“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” and “Paddleton”

 

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”

The directorial debut from Chiwetel Ejiofor begins with a funeral where the minister recites the Gospel of Matthew, and ends with a funeral where the people receive the Islamic call to prayer. And, in the middle, is a moving story about the plight of a small village in Africa, where unpredictable weather patterns make the prospect of starvation a seasonal threat. Where the government is distant and opportunistic. Where courage is contagious. Where local customs breed loyalty and swim through the DNA of the village unity. Where women are strong and men are bound together in mutual affection. And, where education and the miracle of learning is put on full display. A beautiful family film that packs an emotional punch in the final round.

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RATING: C+

“Paddleton”

An engrossing, mundane day-to-day existence of two best men that digs into the richness of friendship and the unapologetic avarice of death. Ray Romano is something special here in his idiosyncratic struggles to support the end-of-life decisions of his best friend, while struggling with his inner demons of grief. The ideals of finding common purpose and happiness in the simple routines of life brings spirit to the cause of the human resolve. Love is an overwhleming force; and, in this film, we see how love and friendship can overcome the slow apathy of personal growth.

There is something to be said about the right recipe for filmmaking when its individual ingredients lackluster. Nothing in particular stands out about this film in its low budget production and plain script. And still, like those from 2018 like Private Life, 6 Balloons, KodachromePaddleton is one of those emotionally challenging films that restores one’s faith in the quality of Netflix Originals.

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RATING: C+

High Flying Bird

RATING: [C|👎]

“We were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country”

[Tommie Smith]

With Soderbergh comes the anticipation and the disappointment. Tackling the script of Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney (who wrote Moonlight and seemingly little else since then), Soderbergh returns to his lazy filming using the iPhone (Unsane) and still-shots taken from his awkward vantage points. Whatever can be said about the filming, it is reminiscent of Soderbergh before Traffic, still trying with reckless abandonment to make relevant films without a working creative engine.

That said, the script had its moments. With the show Ballers moving into its fifth season with Dwayne Johnson going after the great white whale that is the NCAA. So, too, in High Flying Bird, we have a parallel struggle against the forces that be in the NBA and the commodification of athletes. Taken from them their image, the film seeks to find an alternative path for young black athletes in an effort to reclaim their name from what the film constantly refers to as “old white men.” As the lockout rolls on, the Players Association and the team owners seem unable to bridge the divide that becomes a  disproportionate burden on some of the players. That is until they find a way to remind the owners that their worth and image can be redeemed and marketed with a simple click of a mouse.

For what it’s worth, the film is short and tackles an immensely important topic of the value of an athlete and the “enslavement” of their image towards corporate greed. With the advent of the Colin Kaepernick controversy, questions of ownership and the expectation of compliance through systematic behavior modification and monetary penalties is rich with plenty of nuance for this movie to be extended into a larger project.

RATING: C

A Private War

RATING: [C+|👎]

“You’ve seen more war than most soldiers.”

The story of Marie Colvin may be one of the most important movies of 2018 in respects to the immense status of her resolve.  A story that every journalist should know and strive to emulate.

Here was a woman who was fearless. A woman who needed no invitation to seek after the truth in war-torn battle zones. A woman who possessed the requisite heart for the suffering of others that she would suffer through the trenches in order to bring their suffering to light. A woman who struggled with her demons in the comfort of safe returns. A woman who had her private faults and indiscretions. A woman who remained poised till the bitter end. Just listening to the audio with CNN hours before she died is to listen to the sound of strength beyond strength that is nothing short of admirable.

Just listen to this fine synapses from the TIME:

Over her decades-long career, Colvin reported from some of the hottest conflict zones in the world, from Chechnya to Zimbabwe. She lost an eye reporting on the civil war in Sri Lanka, and in East Timor was credited with saving the lives of 1,500 women and children surrounded by Indonesian-backed forces. She produced some of her most remarkable coverage during the uprisings of the Arab Spring, reporting from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in the midst of the 2011 revolutions. Ultimately, the career to which she dedicated her life led to its tragic end: In 2012, Colvin was reporting from inside the besieged rebel-held city of Homs, Syria, when she was killed by regime shelling

And so with her life, a film was needed to capture the edges of her haunting competence. And, in many ways, what Jeannette Catsoulis (New York Times) says is right: “what [Heineman] has made is a deeply distressing, authentically moving psychological study of unswerving obsession.”

And, at the same time, it was underwhelming.

Her life deserved something more serious, something without the sensationalized footprints of Hollywood prone to waste the pedagogical tools that comes with filmmaking. Something that isn’t window dressing with the psychological bite that motivated the limbic system to go into overdrive. She deserved layers and parts, with sequels and seasons. While director Matthew Heineman did not want to make a “traditional biopic,” but rather something more akin to a “psychological thriller,” I think in this regard he failed to respect the legacy of Colvin by choosing to entertain the audience instead of reporting the reality on the ground.

An opportunity was wasted to navigate through some of the most interesting episodes in my generation, while drawing on the poetic nature of her sacrifice and reporting. When Heineman’s Colvin speaks, she exudes the high faulting rhetoric of the Washington Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” — sounding more like the poster child for the self-aggrandizing media special interest groups, than someone who committed her life for the cause of seeking answers.

The film reduced her to anecdotal episodes that needed to be played in their appropriate context. Explained and exhumed through the fine comb measures of a poet-architect who builds a house from the rubble of Colvin’s pieces. Used as pillars to construct and motivate the next generation of war correspondence and mainstream journalists to put the truth over the cause of self-interest.

The movie was good, but Colvin was great. In this regard, the movie failed to live up to her legacy.

RATING: C+

 

 

 

Galveston

RATING: [C+|👎]

“I will be true to you. Whatever comes.”

[Terrence Malick]

A deeply human film from director Mélanie Laurent that captures those stolen moments of happiness before the torrential depravity of man washes away any semblance of the divine. A film about the essential beauty of truth and reconciliation. About the still corners of our competence as humans to choose good over evil. About family and the elastic bond of memory. About sacrifice and the reckless greed of a fallen system bent on transactional relationships.

Galveston is a combinations of The Florida Project and You Were Never Really Here. It’s about Ben Foster, who runs errands for a degenerate crime boss, and his near escape after his boss tries to get him killed. Foster finds the kidnapped Elle Fanning, who he takes across the state of Texas (i.e. Galveston) in hopes of delivering her to a better place where she can live out the rest of her days in safety. He believes he’s dying and thus finds in Fanning the last investment that he’s going to make. Fanning has with her a daughter that she delivered from an abusive step father who raped Fanning as a child. This colors her world; a harrowing and saddening demonstration of the consequences of abuse to the future self-worth perception of another. Fanning and Foster develop a platonic and moving relationship like father and daughter. They move together pain after pain, finding pockets of comfort in each others mutual worldly contempts. When things seem like they would find comfort; and, joy would take its place between the corners of their mutual affections, the reality of fallen humanity returns stealing the lights of their collective vision.

The movie transitions from bliss to paradise lost and into a profound and brilliantly shot juxtaposition between the turmoil of the present storm and the vibrant, translucent memory kept hidden away to sustain us one more day. In the end, the few pieces that Foster could salvage after all is lost are given to another or left on the shore to serve as illumination when daylight expires.

RATING: C+

Velvet Buzzsaw

RATING: [C-|👎]

“Art is either revolution or plagiarism.”

[Paul Gauguin]

The new one from Nightcrawler director Dan Gilroy is about what we’ve come to expect from Netflix Originals. A mix of Francis Bacon and Andrew Wyeth, with “Goya conjured face-melting visions in dark oils and projected . . . on the [screen]” — the film, however, finding itself in silence when being asked to stand in the individual lenses of self-expression. Flat and undeveloped in the requisite pace for engagement, Velvet Buzzsaw proves to skeptics of the art world that even a film about the manifestation of evil in the galleries of design cannot bear the competence required to entertain. Gimmicks at every turn without the language to even advance the semblance of a story line; here, in this first great failure of 2019, we have a horror film that makes the tedium of watching bad films insufferable.

Like the death of Toni Colette, those who watch this film with any sense of appreciaton are like the children walking around the artistic scene of a murder thinking it’s part of the furniture. The sheer vastness of its rudiments and dull shavings is astounding. A film, like its horror tropes, unable to escape the novelties of its framed exhibition. It felt like Frankly Zawe Ashton, one of the major characters in the film, never took acting lessons. Jake Gyllenhaal for his part was carrying the film with his flamboyant character study of a critic who slowly becomes aware of the dangers of the paintings and the consequences of negative reviews on the future livelihood of otherwise decent artists. Moments of the film felt completely superficial and designed for the unthinking public. Lines delivered unnaturally as if the audience is too dumb to follow the unspoken sequence. None of the scenes were creatively done and frankly inept in its banality: a hallmark of modern art, to say the least.

Like the death of Toni Colette, the movie goers of today are like children walking around the artistic scene of a murder thinking it part of the furniture. This freshman film rendition of The Final Destination sequels belongs on the 6th floor of the MoMa where creativity dies and a safe space for the inept flourishes. If museums are “ecstasy machines,” this one can barely run the currents on a cardiopulmonary bypass.

RATING: C-

Dark River

RATING: [D+|👎]

“sing holly, go whistle and ivy”

Poise and slow surrender, Dark River, from writer and director, Clio Barnard bears the hallmark qualities of an early work from a relatively uninspiring writer, whose only real accomplishment appears to be a choice track from P.J. Harvey. While I much welcomed the return to my radar of Ruth Wilson (whose character in Luther is among my favorites) the film exhibited a level of redundancies and shallowness that made even the 90 minute run-time seem insufferable.

Here was a film about a daughter who suffered abuse as a child from a father who now has passed away and left an acre of land to the two kids vying for the inheritance. One (Wilson) wanting to restore the home to its former glory, indicating competence and will power like the proverbial feminist hero of Jane Austen novels full of individuality and resolve. While the son (Mark Stanley), a drunk, abusive lowlife whose only interest appaers to be the selling of the home and an escape from his state of his own seeming disrepair. 

There is a high tension at the center of the story as Wilson seeks to fight off her brother’s desire to abandon the shelter of land and escape the presence of his sister that he failed to protect in his youth. A daughter, demonstrating immense strength to redeem her sordid past as she continues to be haunted by the ghost of her father. The two struggle, almost killing each other, while making the necessary sacrifices to achieve their respective goals. In the end, there comes an endearing moment that does a lot to capture the drawn out dynamic between the two, although a little too late to redeem a production deserving of a premature DVD release.

RATING: D+

The Apparition

RATING: [C|👎]

If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion.”

-C.S. Lewis

Whenever any director seeks to tackle the subject of religion, he has to become convinced in his own way as to whether the story he tells intends to be an honest attempt for authenticity or just another piece of personal bias. Most take the latter route, finding themselves incompetent to tell a story rooted in intellectual honesty or simply needing to sell tickets at the expense of the community of faith. With The Apparition, Xavier Giannoli embarks on a half-hearted effort to straddle the middle. Painting his main character (Vincent Lindon) at first with the requisite objective allure required of journalism and then turning his insecurity into a conduit for a rooted bias.

The film has a fascinating design, even if it meanders on the premise for far too long only to capitulate to the storyboard of amateur writers. It’s about a Vatican commission for the authenticationg of miracles: part of the interchurch structure for attracting the faithful back to a practice of veneration. The film rests primarily on testing the authenticity of Anna (Galatéa Bellugi) who claims to have seen the vision of the Virgin Mary, largely probing her psychological well-being and her past for evidence of bias. (This process is a lot like the legal process of seeking out impeachment evidence for disqualifying a witness.) The film is also surrounded by a host of unsavory church figures looking to exploit the image of Anna and use her likeness to sell dolls and postcards. These figures see the investigative works of the Vatican as an impediment with the “natural” growth of the community and, if the miracle is debunked, then obviously the pilgrims will seize to return and the peddled goods will be worth nothing.

The film demonstrates a stillness in its ability to connect the corners of one man’s unresolved sorrow and the substance of religious experience in a world seeking understanding. It does well to draw the church dynamics and the corruption that seeps through any man-made institutions. However, it fails to end with any meaningful position, instead removing the source of the investigation in an escalating and rather unintelligible progression of events that are clearly explained but seemingly lack the emotional maturity to deliver a satisfying resolution.

RATING: C