Sunday, July 25, 2021


I don't really have much to note this week. The Emmy nominations took up quite a bit more time then I planned. Lots of TV to catch up on, and yet, the Olympics are finally here. Personally, while I know logically these are a general bad idea during this pandemic, I'm still excited for them. I'm a sports guy in general, but I like the idea of the world coming together for the greatness of human physicality, and then laud it over them for nationalistic pride when we win. 

If we win, this year. There's a Simone Biles or two here who I know are gonna dominate, but this does feel like a relatively weaker U.S. year overall. We really should be better at some of these sports, like how did we not even qualify for Men 3x3 Basketball?! Christ. 

Anyway, as to movies, an interesting batch this time, but not a huge eye-catching batch. Among other things I'm finally hoping to get to my Best and Worst of 2019 soon, but in the meantime, let's get to this batch of reviews. 

THE HALT (aka ANG HUPA) (2021) Director: Ang Hupa


I believe at some point, everybody who's ever watched a Lav Diaz film will have the same reaction. They'll have a big dreary-eyed yawn, they'll pause the DVD or stream and say something, "Oh christ, how is there still two friggin' hours left in this damn film!" That's not a criticism of the film by the way, no bad movie is too short, no good movie is too long, movie lengths are as much based on selling more tickets at screenings then anything else. Still, Diaz, his movies are long. I don't know why he loves movies these lengths; at almost five hours, this is not only one of his shorter movies relatively shorter, it's actually probably his most commercial of his films, most of which usually make the uber-indy festival rounds before eventually finding worldwide cult acclaim. He is considered one of the very best directors the nation has produced, and probably the nation's current most acclaim modern filmmaker.

The last film of his I saw from 2013, "Norte, the End of History". which was a modern-day take on "Crime and Punishment". I enjoyed it a lot, but I didn't take a lot from it. I don't know how much I'm gonna take from "The Halt" either, but that's more of a criticism of me then the film. I'm a little familiar with the history of The Philippines as a country, but his movies definitely reveal my lacking in a lot of the minute details of modern life, or in this case, futuristic life, since techincally this is a sci-fi film, although it's probably more dark satire then anything. 

It's the year 2034 and in this future, volcano eruptions have plunged most of Southeast Asia into permanent literal darkness. It's been that way for a few years now, and now there's also a worldwide flu pandemic that's also quietly destroying the people. Also being that way, is that the nation is run by a dictatorial madman, in this case, President Navarra (Joel Lamangan). Now, this is a scenario I do know a little about. The country is infamous having two different genocidal dictators, Ferdinand Marcos who ran the country for over twenty years, and their current benevolent ruler, President Rodrigo Duterte. It is pretty easy to see that Navarra is a parody of one or both of these men and probably dictatorships in general. There's scenes of him giving orders, interviews with foreign journalists, I like one sequence where he's going over the speech he'll give later and they argue over whether certain words are English colloquialisms worth saying. Sometimes he feeds his dissidents to his pet alligators. 

That's one of the strange things with Diaz, while his movies are long, they're actually not terribly plot heavy normally; they're way more slow and forceful, and minimalist. The director I think of with him the most is Bela Tarr, who also has long movies with long minimalist long takes that you don't know where exactly they'll go or to what extent until the end, if that. Diaz is nowhere near as oblique and symbolic-heavy, but he gets his points across.

The characters we probably focus the most on are two female soldiers of Navarra, Marisa (Mara Lopez) and Martha (Hazel Orencio). We often see them debating and arguing between themselves on Navarra's orders as their grip on his true touched-by-God status begins to fade. Marisa in particular seems far more complicated, especially when she seemingly goes into these strange seizure-like twitches and dances almost randomly, which are often match-cut later with her, mid coitus and orgasm with Haminilda (Shaina Magdayao).  Hamilinda's a prostitute that she sees on a regular basis, who spends her downtime speaking with a Dr. Hadoro, who she uses like a psychiatrist to help with her personal repressed memories. There's a lot of symbolism in that story is not only is their repression about the horrors of the past and present, but in the Philippines, sex worker is generally one of the more notoriously unsafe professions out there. (You can watch the documentary "Call Me Ganda" if you want a little more info on that) 
There's also a former soldier named Hook (Piolo Pasqual) who was one of Navarra's most loyal soldiers but has become a freedom fighter and both of them are trying to take the other out. 

There's also a lot of violence in the movie, usually in sudden shootouts and violence by the police. I could barely follow it all; I've been told they are related to other stories, but I didn't think they had to be. They fit pretty well into this creation of a sci-fi fascist future that Diaz clearly fears we're heading towards. He's old enough to have lived through one and is clearly warning of another. Duterte is most noted for his genocidal "Drug War" that he's raised on his citizens. People are missing and found killed pretty regularly there because of him.

The movie eventually ends, on a hopeful note, albeit a sardonic one. I've seen multiple reviewers compare the film to Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville" which is also a political sci-fi allegory that's more about the world the stories in the film take place in then what actually happens. That's probably a decent comparison, although, obviously it's a lot shorter and Diaz is much more absurdist in his approach to the wit in the film. These stories do interconnect, but they're more their to show the several different incestuous sides to the kind of incompetent corruption that makes up these kinda of fascist regimes. The movie debuted in 2019 in its home country in 2019, so a year ahead of our own pandemic-infused world of darkness took over that we're only now, maybe, starting to climb out of and back into the light, assuming the incompetent don't change the game to take over again. (Fingers crossed) It's probably the perfect timing among everything else for a hypnotic languid dive into Diaz's work like this, and the movie does seem more opportune now then it probably ever would've for me. 

Again, the intricacies of The Philippines socio-political landscape still leave a part of the movie allusive for me, but what I could catch and grab onto, I admired greatly. Diaz isn't for everyone, but for those who are willing to engage, there's a lot of insightfulness there. 

STRAY (2021) Director: Elizabeth Lo


Alright, new Netflix film in the mail.
(Opens Netflix envelope)

What's this one called? "Stray"? Hmm, what's this about?

(Reads Netflix disc jacket)

"With the camera following three stray dogs--- Zeytin, Nazar and Kertal -- this touching documentary provides a canine's eye view of Istanbul...-Wait, what? 

Istanbul!?!? ISTANBUL!!!!!!

(Continues reading)

...Istanbul and it's inhabitants as the pooches roam the city streets night and day! NO!  



Na-OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Not that again!? 


I guess I should explain. If you're wondering about my severe reaction to what otherwise seems like a relatively benign documentary about dogs, well, this movie sounds incredibly similar and familiar to a film called "Kedi", a movie that I listed as the worst film of 2017. This was a movie that literally just followed street cats around Istanbul, and it was trash. It's a literal 75-minute Youtube cat video. I found it torturous, and felt that it made every argument the Spielbergs and Scorseses make about how movies need to be seen on large screens and in movie theaters and whatnot seem 100% legitimate. I'm one of the few people who went hard on that documentary, and yes, just looking at the sleeve jacket, this movie felt and looked little more then basically, the same movie, but with Istanbul dogs. Is this just another 75-minute animal video from Youtube? 

Ummm, actually, no it wasn't. For one, it's a different group of filmmakers, led by director Elizabeth Lo. For another, it's shot better and makes more interesting observations and ponderings. There's three stray dogs we spend time with throughout the documentary. Admittedly, part of me wonders why the filmmakers didn't just pick up the dogs and take them home to adopt them, but then again, how often do we do that with animals we find off the street. (Technically, we really shouldn't be doing that anyway, it's hard for street animals to evolved and adapt to a new homelife, but whatever.) Still, though, especially after we follow a couple dogs through a great handheld shot down the streets and into dark alleys were we see them meeting up with people who seems to like them, but these homeless-ish people then just let a couple of the dogs start battling each other. It's not a dogfight per se, that's like set up or anything, but as somebody who actually did once witness two dogs just, suddenly and with little-to-no preparation suddenly start attacking each other, it's a horrific scene in real life, and a stunning one in the film. 

The movie does feel low to the ground most of the time, like a stray. They hang around trash cans and walk through the crowded city, the sound mixing is excellent as we often overhear random spurts of half-conversations, that occasionally may or may not be about the dogs, but we don't always know the full context and certainly the dogs probably just recognize them as random voices of the city they peruse and live with. 

And there's a lot going on in the city. Istanbul's homeless population are often Syrain refugees we come across and some of them are the ones that start taking in these homeless dogs. (Fine, maybe I do owe "Wendy & Lucy" a rewatch) There's also just the fact that there is such a vast population. There had been regular sweeps for strays in Turkey, but it's illegal to kill or euthanize or hold captive any stray. They do have some rights and they do have interesting experiences with humans. Some are good, some are more disturbing. I don't know how neorealist the film is; it's certainly more neorealist then the distressingly awful "Kedi", but I certainly more about the dogs in "Stray" and the humans interacting with them, both in front of and behind the camera. 

Lo is a much more interesting documentarian as well. She's American-educated but Hong Kong born, and she takes a more observant look at these dogs and make greater points about life in Turkey which is still in peril in many circumstances. The movie in many feels like an old cityscape movie, only with the dogs, and with this case, sound, since most of those movies predate that in movies. "Stray" is the movie that "Kedi" could've been. I did say that I probably could've tolerated that film more if it was something more then a prolonged Youtube video, and yes, there's ways to tell the story of stray animals in the city correctly and "Stray" proves that. It's a compelling meditation that takes us not only into a world and place we rarely see, but from a perspective that we rarely get and it does surprisingly well. 

THE LIFE AHEAD (2020) Director: Edoardo Ponti


Sophia Loren was my grandfather's favorite actress. He loved her, and he met her once when she had a meet-and-greet at some mall once upon a time, and he mentioned that he was saddened by the encounter. I think he was expecting this legendary larger-then-life Italian goddess that he'd seen on the screen, but instead, she looked fairly normal. I can see that, makeup and lighting can do a lot, and that's not to say Sophia Loren isn't a beauty or anything, she most definitely is, but yeah, expectations and all. That said, I've also heard stories that in public, she'll often disguise her appearance when she doesn't want to be recognized. I heard one story from a local cab driver one time, that she disguised herself so well that she got angry when the cabby didn't recognize her.

I tell you these anecdotes I have 'cause honestly, I actually haven't watched a great deal of Sophia Loren over the years. I've seen more then I actually thought, looking through her filmography, but except for "Two Women", which won her her Oscar, most of the movies I've seen her in are her more recent albeit sporadic mainstream works, like "Nine", "Grumpier Old Men" and "Ready-to-Wear [Pret-a-Porter]"; that last one I didn't even realize she was in. (I oughta rewatch that one, that was an underrated Robert Altman.) She's slowed down, but she's never outright stopped acting, entering her seventh decade of filmmaking, and is as fierce and passionate as ever. 

If this is her final performance, and I don't in any way hope it is, she's leaving on a good one. Directed by her son Edouard Ponti, "The Life Ahead" is an adaptation of a French novel, "The Life Before Us", one that was already adapted successfully to film once before as "Madame Rosa"; that adaptation won a Foreign Language Oscar. This version, Loren plays Madame Rosa, an octogenarian who's kinda of a neighborhood matriarch. She's had a helluva life, one that gets slowly revealed during the film. The movie is mainly focused on Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) a young Senagalese street youth, who's taken in by Madame Rosa, after robbing her. It's not the most deep story, it's basically just a tale of a kid who grew up without any guidance finally finding a parental figure he can look up to, but it's told well.

Momo is the kid of a prostitute and her pimp, and after they're gone off, he's hustled on the street of Bari, Italy, currently he sells drugs to get by, something that Rosa disapproves of, but realizes that there's little to be done about it. Rosa is a former holocaust survivor who herself was a prostitute too, but not has grown to running a daycare essentially for the kids of other wayward women. She's getting older now and as she starts to lose some of her faculties, those old repressed memories of hiding from the Nazis have started to come back to her. 

She gets help from Lola (Abril Zamora) a trans prostitute who seems to be too intimating for anyone to deal with. She's one of the most delightful parts of the film as her presence just is a delight to this film. Meanwhile, Rosa's sudden outbreaks of dementia seem to mirror Momo's occasional outbreaks of anger, which can occur almost at anytime, often when dealing with Hamil (Babak Karimi) who instigated him being Rosa's ward. It's actually quite fascinating how much care there is from the adults in this film, who seem to have lived with watching struggling kids like Momo their whole life, and seem to know exactly how this'll play out if they say the wrong things. 

I think the real appeal of this story is how much you enjoy the life surrounding the characters, whether it's appealing or not. One movie this reminded of strangely was "Harold & Maude", which is weird 'cause I genuinely can't frickin' stand that film even though it's supposedly so uplifting and effervescent, perhaps it's because Harold is somebody who just seems so shallow to begin with..., but I digress, I like the relationship here better. It's not a perfect film, I don't love the voiceover from Momo for instance, but I enjoy the world and these characters. It's a complex relationship between two people who've been through a lot and keep their emotions at bay until they come out in outbursts living on the fringes of society. Sometimes that, and some good casting is enough. The movie's well made and well-acted, and of course it's a showcase for Sophia Loren and she nails it.

HIS HOUSE (2020) Director: Remi Weekes


You know, something that just occurred to me with haunted house movies, is that, it's never the main character's actual home that's haunted. Figuratively speaking, not necessarily literally, but even still, I can't think of any film where the main characters are haunted by the house or other building which they would otherwise they would firmly consider their home. They're always haunted in someone else's place, usually the home's owner(s) is whatever's haunting or scaring them, essentially as a staking of a claim. I'm not against this, I've even written this trope before, but it is kinda odd in retrospect how hauntings are so intertwined with, well, no pun intended, possession. It's always presumed that the place that's haunted is haunting for a reason, and the most likely reason usually has to do with a claim of ownership of some kind. It's never just haunted us, to haunt us. I'm not sure which would be more frightening to me, but yeah, I'm kinda surprised that it's up 'til now that we get a haunted house film called "His House" until now.

The film is fairly unique for a haunted house movie. It's not a house that's got the typical trappings of some place that most ghosts who, despite the hypothetical ability to travel anywhere they want, would want to stay and hang out, we get a fairly innocuous little place, the new temporary home for Bol and Rial (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaka). They're South Sudanese refugees/immigrants, who made the long escape from their wartorn country, eventually making it to London, despite losing their daughter Nyagak (Malaika Wakoli-Abigada) where they're given a small chance to make a life. A slightly better one then most we're told by their caseworker Mark (Matt Smith), as most immigrants usually get shoved together in group homes with multiple families, but still, not the ideal house for ghosts, but these ghosts followed them here.

I'm not sure how much this is specifically about the conflict in The Sudan specifically, or just a parable for the struggles and often horrors of refugees from any war-riddled country, but the ghosts that haunt them take the form of something they called an "Apeth", a mystical creature in South Sudanese folklore who's apparently followed Bol and Rial all the way up to their decrepit London abode. I'm looked into what the Apeth is, it's basically equivalent to a night witch, but it's a little more complicated then that, and it involves actions from the characters that don't get revealed 'til later in the movie, so I won't go into them here. I think it basically represents all matters of horrors that one must leave behind, and the true inability to ever have them completely leave oneself, especially for those who come from such horrors, and the decisions that they themselves had to make in order to make it to where they are now. 

That's something in particular that I hate about people who seem to have absolute disgust for any kind of immigrants, especially refugees. There are scenes of racism that the couple experience, both literal and systemic, including one disturbing scene where a few British teens of African descent, tells Rial to go back to Africa after she struggles with the English language. She personally doesn't even want to stay actively refusing any kind of assimilation, which Bol actively tries for. They both have shared demons from home, and they share this Apeth that's followed them along and deems to take them for their sins. 

Honestly, I don't know quite what to make of "His House" overall. I watched the film twice, the second time through I appreciated it more, but I can't say I was blown away by it. The movie had become a cult hit, especially in its native UK where the movie did well at both the BiFas, their equivalent of the Spirit Awards, and at the BAFTAs. It's an interesting debut feature from Remi Weekes, but perhaps the language of literal horror movies wasn't the perfect genre for this story. I can think of many good and even great films about immigrants struggles with dealing with their war-torn past as they attempt to build and create a new future for them. The big example in my mind is "Sophie's Choice", and while everybody remembers the one flashback scene from that film, in actuality there's a lot of wonderful and fun cultural exchanging stuff in that film, and the appeal of the movie is how delightful Sophie is, despite the true hardships she had to live with. I'm not saying that "His House" should've taken that route, 'cause there are some problems with the narrative of "Sophie's Choice", but I think the story leaned too heavily on horror movie ideas, as opposed to the genuinely more interesting horrors of war and struggles to start a new life aspects. Despite everything, I think the movie didn't really portray the regret and guilt that these characters have, or at least not convey it in the fullest way they could. Honestly like, falling back on the horror movie parable of this ghost-figure, while accurate to South Sudanese mythology, feels a bit like a cop out to not actually go into the more intricate stuff in greater detail.

I've always hated mixing real-life horror with the fantasy tropes of horror, especially the ones in horror movies is a really difficult tightrope to walk, and one that I genuinely don't think works since it either cheapens the real life events, or it trivializes the movie tropes. 

I'm still gonna recommend this movie, 'cause there's good ideas here, talent behind and in front of the camera, and obviously some important and essential looks at the everchanging world and the collateral changes that cross both literal and mental boundaries, but I was overall underwhelmed by the film. For a film that's barely eighty minutes, I feel like it was trying to put too much in here, and Weekes didn't necessarily trust his material enough to extend and take some time on some stuff the way he probably could've. There's nothing here that I think he should've absolutely taken out, but maybe he could've dwelled and taken more time on these characters, not just because it would help us get invested in the conflict they have with the spirit, but also I kinda just want to know about them more then I did. It's a mixed review, but I suspect Weekes has better and more compelling stories within him, and I'll be waiting for when he really gets them told as well as he can. 

SORRY WE MISSED YOU (2020) Director: Ken Loach



I don't know what the term for it is in the UK, but in America the term, "Independent Contractor" or some official variant of it, comes up a lot. To some extent, it's a natural progression of what's been termed the current "Gig Economy", but in other situations, it's an employment status that sounds more promising then it actually is. It's sold on the false notion that you'll get to be your own boss, while still clearly working at the behest of someone who seems to be able to just exploit labor more then most. It's basically modern-day sharecropping, only instead of working on a farm, they're delivering packages to everybody, and it's basically creating a world of Jobs. Well, jobs too, but I meant Job, as in the Biblical Job. (Pun unintended)

This is not surprising as a subject matter for Ken Loach, the legendary British neorealist director. He made a film a couple years ago that I didn't get to see in time for a review called "I, Daniel Blake", a powerful strike back to his neorealist roots that showed the struggles of a guy trying to get his pension after having a heart attack. Had I gotten to the film sooner, I would've put it on my Best of the Year list, and it was one of Loach's best films in general. I kinda caught onto Loach late, and usually with his more mainstream movies like "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" and "The Angels' Share" good movie, but they never particularly appealed to me. I still have to get to a lot of his earlier works like "Kes" or even some more acclaimed recent stuff like "Looking for Eric" and "Sweet Sixteen". Still though, going back to this more stripped down, more non-actors and more down-to-Earth simple tales of the downfall of the lower and middle class is probably where he's at his strongest. With England still reeling from the effects of Thatcherism, and in this case, the '08 Stock Market crash, 

It's in this setting that we meet and follow Ricky (Kris Hitchen) a longtime worker who lost his job right as he and his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) were about to pay off a house. She works as a home caretaker for the disabled and elderly, Ricky, after years of odds of hardworking jobs, gets a delivery truck, working supposedly as his own boss, which basically means that, you work for me, and the me in this case is Maloney (Ross Brewster) the personification of human exploitation. He runs the local branch of PDF, a not-so-subtle reference to that one company that delivers stuff that you're thinking of. He works fourteen hours a day, six days a week, and he has to sell the family car to afford everything he needs, which is what his wife drove from work to work with. 

It's hard to describe all the details of what happens next, it's basically what you'd expect, as the roughness of the job exhausts him, and eventually his family. He battles everything we expect, everything from annoying customers to struggling to stay awake on the road to even getting attacked and beaten up. Meanwhile, his family really struggles. Their teenage son Seb (Rhys Stone) really begins to act out, and the more Ricky seems to work, the more Seb acts out, always more and more disgusted with his father who is barely there. His ennui is frustrating both Seb's mother and his little sister Liza Jae (Katie Proctor), and as he acts out, his father begins to act out as well, disturbing the family even more, and he doesn't quite have the capability to self-analyze and reassess himself and his priorities, and I can't blame him. Financial struggles often take precedent and financial struggles and work struggles breed the situation for the cracking of the family unit. At the end, the family is begging him to not go to work, but he has to go to work. It's very "Young Goodman Brown" to be honest, fees are just piled up and eventually you're either in indentured servitude without a family or in debt without a home. 

"Sorry We Missed You" is purportedly a loose sequel to "I, Daniel Blake", I wouldn't be surprised if these movies are apart of a trilogy of some kind or anything, they definitely feel like they exist in the same universe, but you don't have to see one to see the other. (Although I highly recommend both) Perhaps this film is a little weaker then "I, Daniel Blake," but only because it's more frustratingly predictable. Daniel Blake was a man with nothing to lose so his rebellion at the end felt righteous, but we don't get any of that here; we get a family caught in the same circle of poverty. "Sorry We Missed You" is a brutal mirror to our society, but it's an essential and important one that needed to be made and absolutely needs to be seen. 

BEANPOLE (2020) Director: Kantemir Balagov


(Deep sighing breaths, eventually followed by a several tongue-sucking under-breath utterances.)


(Deep breath)

Before I even begin this review, um..., well, this movie "Beanpole" includes a disturbing scene in it, that, I'm just gonna be blunt here, I saw it, I had to stop the film, 'cause I couldn't deal with it. I'm gonna describe it in a bit in my review, 'cause it's an early scene that's too plot relevant not to reveal, and also, I don't think it's something that I should not tell potential audiences about, but it disturbed the hell out of me. Normally, I'm much more blasé in terms of what others might find disturbing in a film, I might mention something shocking and unexpected like this but more dryly and unemotionally in tone then others, and just explain the events without without getting into the emotional details, but in this case, I'm going to make a huge exception. 

In fact, I seriously thought about, just, not even finishing this movie, something that I take pride in almost never doing, but-eh, this movie got me thinking about it. It was that disturbing to me, so consider this your TRIGGER WARNING, 'cause this movie triggered me, so.... 

(Deep breath)

With that out of the way, "Beanpole" was the Russian Federation's submission for the International Feature Film category last year, and it's a tough one to get through. Loosely inspired by the works of Svetlana Alexievich, the film is a look at Post-WWII Russia Soviet Union, and the struggles of those who fought through the war coming home. Not, necessarily the soldiers though; in fact this is one of the few coming home from war movies that are about female participants in the war, and by far the earliest movie in terms of when the war occurred. That's a big plus right there.

That said, this story is brutal. The main characters are Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), a skinny tall nurse who's nicknamed Beanpole, and suffers from a traumatic post-concussion PTSD condition where her whole body will suddenly freeze up and her friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) who wasn't so much on the battle grounds on the warfront, but was very much apart of it and that left her with permanent scars. As well as a young kid, which, while she was out of town and Iya was watching, she accidentally smothers to death when she has a paralysis episode. (This is the scene I'm warning everyone about; if you can't with it, I don't blame you for not watching the film, or subsequently, just, fast forwarding through this part.) Masha is, shockingly understanding about this, and is still tentative friends with Iya; it's only afterwards when we find out exactly what her position in the war was does it make sense, and that's a long way's out. It doesn't get completely revealed until after she starts dating Sasha (Igor Shirokov) a wealthy son of a local official. They have some complicated, but playful interactions, and soon, seem to fall in love. 

Masha, among her several physical and emotional scars from the war, has had a hysterectomy, and Iya, owing her a child, ends up wanting to have a kid for Masha. This leads to, among other things, the most uncomfortable and disturbing, well, I guess technically it's a threesome sex scene that I've ever seen. I get it though, remember this was long before the time where surrogacy was much more common and the now-traditional scientific and medical techniques for such a thing weren't developed yet, but it's still a really bizarre scene, and it's not even with Sasha, it's with a doctor, Nikolay (Andrey Bykov).

The whole movie has this dour depressing state swamping over it, like the Vermeer-esque look of the dull lifelike browns and greens envelopes the film, almost until we actually see the Sasha's parents (Denix Kozinets and Kseniya Kutepova) more Romanoff-like house at the end when he tries to impress them with Masha. 

The movie's more episodic in nature then I'm explaining here. For instance, there's a whole subplot at the hospital Iya, and eventually Masha, work at involving a quadriplegic patient named Stepan (Konstantin Balakirev) a soldier who's wife (Alyona Kuchkova) has already told their family and kids that he died during the war. The mixup alone is horrific, but Stepan tells Iya to euthanize him, as he's not sure what use he'd be to either his wife or himself alive now. There's some other side plots as well. I'm making the movie seem inherently depressing, which it is, but it's also a movie about surviving and moving on with your life after war, despite the fact that those horrors of the war still linger on, whether it be permanent, in the mind, body, or even in the guts of those who were apart of it. It takes a lot out of you, and even with rebuilding, the war will still effect your lives. 

I'm kinda amazed that director Kantemir Balagov is so young; he's not even in his thirties and this is only his third feature, but I would've guessed this was a veteran filmmaker deep into his career. He's very purposeful in his shots, using a lot of long unbroken takes that can be very uncomfortable but there's a method to it. I suspect he's seen a lot of Tarkovsky being Russian. I'm definitely interested in his earlier films from "Beanpole", although I'm admittedly still hesitant on it as a whole. Definitely recommending it, but know what you're getting into. This is an uncomfortable film about several uncomfortable subjects but it is a story that deserves to be told. 

END OF THE CENTURY (2019) Director: Lucio Castro


I read a few reviews of "End of the Century" that mentioned the film, "Sliding Doors" a few times. "Sliding Doors" is one of those weird movies that does get mentioned and parodied often, and, I-eh, I don't really get why. Honestly, that's a very forgettable, and kinda boring movie. I know it's premise is kinda noteworthy, but I feel like there should be better examples. Like, literally, I don't think anybody remembers anything else about that movie, and why would they? It's a film I struggle to remember actually exists. 

Besides, it really doesn't apply here. "End of the Century" isn't a rom-com about two scenarios playing out depending on whether something happened or not. It does have an interesting premise in of itself. The debut feature from Argentinean director Lucio Castro is about two people, Ocho (Juan Barberini) a poet who's currently on vacation in Barcelona, and Javi (Ramon Pujol) a local TV director. They have a meet cute, and then hook up in Ocho's hotel room. It's only after that they realize that they've met up before. Twenty years earlier in fact.

Yeah, that's when the movie does jump back in time, and to me this was a little confusing. Like, when they both first met up in their early twenties, they were both still straight and they're a little unsure of themselves or their sexuality. We do see them meeting in the past and they have a very tender little one night stand over A Flock of Seagulls's "Spaceage Love Song". 

I guess the presumption is that the movie is about time itself, and how it can kinda exists beyond temporal limits, like how twenty years later these two characters still have a spark, and I guess they wonder about what could've happened... This is kinda where the movie loses me. I like the idea of two people meeting when they were young, not going through with a relationship, forgetting about each other, and then reuniting by accident twenty years later, when both characters have made choices and priorities with their life and they have to consider and re-evaluate the possibilities of their future and their past, I just don't get the idea of this being inherently related to time. I guess that's why everybody's trying to put this in the "Sliding Doors" milieu but I think it's more relatable to Andrew Haigh's "Weekend" or even Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset". There's a glimpse of the idea of the one that got away, or that one girl Mr. Bernstein from "Citizen Kane" famously regrets not talking to in his youth, but distinctly remembers in his old age, and looking back on it, but I don't know. The movie feels like it's trying to be more cerebral then it is. 

I think it's at its best when it's just focusing on the fact that these two people, whenever they meet, have great chemistry and attraction to each other, and that should just be the thing. I don't think the movie actually has as much to say about time as it thinks it has, but I like the idea of the romance. Eh, I don't know, part of me wants to recommend it, but it did make me feel cold after everything. Eh, I think I gave my generous extra 1/2 star to "His House" this week. Yeah, the movie's interesting and I want to know what the director does next, but it's a little thin. Too thin. In between everything else, the movie makes up for it's lack of much else narratively by becoming a mini Barcelona travelogue, and that's kinda where I think it fails again. I mean, I guess I don't mind the idea of "Ocho Javi Barcelona" either, but yeah, this movie, needed to be more intimate, like "Room in Rome" perhaps. Interesting idea, but the movie is a missed connection for me.

Maybe I'll like it better in twenty years. 

TOP END WEDDING (2019) Director: Wayne Blair


There are certain countries in the film world that seem to be more natural fits for road movies then others. The United States, is a big road movie country, with a couple decades of great examples from "It Happened One Night" to "Sideways". Brazil is another one known for them, some great movies like "Central Station" or even "Pixote: The Law of the Weakest". Another country that's known for them is Australia. In fact a lot of Australian media can seem like a road story. It is certainly this strangest of countries, a continent-sized island with a giant desert in the middle of it that's so vast, it's always a bit of a shock to us foreigners, (Or at least us American foreigners) that there are actual towns and cities outside of the nation's southeast coast. 

Darwin for instance, one of the country's major ports, it's the capital of the Northwest territory, and a key trading outpost for the country in it's connection to Asia. As well as, some of the even more obscure places in the country, ones that I even had to look up. I'm usually pretty good at this geography thing, but this one I had to look up, just north of Darwin, on the other side of the Clarence Strait are the Tiwi Islands. The main two in the archipelago are Melville and Bathurst, and these are the ancestral home of the Tiwi people, one of the Aboriginal tribes of the nation. 

Lauren, (Miranda Tapsell) is a Sydney-based associate lawyer working for one of those cartoonishly over-the-top female bosses, Ms. Hampton (Kerry Fox, doing a decent version of Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada".). After she finally gets the associate gig, her boyfriend Ned (Gwilym Lee) a prosecuting attorney who suddenly quits his job and immediately proposes to Lauren. They decide to get married quickly and they head up north to her hometown of Darwin and get married in this rare ten-day window her boss has granted her. She even comes up eventually to help plan the wedding. 

However, when she goes to her parents' house, her father Trevor (Huw Higginson) is in a permanent depressed state, often heading to the pantry to lock himself in and play Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now". This is where the road movie aspect actually comes in, even though they've already gone from Sydney to Darwin, but that was by air. Lauren's mother Daffy (Ursula Yovich) has left her father, and as she and her husband go a wild chase trying to find her as she is determined that she needs her to be there for the wedding, although that changes as the search continues, and that includes whether the marriage should even go on.... 

Honestly, this is fairly predictable rom-com fare. The best thing really about it is the setting, as Lauren and her mother's journey, eventually leads them back to her island home and to their culture. Lauren was born and raised in Darwin and her mother, who had a falling out with her family when she married Ned, a white man, hadn't gone back home in decades and Lauren was so far enough removed from this aspect of her heritage that she never fully connected to it.... So, the movie is essentially a getting back to your roots journey. I wish there was more then that; the movie barely gives us a real sense of the Tiwi culture and people, which I guess is on purpose, but still... "Top End Wedding" is the newest feature from Wayne Blair, the Australian TV director most known for "The Sapphires" in the feature film world, which was an interesting if flawed music biopic that has one of my absolute worst and laziest factual inaccuracies I've ever written in a review, where I complain that they sang a song that hadn't been out yet in the period the film took place, when in reality they did.... Stupid me, I didn't know Salt-N-Pepa's "Whatta Man" was a sample from Linda Lyndell's "What a Man".... I don't know why I was confident enough in that fact to bring that up, but-eh, yeah, I gotta apologize to Blair for that, if nothing else. Bad review of mine, wish I could take that one back. 

That said, "Top End Wedding" is a better film, but it's not a special film. I like that Blair is trying to tell some stories about the Aboriginal peoples of the country, and this isn't a terrible film or anything; I'm gonna recommend it, barely, but I fear that he basically only can tell these tales through the most conventional and episodic bad television tropes style. Still, I'm glad someone's trying and you know, if the only thing different with this film is the location and the insight into the lost cultural identity of the Tiwi People, then at least it's an interesting location and the Tiwi are people who I honestly never knew about before. Might as well learn something from a very traditional romantic wedding comedy as anything else.

ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN EPOCH (2019) Directors: Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynski and Nicholas de Pencier



I wasn't gonna review this movie for this post, I'm actually behind posting this and I have others things I want to get to, but, I had this on while I was working on other things.... and now I gotta talk about it. Now unlike "Stray", this documentary's description didn't make me start involuntarily twitching. On Kanopy, the film is describe as: 

"A stunning sensory experience and cinematic meditation on humanity massive reengineering of the planet... A  years-in-the-making feature, the film follows the research of an international body of scientists, the Anthropocene Working Group who, after nearly 10 years of research argue that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the ANTHROPOCENE EPOCH in the mid-twentieth Century as a result of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth. From concrete seawalls in China that now cover 60% of the mainland coast, to the biggest terrestrial machines ever built in Germany, to psychedelic potash mines in Russia's Ural Mountains, to metal festivals in the closed city of Norlisk, to the devasted Great Barrier Reef in Australia and marrive marble quarries in Carrara, the filmmakers have traversed the globe using state of the art camera techniques to document the evidence and experience of human planetary domination." 

Okay, there's a lot of words that do indicate for most that this is simply a film to skip, "Cinematic meditation" "Sensory Experience", and whatever-the-hell words like "Anthropocene" and "Epoch" mean, but there's some interesting-sounding stuff here too. Sounds like a deep dive into the modern history of humanity, and you know, I can deal with that. Even the meditation stuff; one of my favorite films in recent years is Ron Fricke's "Samsara" and that movie is basically just a meditation on ourselves. There's a way to do this. This could be artistically compelling as well as educational, right?

Then, I looked at the filmmakers. The movie's credited to three directors, but the main one is also the film's writer Jennifer Baichwal, and I'm sorry, I'm not vibing with this girl at all. Now, outside of this film, she seems to be a somewhat normal documentarian. She co-directed a doc on the rock band, The Tragically Hip, she made a doc that was inspired by a Margaret Atwood novel, some other biodocs here and there, but mostly when I run into her, she's doing this..., I guess technically they're environmental docs, but she's trying to go deeper on some kind of metaphysical level with them, and she does that by using, some admittedly stirring and amazingly modern cinematography, but my god,- maybe some people are getting to that point with her, but I'm sorry, she just totally fails with me every time. This is the second film of hers I've seen, and believe it or not, this movie might be a little better then that one, maybe.... (Shrugs) [Maybe not]

The last one I saw was "Watermark", which made my Worst Films List the year it came out. That movie used a lot of helicopter and drone shots to outline how the changing of the water levels has effected the planet, like, how some rivers use to run and now they're just dry sand with, well, watermarks from where the water used to be. I'm not apathetic towards the subject matter; I live near Vegas and the sea levels at Lake Mead and Hoover Dam are getting disturbingly lower and lower since I've been alive and you can see just how much on the sides of the hills and mountains, but the movie didn't really do much else. It tried a few times, but I'd either fall asleep from these nine-minute tours over the Grand Canyon or wherever the hell we were, or the talking heads were just too dull and not interesting in between. 

And "Anthropocene..." is kinda the same, only a little more elaborate, as it's subject matter is even more grander as it talks about the Earth as a whole. "ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch" (I've seen the title "Anthropocene" capitalized in some places in the "official title" and not capitalized in others.) is about the recent human effects we've had on the Earth. Anthropocene is a geological term for the current geological age where human activity has the most dominance. "Epoch" is also a geological term for a period of time, but it's a reference to a person's life, and focuses in on the important events that shape a person. So, I think the movie's attempting to show humanity's distinctive events that have place us in this current time period and show the distinctive events that represent humans' physical effects on the Earth. 

So, we see stuff like the Corals dying out and the excessive pollution in the Urals, and all this stuff, is boring, but at least is interesting and on-point, but then there's some weird asides that are, kinda tertiarily related. Like there's a musical performance of some kind during one of these trips they've made to the corners of the globe and that seems to get way more time then I probably would've given it.
There's narration by Alicia Vikander that occasionally interrupts those long takes with intriguing facts to go with the images, but both of them kinda fail me personally. I guess the point of the movie is that all these events and occurrences, the building of concrete stoppages from the ocean, the ivory trade that's led to the elephant endangerment as well as preservation forces in Africa, to etc. etc. that they're all apart of this current transitioning geological era... but I just didn't care. 

I mean, part of me's wondering why I should care? They don't make that clear, like is all this stuff inherently bad, or are you just documenting the changes for preservation. I kinda had that issue a bit with "Watermark" too; I feel like I'm supposed to be learning or caring for something, but instead I'm just perplexed by everything and I feel like I'm watching a very environmentally-conscious annoying friend's vacation videos. Like Jessie Spano at her most intolerable and pretentious. They even talk about how there's been five previous extinction events in the world's history, that we know of, and that maybe true, and hopefully we're not plunging headlong into another one, but honestly, it kinda makes me wonder why should I be worried about this one? I'm as liberal and environmental-savvy as I can be, and even I'm trying not to sound like one of those right-wing nutjubs who thinks we shouldn't get COVID vaccines because it'll all work out in the end and the pandemic is just the earth thinning out the overpopulation herd, and it's not like I'm personally looking for something to disagree with the film on, but I feel like I'm just trying to grab onto something, anything at all. I feel like I'm just trying to feel anything from these movies and I just feel numbed and not even a defeated numb, just a bored and tired numb, the kinda we're just exhausted because you're doing more work then the movie is.

"ANTHROPOCENE..." probably has ambition I can admire, but I find myself just bored and baffled by it. If this filmmaker can bore and frustrate me, a guy who loves to find out stuff and wants to learn about the world and all their troubles and issues and loves informative documentaries on such subjects, then this movie must be unbelievable torture to anybody who isn't looking for any of this. It's not even meditative, which, first of all you should probably either teach us or be a meditation, it's really hard to do both, in a documentary no less, but also, her ideas of meditation just seem to be long beautiful shots of wherever she is. This isn't even good for meditative documentaries; I'd rather watch other docs I hate like this, like 2012's "Leviathan" about North Atlantic fisherman or even "Russian Ark", that movie that was infamously all one shot travelogue through a museum that also was a guidebook through Russian history. I'm the only one who actually does find that movie boring and the gimmick tedious in that film, but boy, I might re-evaluate it after being reminded of how bad these films can be. I hate to be this mean, especially since I think Baichwal must be more interesting on some of her other work, but if these are the kinds of productions she really cares about making, then, I don't know what else to say, but I don't think she's good at making them. 

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