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Latest Reviews

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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Ash is the Purest White

(China). Story of Qiao, a young woman whose boyfriend Bin is a gangster (well, I am not sure of the exact translation – he kind of runs an underworld gambling operation and seems to perform “dirty work” for his boss). One day, Bin is viciously attacked by a pack of young men, and Qiao fires warning shots in the air to scare them off. She is arrested and spends the next 5 years in prison. The story is told in three parts: The first, as Bin’s girlfriend before she is arrested; 5 years later, her release and post-arrest life; and …

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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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Unbelievable

This Netflix miniseries that begins with a young woman living in the Seattle area, Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) who was raped, reports it and then, under pressure from the local police, withdraws her allegation. This further alienates this young woman, who spent many of her childhood years moving from one foster home to another. Meanwhile, about 5 years in the future, two detectives (played by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) are investigating a series of sexual assaults that appear to be connected. The film moves back and forth across the 8 episodes between the two stories. Overall, I liked the film. …

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Missing Link

An animated film about a world explorer of unusual phenomena, Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) who discovers Bigfoot (voiced by Zach Galifianakis). Frost and an old flame Adelina (voiced by Zoe Saldana) take Bigfoot on an adventure to the Himalayas to connect him with the Yeti, his long-lost cousins. This is a really fun movie. The stop-motion animation is wonderful, and the colors are quite beautiful and rich. The story is nice – it has what you want from an animated film: a lot of good humor and a good, heartfelt story behind it. The film does race …

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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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Kumbalangi Nights

(India) This film was interesting for me to watch. This is probably the first film out of India I have seen that doesn’t look like it was made for an international audience. Four brothers live together in an old house in a poor part of town. The brothers don’t all get along well together, and it is clear from the beginning that there is a history that we will discover as the film progresses. I was fascinated watching this, as it is a very different film than the kind that are typically produced in the United States. I will claim …

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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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