“There is no place like home”. Housing is an important but often overlooked topic in films (see my discussion of two notable films about housinghere). The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2019, tells the story of Jimmie Fails (actor playing “himself”), a young man stuck in a series of menial jobs, but dreaming of a better life and still attached to his old childhood home, which is now an expensive Victorian house in an affluent area of San Francisco. His loyal friend and aspiring playwright Montgomery Allen is always ready to offer Jimmie his own place or rather the place of his parents to sleep in, but Jimmy is set only on one thing – to get one particular house which he believes his father built in 1943 and is prepared to do anything to reclaim it. This cinematic debut from Joe Talbot may be an imperfect film, but it has so many distinguishable characteristics and particular eccentricities that it becomes quite impossible to compare it to anything else. Visually-entrancing, The Last Black Man in San Francisco puts the concept of nostalgia, the spirit of ordinary, under-privileged people, their hopes, dreams and rights, as well as one touching friendship, at the very centre of its low-key drama.
I am wishing all my followers and readers a very Happy Halloween, and am presenting a scary and psychologically-interesting Australian horror film “The Babadook“. This film by Jennifer Kent takes its concept from her own short film “Monster” (2005) about a spooky presence pestering a family of two. Similarly, in “The Babadook”, a widowed mother and her son, who has behavioural problems, are trying to cope with the death of their husband/father, while their house is slowly being invaded by a terrified being from a children’s story-book. This wonderfully thought-out, acted and designed film can be read deeper than it initially appears. In “The Babadook”, what may seem to be a straightforward horror story could actually be a thought-provoking cinematic allegory of people learning to deal with and accept the trauma in their lives.
Tim Wardle’s “Three Identical Strangers” is a documentary about an incredible true story of three identical brothers (David, Eddie and Robert) who were separated shortly after birth and who then get to know each other for the first time at the age of nineteen through an incredible reunion. However, the documentary is also about much more than this. The incredible reunion of the triplets is just part of the story’s package to amaze. As we see further, after the triplets’ reunion, the documentary delves into the nature/nurture debate, uncovers the previous troubled lives of the separated triplets, and then, finally, presents one shocking revelation. In that vein, the documentary first amazes its viewers, leaving an unforgettable impression, and then profoundly shocks, raising an outrage inside every viewer who has a heart.
“First Reformed” comes from director Paul Schrader, who co-wrote the scripts to such films as “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “Raging Bull” (1980), and who directed “American Gigolo” (1980) and “Affliction” (1997), among other films. It tells of Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke), a priest in the First Reformed church in Snowbridge, New York, who tries to help one man with his obsessive radical-environmentalist beliefs, but who ends up fighting his own inner demons instead. This film works well on many levels, but it is probably its deep philosophical, existentialist-like quality, as well as its masterful execution, which distinguish it above others. Deep, thought-provoking and resolute, “FirstReformed” grapples interestingly with the questions of faith and morality, and, by the end, becomes both a subdued and quiet meditation on life and internal despair, and an explosively powerful statement on hope.
I would like to begin this review by saying that I am a big admirer, even a fan, of Jason Reitman’s work. I think his previous films “Thank You for Smoking” (2005), “Juno” (2007) and “Up in the Air” (2009) are great examples of a particular kind of comedy, where he managed to successfully turn difficult issues into fun and entertaining cinematic material. “Tully” is his newest film, which was penned by Diablo Cody, the screenwriter of “Juno” and “Young Adult” (2011). “Tully” is about a mother of three, Marlo (Charlize Theron), who struggles with her hectic parenthood when she decides to get a night nanny for her new-born girl. After that, Marlo seems to breathe easier and the nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis), provides a huge relief for the family, maybe until Marlo and Tully’s ties become too close. “Tully” is an insightful little film and Theron and Davis’s performances are strong, but, as with “Labour Day” (2014), Reitman still faults when it comes to presenting real drama (even though he still excels with his insight and satire).
What happens when a street-smart, completely unemotional teen girl rekindles her childhood friendship with a doubtful, book-smart girl who can feel emotions, but who wants to get rid of one pressing problem in her life? This situation lies at the core of “Thoroughbreds”. Extremely talented rising stars Olivia Cooke (“The Limehouse Golem” (2017)) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“Split” (2016) and “TheWitch” (2015)) star as Amanda and Lily respectively, two girls from a wealthy suburban neighbourhood in Connecticut who have the so-called “meeting of the minds” and join their forces to put aside their problems for good. Lily has a problem with her stepfather, while Amanda is curious how far she can go on her unemotional spectrum and commit acts she would otherwise not even consider. When the duo meets criminally-minded Tim (Anton Yelchin (“Green Room” (2015)) their sinister intentions take a step closer to reality.
In this film by Matt Spicer the dangers of the social media usage are laid bare when a troubled girl Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) starts to stalk online a successful Los Angeles photographer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). With the inheritance that her mother left her, Ingrid moves to LA to realise her fantasy and be closer to her Instagram idol, and even finds ways to strike up a friendship with Taylor. Being anxious to please, Ingrid soon realises that it will take something more than a friendly talk or a shoulder to cry on to maintain the attention and interest of her idol.
Based on an acclaimed play by Jordan Harrison “Marjorie Prime”, the film of the same name is a science-fiction/drama film directed by Michael Almereyda (“Experimenter” (2015) and starring Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins. It tells of a woman in her 80s, Marjorie, who spends her time with a programme which simulates the younger version of her late husband, Walter. Marjorie’s immediate family at first becomes concerned about her close interactions with such a true-to-life replica of Marjorie’s late husband, but they all soon too succumb to the charms of the new technology. Despite the fascinating premise of the film, and a wide range of thought-provoking questions it raises, the film fails to live up to any expectations. This is probably the instance where a material is best to be enjoyed as a play only, because, as a film, it is both dragging and far from being compelling.
“The Discovery” is a film which had its first premiere at the Sundance Film Festival 2017, but, arguably, it deserves more attention than it eventually got. Here, Will (Jason Segel) and Isla (Rooney Mara) meet in the strangest of times. It has been scientifically proven that the afterlife does exist, and this fact alone spiralled millions of suicides around the world, with people almost desperate to “get to the other side”. The scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) is behind the new discovery, and he has another trick up his sleeve: he thinks he can also show what the afterlife looks like before people take their lives. After all, who would not want to look at a holiday brochure before committing to their holiday destination? Although the film’s narrative slops and the chemistry between Segel and Mara is lukewarm, the film is atmospheric, raises some fascinating issues, and has a strong ending.
“A Ghost Story” (2017) reunites director David Lowery with Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. I gave a very high score to the director’s previous film “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (2013), involving these actors, because it won me over with its embedded poeticism and creativity alone; see my review of “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints“here, and/or read a fair take on “A Ghost Story” by Film Blerg below:
Films about ghosts are usually scary, jumpy and spine-tingling. David Lowery’s latest feature, A Ghost Story, carefully avoids boxing itself within the horror genre by proving itself an elusive poem on topics as various as life and death, time and perception, and the purpose of human and universal existence. Without doubt, it is one of…
“Christine” is a drama by Antonio Campos, based on the real life of Christine Chubbuck, a TV reporter in the 1970s in the US, whose troubled professional and personal life leads her to commit one of the most chilling and gruesome acts on live television. In this film, the lead character is played by Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Christina Barcelona” (2008), “The Prestige” (2006)), and her performance is rightly considered by some to be one of the best performances by a leading actress of 2016. Overall, the film presents the story of Christine powerfully and resolutely, although there is no escaping the feeling that the film is both too long and hypocritical.
“Indignation” is a directional debut of a screen-writer and producer James Schamus, known for adapting the script of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and being the producer of “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). Adapting the book by Philip Roth, in “Indignation”, Schamus presents the life of Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a bright lad who, while working as a butcher in his father’s store in New Jersey, receives a prestigious scholarship to attend a college in Ohio. What follows is the depiction of Marcus’s troubles of fitting into his new college environment as he simultaneously tries to deal with his socially-unacceptable abhorrence for organised religion and with the confusion of his sexual-awakening. Schamus’s film is a particular kind of a film which is heart-breaking in individual scenes and bitter-sweet in its overall presentation, and the director manages to convey the story masterfully, paying particular attention to the character presentation and dialogue.
Synopsis: One year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified, millions around the world have ended their own lives in order to “get there”. A man and woman fall in love while coming to terms with their own tragic pasts and the true nature of the afterlife.
‘Most critics couldn’t stop talking about it’ (Keith Kimbell, Metacritic).
The now Sundance Festival’s favourite, Shane Carruth, came in 2013 with his second major film titled ‘Upstream Colour’, a film to rival his brain-wrecking ‘masterpiece’ – ‘Primer’ (2004). Revered by critics worldwide, Upstream Colour’ starts off witha thief who kidnaps a woman and drugs her into a game of manipulation to relieve her of her possessions. From then on we see the unfolding of probably some of the most confusing and perplexing events on screen in years. The audience is confronted with such deep philosophical/psychological, biologically-themed topics as the essence of nature, cycle of life, free will/determinism, etc. This existential feel is present throughout the film’s 96 minutes’ duration.
Debuting at the Sundance Film Festival2013, ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’ seems to have little going for it apart from its rising stars, Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. However, behind the façade, there is a lot to be said about this film directed by virtually unknown David Lowery, and it soon warms its way to the Grant Jury Prize nomination, winning the Special Jury Award, as well as forming part of the International Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival 2013. With an unusual title – ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’, the film is set in rural Texas and tells the story of a young couple, Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) and Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) who are engaged in a crime spree. When an altercation between the police and the couple results in Bob being sent to prison, Ruth vows to wait for him. However, his escape from custody sets people who care about Ruth and her daughter to do anything in their power to prevent the couple’s meeting, making Bob to choose between his love, promise and duty, and his family’s safety.
‘A Better Life’ follows the story of Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir), a Mexican illegal immigrant in the US who works as a gardener at rich people’s mansions. Carlos is also a single father, raising his teenage son Luis (José Julián). When Carlos sees the chance to better his and his son’s life with the purchase of a new truck, he scraps every dollar and buys it. When the truck is stolen, desperate Carlos teams up with his son to try to return it.
Background and lead acting
The film features a Hispanic cast; was co-financed and released by Summit Entertainment; and was directed by Chris Weitz, who, incidentally, also directed ‘American Pie’ (1999) and ‘About a Boy’ (2002), as well as the more recent ‘TheTwilight Saga: New Moon’ (2009). However, the unknown cast, lack of viable promotion and the contrived trailer may give an impression that the film belongs to some foreign film festival at best, instantly to be discarded upon seeing. This impression is very false. ‘A Better Life’ is a film full of meaning, portraying an ordinary life with extraordinary skill. Undoubtedly drawing inspiration from a classic ‘The Bicycle Thieves’ (1948), the issues which concern ‘A Better Life’ are as old as time. Ranging from the American Dream themes to the issues of morality, guilt, remorse and forgiveness in the modern world, ‘A Better Life’ provides for an all-encompassing glance into the life of the society’s outsiders, while, at the same time, remaining narratively-simple and clear as to its message.