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Monthly Archives: November 2020

Better Days

(Hong Kong, English Subtitles): This film about bullying is China’s entry for the 93rd Academy Award for Best International film. Nian is a high school student who is under a lot of pressure to perform well in her college entrance exams. Her mother is away a lot trying to earn money selling fake goods to support the two of them. Nian is bullied, sometimes quite viciously, by a group of other girls at school. One day, Nian witnesses Xiao, a small-time criminal, getting beaten by others, and Nian goes to help him. He later agrees to protect her from the …

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Uncle Frank

Uncle Frank is the one member of the family who left Creeksville when he could and is living in New York City and works as a professor of English literature. He rarely comes to visit, but his niece Beth is taken by him because he is the only family member who “looks her directly in the eye”. After graduation, she moves to NYC to attend New York University, when she finds out that he is gay. Not long after her move, her grandfather dies, and she and Uncle Frank take a road trip back home for the funeral. The film …

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Driveways

In Brian Dennehy’s last film, he plays Del, a recently widowed war veteran. He lives next door to a woman who dies suddenly. Her sister Kathy and 8-year-old son Cody show up to take care of her estate. Cody, who tends to keep to himself and doesn’t easily take to the two teenagers who live down the street, goes over to Del’s after one particularly nasty encounter, and the two of them begin to form a friendship. The film is a character study, and the three leads help elevate the story into something that feels fresh, real, and relevant. I …

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Mother

Japan, English Subtitles: Akiko (Masami Nagaswa) is mother to Shuhei (Daiken Okudaira). In the beginning, we see Akiko (who is 7) and Shuhei playing; his mom allows him to play hooky from school so that they could spend the day together. As the film progresses, we begin to see more clearly who Akiko is: She is a mess, a woman who has drinking problems, a chronic gambler who constantly loses any money she has, is narcissistic, and manages to find ways to get Shuhei to do what she wants – begging for money and food, staying by himself eating uncooked …

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Ainu Mosir

Japan, English Subtitles: Kanto is a 14-year-old young man who has just lost his father. He is descended from the Ainu people who live in one of the northern Japanese islands. The film is a coming of age story and how Kanto navigates being a teenager who wants to go anywhere for high school that will take him away from the island that he feels is restrictive and the traditions that reflect his heritage. I really enjoyed the film; it is beautiful to look at, and I always appreciate stories about native traditions. This culture seems to have traditions not …

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A Most Beautiful Thing

This documentary follows a group of Black men from West Chicago who, in the 1990s, were the first all-Black crew team in the US. Narrated by Common and overlayed with a hip-hop soundtrack, the film follows the men who rowed during that first year that crew was offered at Manley High School and their lives that have taken each of them down different paths. The strength of the documentary is how it explores the family and community context in which all of these men came of age, communities that were dominated by gangs, and the expectation that boys join gangs. …

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The Forty-Year-Old Version

Radha Blank wrote, directed, and stars in a film about a 40-year-old woman who was once on a list of “30 playwrights under 30 to watch” and is now teaching acting in a high school. She decides to reinvent herself as a rapper who creates songs about women who are entering their 40’s. This is a really wonderful film. It is shot in black and white, which seems fitting for the material. Blank captures the scenes and eclectic people from her neighborhood in New York City; some of those encounters are as hilarious as they are insightful into city life. …

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Queen’s Gambit

I don’t typically write reviews on limited series, but this one is so good that I couldn’t help myself.  Most everyone has seen it by now: A young girl who ends up in an orphanage when her mother dies in a car accident discovers that she has a proclivity toward chess. The series, based on a novel by the same name that I understand is quite good, follows her rise over 7 episodes in the chess world as she simultaneously battles various addictions. Every now and then a limited series comes along that is really special; last year, it was …

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No Direction Home

Martin Scorsese made this film about the early years of Bob Dylan’s career. With the benefit (or not, in some cases) from Dylan’s own reflections, Scorcese examines the cultural waves that were occurring on which Dylan rode to success – the folk music scene, the civil rights movement, rock and roll music, beat poets, the New York art scene. For me, this was where Scorsese worked his best magic. There are lots of still shots of the young Dylan as well as video footage of him and others, such as Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur, and others who rose to fame …

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Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You

This film is a companion piece to Springsteen’s new album, Letter to You. It is partly an extended music video that shows Springsteen and the E Street Band playing many of the songs on the album, but it also is a documentary in which Springsteen looks back on his life, his early influences, and the periods in his life that inspired his current work. I really enjoyed how the concept worked. The film is all shot in black and white, and some of the images are incredibly beautiful to look at. I love the almost poetic reflections that he narrates …

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