Week Two of the 58th New York Film Festival

The haunting In the Mood for Love, which received its 4K restoration for its 20th anniversary

Night of the Kings (La nuit des rois)

Image from the Harvard Crimson

He’s arrived to a prison for a crime we are not privy to, and even before he gets there, his fate is sealed. From inside, a behemoth of a man watches, waits, and plans to turn this boy into his successor whether he wants to or not. Philippe Lacoste’s movie takes place in MACA, an overcrowded prison in the Ivory Coast, where guards have no power and the system is run by the inmates. MACA’s leader, Black Beard (Steve Teintchieu), is sick — dying, actually — and wants to secure that his power continues since there are several inmates at the wait to their claim. When he spots Roman (the aforementioned boy, played by Bakery Koné), Black Beard has made his choice. Roman will extend Black Beard’s rule for a short while longer by telling them story after story in order to cause a distraction from the immediacy.

Philippe Lacote creates two distinct worlds with this film. One is the oppressive MACA facility which, already overrun with inmates, seems to be teetering on the edge of explosive violence. The other one comes from Roman’s stories. At first Roman, unfamiliar with his own role, fumbles and doesn’t quite know how to make his way around oral fiction, but as the night progresses, he becomes more confident, spinning tales of a war between a princess (Laetitia Kye) and her brother which mirrors the conflict at MACA and Roman’s own. write a program to find area of triangle in java how to delete icloud email account on iphone 6 que hace la viagra en el organismo paper starters https://www.myrml.org/outreach/laurentian-thesis-canadian-history/42/ source link http://mcorchestra.org/10717-custom-expository-essay-editor-website/ gioiamathesis test safe place to buy viagra best descriptive essay writers for hire for university thesis structure anthropology go here death penalty opinion essay acyclovir for cold sores how to write good research paper rate of reaction gcse coursework go to link https://www.go-gba.org/2136-christian-essays/ follow url thesis statement on multicultural education see url https://heystamford.com/writing/college-essay-service-trip/8/ https://carlgans.org/report/from-idea-to-essay-13th-edition-pdf/7/ cialis georgetown https://nebraskaortho.com/docmed/beli-viagra-di-jakarta/73/ art digital essay photo shop thesis http://go.culinaryinstitute.edu/how-to-develop-leadership-skills-in-students-pdf/ alli canadian pharmacy cause effect essay stress essay editing jobs philippines uk essay writing services best dissertation titles Night of the Kings is a thoroughly intricate story of adventure and politics that doesn’t exactly make any reference to actual events but manages to mirror that of countries under oppression searching for a savior. [B]

The Chess Game of the Wind

Image courtesy from The Guardian

Pity the poor family at the center of Mohammed Resa Aslani’s chamber drama about the class struggle between members of a wealthy family. Even if you didn’t know of the historical events framing The Chess Game of the Wind, you would understand what the power of greed does to corrupt a family from the inside out.

Following the death of the family matriarch (off-screen), the paraplegic daughter Ashdgas (Fakri Korvash) finds herself pitted against her stepfather, his sons, and her own fiancee to see who will stand to inherit the property. The only sympathetic person who Ashgdas has any support from comes under her own maid (a young Shorhesh Ashgladoo) with whom she has an intimate relationship with. Tensions reach an ugly high and Asgdhas is forced to commit an act of violence to preserve her own self and interests… but destiny has something else up its sleeve.

Resa Aslani’s movie seems to film everything under a constant sense of dread. The house, which is huge offers no sense of security for anyone under its roof. The camera films its scenes with tones of gold and brown reminiscent of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis but adding elements of deep shadows and discomfort. The only moments of levity occur every so often when the action moves outside to show washer-women commenting on the family’s corrupt past, but this only augments the tragedy that is to come. [A]

Isabella

Image from Cineuropa

It’s safe to say that Matias Piñeiro is not the most accessible of storytellers. His work, which often (always?) relies on the works of Shakespeare (to be exact, in the Shakespearean comedic heroines), doesn’t seem to really add much to what those female characters were all about unless I am missing something crucial hidden in plain sight in his narratives. I just find that his dramas seem devoid of real conflict and dilute any tension to the point that I wonder if perhaps maybe his version of conflict is something verging on the abstract, to be read on paper, like a transcript, or the art installation that figures prominently in his latest, Isabella. Isabella tells the story of an actress trying to get her life together who uses an audition for a Shakespearean play to get financial help from her brother. At the same time, she meets a friend, who it turns out, is also auditioning for the part. The meeting of these two women would indicate some type of tension but all they do is have conversations that really don’t add up to much more but suggest competitiveness and maybe, subtle hints of professional envy. It just doesn’t feel like a movie I would want to watch and the jumping back and forth in time, an arbitrary choice, reveals nothing spectacular. Perhaps it’s time to throw in the towel and move on to another, more interesting pool of inspiration, or make a movie that has no jumping-off point riddled with abstractions. [D]

Nomadland

If you were to call Fern homeless she’d immediately, with a wry smile, correct you and state she’s not homeless but “houseless”, and you’d believe her, because something in the deeply lived performance that Frances McDormand delivers conveys a message of living the moment, taking every chance, pause in between flight.

Chloe Zhao is truly a revelation and quite simply, the best thing this year’s festival has offered. Take a cue to develop narratives along with the book of the same name, Zhao and McDormand create something truly brilliant and poignant in Nomadland, a movie that delves into the topic of those who have been left behind to fend for themselves due to choice or circumstance and equally, those who have decided that possessions are a hamper to live a fully lived life in which the entire world was a home full of marvels to see, sense, experience, taste, and finally, leave behind to spin on its own.

A victim of the housing crash of 2008, Fern (McDormand) travels the country in her camper van she names Vanguard, working odd jobs here and there if there is a need for a person like her, and she is okay with it. In the interim, she befriends a group of people who for their own reasons also decided to leave it all behind and search. One of these turns out to be a potential romance for Fern (played quietly by David Strathairn), but Fern, whom McDormand inhabits as a woman unyielding to tragedy and to old age itself, is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. Simply perfect. [A+]

Days

If I were to describe Tsai Ming-Liang’s new movie Days, I would have to say that it is essentially an art installation comprised of stills that through its images tells a story of loneliness, alienation, and the need for human contact.

The two men in the movie, frequent collaborator Kang-sheng Lee and newcomer Anong Houngheunagsy are presented back to back as they move about in solitude, separate from each other. It gets revealed that Kang-sheng’s nameless character suffers from chronic back pain for which he goes to an acupuncturist. The scene, in which Kang-sheng sits in stoic silence, enduring what must be an excruciating session as his body tenses against the wires and steam emanating from them, is long and tortuous.

Equally long, and the crux of the movie is the sequence in which Kang-sheng and Anong, who we learn is a sexual masseuse, meet in a sterile hotel. The scene is the sole occasion in which both men wordlessly open up to each other and where Kang-sheng experiences the magic of human touch which in turn releases him from his pain which hints at his loneliness. And then, Days turns into something purely magical. Once the two men resort to a less sensual, more businesslike demeanor, Kang-sheng gifts Anong a music box. In a world in which these kinds of situations would start and end as mechanical as the needs propelling them, Ming-Liang takes this encounter and turns it into one of connection and sharing. Even when the men leave for a night on the town, the camera remains in the now dark room, lingering over the restrained moment of sexual release that continues to float, unacknowledged, in darkness.

For newcomers to Ming-Liang’s cinema Days may take a while to warm up to. This is not a director interested in the more familiar aspects of the narrative. His shots, minimalistic to a fault, express merely what is happening at a bare-bones level. An opening scene in which Kang-sheng sits in silence gazing out into his yard while the rain pours (and reflects onto his body) suggests a lifetime of living like a monk. Another, rather late in the film, where Anong sits by himself listening to this wonderful little gift he has received — such a payment for a moment’s service! — you can almost sense the excitement, the private joy, that he experiences in such a moment. Ming-Liang’s movie Days is like that –a living still life, in which the essence of a scene is delicately played out on screen, delivering its filtered emotion through the wordlessly visual. [B]

The Human Voice

Here we have a miniature by Spain’s Almodovar, a director who has devoted his entire body of work to the female psyche, light or dark, fragile or steely. In his Human Voice, all the elements of his previous work find themselves reduced to their bare essentials: female desire, the horror of abandonment, the abuse they have received, the tragedy of a love that has died, the ultimate need to perform an act of exorcism in order to move on. Who better would embody these characteristics for his English-language debut than Tilda Swinton, an actress severely underused in a starring role, who often gets the smaller part where gives her no other option than to steal the picture by proxy alone.

For Almodovar’s third incursion into Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice, he focuses solely on the play itself. [Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown begins in almost the same manner but from the moment the call ends, the story becomes a wild farce with a spectacular ending.] From the moment the Bernard Hermanesque score opens and we see a rain of tools over a background of sea-green that then segues into two shots of Tilda, dressed in fire engine red and ashy black, we have entered the unleashed emotions that Almodovar loves to navigate through, Buckle up.

The Woman receives the foreboding call from her narcissistic boyfriend who’s been breadcrumbing her, holding her hostage emotionally and physically for four years. He will not be making an appearance to collect his items and his dog (who also has noticed his absence).

This final act of cowardice sends the Woman right over the edge. During her conversations she will resort to a dramatic attempt at self-destruction, every note of exaggerated emotion not devoid of manipulation, and fire, all in the name of both getting her unattainable man to pay attention to her or else. Tilda’s Woman is a primal scream that she carries along from the moment her character steps onto the stage to when she abandons it with her ex-lover’s masterless dog, a woman dressed in tones of equal parts mourning and healing.

The Human Voice is, for anyone still not yet familiar with Almodovar, a way to get a glimpse of his universe, his women, and their complicated desires. [A-]

In the Mood for Love

“Feelings can creep up like that. I thought I was in control.” This is the line that can basically summarize the subtle events that transpire during a short stay within cramped quarters in a Hong Kong apartment.

The time is 1963, a time when Hong Kong society was much more conservative. A man and a woman (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung), both married to other people, move in next door to each other, and other than making diurnal polite exchanges, neither of them would have any need to meet. Due to the fact that their spouses are almost always absent on business trips, this leaves them by themselves. A pattern of loneliness starts to emerge within the two, a thing that leads them to venture out to eat alone, sometimes passing each other by without acknowledgment, and on other occasions, a slight, polite but strained hello.

It soon becomes apparent that both of them are victims of infidelity, and the movie is extremely clever in the way it drops clues. Eventually, their paths intersect, and this begins a tentative, restrained approach to a friendship that starts to take shape between both Mrs, Chan and Mr. Chow. From here on, In the Mood for Love starts developing an intoxicating scent that like the Nat King Cole song that continually teases in the background, threatens to push the both of them to the moment we, the audience, are waiting for.

Any director might have taken a less impressive turn, or might have even delved into slight overtones of predictable romance. Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love takes a different road while sticking to the “will they won’t they” formula. It is all about anticipation and voyeurism draped in gorgeous, pregnant sensuality aching for release. His camera moves stealthily, sometimes from a distance, or behind lush curtains, maintaining a sense of the clandestine that could still be uncovered at any time. A sense of fragile privacy is always present, keeping them together within the frame, longing, and yearning. It is a potent approach because we as an audience are already hoping for someone to crack the ice.

When I saw In the Mood for Love 20 years ago I was not ready for this level of eroticism playing out where the actors never once show more skin than what is already visible. Kar-wai lets us into a world of narcotic but safe greens in the first part and then lets red explode over as if dressing both his characters with the feelings they themselves cannot confess. And then there is Maggie Cheung’s doll-like face, luminous like no one ever, her eyes speaking volumes even when her posture remains poised. She is the perfect foil to Tony Leung’s restrained yet smoldering desire that hints at intensity (and will color his stories which he writes in room 2046, a hotel room that will become the basis of the sequel).

In the Mood for Love boasts some of the most pristine restorations I have seen and it shows: a copy of the movie that came out 20 years ago is still sharp, but the 4K restoration must be seen, sensed, experienced. If there ever was a movie that I would call essential for anyone venturing into film, it would be this one.

A 2016 restoration is available on Criterion Channel for subscribers. [A+]

Week One of the 58th New York Film Festival

Image from IONCinema

Malmkrog

It never disappoints: one movie will somehow not make it through translation and will probably be seen as a director’s incursion into creating work only meant for a few instead of a larger audience. Cristi Puiu’s latest movie Malmkrog, which made its debut at the very beginning of the 58th New York Film Festival, is that movie. A 200-minute conversation, Malmkrog takes place mainly indoors and with the confines of an elegant manor house for which the movie is titled. In that manor, five upper crust individuals drag their thoughts and opinions on everything from Christianity’s stance on war to the Antichrist, all in the favor of some intellectual exercise. In this conversation, we see subtle animosities flare up, talkers attempting to one-up the other in order to dominate the table, and the possibility that the tea prepared for them might have been poisoned by an unknown servant. Progressively, as one conversation segues into another, and yet another, we do start to observe a pattern emerging. One of the women (there are three), Olga (Marina Palii), who comes across as the least intellectual of them all, tends to get prodded by her guests. Even her husband Nikolai (Frederic Schulz-Richard) at the movie’s climactic moment actively squares off with Olga, almost as if attempting to silence her simple rationale. What I was able to surmise is that in every party there is always a need to perform, to show one’s position on a topic, and that no matter how refined we may be as individuals, that need to demonstrate cultural superiority becomes unleashed at the face of a modest stance. Olga, in that respect, becomes a form of Saint Sebastian, or for the less religious, the Tess in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. The verbal stoning she essentially buries her until she is barely in the background, merely accepting her fate and position amongst these pseudointellectuals. Still, Malmkrog will only be for strict admirers of Puiu’s work, or those familiar with the original source material… not anyone else. [C]

Fauna

Nicolas Pereda is a newcomer to me, and like most newcomers, to the art-house scene, his work announces a director who is willing to play with the very concept of narrative and what is real as opposed to what is performed. It’s an extremely short piece (although not by much; Hong Sang-too often makes 60-minute movies) but even in its brief running time, it manages to deliver some interesting scenes. Spit into two, Fauna concerns Luisa and Paco (Luisa Prado and Francisco Barreiro) en route to see her parents.

Not much happens along the way. Once there, Luisa has a conversation with her mother about a part she is rehearsing, leading to both women acting out the part in different, yet poignant ways. Paco gets invited by Luisa’s deadbeat brother Gabinio (Gabino Rodriguez) to Luisa’s father’s bar. Once there they ask Paco to reenact a scene from Narcos, a series where Paco plays out a small part. As it happens with people coming into contact with celebrities, they then ask him to pull out a part from thin air and act around it. It’s that scene that ends the sequence with a slight but plausible punchline.

The second part sees Gabino coming into the forefront the following day. He’s been reading a book, and his narration of that book builds the fantasy section of Fauna in which he, Luisa, and Paco play out the roles assigned to them in the book. Fauna, if it ever gets released in the US, might find its way into a small niche of arthouse movie lovers who upon giving Pereda’s movie a view will want to dissect it down to details. I personally see Fauna as an exercise in performance and role-play that somehow gets connected by a barely-there plot and a slight hint of sadness. [B]

Time

It’s not an ovrerreaching statement that prison has become a modern conceptualization of slavery and does not and will not ever benefit African Americans, Garrett Bradley’s documentary focuses on Sibyl Fox Richardson, a Louisiana native who, back when she started a hih-hop clothing line with her husband Rob, made the unfortunate mistake of staging a robbery in order to support her business. The reason is never revealed, but we get the idea that the Richardsons were struggling and just didn’t know another way out. Keep in mind that this is not a country made for the struggling poor, especially those of color or a “non-White ethnicity.”

While she Sibyl took the plea, Rob did not and was sentenced to a 60-year term. During that time we meet Sibyl, who now goes by Fox Rich (as a form of honoring Rob) we get to meet her as she raises her six children and slowly rebuilds her life back together, always waiting for that day that Rob would be let out. She is allotted two visits a month, which takes a toll on her and her growing sons. Through it all, it is her strength and her faith not in the system but in her own will that keep Fox on her feet, and Bradley’s film, beat by beat, starts to reveal that what’s needed here is social justice.

Time is available on Amazon Prime and is a must-see. [A-]

Smooth Talk

If there ever was an analogy to a snake coming into the garden (and mind you, I don’t read or care for the Bible), Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk, based on the Joyce Carol Oates short story “Where Are you Going, Where Have You Been?” is it. It tells the story of Connie (Laura Dern), a bored, privileged, and maybe mean girl living out her days in Small Town, California. Her interests are as simple as they are pedestrian: boys, and looking pretty. Her home life is a bit more problematic as she has a rather contentious relationship with her mother (Mary Kay Place) who constantly berates Connie. In a nutshell, Connie is anxious to grow up, and her mother would rather she not (and take care of their house).

Connie will get a chance at getting her first glimpse at the real world when a stranger, Arnold Friend (Treat Williams) crosses her path. His entrance in the film comes rather late although he can be seen at the fringes of the story early on, simply observing her. When he finally arrives, he oozes a menacing sexuality that is so pregnant with the personality of a psychopath that Smooth Talk morphs into something more Gothic — closer to David Lynch’s sensibilities as a matter of fact. Arnold’s dance of anti-seduction with Connie is as tense as anything I’ve ever seen and continues for a full half an hour before it fades into the distance with Connie in tow. I can see why both writer and director chose to leave it this way; when you see Williams and Dern, both about thirty feet apart with him at the door in a suggestive pose, you realize what will have to occur so Connie can wake up. It is a devastating reality only hinted at but never shown; however, that scene alone is enough. This is a deceptive little movie that will linger on with its bad aftertaste for days, but it is worth a view for its presentation and both Dern and Williams.

Smooth Talk will come back to virtual cinemas in November, 2020. [B+]

El tango del viudo y su espejo deformante (The Tango of the Widower and its Distorting Mirror)

Valeria Sarmiento’s restoration of her husband Raul Ruiz’s experimental movie The Tango of the Widower and its Distorting Mirror is one of the strangest films I have seen this festival. The backstory of this movie goes back to when it was completed as a short in 1967 but left without a soundtrack. An exhausting procedure of voice restoration that led to the transcription of the actors’ lines then led to the hiring of voice-over actors to play the parts out. Even then, Sarmiento was left with too short a movie. However, due to having been aware that Ruiz had often wanted to make a film in reverse in order to play with the fabric of time, she made the decision to, at the film’s exact center, unspool it shot by shot, adding snippets of voice over to the existing sound, and the result is this: a movie about a haunting that doubles in on itself and reflects its haunting back to the haunted person. Much like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, we first encounter Clemente Iriarte, the widower in question, tormented by his spectral dead wife who seems to believe she is still alive and very much in his personal space. Her haunting reaches a fever pitch until Clemente commits an act of violence against himself… from which a second Clemente emerges, one who knows the ending, but has now come with the omniscient power of self-erase it. One could easily state that the wife who emerges from the mirror could be embodied by the ghost-Clemente, but the film doesn’t give you any concise answers. The Tango of the Widower, thus, remains an interesting, intriguing incursion into surrealism in which whatever was on the other side of the looking glass was always observing the observer, and that ghost could be death itself. [B-]

MLK/FBI

Prepare to be outraged. Sam Pollard’s blistering documentary MLK/FBI paints a vivid snapshot of where we were as a nation when Martin Luther King was then considered the nation’s prime enemy, one that the FBI, headed by then J. Edgar Hoover needed to be destroyed by any means necessary.

From the Freedom of Information Act we can now get a clearer glimpse at the tactics the FBI as an agency held up to a higher standard got involved in. [Of course, they as a whole practically had a file on anyone and everyone deemed an enemy or a Communist, and Dr. King is not the only victim here but he is one of the most salient.] From Dr. King’s association with Stanley Levinson, a known Communist, Hoover’s focus on King progresses into truly frightening and frankly, disturbing territories.

Perhaps because Hoover, born and raised in the South, had never experienced a Black man who was this verbose and eloquent, and it certainly didn’t matter that King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. It speaks glaringly at the attitude of the times in which Blacks had still no rights other than to barely exist, so King as an icon of peace now became an icon of anarchy for the White majority who feared a revolution. This attitude was just the type of environment that Hoover and Wiliam Sullivan needed to exploit in order to disclose anything that could besmirch (assassinate) Dr. King’s character and reputation, and the lows that they stooped to will make anyone’s book boil.

Pollard’s documentary wisely treads some familiar terrain in keeping an objective point of view. It would be problematic to present Dr. King as a saint. Instead Pollard also dives into the ugly rape allegations that Dr. King participated in, but of course also adds that the agents conducting surveillance and listening in to Dr. King living his pwn life came with massive biases against blacks (a bias that still exists even today if you just turn on the news).

Suggestions are made by retired agent Charles Knox, who turns in late in the documentary, that nothing good would come of having access to these files, set to be released in seven years. I disagree: we are owed an explanation of what exactly a prestigious agency was up to. For a nation to heal it must look at its wound. To deny the infliction of such a wound — which incidentally, continued to be inflicted upon Coretta Scott King even after King’s murder in 1967, is to give in to the perpetuation of a culture that continues to glorify a police state that does nothing to protect its own and needlessly diminish those not deemed “white enough” (and by that I also include all other non-Anglo races, LGBTQ people, etc.). [A]

Damnation

Bela Tarr’s Damnation should have been a noir film. The movie’s esthetics, so drenched in noir sensibilities, practically demands it. Picture this: a man lives in the middle of nowhere. His view is of buckets of coal being pulled alongside a cable, the sound they make is purely industrial. This man, hopelessly in love with a woman that does not love him although she says she does. This man is so enamored by this woman that, when offered a smuggling job in which there is money, he would rather give that opportunity to the woman’s husband in order to get him out of the way. The woman, only because there is a promise of money (and a way out of this overwhelming desolation), offers to give the man a little bit of sex. The sex, mind you, is passionless. When the husband returns with cash in hand, things go back to where they were, and the man, now alone, realizes he’s been used in the worst imaginable way. Something has to give.

If Damnation were to get the Hollywood treatment it could possibly be something straight out of Jacques Tourneur or James Cain, with gritty femme fatales betraying the poor schmoes drawn to them. Damnation, however, goes well past the narrative limitations of noir and sends Tarr’s antihero Karrer (Miklós Székely) straight into the bowels of insanity. It is a powerful glimpse into a life wasted by alcohol and despair and the lack of love, magnified by the constant presence of rain and gloom that grabs onto the narrative and never lets anyone breathe. [A]

Opening Night at the 58th New York Film Festival, Lovers Rock

Image courtesy from Guardian

I’m not big on serials in film festivals (and almost avoided this one altogether), but this one warranted a view simply for its concept alone (and I will catch it again once it premieres on Amazon Prime). Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock is the second in a series of five episodes that form part of a limited series called Small Axe. In his series McQueen tells the Black experience in England — namely, London — during the late 60s to the early 80s, and while that to me is an excellent concept — it isn’t exactly a secret that England (well, Europe in general as well as the rest of the world not including Africa) has harbored a rather hushed version of racism towards African immigrants who have throughout the years come in search of a better life away from the limitations their native countries offered.

The episode is almost entirely silent except for snippets of conversation. The location is a townhome. People go in and out prepping for a house party, the kind that involved loads of turntables, deejays announcing the next hit and dedicating it to the revelers, and lots of cooking. It is, in fact, a wonderful opening, to see so much glow and music floating through the women who try their best to replicate Janet Kay’s Silly Games in unison. In the interim, we meet several unnamed women as they choose what dresses to wear and style each other’s hair. Progressively we get focused on Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and her friend as they get ready for a night out, make small talk and arrive at the house party.

McQueen brings out all the hits from the late 70s which would still have been largely played in these outings, and while the start of the party is largely disco-oriented, we start to see reggae of the time, particularly the lovers rock sub-genre, creeping in. Couples start forming, signaling the beginnings of romance, and the possibilities of sexual encounters that may take place after. Martha gets the lion share of attention, approached as she is by a smooth talker whom she wards off in favor of the less ostentatious Franklyn (Micheal Ward) with whom she strikes up a connection while the party goers revel to the thrumming beat of slow reggae, culminating in a wonderful choreographed moment in which Janet Kay’s Silly Games officially arrives, throwing the entire party into a state of bliss,

McQueen seems to eschew any traditional narrative — complete with dialog and exposition, entrances, exits, and cuts — to instead become a passive viewer of a gathering in a safe space where only those privy of it were allowed to go to. It is worthy to note that white faces are barely if ever, seen, and always bring with them a sense of latent racism and even danger hardly alluded to. This is in essence the running theme of Small Axe, shot neatly and without active conflict or resolution, but a simple observation. To wit: a trio of Anglo boys early in the episode check out the movers who are prepping for the event, unacknowledged. Later on, the same boys will cat-call Martha as she runs after the female friend she arrived at the party in and one even makes monkey-like sounds.

That in a nutshell is the most Lovers Rock delves into racial tensions, a short slice of life that brings its own set of internal conflicts within its partygoers. I only wish that McQueen had included subtitles in his episode because even though it is English, the accents are very thick, and I had a hard time making out what was being said. Hopefully, they will be included once Small Axe makes its bow on streaming platforms in November.

In Memoriam: Four by Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman (1976 – 2020), imager from Consequence of Sound

On the morning of August 28, 2020, I woke up to learn that Chadwick Boseman, an actor at the dawn of an illustrious career, had succumbed to colon cancer at the age of 43. It felt unreal. Forty-three is not an age that anyone simply turns only to find out one’s time is numbered; and yet there it was, mortality, taking away a performer like Boseman, reminding me that we have so little time on this chunk of rock called Earth and that whatever we have, we should give forward and at least leave a slight memory of who we were during our time here.

Boseman leaves behind a small but noticeable body of work that is still recent in the minds of moviegoers young and old alike. His breakthrough performance was 42, a film directed by Brian Helgeland which told the story of iconic baseball player Jackie Robinson. It is the only one in Boseman’s resume that tackles the topic of the Black experience as told by a White Savior, and while it is true that Robinson rose the ranks to become one of the nation’s most renowned baseball players, it didn’t happen by chance alone but by the presence of the influential Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). Rickey was looking into breaking the color barrier and after spotting Robinson, hired him to play for the Dodgers.

Chadwick Boseman in 42 (2012).

As in many stories involving black men and women coming into a white environment, 42 also tackles the topic of the racism that Robinson faced at the time. There was no written law banning African American people into sports. If anything, the unspoken agreement was that they just couldn’t play, period. Once Rickey signs Robinson up, Robinson has to not only out-perform everyone (which he did) but also “keep his temper in check” in order to remain on the game. It seems a rather unfair disadvantage and an arbitrary rule, but as it is with White Savior films, it is the only way someone like Robinson can even hope to have a chance. In essence 42 is what you might call a “correct” and “respectful” homage to a player of the statute of Robinson, and through Boseman’s stoic and unflinching performance we manage to understand to a degree the hurdles placed on African Americans to make it in a world that would rather they remain in the shadows.

I didn’t see Get On Up so this is the sole entry that I won’t be able to write about, but after that, if Chadwick Boseman wasn’t already headed for greatness, he exploded all over the acting map with Black Panther. Now, I have stated numerous times I rarely tend to go see any superhero movie because I fail to see the importance of them in the world of cinema. Conflict is presented by a megalomaniac intent on ruling the world (or at least, a good chunk of it). In comes the hero, the man (or woman) who will oppose the megalomaniac using the powers of good, lightning-quick reactions, and copious amounts of martial arts and trickery (i. e. “power”) to subdue the enemy and thus, restore order.

Black Panther, image from CNET

Black Panther both continues in the same vein of storytelling, but it also stands apart. This has more to do with the way director Ryan Coogler presents his vision, which is to make an origin story rich in detail, incorporating elements from African culture (which have been up to now largely ignored because let’s face it, Hollywood), steeped in its own traditions and civilizations, and granting it a strong identity. It also begs to add that Black Panther as its own comic book rose at a critical point and time in American history. It’s no accident that T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) plays a superhero of this name. It wouldn’t surprise me that at a deep, sociological level, African Americans in the 60s were looking for something–someone–close to the divine, the untouchable, an emblem to fight their battle against the oppression that dragged them here from their native Africa to fates worst than death itself.

In this sense, I find that Black Panther as a commentary on Black identity stands on its own rather than just fulfills a role in filling up movie theaters and delivering yet another superhero movie complete with dazzling set pieces, costumes, and thrilling action. It is completely anchored by Boseman in an above-reproach performance of a man held to higher standards who must preserve the integrity of his nation and also avoid global conflict.

However, to every hero, there is a foil. That foil, prankster, wild card, or even enemy if you will, comes under the form of Michael B Jordan as Eric “Killmonger” Stevens. It is Stevens who opens the movie, who evolves from being the victim of violence in California to become T’Challa’s nemesis. His role is extremely complicated because you can see what having your innocence shattered can do to a person, how far it can push you, and how it turns you into something closet to a fallen angel who will lead the world into rebellion. Jordan plays the part to such intensity that he basically overshadows Boseman every second he is on screen.

Black Panther is an epic adventure that owes much to the time it took to get it on screen. Perhaps if it had been made with Wesley Snipes — he was at one point attached or interested in playing the part when his star was burning rather brightly and he could do no wrong — the cards may have played themselves out differently. Who can tell? However, largely because Hollywood is still playing catch-up in telling Black stories that can stand on their own and not anchor themselves on an Anglo performer, now is the time when we can see a movie made for Black audiences by a Black director. [Note: I shouldn’t have to type Black this much but the point must be made.] This is a gorgeous, pristine entry into the superhero canon, one that delivers the action as well as provides a sense of detail, of lush, of a product that needed to out-perform everyone else in order to rise above the rest and become a part of cinema history.

And when was the last time you saw a superhero movie that grants so many complex performances from almost its entire cast? You have Nakia (Lupita N’Yongo), T’Challa’s one-time girlfriend who serves as a spy for other nations; the Dora Miljae, led by Okoye (Danae Gurira); T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Laetitia Wright) who is a tech genius and anxious to get in on the action; M’Boku (Winston Duke) who has a few good fight scenes alongside Boseman and later will be of great help to his cause, and Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, T’Challa’s friend. Angela Bassett, Forest Whittaker, French actor Isaac de Bankolé, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis round out the cast.

Somewhere inside 21 Bridges, there is a good, solid cop movie waiting to come out and reveal itself, a film of the caliber of Michael Mann, or early William Friedkin circa The French Connection. The premise itself seems to indicate something of an urban epic, with sweeping camera angles darting in and out of tunnels, in between buildings, crisscrossing the boroughs of New York, where its plot takes place in. There will be none of that in this rather rote feature film, so anyone expecting more will be disappointed.

At least the presence of Chadwick Boseman, this time playing not someone larger than life but still someone who is still held at a higher standard is the sole reason to view this generic crime movie. He plays Andrew Davis, a New York detective with a past. Davis arrives on the scene of a crime in which several NYPD officers, responding to a heist at a winery, have been gunned down by the perpetrators (Stephan James and Taylor Kisch, last seen in If Beale Street Could Talk), who are potentially within the city but may go on the lam soon. Davis orders that the city is placed on lockdown to prevent their escape with the condition that he will have the perps under his control before dawn. He gets the green light… and the chase is on.

Director Brian Kirk doesn’t really go for anything cinematic here. This is a work for hire directed by a man whose work has been largely on the small screen and it shows scene per scene. Even the action sequences of which there are quite a bit don’t quite build up to the intensity this story merits. No intent is made to imbue the movie with any modicum of suspense, ambiguity, or the gritty ambiance typical of crime pictures. Even the performances seem automatic — JK Simmons phones in his own, and Sienna Miller tries too hard to sound New York. Again, Boseman as Davis is the one reason to see this unremarkable movie, with Taylor Kisch a close second as a rookie criminal in over his head.

Chadwick Boseman might not be the lead in Spike Lee’s new movie Da 5 Bloods but he is the spiritual glue that holds the entire cast that plays his war buddies together. Call him Hamlet’s ghost, or a brother’s conscience, his presence, always presented with a sense of reverence, Boseman’s Norman represents an interesting evolution. No longer is he here someone larger than life like he was in 42 or Black Panther. In Da 5 Bloods Norman is simply, the unknown soldier who died in a crossfire in Vietnam, and whose body his war brothers have come to claim and bring back to Americal soil.

Along with some treasure that they found in the middle of combat and buried out in the middle of nowhere, where it resides, waiting to be claimed, hopefully by them. At least Spike Lee keeps them honest — yes, the mission. is noble; Much like the three haunted soldiers in Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying, they have a duty to secure the safe transportation of their dead friend. However, their trip is also a form of retribution for the sacrifices Black Americans made in Vietnam, a war that saw them getting sent out in droves while — Veronica Ngo’s radio deejay Hanoi Hannah recounts, often to the camera — the White man more often than not stayed behind. Call it a collection of securities, payment for a war that made them not heroes, but haunted men.

Spike Lee’s movie introduces the remaining four in grand gestures, and soon its almost like they never drifted apart. You have Melvin (Isaiah Whitlock), the funny one with a voice that sounds a bit like Cleveland Brown of Family Guy, Eddie (Norm Lewis), the mediator, Otis (Clarke Peters) a man who has become a pacifist and has some unresolved personal affairs in Vietnam to take care of. And, finally, you have Paul (Delroy Lindo). Paul has become a Trump supporter (in one of the movies incursions into irony), and remains the most haunted by the war. Lindo plays Paul like a pressure keg — he can still bullshit like the best of them, but he’s scarred, and those wounds have not healed.

Worse, Paul wounds are about to do an unwelcome flare-up.

Lee, however, doesn’t present Paul’s slow collapse too soon. Some necessary exposition with comedic overtones transpire, and once the friends, joined by Paul’s son David (Jonathan Majors, last seen in The Last Black Man in San Francisco), arrive in Vietnam, the story takes a bit of a pause. Otis finds out he had a daughter he was unaware of, and David meets a group of activists headed by Hedy (Melanie Thierry), with whom he strikes up some flirtatious conversation steeped in the presence of the French in Vietnam ages ago.

It is a scene involving a local fisherman that brings forth Paul’s intense PTSD and hatred for the Vietnamese, which gradually begins to morph into something uglier. Once they arrive at their destination where Norman’s body lays, Paul’s paranoia, which has up to now been at the edges of the film, takes center stage. Compounding that with the real dangers the men face at the hands of un-detonated land mines, and the movie, up to now mainly a light affair speckled with some nostalgic overtones, takes a much darker uglier turn.

It turns, greed is, to say the least, the ultimate divider amongst men. Once the gold they buried so long ago makes an appearance you know stuff is about to go down. Here is where Delroy Lindo emerges in full force, disgusting, monstrous, but still afflicted by a war he continues to fight 50 years later, and like the archetypical father of any Langston Hughes story, he whips up a frenzy of pain and pent-up anger so intense it almost overtakes the entire film. What he does is absolutely reprehensible, but Spike Lee, instead of letting Lindo go, keeps the camera dead on his face while Lindo lets force a monologue of unrelenting force that manages to shatter any composure from anyone viewing. The remainder of the cast manages to somehow find their way back, but Lindo, so deep into the abyss he has become it, has no salvation. Or does he?

If Spike Lee decided that this was it, no more movies, he was done and done, he would bow out in a blaze of glory. This is how exceptional, how painful, his movie Da 5 Bloods is. It doesn’t linger too often on the issues of race in America, but instead, it opts to tell a story of men marked by racial tensions as well as war. The past informs the future, and Lee manages to link both Vietnam with Black Lives Matter seamlessly in a tour de force film, one that ends in a high note in ways that many of his others have avoided.

Black Lives — Goldie, Support the Girls, and Joy

Here at Mostly Indies, a place where you can read about the movies you won’t be seeing in any multiplex near you, we (and by we, I mean I) value diversity in cinema. Yours truly prefers to go with the alternative instead of the blockbuster, vanity project for the sheer reason that there is more to the narrative than popcorn. In that vein, the writer at this page also has made it a point to focus on cinema that portrays Black Lives in a powerful way. So commencing now, this will be a running theme throughout my page for as long as I have the will to write because until the Hollywood machine can stop perpetuating the Black experience through White characters, or even worse, perpetuate Black stereotypes that serve nothing but to diminish the lives of Black Americans, this is all he can do.

Slick Woods in Goldie.

Goldie

From the moment you see her, you see splashing blotches of color that announce her before you see snippets of her figure, lean and gamine, racing through the streets of her Bronx neighborhood to a performance. Goldie is played by newcomer to movies Slick Woods, a fashion model who displays equal parts naivete and mixes it with a Don’t-fuck-with-me” vibe. Goldie has drive, ambition, and a hunger for fame that constantly presents itself in images of gold and yellow. Goldie aspires to be in a hip-hop video, a vision in yellow from her head to her feet. She has no fear. Her career, she tells her boss who fires her for being late one too many times, is about to take off.

If life were that simple. Goldie constantly sees herself “there”, but has not the means nor the smarts, and that will prove to be her Oedipus heel. During a furious, 85 minute run, we see Goldie in constant movement: darting back and forth trying to escape some security guards after stealing a precious item — a yellow onesie — that will form a part of her crucial leap into fame.

Next, we see her amongst what seems to be an extremely dysfunctional family. Here the dysfunction stems from poverty itself — lack of education, perpetuated by generations of parents raised in neglect and the false idea that “this is what it is to be us”. Her mother, played by Marsha Stephanie Blake (last seen in Luce as Octavia Spencer’s crack-addicted and mentally unstable sister), is barely there, living just to exist with a boyfriend (Danny Hoch) who is a horror show of a parent. She has two adorable little sisters (who introduce every character with voices that sound like sunshine on a city playground).

It seems that Goldie and her family live in the suspense that one day they may get evicted (from what I could glean). Eventually, the worst comes to happen in the guise of money Goldie steals from her stepfather, an act that leads to her mother taking the fall in an arrest. This alone quite literally tears the family nucleus apart from the center, leaving Goldie with nowhere to go and the tenacious custody of her two sisters who will most likely wind up in foster homes.

This predicament, however, doesn’t deter Goldie from achieving her dream of being famous. It is here where the story threatens to turn Goldie into a narcissistic caricature that no one could root for. How could someone in their right mind be so committed to “making it big” when the odds are so stacked against her is the one question that I kept asking myself until I realized what was happening.

It’s one thing to have dreams that are achievable, but Goldie doesn’t yet know it yet. She is a force of nature moving at such speed that a collision with an unmovable object is but a given. Goldie, however, and despite it all, soldiers on with the fearlessness of a bull in a China shop, all instinct and aggression and nothing else, until she reaches a point where the cards say no, turn back, not this time.

Sam de Jong’s Goldie is in the vein of Italian Neo-realism seen through the eyes and experience of its brave but ultimately rash protagonist. This is a bold little movie that presents what many in the sidelines, naked of privileges, go through on a daily basis because of how society as a whole has been turned into a game that is rigged from the get-go. In one telling scene, Slick Woods looks straight into the camera, her eyes almost asking for either sympathy or an answer to her predicament. I can’t but hope that even in a fictional world Goldie — or let me rephrase it as the Goldies of the world — will find their niche instead of wallowing in lurid fantasies fueled themselves by the hip=hop culture.

Regina Hall leads a cast of young actresses in Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls

Support the Girls

There is something deeply unsettling about watching women work in environments that lean towards debasement in exchange for a few bucks and dreams just out of reach. Andrew Bujalski’s 2018 film Support the Girls doesn’t delve deep into the issue, but in its short running time, its story flies around Lisa (Regina Hall), a general manager of a breastaurant located in what seems to be an anonymous part of the United States. Throughout one day, Lisa will try to tackle whatever calamity she has to face, and in 90 minutes, they will be quite a bit with next to no release. From a would-be burglar stuck in a ventilator to trying to raise money for a waitress only to find out that the money has ulterior motives, another employee having an affair with a customer, yet another one violating company rules by getting a visible tattoo, to a boss (played to slimeball perfection by James Le Gros) constantly threatening to fire her, Lisa has the unenviable task of having to keep it all together while the world around her threatens to come undone. Regina Hall has never been better, and in fact, she is the glue holding Bujalski’s slight film — itself reminiscent of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project — together. This is a woman that has made some wayward choices in getting caught in what seems to be a cul-de-sac of opportunity. On top of the terrible work circumstances, she finds herself having to be there for a precocious son while grappling a tense situation with a husband who seems to be in the grips of depression. Support the Girls is often funny where it needs to be, otherwise, it would be a rather downbeat film in which nothing these isolated people do will spawn any roots and everything will lead to a dead end.

Joy

If you made it as far as here you will find that Sudabeh Mordetzai’s Nigerian-Austrian movie Joy will go far beyond where Bujalski’s would fear to tread. This is a powerfully depressing film that begins with a young woman, Precious (Precious Mariam Sanusi) entering what appears to be a ritualistic cleansing via a juju priest but unbeknownst to her is essentially a trap that will enslave her to the world of human trafficking. Because they operate as illegal aliens Precious, like many before and after her, will have little luck but to pay off “debt”.

That “debt” is the carrot that looms over tantalizingly in front of the women we encounter living in squalor in an unnamed city. It hovers over, menacingly, like the interest people with actual credit card debt will have a hard time paying. The title character, Joy (the magnetic Joy Anwuilka Alphonsus), steps up to the madame (Angela Ekeleme Pius), a ruthless tyrant who in exchange for Precious’ inability (unwillingness) to sexually perform for the clients she meets on the streets has her brutally raped (offscreen — still, it is brutal to witness).

Because of this now Joy must oversee Precious’ performance if only to ensure that her own release does not get delayed by having to forfeit her own hard-earned money to pay off for Precious. When the opportunity to become a whistleblower appears Joy is hesitant. What guarantees does she have to remain in Austria legally? Slim to none.

Joy is a movie that offers little in the emotion and comes with almost no answers as to how these abused women will manage to survive when the odds are stacked up against them in both Europe and their native Nigeria. The actresses, reportedly former streetwalkers themselves, fully inhabit Mortezai’s aching wound of a movie. It is refreshing to see how the women working under Madame behave — almost as sisters — although it’s also clear there is a sharp competition amongst them to deliver. That is the false sense of security that permeates the story: even when you think that you are safe with the women you share tight quarters with, they will throw you under the bus at the slightest notice.

I will tell you, this was a hard watch for me because you ache at the choices that led these women to be so brainwashed into believing that the power of their religion mandates they sell their own bodies for a pittance. I’m not glad I saw this movie — but it is a necessary view in order to understand the plight of the forgotten, because these, at one point, were the light of their mothers’ eye — little girls with promise, now shattered and damaged.