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Tag Archives: 4 Stars

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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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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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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The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7: The latest from Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game, and the screenwriter for Steve Jobs and The Social Network) concerns the trial brought by the federal government against 7 (initially 8) defendants on charges of conspiracy (among others) during the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention. These included well-known names like Tom Hadyn (played by Eddie Redmayne) and Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen). The movie is very entertaining. I like the way the story is told, mixing courtroom drama and flashbacks that piece together the story of how these seven people ended up in jail …

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Dick Johnson is Dead

Dick Johnson is coming toward the end of his life, and he is beginning to suffer dementia. His daughter (the director, Kirsten Johnson) decides to stage a number of different kinds of deaths and after-life experiences to help both of them to deal with the double loss they both know is coming – the actual end of life but also the “loss” that comes with dementia. It is a really unusual kind of documentary, but one that when it works, it works very well. It is at times very funny in the ways Kirsten stages his death and he goes …

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Good Time

After watching the Safdie brothers’ film Uncut Gems last year, I wanted to look at some of their other films, so upon recommendation I watched Good Time, their film from 2017. Connie (Robert Pattinson) cons his brother Nick (Ben Safdie), who appears to be developmentally delayed, into robbing a bank with him. The heist goes terribly wrong, and Nick and Connie become separated. Nick gets caught, and Connie spends the rest of the night trying to get him out of the hospital where he is being held for observation. The film seems to have served as a blueprint for the …

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The Devil All the Time

Tom Holland is Arvin Russell, a young man with a pained past who was raised by his grandmother and uncle and lives with his stepsister Lenora. The film is about how Arvin sets out to protect his family and himself of some very creepy characters (bullies, serial killers, corrupt police/politicians, and the like) who live in the town of Knockemstiff. The all have tortured pasts and have a variety of mostly poor relationships with their Lord. I will start with the things that did not work very well. The narrator is the author of the novel from which the film …

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Wildlife

Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) have recently moved to Montana with their only son Joe (Ed Oxenbould). Jerry, an ex-golf pro, loses his job at the golf course and, needing a sense of purpose, decides to go off to fight a major wildfire that is burning in the nearby mountains for 1.00 per day. Jeanette and Joe are left to fend for themselves. Carey Mulligan is exceptional, and in many ways,  this is her film. The film is set around 1960, at a time when women were still expected to live by traditional norms. She wants more, and …

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Relic

Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcoat) return to Kay’s family home when her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) has been missing for an extended time. The find a house of a woman who is suffering from Alzheimer’s with the Post-it note labels. Edna suddenly returns home, and several mysterious incidents take place, and it seems that there is some other presence in the house with them. I really liked this film. The director creates an old-school spooky horror film with a twist: She has woven into the story a narrative about what it is like to lose someone …

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