The film opens with archival footage of the building’s inauguration in 1963, a celebration of the new and the community’s potential. Cut to present day, however, and the buildings are in acute disrepair. As an inspection draws near, Youri — along with his close friend and fellow Gagarine resident, Houssam and local Roma girl, Diana — strives to bring the place up to code. He spends his own money to buy supplies and devotes every moment to repairs and daydreaming of space travel … here’s displacement, community, and also coming of age, communication, loyalty, and, most importantly, survival. In many ways, Youri is the metaphorical captain of the collective structure of Gagarine, prepared to go down with the ship. He is played by Bathily with steadfast strength and vulnerability and, over the course of the story, it becomes painfully clear that he, like Gagarine itself, is full of every kind of potential that may or may not ever be realized … The film ultimately leaves you with the juxtaposition of how tragedy can drive us into desperation, isolation, and melancholy, and how it can unite a community.
While I’ll Find You might seem like an all-too-familiar period love story, it winds up being something of a collection of surprises… Young musicians Rachel and Robert meet while both passionately studying the violin in Poland. Their relationship, while at first rocky and competitive, evolves into young love, despite the fact that Robert is Catholic and Rachel, Jewish. The film jumps ahead several years when the two reunite… with the Nazi invasion of Poland, religion as a divisive factor falling by the wayside. While the rest of World War II is being fought elsewhere and, yes, Rachel happens to be the love of Robert’s life, this is one precarious attempt to save at least one family, even one life, from genocide.
My review for Belle on Film Festival Today! If you dig “Beauty and the Beast” re-tellings, definitely check out “Belle.” Full review on FilmFestivalToday. This film is gorgeous and deeply moving. I cried more than once because, fair warning: it’s largely a grief story.
Belle is not much of a commentary on social-media culture or technology, nor is it even a straightforward love story. Instead, it’s largely an exploration of trauma, both immediate and long-term, specifically relating to loss and abuse … the film feels a bit crowded in story and theme … That said, the emotion is deft and hard-hitting, the plot far from predictable, and the mystery of who people really are behind their U façades offers surprisingly high stakes. There’s some role-switching, but more often writer/director Mamoru Hosoda blends archetypes and motivations between characters.
My review for India Sweets and Spices on Film Festival Today. This film was a delight and I would absolutely watch it again!
India Sweet and Spices has a lot to say. There are significant statements about culture, class, generational divides, and economic disparity, but writer/director Geeta Malik (Troublemaker) has a deft hold of her film and conveys these messages in a delightful story that largely avoids clichés, staying grounded, throughout. The film has a self-awareness and compelling rhythm that draws you in and makes you want to stay … The film does an especially great job showing how individual choices affect those around us … This is really a coming-of-age story … and though the film winds up relatively happily, it doesn’t erase all of what’s come before. The characters at the center of the story have a strong sense of what matters most and, ultimately, so do we.
Rhapsody of Love is an ensemble but feels like the thematic potential gets short-changed in order to make room for too many plotlines. The stories don’t ever really get the chance to thrive or take root. Despite the warmth and good-natured intent here, the numerous conflicts presented lack nuance and wind up feeling amiss … Lives, loves, and ambitions subsequently clash and the film concludes in direct-to-camera interviews — abrupt given that director Hopwood only introduces them at the very end … Most of the women are growing in their careers and have big dreams, and yet––apart from Jess—they are often depicted as selfish, insensitive, or spoiled … The most powerful moments are the most understated, frequently platonic (rather than romantic), or containing very little dialogue at all.
My review for The Starling on Film Festival Today. Many other reviews that have come out for this film have been fairly negative – even brutal. While I didn’t adore this film and I can even see why those critics are saying what they’re saying, I, personally, found The Starling quite moving and would, in fact, recommend it.
The Starlingis a jumble of emotional turmoil and bizarre encounters. Ostensibly, the plot revolves around married couple Lilly and Jack in the aftermath of the death of their daughter, Katie … The beginning delivers a powerful, emotional presentation of loss. The film doesn’t explicitly state what happened but nails the smaller details: the impressions of the crib’s feet in the carpet, the encompassing silence, the loneliness … The cast is terrific, especially Melissa McCarthy in dramatic mode, and Kevin Kline is charming as ever, even in a smaller role. Sensitivity to this subject matter may differ from viewer to viewer but the ending falls short compared to the opening’s emotional punch. Perhaps, though, it is the intention … not to leave you in a pile of weeping pieces but rather to conclude in a slightly lighter place than we began; to breathe and smile a little easier.
With the support of his loving mother (Sarah Lancashire, the BBC’s Last Tango in Halifax), best friend Pritti (Lauren Patel), and self-appointed mentor, Hugo (Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Jamie commits to developing his identity, connecting with his distant father, and preparing for one unforgettable Prom. Based on the stage-musical of the same title, which is based, in turn, on the BBC Three documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, some of this film does trend towards the theatrical: in large crowd scenes, onlookers often stop and focus on the main characters as they deliver moving soliloquies. It suits the film’s own inner workings and style, though, and the musical numbers feel far more organic. Transitions from speech to song and dance are consistently seamless, in large part due to the cinematography (Christopher Ross, Cats). The fashion is likewise stunning. Wardrobe is almost a character in this film and the costume design by Guy Speranza (The Last Vermeer) sparkles in every possible way… Director Jonathan Butterell lands a startlingly impressive feature debut. Coupled with Tom MacRae’s screenplay (based on his own book and lyrics from the stage show) and Dan Gillespie Sells’ music, they deliver a film that’s fresh and highly entertaining. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie probably won’t convert any viewers who don’t generally like musicals, but for those that do, this one will undoubtedly leave you humming, dancing, and smiling.
The trailer for Best Sellers features a fast-paced edit with rousing rock-and-roll backtrack and several of the most comedic and wacky moments from the film. However, the stakes run much deeper than one might expect. Lina Roessler’s directorial feature debut presents a slow-burn journey of material, emotional, and physical struggle for her two leads, Lucy (Aubrey Plaza, Black Bear) and Harris (Michael Caine, Twist). This is not a quirky, off-beat dark comedy, but a wistful and often heavy-hearted tale of pride, purpose, and family legacy.
My review for Dating & New York on Film Festival Today! If you like rom-coms (especially those of the 80s/90s/Nora Ephron variety) then definitely don’t miss Dating & New York!
Wendy and Milo…are courtship-weary millennials still pining for romance and…Wendy, a pragmatist, concocts an idea (and a contract): best friends with benefits. Milo, an idealist, is dubious of the arrangement at first, hoping for a real connection. Still, despite warnings from friends and Milo’s own misgivings, they proceed … From the jump, this is an of-the-moment story about dating-app culture and overall virtual communication … Nothing happens, plot-wise, that you can’t at least predict from the start. The surprises are found in smaller moments within those expected beats: when characters break through the digital haze, call each other out, zero in on mistakes, flaws, and quirks. The tonal shift should be jarring but it actually draws you further in. Much of this is owed to Reale and Young-White’s performances.
Free Guy (2021) Director: Shawn Levy Writers: Matt Lieberman, Zak Penn 3½ out of 4 stars.
I’m pretty neutral on Ryan Reynolds. I enjoy his brand of comedy for the most part but my interest in Free Guy sparked almost entirely from the casting of Joe Keery and that Shawn Levy was the director (as I am a devoted fan of Stranger Things). In reviewing Levy’s filmography as part of my research for my Coffee & Contemplation podcast, I realized that I often like his style and the stories he tends to tell; in particular, the Night at the Museum franchise, Arrival, The Famous Jett Jackson,and, obviously, Stranger Things. Like those properties, Free Guy seemed to be another effective blend of pastiche and originality. Plus Taika Waititi was in the cast, too? Sign me up.
The film itself far exceeded my expectations. Free Guy is celebratory rather than pretentious in its homage. While others are citing The Truman Show, The Lego Movie, and Wreck-It-Ralph as influences, I also detected a lot of the original Tron. Yet Free Guy carves out its own style, its own characters. How it manages to do so is nigh untraceable but it doesn’t really matter because you’re too busy enjoying the result. There are scant few things I didn’t enjoy about it — more on that later — and even in the spots where it doesn’t quite work, there’s a palpable spirit of enthusiasm. Some reviews criticize the film for not delving deeper into the more serious questions and concepts Free Guy indirectly presents — the nature of Artificial Intelligence, corporate strategy, sequels versus original IP, what qualifies as a soul — but I would argue that the film doesn’t avoid these subjects outright, either. The trailers also make it very clear that deep, intellectual exploration is not the point here. Science-Fiction is rife with such explorations and there’s plenty to be found elsewhere if you’re looking for that. In Free Guy, meanwhile, you can expect a buoyant, fun energy at its core. However, I was surprised at the — go with me — level of subtlety at play. No, seriously. There is no shortage of loud, brash, even salacious humor but it never goes too far off the rails and is even quite effectively balanced by some aspects that practically fly under the radar, along with some surprisingly sweet messages.
The real-world and Free-City-world feel equally balanced along with the arcs of the characters in each, both in the writing and the visuals. The cinematography (George Richmond, Rocketman) deftly shifts between cinematic and gaming styles. The cameos and Easter eggs are present and delightful but don’t distract from the center narrative. Guy’s story is our A-Plot, the Soonami story is the B-Plot, but the characters’ comparable screen time, combined with (I believe) dynamite performances by Jodie Comer and Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Britne Oldford, all synchronize successfully. Many critics are ragging on the real-world characters but I buy the characterizations and believe their performances are deeper than they’re getting credit for. Where some have cited that the Soonami storyline drags the film down in the middle, I would question whether Guy’s story — genuinely fun and entertaining though it is — would be able to sustain itself alone, without a supporting plot. Maybe, but I, for one, appreciate the range.
The only pieces that didn’t work for me mostly surrounded the underuse of Taika Waititi as Antwan and some of the humor. For all that the marketing emphasized his role, Waititi seems to be doing a lot with so very little. The film’s antagonist might be the one aspect where the film would have benefited from easing back on the humor in favor of complexity. Waititi would have been more than up to that task; but perhaps it weighed the film down too much? In any case, I’m hoping for a plethora of deleted scenes awaiting us on the eventual Blu-ray. And, apart from that, I found myself tired of the “gamers are lame dudes who live in their mom’s basement and never get laid” joke even just after watching the multiple trailers. It’s directly at odds with the appearances of Professional Streamers. I’m not sure that we needed that particular brand of degrading humor in a movie that is otherwise very uplifting – even respectful – of gamer culture.
Beyond that, though this is an overwhelming net positive. I already want to see the film again and look forward to the conversations that it will inevitably inspire. Will it change the world? No, but it is a huge mood boost, and amongst these dark times, sometimes that’s exactly what we all need.