contrast between interior (barn loft) shots and those of the outdoor vistas and fields (representing the outside world). The score from Hildur Guonadottier is heavy on strings and works perfectly for the story, and the inclusion of “Daydream Believer” from The Monkees is a welcome inclusion.

We don’t normally think of cinema as watching people sit around and talk. One of the best ever movies showing debate among adults is 12 ANGRY MEN, and this film takes a similar approach and is not far off from the level of that all-time classic. The courage of those real women from Bolivia was staggering, and Sarah Polley offers up this intellectual and thought-provoking approach to these women taking stock of their situation. It’s a gut punch, yet somehow inspiring.

Opens in theaters on January 13, 2023

WATCH THE TRAILER


MEN (2022)

May 20, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. This is only the third feature film directed by Alex Garland, but his creativity and innovative nature in the first two (EX MACHINA, 2014 and ANNIHILATION, 2018) established him as a writer-director to follow. His latest is certainly deserving of those descriptions, yet it’s also less assessable while being more open to interpretation and worthy of discussion. Reactions from viewers are sure to be varied.

Jessie Buckley, one of the finest actors working today, takes on the lead role in yet another of her unconventional projects. We absolutely respect and admire her risk-taking, and each project benefits from her presence. Some of her recent work includes THE LOST DAUGHTER (2021), I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020), WILD ROSE (2018), and a great arc in the “Fargo” series (Season 4). Here she stars as Harper, a Londoner heading to holiday in the English countryside after the death of her husband. When she arrives at her bucolic Airbnb manor, the serenity is apparent … right up until she meets Geoffrey, the landlord. He’s played by Rory Kinnear (Tanner in the recent James Bond movies, and excellent in the “Penny Dreadful” series and its spinoff). Geoffrey’s awkward social skills involve colloquialisms and country charm to ensure that Harper knows she’s no longer in London.

The country manor is walking distance to town (which apparently consists of a church and pub), and sits alongside a forest, seemingly perfect for nature hikes. Harper’s first walk in the woods has a fascinating scene as she experiments with the echoes of a tunnel by singing notes in harmony with herself. This simple pleasure ends when she notices a nude man apparently stalking her. After calling the local police, she heads to the church where she encounters a rude boy and a vicar who is unsympathetic to her plight. All of these interactions could fit into an interesting story, but filmmaker Garland takes things to another level. Geoffrey, the stalker, the cop, and the vicar are all played by Rory Kinnear … even the boy! Later, we see that Kinnear even plays the pub’s clientele. Since it’s obvious to us, and she doesn’t seem to notice, we can assume this is a major clue for how we are to interpret what’s happening with (and to) Harper.

Flashbacks are employed so that we are able to piece together the strained relationship between Harper and her husband, James (Paapau Essidieu). Her emotional turmoil plays into what’s happening during this rural getaway meant for relaxation, yet often this has a surreal or dreamlike feel, making it challenging to know what is real or what she is imagining. Harper holds the occasional FaceTime with her friend Riley (Gayle Rankin), and the broken signal on these calls may or may not be real … like so much of what we see. Garland’s third act goes a bit bonkers, and includes some icky body horror effects ala Cronenberg. The mythology of Sheela la nig and The Green Man (rebirth) are part of the numerous uses of symbolism throughout.

The film is beautiful to look at thanks to the cinematography of Rob Hardy, and the frequent use of vibrant green jumps off the screen during many scenes. The atmosphere created is primed for something that may or may not pay off by the end, but it’s certainly another artsy creep-fest in the A24 universe. Ms. Buckley proves again what a talent she is, and Mr. Kinnear joins Peter Sellers (“Dr. Strangelove”), among others, in mastering multiple roles. Lesley Duncan’s spiritual and melancholic “Love Song” is the perfect accompaniment for Harper’s drive, and Kinnear’s frequently appearing face enhances the myth that men are all the same – a constant threat lurking for women. Folk horror resurgence continues, and viewers will have to decide if they can reconcile the abundance of symbolism.

Exclusively in theaters on May 20, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE LOST DAUGHTER (2021)

December 18, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. There are so many things that go unspoken about parenting, and first time writer-director Maggie Gyllenhaal specifically focuses her lens on the pressures of motherhood, by adapting the 2006 novel from the anonymous and talented and mysterious Italian writer Elena Ferrante. Of course, we are all aware of Ms. Gyllenhaal’s fine work as an actor, yet it’s almost beyond belief that this is her debut as a feature film director. The source material is strong, but Ms. Gyllenhaal, along with a terrific performance from Olivia Colman (Oscar winner, THE FAVOURITE, 2018), turn a coastline vacation into a mesmerizing psychological case study.

Ms. Colman proves yet again what a fine and versatile actor she is. Here she plays Leda, a divorced professor on solo holiday on a picturesque Greek island, staying in a refurbished lighthouse tended by longtime caretaker Lyle (Ed Harris). Leda is packing a satchel full of books and academia work, and is a bit perturbed when her isolated beach time is suddenly interrupted by a large and noisy family of vacationers from Queens. Being an observant loner, Leda eyes young mother Nina (Dakota Johnson) who is struggling with her daughter, as well as her husband and other family members. This triggers memories in Leda that are handled via flashbacks with a terrific Jessie Buckley (I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS, 2020) as young Leda, stressed out wife and mother to two daughters. She longs for her own space.

At face value, this appears to be a movie about a woman annoyed that she can’t just enjoy a quiet holiday on the sandy beach as she reads her books. However, there are so many layers to the story and to Leda, that as viewers, we must remain on high alert to pick up all the queues and subtleties. Watching Nina with her daughter and husband sends Leda deep into her past … a past that still haunts her to this day. At the same time, while gazing at Leda, Nina can’t help but wonder if she is looking at her own future self.

Much of what we see (past and present) reinforces the isolation and frustration felt by so many mothers. It has nothing to do with loving one’s kids, but rather maintaining one’s sanity and self-being. There are a few key moments, including one that creates tension between Leda and the vacationing family, and another that immediately connects the two. Leda’s past includes steps that would be considered taboo for any wife and mother, and the symmetry of her past and Nina’s present are striking.

Peter Sarsgaard (director Gyllenhaal’s real life husband) has a supporting role in the flashbacks, while Dagmara Dominczyk plays a critical role as Callie, part of Nina’s large family. Bonus points are won with a Leonard Cohen reference (that may or may not be true), and also playing key roles here are a missing doll (connecting Leda’s past and present) and the proper way to peel an orange. Cinematographer Helene Louvart works wonders balancing the beautiful setting with the not-always-beautiful actions of the characters. Especially potent here is the performance of Olivia Colman, who proves she can play most any role. It’s also remarkable what first time director Maggie Gyllenhaal has accomplished here. This is a multi-layered, nuanced look at how relentless parenting can often feel overwhelming and may even lead to feelings of guilt later in life. It’s rare to see such a raw look at the emotions behind what is often referred to as the joy of motherhood. The film leaves little doubt that the always-dependable actor Maggie Gyllenhaal is now one of the most interesting new filmmakers on the scene.

In select theaters on December 17, 2021 and on Netflix beginning December 31, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE COURIER (2021)

March 19, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Spies, and the whole world of espionage, are prime for cinema thanks to the globe-trotting and varied settings, the personality of those drawn to such a calling, and the intrigue and two sides of the work itself – either turning on those to whom one was once loyal, or even pretending to. Director Dominic Cooke (ON CHESIL BEACH, 2017) and writer Tom O’Connor (THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD, 2017) enter the spy thriller genre with a strong cast and a Cold War setting … not the first to do so, and certainly not the last.

The film is based on a true story, so of course there are conflicting recollections of how this all went down. Oleg Penkovsky (played expertly by Merab Ninidze, McMAFIA, 2018) was part of GRU, the main intelligence agency of the Soviet Union. His front row seat to, and subsequent concern with, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s apparent obsession with starting a nuclear war with the United States, led Penkovsky to reach out to the U.S with classified intelligence in hopes of thwarting global doom. This was the height of the Cold War, with the Cuban Missile Crisis ultimately a key element of Penkovsky’s intel.

Ambitious CIA Agent Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) reached out to MI6 Agent Dickie Franks (Angus Wright), who recruited British salesman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) to be their amateur spy … a regular citizen to conduct regular business while procuring valuable documents from Penkovsky. Greville is portrayed as anything but a James Bond-type. Instead, he’s a fun-loving family man whose wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley, I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS, 2020) has forgiven him once for marital indiscretion, and is not inclined to do so again.

This story occurred not long after Pyotr Semyonovich Popov was executed for delivering Soviet intelligence to the United States. Because of this, the CIA had a weak presence and required Britain’s assistance … enter Greville Wynne. Greville is an odd bird. One could even say a bit goofy. However, Cumberbatch delivers a terrific performance as he transitions into a more complex and courageous man than the one we initially meet.

Although the story is not as tightly told as the best spy thrillers, there are two segments that are pretty well done. Watching Penkovsky (code name “Ironbark”) and Greville get to know each other and then work together is quite interesting – and made even better by the two actors. Also the final act, with both men in KGB prison, finally ups the tension level to what we expect for the genre. The brutal environment and mistreatment is well conveyed, and it’s the point where we realize what the risk-taking of espionage can lead to. There are times the film is similar in tone to THE INFORMANT, and other times it recalls BRIDGE OF SPIES, though the latter is a superior film. This was a crucial point in the Cold War, and the film is interesting enough thanks to the cast and real life story.

THE COURIER is receiving a theatrical release on March 19, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER

 


I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

September 3, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We should never look to Charlie Kaufman to pull us out of the pandemic doldrums, although he is an absurdly talented writer who specializes in unusual plots and oddball characters. Mr. Kaufman is also an over-thinker and a non-stop thinker – I would imagine his brain rarely goes quiet. This time out, he directs his own adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel, and the result is a mind and time bending existential crisis that leaves us feeling a bit down. Yet, as always, Kaufman’s work keeps our minds racing.

Jessie Buckley, who was so terrific in WILD ROSE (2019), stars as The Young Woman going on a blizzardy road trip with Jake (Jesse Plemons, THE IRISHMAN, 2019), her boyfriend of the last six weeks or so. They are headed to visit Jake’s parents who live in a “farmy” and remote area. Act 1 is spent in the car as the wipers flap, and the woman and Jake hold awkward conversation. We, as the audience, listen to her inner thoughts, including, “I’m thinking of ending things.” She is truly an outstanding actress, and carries much of the weight with this one.

The woman is not really unnamed, in fact, throughout the movie, she has multiple names including Lucy and Louisa. And character names aren’t the only fluid piece of Kaufman’s puzzle. She is variously labeled as studying Quantum Physics, a writer of poetry, and an artist. Are you confused yet?  If not, you will be.

Act 2 takes place at the farm house where Jake’s parents live, and it shifts the film from awkward to bizarre. Toni Collette (HEREDITARY, 2018) and David Thewlis (“Fargo”) play his mother and father, both excited for the visit, but unconventional, to say the least, in their social graces. Ms. Collette over-laughs just beyond the point of perplexing and nudges the beginning of downright weird. She and Thewlis are exceptional in their ability to keep Lucy off-balance, and Jake hyper-annoyed. We aren’t sure what to make of what we are seeing … and neither is Lucy. While none of these folks takes a single bite of the dinner spread, the tone turns to surreal. Overlapping time lines of past, present, and future become haunting and hypnotic.

The film itself is disorienting, and Act 3 does little to help us regain our equilibrium. Jake and Lucy finally start their drive back, as the snow begins falling even harder. Throughout the production, Kaufman includes references to William Wordsworth, Pauline Kael, Andrew Wyeth, Mussolini, and more. He also inserts clips of a high school janitor (played by Gus Boyd) as he goes about his duties. This janitor is part of a finale featuring an animated pig and a dance number … both of which occur after Jake and Lucy have debated the importance of Cassevetes’ A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, and the performance of Gena Rowlands.

Oklahoma plays a role as both a setting and a reference musical, and a stop for ice cream at Tulsey Town, adds to the oddity and the feeling of dread that encompasses us for much of the movie (when we aren’t chuckling at the absurdities). Kaufman mixes genres with glee – horror, comedy, and psychological thriller all lead us to a dance scene and many unanswered questions about what is real and what is only in Lucy’s mind. We never see what attracted these two to each other, but we do wallow in their misery and discomfort. Charlie Kaufman’s previous screenplays include such brilliance as ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, and ADAPTATION, although this one may have more in common with his SYNECHDOCE, NEW YORK – a film that can wrestle with this one over which is his least accessible. An existential film where past, present, and future mingle and bizarre observations are made on aging and memory, can only fit into Charlie Kaufman’s oeuvre. It will surely make you think, though it may end with you asking ‘why?’

Netflix September 4

watch the trailer:


JUDY (2019)

September 26, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been 80 years since THE WIZARD OF OZ was released and 50 years since Judy Garland died. So why do we still care so much? Of course the obvious reason is that, for many generations, her adventures as Dorothy Gale from Kansas marked the first time many of us kids could put ourselves in the shoes (mine weren’t ruby sparkles) of a lead character in a movie. Her fantastical journey ignited our imaginations and whisked us away to fight witches and flying monkeys, while making wonderful friends in a corn patch and enchanted forest. Oh, and that voice! However, there is another side to this coin. Judy’s story is also an example of the dark and tarnished side of Hollywood … she pulled back more than one curtain.

Renee Zellweger (Oscar winner for COLD MOUNTAIN, 2003) stars as Judy Garland, and her performance will likely put her in line for her fourth Oscar nomination. The film basically covers the last year of Judy’s life, and director Rupert Goold (TRUE STORY, 2015) is working from a script by Tom Edge adapted from Peter Quilter’s stage play, “End of the Rainbow”. There is no Lollipop Guild here. Instead, the harsh realities of Judy’s life are explored. The film opens with Judy and her kids, Joe and Lorna, performing on stage … and then being unceremoniously denied a room at a nearby luxury hotel. See, Judy’s career is in a bad way (admittedly undependable and uninsurable) – as is her health. She is broke, has no home, and offers for roles or performances have dried up. She ends up at her ex-husband Sid Luft’s (Rufus Sewell) home, which after some former-spouse bickering, is where the kids stay.

With no other real prospective gigs, Judy accepts an offer from Bernard Delfont (Michael Gambon) to perform at his Talk of the Town theatre in London. Most of the film covers her time in London, and the challenges for all involved. She’s 46 years old in the winter of 1968, and though her voice no longer carries the sublime purity of those early years, Judy still has incredible stage presence and an ability to connect with the audience. The challenges occur for her assigned assistant Rosalyn Wilder (who served as a consultant on the film, and is played here by rising star Jessie Buckley), as well as Judy herself. She misses her kids, and is battling loneliness and an addiction to pills – causing her to rarely eat or sleep. When her “friend” (and fifth husband) Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock) shows up, Judy’s attitude perks up, but her already questionable dependability falters.

Flashbacks to Judy’s teenage years at MGM are used to portray how the studio and industry took control of her body, soul and career. Watching studio head Louis B Mayer (Richard Cordery) bully young Judy (played by newcomer Darci Shaw) by pretending to be a father figure while keeping her weight in line with a diet of cigarettes, diet pills, and soup, is just painful. These scenes, including those with young Judy’s frequent co-star Mickey Rooney, help us understand why she was in such a state by the time she hit London. Ms. Zellweger embodies the blend of frailty and determination and talent, as well as the insecurities that simultaneously drove Judy and held her back. Of course, few singers have ever possessed the vocal talent of Judy, but Zellweger admirably brings the appropriate strain and pain to the songs she sings for the movie, including “By Myself” and “The Trolley Song”.

Born Frances Ethel Gumm, Judy Garland first hit the stage at age 2, and never experienced a “normal” childhood or traditional relationship. Despite her immense talent, she was never able to find peace with the pressures of performing. Years of abuse led to an early death, not long after she finished her London run. The film never backs away from the tragic story, but also allows one of the brightest stars of an era to shine through. For those who only know Judy as that homesick girl from Kansas, or maybe also as the rosy-cheeked youngster on the Trolley in the holiday favorite MEET ME IN ST LOUIS (directed by her future husband Vincente Minnelli), there is likely a shock factor in seeing the broken icon in middle age. The film also deals with that always-present bond she had with her audience, especially with the gay community – although a certain sequence of the film involving a gay couple (both huge fans) seems quite improbable.

For a film like this to work (it was not sanctioned by Judy’s daughter Liza Minnelli), it all rides on the lead performance.  Renee Zellweger beautifully captures both the tragic essence and the stunning talent of the late 1960’s Judy Garland, an iconic and revered entertainment figure. The film allows us to understand the lifelong mistreatment and heartbreak of this woman, as well as the strength and joy she received while performing live. Balancing the “early” Judy with the “later” Judy was a brilliant way of bringing her life full circle. Ms. Zellweger’s performance goes so much deeper than singing on stage … she embodies the insecurity and frailties of a woman who was never afforded the opportunity to live her own life.

NOTE: There was a 2001 TV mini-series entitled “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows”, based on daughter Lorna Luft’s memoir, in which Judy Davis (lip-synching to Ms. Garland’s songs) delivered an impressive and Emmy winning performance.

watch the trailer:


WILD ROSE (2019)

July 4, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Quick … name all of the female Country music singers from Glasgow, Scotland! Yep, that unicorn is the premise for this film from director Tom Harper and writer Nicole Taylor, both best known for their British TV work. Rose-Lynn Harlan (played by Jessie Buckley) is being released after a year in jail on drug charges. She uncomfortably adjusts her white boots over the ankle monitor and sets off to conquer Nashville with her singing.

Of course there are a few obstacles to her Music City dream. See, she’s a single mother with two kids, and she’s from a working class area where putting food on the table and paying the bills is a significant achievement. Ms. Buckley stars as Rose-Lynn, and by stars I mean she carries the film and flashes great promise as an actress. Her no-nonsense mother Marion is played by 2-time Oscar nominee Julie Walters, and while Rose-Lynn has stars in her eyes, mother Marion pushes her to take a housekeeping job and be a mother to her kids. The scenes with Rose-Lynn and her kids are devastating, as she has no parenting instincts, and is solely focused on herself.

We know where all of this is headed, and it’s a credit to Ms. Buckley and Ms. Taylor’s script that we care enough to follow along. Rose-Lynn is employed to clean house by the wealthy Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), and we get one of the funniest vacuum cleaner scenes ever. Susannah soon takes on Rose-Lynn as a pet project with the goal of helping her get to Nashville for her shot.

Some rough language is peppered throughout and it’s spouted with the heaviest of Scottish accents, so much of it sounds a bit comical rather than threatening. The film is a bit uneven, but the mainstream approach keeps it from going too far off track, and it quite comfortably fits into the “crowd-pleasing” category. “Three chords and the truth” is used to describe country music, and if that’s your musical taste, you’ll likely enjoy the songs. However, if you prefer ‘Country and Western’, you’re flat out of luck. Either way, look out for Ms. Buckley.

** I saw this at the 2019 Dallas International Film Festival, and it’s now getting a theatrical release.

watch the trailer:


DIFF 2019 Day 2

April 13, 2019

2019 Dallas International Film Festival

 Greetings again from the darkness. I missed yesterday’s Opening Night Gala and feature film, but paid my penance today by taking in 5 films on Day 2 of this year’s Dallas International Film Festival. Changes have come to the festival this year, including reserved seats, and a shorter run that omits the encore screenings of award winners on the final weekend (there is no final weekend). The reserved seats policy is especially challenging for those of us who try to catch a couple of dozen films during the festival, but if it helps things run a bit smoother, then it’s something we will work around.

As with other years covering the festival, I will recap the films I see each day. Due to the time involved and the quick turnaround required, these will not be the usual full reviews, but rather an overview of the films and my initial reactions. If you are in the Dallas area, the festival runs through Thursday April 18, and more info can be found at http://www.DallasFilm.org

 

MS. PURPLE

 Kasie (an excellent Tiffany Chu) lives with her father, who has an unidentified terminal illness and is in an extended coma with no real chance for recovery. Kasie is the primary caregiver, and out of duty, refuses to put him in hospice for professional care. She also works as a Hostess/Escort at a popular Karaoke bar and has a rich boyfriend, although there seems to be no love between the two – it’s more of a business relationship.

Out of necessity, Kasie re-connects with her older brother Carey (Teddy Lee) who bolted from home many years ago after disputes with the father. He seems to have done little with his life, and frequently gets booted from an internet café for lack of cash. Carrying guilt for deserting his sister and father years ago, especially since the mother/wife left home when the kids were very young, he agrees to help Kasie with caregiving, and even takes dad for “road trips” in the neighborhood by pushing the bed through town (a comical sight).

Director and writer Justin Chon (co-written with Chris Dinh) was behind the critically acclaimed GOOK in 2017 (a Korean DO THE RIGHT THING). Here he uses Kasie’s flashbacks to childhood with her dad and brother as a framing device, demonstrating how the father dealt with his wife leaving, and laying out the responsibilities and burdens that family can bring. There are recurring shots of lone palm trees whose significance to Kasie is only explained late in the film … but does provide more insight into the bond with her father. A nice young valet (the car parking type) offers Kasie a taste of normalcy and it slowly brings her back towards center. The film has a terrific score of violin music from Roger Suen, and lets us know that finding one’s self while caring for another can be a breakthrough that may sometimes be loud, and may sometimes be quiet.

 

LEAVE THE BUS THROUGH THE BROKEN WINDOW (doc)

 Most documentaries explore a topic or an event, or provide a profile of a person or organization. Not this one. It’s an unusual … OK, very odd … documentary that follows Andrew Hevia, a Cuban-American photographer/filmmaker on his trip to Hong Kong to cover the Art Basel fair. His motivation in heading to Hong Kong from the United States is a nasty break-up in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend. It seems more likely that he’s running from rather than towards, and he is described as having a camera and little else.

Mr. Hevia admits to having no real knowledge of Hong Kong art and the initial culture shock he experiences includes securing lodging that can best be describes as “cozy” – a 40 square foot “apartment” that would be a tight closet and inhumane prison cell. Once he has a roof over his head, he hits the street with his camera. It’s at this point where we realize he has no real plan.

On his trek through the city, he crosses paths with fish balls, art galleries, jumpers, a street riot, artists, art collectors, expats, tourists, students, and a ferry ride. People come and go during his days and nights as he interacts with all sorts … often showing us a part of the city we wouldn’t likely see. He searches out different artistic outlets, attractive girls, and just about any party he can crash. The film plays like a travel video-diary narrated by electronic voice that’s a blend of Alexa and the computer voice from WAR GAMES. It’s an unusual viewing experience and one that leaves us feeling a bit empty. Fortunately, its run time is a brisk 68 minutes.

 

TREASURE ISLAND (doc) L’ile Au Tresor

 Yet another atypical documentary, this one from French director Guillaume Brac, who turns his lens on a water park in suburban Paris. The park is beautiful and wrapped in nature, as the lake offers many differing areas of attraction depending on one’s interests.

Brac presents various segments, some quite short, based on various groups visiting the park. We might be watching a group of underage adolescent boys trying to sneak in, and once caught, try to talk their way out of trouble. In a few segments we see the challenges facing the security guards who have to balance the park’s goal of fun with the need for safety. Of course this is France, so we also get the teenagers flirting and trying to impress each other (“Life is great”). There are families – large and small – enjoying a picnic in the bucolic setting, while young kids splash and frolic during their carefree days. Brac even takes us behind the scenes where park managers work on logistics based on weather, staff, and resources.

This is really more of a social project than a cinematic one, and we sometimes feel like we are snooping on people just having fun or doing their job. One segment with a 10 year old boy and his 3 year old brother is particularly sweet. The beauty of the park setting is contrasted with the pylon jumpers and the after-hours staff partying, but mostly it shows that people are pretty similar no matter the location.

 

WILD ROSE

 Quick … name all of the female Country music singers from Glasgow, Scotland! That’s the premise for this film from director Tom Harper and writer Nicole Taylor, both best known for their British TV work. Rose-Lynn Harlan is being released after a year in jail on drug charges. She uncomfortably adjusts her white boots over the ankle monitor and sets off to conquer Nashville with her singing.

Of course there are a few problems with her Music City dream. See, she’s a single mother with two kids, and she’s from a working class area where putting food on the table and paying the bills is a significant achievement. Jessie Buckley stars as Rose-Lynn, and by stars I mean she carries the film and flashes great promise as an actress. Her no-nonsense mother Marion is played by 2-time Oscar nominee Julie Walters, and while Rose-Lynn has stars in her eyes, mother Marion pushes her to take a housekeeping job and focus on her kids.

We know where all of this is headed, and it’s a credit to Ms. Buckley and Ms. Taylor’s script that we care enough to follow along. Rose-Lynn is employed by the wealthy Susannah (Sophie Okonedo), and we get one of the funniest vacuum cleaner scenes ever. Susannah soon takes on Rose-Lynn as a pet project with the goal of helping her get to Nashville for her shot.

Some rough language is peppered throughout and it’s spouted with the heaviest of Scottish accents, so much of it sounds a bit comical rather than threatening. The film is a bit uneven, but the mainstream approach keeps it from going too far off track. “Three chords and the truth” is used to describe country music, and if that’s your musical taste, you’ll likely enjoy the songs. However, if you prefer ‘Country and Western’, you’re flat out of luck.

 

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG

 “It’s been awhile” by Staind is the song we first hear from Pink Freud, a garage band formed by buddies Zeke, Earl and Dick. The music is awful, but “band practice” seems to exist solely for the purpose of getting these slackers together, hanging out, and drinking beer. Daniel Scheinert also directed SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) and this is the first screenplay from Billy Chew. Mr. Scheinert also plays the titular Mr. Long.

One evening, band practice takes a wrong turn, and Dick ends up dead … dumped in a hospital parking lot by his bandmates. If we previously had any doubts as to the intelligence of Zeke and Earl, all of that is cleared up as these two bumbling idiots try to cover up their involvement and what actually happened that night. The cause of death is slow to unfold, but once it does, it surely is the only one of its kind. The Sheriff (Janelle Cochrane) and her deputy (Sarah Baker) prove equally clueless in their attempts to solve the crime, and much of the film’s humor revolves around folks just not asking quite the right question in any situation.

Michael Abbott Jr plays Zeke and Andre Hyland plays Earl, and there scenes together will have you laughing and questioning human existence. Virginia Newcomb plays Lydia (Zeke’s wife), Jess Weixler is the perplexed wife of Dick, and Sunita Mani is hilarious as Earl’s friend Lake Travis (a name nearly as much of a punchline as the film’s titular character).  While the film has many funny and awkward moments, it can also be taken as a statement on testosterone-driven bad decisions and actions with consequences. If nothing else, we learn how to quickly answer when someone asks, “Y’all wanna get weird?”