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A Sun

(Chinese): This film is about a family whose structure begins to disintegrate when their youngest child A-Ho, a troublemaker from his youngest days, ends up serving a 3-year prison sentence. There are two main parts to the film. The first part tells how A-Ho ended up in prison and uses flashbacks to better understand the dynamics of the family. For those who have seen Ordinary People, another remarkable film about a dysfunctional family, it is reminiscent of that film. The second part of the film takes a bit of a shift and becomes a crime drama. Part of the brilliance …

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Blue Jay

Having watched and really enjoyed Alexander Lehmann’s Paddleton, I decided to catch his earlier film, Blue Jay. The entire film consists of two characters (well, there is a very brief encounter with a third minor character). Jim (Mark Duplass) and Amanda (Sarah Paulson), old high school sweethearts, and who are now moving toward middle age, meet unexpectedly in a grocery store in a California mountain town. He is there to settle his mother’s estate and sell her house, and she is there for the upcoming birth of her sister’s baby. The film takes place over the course of one afternoon …

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Asperger’s Are Us

After seeing Paddleton, I was interested in other films by Alexandre Lehmann, and I found this film. This is a documentary about four young men – Noah, Ethan, New Michael, and Jack – who are all on the autism spectrum, had formed their own comedy troupe and were preparing to perform their last show. While I would have liked to have had more background on each of them in terms of their growing up years, I was inspired by these four men who set out to do what they loved doing – comedy. It was also great to hear these …

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Cake

(Pakistan): This film is about three siblings who return home to Kabul after their father suffers from congestive heart failure. The return home surfaces a number of interpersonal struggles and family secrets that risk fracturing the family. At first glance, it seems like a standard “dysfunctional family dynamics” film. However, the film is really well constructing. The ensemble acting is great. The screenplay is very well crafted, frequently very funny, and keeps coming up with more surprises; I didn’t find it at all predictable. I am impressed with the music; I don’t know anything about Pakistani pop music, but it …

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Paddleton

Michael (Mark Duplass) and Andy (Ray Romano) are two best friends who live next to each other. Michael is diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, and he asks Andy to help him to end his life early before the worst of the illness sets in. The film follows their story after Michael’s decision. I really loved this film. It isn’t perfect – there is one part in particular that seemed not necessary to the overall story – but the film reminded me of Sean Baker films that focus more on character development than plot. Duplass and Romano are excellent and have …

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Border

(Sweden). This is a very unusual and strange film. Tina is a customs officer. She has an unusual knack for being able to smell people’s emotions – she can tell when someone is trying to get something illegal through the security checkpoint. One day, Vore comes through security; she senses something is wrong but cannot quite determine what it is. When her partner searches Vore, he doesn’t find anything. Another man comes through who has a child pornography disc hidden in his phone, and this sets off a series of events that connect Tina, Vore, and the other man in …

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The Cave

This is the latest film by Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad, who made Last Men in Aleppo, the gripping film about the White Helmets, the men who risked their lives to rescue civilians from bombing-related rubble. This documentary follows Dr. Amani, a pediatrician and managing physician of the Cave, an underground hospital in a city near Damascus, as she struggles to keep her hospital running. Food, medicine, and medical supplies are dwindling (one of the surgeons plays classical music on his phone and asks his patients to relax during surgery because of the lack of anesthesia), and the increasing risk of …

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Jallikattu

(India): I watched this film with no expectations, and I have to say it was one of the most thought-provoking, interesting, and surprising (in a great way) films I have seen this year. It is the kind of film I am attracted to – creative and unique in its vision and storytelling and one whose premise initially seems like it cannot work but executes brilliantly. It opens with a montage of men who live in the village; we are introduced to some of the key characters, quick glimpses of their faces and activities during a typical day. After a brief …

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The Edge of Democracy

This documentary traces the rise of democracy in Brazil from just after the end of the dictatorship through the election in which Bolsonaro was elected into power. During this time, Lula Da Silva, a champion of the workers ruled, followed by Dilma Rousseff, who found herself and her administration under siege by the right. What makes this film unique, and why I think it was nominated for an Oscar, is the lens through which the director (Petra Costa) chooses to tell this history: Her parents were both revolutionaries against the dictatorship and, Ms. Costa weaves their (and her) stories into …

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Klaus

Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzmann) is a spoiled brat who cannot hold a job and just wants to sleep on silk sheets and have his dinner served to him. His father, who I think owns the world postal system, banishes Jesper to a tiny island Smeerensburg somewhere near the North Pole with the instruction that he can return once he proves he has delivered 6000 pieces of mail. The island is home to two factions that have been feuding as long as anyone can remember. Here, he meets a burned-out schoolteacher (voiced by Rashida Jones) and a strange man named …

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