REMEMBER

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Christopher Plummer plays Zev Guttman, a man on a mission in Atom Egoyan's Remember.
Christopher Plummer plays Zev Guttman, a man on a mission in Atom Egoyan’s Remember.

Time and memory form the basis of Atom Egoyan’s new thriller, Remember. Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer, subdued, but what a presence), a 90-year old survivor from the concentration camps in Auschwitz, lives in a foggy state of a suspended present in an old person’s home. He believes his wife Ruth is still alive when in fact, she is dead. He’s also in the early stages of Alzeimer’s, a condition that will become more prominent later on. The one person he is close to, presently, is Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau), with whom he shares the Auschwitz past. When a conversation with Rosenbaum takes a dark turn, however, Remember starts to unfold itself into a story of a man out to execute vengeance at whatever the cost.

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You see, Max was a collaborator with Simon Wiesenthal and has taken up to himself to continue the task of hunting down former Nazi criminals. He wants Zev to kill a man named Rudy Kurlander, and has it all arranged to make Zev’s trip as easy and simple as possible. Zev does indeed uncover several Rudy Kurlanders — the most poignant being a German dying of AIDs who was once marked, just like Guttman, for being a homosexual.

Midway into the story Guttman encounters another Kurlander — one of his descenants, but the story keeps reserving the fateful encounter with the real one for the climax. This one, however, proves just as powerful and difficult to watch. While Nazism may be apparently dead, it’s alive and well in this man’s house. John Kurlander (Dean Norris), a sheriff with a passion for all things German, is a raving Neo-Nazi and has the house riddled in Nazi memorabilia, Once he learns Guttman is Jewish, things turn for the worst.

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Egoyan’s movie is far from his best, but it’s a tense one-man thriller that brings some completely unexpected surprises in its third and inevitable third act. Suffice it to say that when you can’t remember the past, you are doomed to repeat it forever. In Remember, denial also becomes a way for the long hand of the past to come reaching for you and sweep the rug of the present right off your feet.

Remember is still currently playing at the Angelika at Houston, so far, until Thursday, March 31.

KNIGHT OF CUPS

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

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No one does movies like Terence Malick. You may rile and make a row about his indulgence, his pretty pictures with similar backdrops, and his penchant for an abstraction of a plot that seems to exist only in the air. I actually resonate with his cinema, and I’ll tell you why.

It’s pure cinema, plain and simple. Malick’s movies aren’t for people who like straightforward stories with clear scenes, necessary dialog, and even transitions. Having read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Anais Nin’s Spy in the House of Love and House of Incest I realized that stories could still happen, but be retold from the perspective of memory and purely internal language devoid of words. Thought, feeling, experiencing the world as a chaotic yet coherent whole: and yet, a story remains, intact, distilled into the bare essences, told in symbols.

My advice to anyone — you included, dear reader — coming into Malick’s world, to please start from the beginning.The man has only made a handful of movies in a little over 40 years. Badlands (1973) already shows the signs of his very personal style while retaining a tight narrative over a sparse 90 minutes and is a striking debut. It’s once you come across 2005’s The New World where his penchant for eschewing literal storytelling in favor for voice-overs and characters’ internal language starts to become apparent. By the time you reach his fifth film, 2011’s The Tree of Life, Malick has completely abandoned narrative, and created a fascinating coming of age story of a boy in the 50s perfectly braided with the man he became, climaxing in one of the most surreal, yet boldly moving shots in film history. Plainly simple, The Tree of Life is a masterpiece of esoteric, transcendental storytelling.

Knight of Cups employs a similar presentation, and Rick, a screenwriter, is adrift much like the architect in Tree of Life, moving around a vapid Los Angeles filled with decadence and debauchery. He is haunted by the people in his life: a complicated relationship with his younger brother (Wes Bentley), his father (Brian Dennehy), and his estranged wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett). Other women drift in and out of his life like water through a filter, leaving only fleeting impressions of themselves. All the time, his thoughts in the forefront, his memories of time and emotions experienced, a whispered confession to an audience that becomes privy to this man’s quiet pain, told in rich, fluid images that transition freely from one segment to the other, divided in chapters that represent a Tarot card. Some of the Tarot symbols (The Hanged Man, Judgement, Death) come through clear; others are questionable or understandable only to Malick himself.

If all this seems a bit lofty, it probably may be, but it’s really  not. All Malick does is subvert the narrative and go into a visual stream of consciousness, which if you listen closely, is your own inner voice. Life doesn’t occur neatly: there aren’t fade-to-blacks, no sudden cuts, no sharp lines spoken. When Rick moves around and through the areas that bring memory back to the front, we see the character he’s reminiscing about with him, as if the scene was being relived. And isn’t that how we tend to remember people? It’s hardly ever in a concrete environment: you see them walking with you, looking at you, while the disembodied echoes of memory mixes with eyes looking at each other, gestures made, the occasional explosion of emotion.

All else I can say about Knight of Cups and Malick’s cinema is that this is the work of a man operating at a much higher level than most people. It’s rather easy to write dialogue, explain to the audience (or as I like to say, talk down to it) what is taking place. Fast editing has become commonplace in movie-making today. After all, who wants to sit and stare at a long take and see actors way in the background, moving but not speaking, only communicating through non-verbal language? Malick isn’t interested in that. He’s clearly more focused in the nuances that we take for granted. We don’t need to see, for example, a progressive dissolution of Rick and Nancy’s marriage: what he gives us is the aftermath, and a revisit to that moment when all was well before segueing into a beach scene, both dressed in black. Scenes of a plane flying high in the deep blue sky show up as a motif that to me seems a sense of freedom seen from a man trapped in his own drama. That freedom will come later as a symbol and an apparently stable relationship is not a spoiler but a natural progression of the story, the next step, the Tarot that doesn’t get shown.

What also got to me was the sense of time as something fleeting, ephemeral. Malick’s style is perfectly suited for compressing events into a mere scene or flashback sequence. In Knight of Cups, the people who Rick crosses in his path are many, but the one emotion I got was Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. All these people, some who know each other, some who never will, connected by love, anger, moving towards the unknown. It’s only fitting that the pervading song that keeps resonating is Exodus. Constant movement, on the way out, but lingering.

 

 

THE CLAN

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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The opening scene of The Clan is as frightening as they come. We open onto a scene of domestic peace, with a young man and a woman –whom we will learn are Alejandro (Peter Lanzani) and his girlfriend Monica (Stefania Goessel) — about to enjoy a quiet dinner together. Suddenly, their sense of peace gets turned on its head as the world comes crashing in, the girl thrown against the wall, screaming, the son tackled by strange men.

We then cut to a defining moment in Argentine history several years before. Patriarch Arquimedes Puccio (Guillermo Francella, completely against type but perfect), watching television, his face a mask disclosing zero emotion, except for the eyes which are working. You see, Argentina has now moved away from its Dirty War period where that claimed the lives of so many, now known as the “disappeared”, and Raul Alfonsin’s coming into power pointed towards a new page in Argentina’s history. Times were changing.

The following scene shows Alejandro asking his rugby teammate Ricardo Manoukian for a ride. As they drive down the road they become intercepted by some masked men. Fearful for their lives, not knowing what’s going on they have no choice but to comply. Until we realize that once Ricardo is dumped into the trunk of the car, his screams still audible, that Arquimedes is the one pulling this kidnapping . . . and is using Alejandro as an accomplice.

They say the family that kidnaps together, stays together. Arquimedes has by choice turned to kidnapping the those he sees as rich and powerful for monetary gain. The Clan doesn’t try to explain a motive for his actions, and the way he goes from ruthless kidnapper to strict but loving father and husband is chilling. As a matter of fact, the entire Puccio household is a contrast in domestic bliss and a dungeon of terror straight out of 10 Cloverfield Lane, or House of Horrors, the Investigative Discovery series. A dinner scene ignores that just walls away Ricardo (and others) are locked and shackled away in pure, abject terror. Even more sickening is when Arquimedes has Ricardo not just write the letter that seals his fate to his family, but inserts words of emotion to make it as devastating as possible. This is, to me, the height of cruelty, and one that defines Arquimedes’ character as a pure psychopath.

The Clan thankfully doesn’t go into full-out horror, instead of opting for moments of pitch-black humor expressed in its characters, an accidental murder sequence worthy of a Tarantino film, and a soundtrack that would make Martin Scorcese squeal. It does make a couple of missteps in the jumping back and forth — one scene involving a female victim plays out, twice. We don’t get too deep into what Puccio does for a living (although I would guess he gets a pension as a former government official). I felt that the women got the short end of the stick — Epifania Puccio and Monica are somewhat bland and male-dependent, compared to their male counterparts. Even an absent son gets ample screen time (but then again, in reality, the men did the work, and the women looked the other way). Even so it’s a bone-chilling portrait of the depths and levels of depravity which some people will go to ensure their status. Or perhaps, this is all Arquimedes knows — and is too addicted to that style of life to suddenly find himself set aside. We’ll never know.

EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

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There are films, and then there are films. I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but when you see movie after movie after movie, often non-stop, and then something like Embrace of the Serpent reveals itself, your eyes literally fly open. You feel as if though somehow, the fabric of the screen had somehow trickled away into dust and disclosed another world, time and place, a beckoning, living paradise drenched in wonders, adventure, and mysteries just waiting to be discovered.

Split into two timeframes — 1909 and 1940 –, Embrace of the Serpent is the story of Karamakate, the last surviving member of his own tribe, living in solitude in the Vaupes, deep in the heart of Colombia.

The first time period, 1909, has Karamakate (Nilbio Torres, a commanding, warrior presence) coming upon Theo (Jan Bijvoet), an explorer whose fallen sick, and his partner, the Westernized indian Manduca (Yauenku Migue) who asks Karamakate for help. Karamakate expresses an open distrust for Theo — after all, he is a Blanco, a white man, and they’ve been responsible for decimating his tribe. Theo expresses that he’s only searching for the yakruna, and that he can help Karamakate find remaining members of his tribe along the way.

A gradual, yet sometimes volatile relationship develops between the three men as they canoe through the river. On their way to the fabled yakruna, they come across a rubber worker who begs Manduca for death, poisonous food that Theo in his ignorance ingests, and a tribe whose leader steals Theo’s compass. Upon discovering the act, his goodbye sours; he needs the compass, but also states that these people will lose their own tradition of using the sky for location. Karamakate counters, justifiably, that knowledge shouldn’t be for a chosen few.

One of the more telling encounters is at a mission where a monk has seemingly converted young boys into the ways of the Spanish. At first fearful that the three men will raid his place, he accepts their visit. Here is where a sense of religious hypocrisy comes into the picture: later on, the men realize the monk has forbidden the boys speak their native language and whips one of them savagely. This visit will repeat itself in a moment straight out of a cult movie, when in 1940 an older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) and another explorer, Evan (Brionne Davis), come upon the now grown men from that mission, living under the vicious thumb of a man who believes himself to be the Christ and who’s clearly insane. It’s a perversion of the previous scene and a symbolic indication of how south things went after the Spanish conquered the new world. In eradicating most of the native culture (deemed heretic and barbaric), they plunged the remaining people into an even more savage reality, as dark as the Dark Ages, bordering on religious frenzy.

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And in the midst, the Maguffin of the story, the elusive yakruna, the rare pearl beckoning both Theo and Evan, both with Karamakate as a guide: withholding and willing to destroy information to preserve something pristine, but a little more giving the second time around. Perhaps the zeal of youth is to blame; who wouldn’t protect the secrets of his own civilization before allowing it to be corrupted by a society determined on imposing its stamp and stamping everything else out?

Of course, the older Karamakate has mellowed, it seems, and can now only dispense knowledge where in the past, he would have kept it for himself. Perhaps that is all he can aspire to. Embrace of the Serpent is a fascinating epic like no other, it’s its own Apocalypse Now, demonstrating the heavy load that being the sole survivor of one’s own people it can be.

SOUTHBOUND

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2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

 

Horror comes to an unnamed highway in the American desert in this somewhat unbalanced but average anthology. There are a couple of inspired elements here — instead of taking the usual route of terminating a segment, titles and all, and starting the next one (as in chapters), it uses one character from one to place him (or her) in the next. One of the more effective stories is the second segment, where three female band members stumble onto a devil worshiping family (all who seem like rejects from a terrible dress-up version of Mad Men and enunciate their lines so badly you can almost spot the cue cards just off-screen). One of them manages to make it to the next thread only to have a rather fatal encounter with a reckless driver who in calling 911 for help gets a rather sinister request from the person on the other line. Somewhat more effective is the following story that takes off where the third segment ends and follows the disembodied voice operator from the third segment into a bar I’d rather not go into.

Southbound is has moments of retro-horror reminiscent of Cinemax / HBO-made movies from the late 80s and early 90s complete with chintzy special effects, cardboard acting, and the ever omniscient Narrator (here played by Larry Fessenden). It’s not bound to make any waves, but should suffice for a Friday evening in front of the TV when nothing else happens to be on.

Southbound is available on VOD via iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

THE WAVE

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then I’m glad that a movie like The Wave exists.  The Wave is a Hollywood disaster picture with Hollywood production values, a heart-thumping, countdown to zero plot, suspense to spare, strong acting (even within archetypes), and nail-biting suspense packaged in a muscular 100 minutes. It says something when a movie like this comes along and makes travesties like last year’s San Andreas and 2012’s 2012 look like exercises in American excess in the genre.

Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) picks the wrong time to leave his job as a geologist monitoring the mountains surrounding Geiranger to take another less stressful job in town (and moving his family in the interim to the hotel where his wife Idun (Ann Dahl Torp) works at the front desk). However, he can’t extricate himself completely from his former occupation, because he continues to monitor the continuous activity stemming from the area (and letting his now ex-coworkers know, who dismiss him entirely). When he realizes that the cables monitoring the erosion have snapped and two of his ex-coworkers who have gone to explore the crevasse are in mortal danger . . . well. You guessed it. Things are about to get as bad as they will, and from here on, the movie shifts into high gear. Try not to be at the edge of your seat from here on.

The Wave offers a fantastic set-piece as Kristian, who has attempted to go into town to rescue his family, has to turn around and with his daughter head for higher ground in 10 minutes or risk be swept away by a massive wall of water. I couldn’t imagine a better sequence than this one: seeing people run up the road as in the distance you see a blurry but relentless monstrous wave hurtling towards the townspeople is terrifying. Even more so is the evacuation sequence in which Idun herds hotel guests onto a bus to attempt to out-drive the wave, and suddenly becomes aware her own son, Sondre, has gone missing. [Earlier in the movie Sondre had left his hotel room and gone into the hotel basement to skateboard while wearing his headphones and was unaware of the chaos upstairs.]

To be honest, this is a pretty predictable picture down to some of the minor characters and some of the events that take place just as the giant wave barrels into town will remind you of The Poseidon Adventure and The Impossible. I didn’t mind at all: it was so tense, so emotionally wrenching, all that I thought was “Run for the hills! Higher ground, people!” There is a moment where Swedish actor Thomas Bo Larsen’s character has a meltdown which goes rather badly, and it reminded me, Europeans, as usual, tend to go into darker places than Americans.

The Wave was released in a very limited scope — perhaps its lack of an Oscar nomination being the cause — but it’s available on Video on Demand. Do yourself a favor and watch this.

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

 

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It’s good to see Sally Field on screen again even when the character she plays is a creepy woman who people view as somewhat eccentric and cute at best. I could even forgive the eventual incursion into over-emoting somewhat reminiscent of Steel Magnolias just because she’s that kind of a performer.

Doris has had much of a life. She took care of her mother and unfortunately inherited her less than desirable traits — like hoarding. [Although, to be honest, hers is not an out of control hoarding worthy of an hour’s intervention on A & E, but it’s enough to define the character as someone who hasn’t been able to move on and can’t let go of minor things. Such as, the object of her affection’s pencil, which she smells.]

A visit to a self-help guru (played to narcissistic perfection by Peter Gallagher) with her friend Roz (Tyne Daly, offering solid support in a well-written character that deserves its own story) becomes a catalyst for Doris to pursue her new office-mate John (Max Greenfield), who’s pencil she stole while they were stuck in an elevator for a meet-cute-awkward ride. At first it’s innocent — she asks him to pump air into her balance ball, a scene that turns hilarious on its own. Soon she’s delving into online stalking on social media via a fake profile complete with a Hot Girl’s pic to check his profile on Facebook and see what he’s about. While it does allow her to share a mutual like for an electronic band (which lands her at a concert in Williamsburg where she becomes an instant hit with the millennials), it’s still a little cringing. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to root for Doris and John to wind up together, or giggle at the sheer disparity between the two and the several comical moments they share together, mostly at Doris’ klutzy expense and incursions into Walter Mitty territory.

A monkey wrench gets thrown in, and John starts dating a Bright Young Thing, Brooklyn (Beth Behrs). Somewhat predictably, this spirals Doris out of control, and remember that fake profile Doris created just to spy on John? Once she confirms that he’s dating Brooklyn . . . well. Over wine and The Platters’ Smoke Gets in Your Eyes [used to perfection in 45 Years], she does precisely what she shouldn’t. Chekhov’s gun goes off.

Hello, My Name is Doris is a very entertaining comedy that wears its darker aspects  under multi-colored glasses as bright and peppy as Doris’ outfit. It’s a wonderful return for Sally Field, whom I last saw in Lincoln (2012). She starts the movie in complete sight-gag mode, unafraid to play that kooky office person we all know and . . . love? (okay, okay, tolerate), until a crucial sequence with her brother and sister-in-law (Stephen Root and Wendi McClendon-Covey) and the therapist assigned to her case (Elisabeth Reaser, in a small role) lets Doris spill out years of frustration and regret in one powerful scene. Which, again, reminds you the strength of Sally Field’s ability to perform on several levels at once.

This may be a breakout hit given the fact that in its second week it’s expanded to a little over 600 theaters nationwide over the initial 4 in its debut week. I think that Hello My Name is Doris will be the sleeper hit this spring because of its appeal to both fans of the younger cast as well as its more established performers. Recommended. Watch for Caroline Aaron, Kumali Nanjiani, and Natasha Lyonne in small parts.

2016 RENDEZVOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA: Dheepan

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

This year’s Rendezvous with French Cinema has featured some of the most diverse films coming out of France and it’s hit two home runs by bringing to US audiences the Cesar Award winner for Best Picture, Fatima, and Dheepan, the Palm D’Or winner at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, both which I saw back to back at the Walter Reade. Thematically, both are strikingly similar films dealing with the issue of cultural differences and a language barrier that immigrants experience when coming into France. However, those similarities end there: while Fatima grapples with a less than veiled racism and two conflicted daughters. Dheepan contains elements of the mythical warrior pushed to his limits.

Having lost everything to war, Sivadhassan, a Sri Lankan soldier, Yalini, a young woman on the verge of womanhood, and an orphaned young girl, Illayaal, procure false IDs to leave Sri Lanka for a better life. In a striking, near wordless montage, Dheepan (as Sivadhasaan is now known) walks the streets of Paris covered in cheap glow lights trying to sell them to anyone who will buy for pennies. When Immigration reels him (and the other two) in, a sympathetic Sri Lankan translator helps his case out, grants the three of them temp visas, and relocates them to the Parisian projects where they can start anew.

The problem is that these like your typical projects are rife with drug dealing and with that vicious shoot-outs. Dheepan gets work as a caretaker, Yalini lands a job taking care of a largely mute older man (which comes with its own set of complications), and Illayaal attends school for kids with special needs, which in Paris is aimed at children who cannot speak the language but nevertheless need education.

For a while, everything is going well except for a couple minor ruffles: Illayaal getting into a school brawl over being rejected at recess  and Yalini confusing the mail is the worst of their problems. Relations are at a rocky, unstable start — Yalini would rather continue to London and leave Dheepan and Illayaal behind. However, a gradual sense of comfort starts to come into the picture and it’s not long when the three of them have formed a new sense of family, and Dheepan has begun to fall a little for Yalini.

Just outside the picture, another drama is about to explode. Brahim, a drug-dealer and leader of a vicious gang often visits the man Yalini is taking care of, and while there is a certain, tentative attraction between the two, that comes to a crashing halt one day when a shoot-out takes place and almost hits Yalini and Illayaal on the way home from school. It proves to be a little too much for her to bear, because didn’t she leave a war-ravaged country already?

This is where the second half of Dheepan smashes this false sense of security: as he was considering an engagement ring to make his life with Yalini legal, she’s panicked and taken off. At about the same time a character from his past, another Sri Lankan soldier, wants his help in the war, but Dheepan has moved on and is on another plane. These two events rip the ground off his feet and define the more violent second half, where Brahim’s own out of control violence will intersect with Dheepan’s self-contained warrior. Director Jacques Audiard ratches up the tension as rival gangs threaten not just themselves but Dheepan himself, and at times the ferocity of how characters clash seems out of context with the slow buildup that has preceeded, but seems fitting due to the story’s location.

Dheepan is carried out almost entirely by newcomer Jesusthasan Anthonythasan who plays a character not too dissimilar from his life as a child soldier in Sri Lanka. From the first scene to the last, he is the one character your attention focuses on, going through the motions of tragedy of a past he can’t go back to, to the insecurity of the future, to the anguish of having to dig back into his past to make sure that future, faint at first but burgeoning, doesn’t die before it has a chance. Equally as good are the newcomes playing Yalini and Illayaal and Vincent Rottiers as Brahim, a bad guy who has a soft spot for Yalini.

Human survival gets tested all the way in this often touching, but never over-dramatic film. I highly recommend it.

Dheepan will be released May 13 in US theaters.

 

 

2016 RENDEZVOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA: Fatima

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

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She’s a divorced Moroccan immigrant barely making ends meet to support her two daughters in a country who’s language she can hardly speak. Her two daughters seem to harbor a resentment towards their own heritage for different reasons that stem to the fact that they’re in a white-intensive country, with white values, and would like to have what’s called a “normal family.” Such a rift, visible to her Moroccan neighbors, causes a sense of anger: how dare these two young women reject their own?

To that, Fatima (Soria Zeroual) offers no clear answers because there are none. All she can do is toil ahead in menial jobs to pay for her daughters Nesrine’s and Souad’s college and high school, respectively (although she does get some help from her former husband). Most of the conflict lies in the language barrier between Fatima and her own daughters, her employers, and the unspoken racism that permeates the story with every encounter. One early example is when Fatima mentions to the woman who’s house she cleans that Nesrine is studying to be a doctor. The woman, a stately, patrician redhead, has just had an argument with her son who’s throwing his future away. Upon Fatima’s revelation, again, spoken in terrible French, there’s a clear stiffening in the woman’s pose. It’s almost as if this challenged her own sense of privilege, her own status: her cleaning lady also having a daughter who will one day become a doctor.

Another example is when Nesrine goes looking for an apartment to move into: there is a tension between the very white blond landlady and these three dark-skinned women that ends on a negative note. If you’ve read how minorities are treated here in the US when seeking apartments in nicer areas, Fatima lays it out pretty plainly. Later on in the movie Fatima reveals in conversation with Nesrine that her employer has been leaving money out carelessly in places where she will clean. It’s almost as if her employer would want her to steal it to self-fulfill her own prejudice that all foreigners not of Anglo origin are thieves.

To top this off, Fatima has begun to have increasing problems with Souad, her youngest daughter. While Nesrine’s conflicts arise from her own need to succeed and pass her exams (and that she doesn’t feel the need to wear a scarf around her head which angers her neighbors), Souad’s problems are much deeper.There is a sense of something missing from her life. Her grades are dropping, her relation with both her parents is deteriorating, and she seems to be hanging with “the wrong  crowd,” she mocks Fatima’s French (which Fatima countermocks Souad’s own poor Arabic). It’s a situation that brings argument after argument with Fatima and one wonders whether there can be a middle ground between the two.

The only action sequence is a tumble down the stairs that renders Fatima with severe shoulder pain and in need of therapy. It’s a shocking development that comes out of nowhere but as a hidden blessings it allows Fatima to writer her innermost thoughts which she shares with her therapist and (offscreen) learn French to communicate better, on her own terms

Fatima is a brief, yet wonderfully warm slice of life that manages to draw a complete portrait of an otherwise invisible woman that a privileged section of society would rather tend to forget due to her African origins. I loved how lived in, how real the entire story felt and how this could appropriate itself to many foreigners who now live in a country that, while giving them limited resources, often tries to stamp out their identity by turning the other cheek. That this unassuming woman slowly comes to her own after a time spent in the shadows makes it a must-see.

As of yet there is no US release date for Fatima although Kino-Lorber has acquired it for distribution.

 

SAVING THE DAY: DEADPOOL, GLASSLAND, AND WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Just how many superheroes exist in the Marvel Comics universe? Wait. Don’t answer that. I’m probably not going to keep tabs or remember the answer, because other than a cursory interest in the Superman movies that made Christopher Reeve a household heartthrob, it’s just not my cup of tea. I’m most decidedly not the target audience for this type of story. So what am I doing at the AMC watching Deadpool on a Friday night in early March?

No clue. Curiosity, perhaps?

Let’s leave it at that. Also, from what little I know, this was/is a totally different creation in the Marvel Comics Universe, one so blatantly outre and dripping in sheer bravado that I kind of had to give up a little snobbery and concede. You see, when you see a little of yourself in a character you get the character and Deadpool has attitude in spades. Heck–his attitude has attitude. He’s like the honey badger video that’s made the rounds on YouTube forever, voiced by the lisping gay guy: he doesn’t give a shit. And he wants you to know he doesn’t give a shit. Everyone’s game; everyone’s a target, and even when you need him to do a favor for you, don’t expect him to accept your thanks because he just needed to vent a little and make a stalker pee in his pants and never, ever, consider terrorizing the girl on campus (as is what happens in one of the film’s many flashbacks). Ryan Reynolds is perfect as the reluctant hero. If you’ve seen his movies you knew this one was coming: he has the right amount of comedic presence, the right amount of vocal delivery, and even the right amount of visual badassery to convince me that he, Wade Wilson, would don a red suit and strike out on his own.

His Wade Wilson gets introduced in medias res as he’s about to engage in some massive ass-kicking. But first: cue the credits, who roll with outrageous mentions as “a British Supervillain” “a hot chick” “the gratuitous cameo” “the comic sidekick”. I loved it. This is a hard-rock movie that doesn’t take anything that happens in its story too seriously and wants you to know it and have fun.

And the fun explodes from the intro and then gets amped up to eleven real quick. What helps it is a composition of its plot which can be summed up as “Deadpool goes after the man who ruined his life; mayhem ensues”–backed up with some hilarious set pieces that work perfectly as flashbacks. These flashbacks come in the form of thought bubbles stemming from Deadpool’s stream of consciousness as he, the former Wade Wilson, flies through the air after getting a hit from someone. They manage to give us a connect the dots from point a) when he saved a girl from a stalker (see paragraph above), to b) when he met the woman who was essentially his match in every shape and form, fell in lust/love, and just as they were about to find bliss? Point c) Cancer. Incurable. Tick-tock.

Wade’s problem stems from the fact that he buys into the seemingly impossible sell that he may regain his life back through an obscure procedure. Here is where he meets Ajax/Frank, a man who uses him as a guinea pig with the sole intent to make him suffer. One experiment goes too far, and Wade’s defense mechanism goes into absolute overdrive, creating a  new creature who’s basically invulnerable to injuries, but hideous. Or as he himself states, “I look like balls with teeth.” Sounds like an episode from Botched on Bravo.

And there you have it — that’s the meat of the story; how it’s a matter of time until Deadpool and Ajax meet for One Final Encounter. Tim Muller has created a massively frantic movie that throws everything that it can to the viewer — in one rapid-fire scene I counted no less than 3 jokes and several visual sight gags along with several pop-culture references. Some of the funniest set pieces involve him and a man he uses as a limo/taxi driver whom he also lectures in how to act in his private life (which yields some rather hilarious circumstances). Not as funny are the fight scenes themselves, but I guess they were necessary, although a small exchange between Colossus and Angel Dust who are battling it to the death made me laugh out loud. After all, when a man is fighting a woman and she reveals a naked breast (which Muller blocks by placing Colossus’ hand in a strategic position), it’s no reason why he should forget to be a gentleman. Those two should pair up. That’s the sequel I want to see.

This is a fun as balls movie. It’s outrageous, it’s raunchy, it’s almost disgusting, and completely politically incorrect, and that to me is solid popcorn entertainment I enjoy. And coming from someone who’s numb to fantasy superhero movies, that is saying a lot.

Glassland:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Not as fast moving as Deadpool is Glassland, an Irish movie that demands you to sit back and see the slow-burn train wreck unfolding in the lives of a young Irish man and his alcoholic mother. The situation as it is, starts out pretty bad: a mostly wordless montage introduces you to John (Jack Raynor), a taxi driver working late nights to support his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette). Upon returning from his shift he comes back to find her unconscious and drowning in her own puke on the bed after what seems like one too many drinks. An emergency hospital visit doesn’t give John too much hope: if she continues the way she’s carrying on she’ll need a liver transplant. When John and Jean return to their apartment she goes into a frenzy and rips the place apart looking for her drinks. Jean would rather drink herself to death than sober up and face life and is dragging Jack along for the miserable ride. It’s a gamble if Jean will survive her own addiction or one day, not wake up.

While there are other subplots, Glassland is a haunting two-person character study of people in pain who don’t see a way out. This brutal movie will linger long after the credits have rolled, it’s that good. All of the most powerful scenes involve Jean and John as they both confront and argue with each other — he’s heartbroken that she’s unwilling to let go of the drink; she’s just too dependent on the bottle for reasons she eventually discloses in an emotional scene. Toni Collette continues to essay strong performances that flesh out real people; her Jean is drowning in more ways than one. It’s painful to see her face filled with lines, wallowing in her own self-pity, screaming at the top of her lungs, a woman gone mad. Also good is Jack Raynor who creates a solid character of John without turning him into a caricature of selfless suffering. He provides the film with enormous gravity.

Glassland is available on VOD and premieres in limited release Friday March 18.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

And now, a different type of film with a different type of heroine. Based on her memoirs, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is another slice of cinematic chick-lit peppered with a faux-grittier slant that feels a little too color-by-numbers. And I’m not saying this is a bad thing: I like movies where the main character goes into unknown territory to explore and possibly, oh, learn something, and I assume the real Kim Barker did, but somehow, it just didn’t quite register here. Perhaps if it had taken a cue of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (its distant cousin) I would have felt like this was less a somewhat feel-good movie about war in Afghanistan and something closer to the stuff Christiane Amanpour goes through when she’s out in the field and bombs are exploding in the distance. To a degree, this is no one’s fault: there has to be a story and as based on reality as it portends to be, elements of the fictitious creep in and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot somehow does justice to its acronym and morphs into a sometimes credible, sometimes “eh” Tina Fey vehicle where she gets to do something serious for about two hours and emerges less dirty and hopefully a little bit wiser.