The Last Black Man in San Francisco  – ★★★1/2
“There is no place like home”. Housing is an important but often overlooked topic in films (see my discussion of two notable films about housing here). 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.
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The Babadook  – ★★★★1/2
📖 A well-made horror film with oppressive atmosphere that also explores deeper, thought-provoking themes of coming to terms with trauma and overcoming grief.
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.
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Three Identical Strangers (2018)
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 19 through one 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.
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First Reformed  – ★★★★★
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 also directed American Gigolo (1980) and Affliction (1997). Clearly inspired by Robert Bresson’s classic film Diary of a Country Priest (1951), First Reformed 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, First Reformed 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.
Continue reading “Films that “grapple” with Faith: “First Reformed” (2018) and “Novitiate” (2017)”
Thoroughbreds  – ★★★1/2
What happens when a street-smart, completely unemotional teen girl rekindles her childhood friendship with a doubtful, book-smart girl who has emotions, but who wants to get rid of one pressing problem in her life? This situation lies at the core of Thoroughbreds. Rising stars Olivia Cooke (The Limehouse Golem (2017)) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Split (2016) and The Witch (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”, joining 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.
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Ingrid Goes West  – ★★★
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.
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Marjorie Prime  – ★★1/2
Based on an acclaimed play by Jordan Harrison Marjorie Prime, this 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 becomes at first 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 the high expectations. This is probably the instance where material is best to be enjoyed as a play only, because, as a film, it is both dragging and far from being compelling.
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The Discovery  – ★★★1/2
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.
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Christine  – ★★★★
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/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 in 2016. Overall, the film presents the story of Christine powerfully and resolutely, although there is no escaping the feeling that the film is too long, insensitive and “hypocritical”.
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Indignation  – ★★★★
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 a 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.
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