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Tag Archives: 4 Stars

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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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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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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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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El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. 

I will start by saying I watched this film the first time while only having watched the first season of Breaking Bad. The film hooked me – I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, so I went back and binge-watched the entire Breaking Bad series, and then I rewatched El Camino. Breaking Bad is excellent, especially the last season, which features the best directing and acting of the series. The ending was also one of the most satisfying endings of any film or series. But one thing was left hanging – what happened to Jesse Pinkman? El …

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Just Mercy

This is an adaptation of one of the most inspiring books I have read recently by the same name. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer in Alabama who has spent his entire career helping get people released from death row who have been wrongfully convicted. The film focuses mostly on the story of Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), who was arrested for a murder of a white 18-year-old woman. The film follows Stevenson (played very well and convincingly by Michael B. Jordan) and his journey to get McMillan free. I liked the film; the story is incredibly compelling and provides some real …

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Les Misérables

(France) The setting is Montfermeil, a relatively poor, multiethnic neighborhood in Paris. Stephane is a new corporal who is patrolling the streets with Chris and Gwada, two regular patrollers who have a reputation for using their power in unglorifying ways to maintain control over the streets. They find themselves in a tough situation when an encounter with a child that goes wrong is filmed with a drone by one of the neighborhood children. This is a really intense and powerful exploration of the tensions in a neighborhood controlled by various power structures, each with their own motives and objectives, that …

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