About carlosdev

I am a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, a former rock and film critic and have also worked in the computer and financial industries. This is an outgrowth of our podcast Friday Night Movie Bunch which is currently on hiatus.

Riders of Justice (Retfærdighedens ryttere)


This is a man you don’t want to mess with.

(2020) Action Comedy (Magnet) Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro, Gustav Lindh, Roland Møller, Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Anne Birgitte Lind, Omar Shargawi, Jacob Lohmann, Henrik Noël, Gustav Giese, Klaus Hjuler, Peder Holm Johansen, Christina Ibsen, Rikke Louise Andersson. Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen

 

A teenage girl’s bicycle is stolen. A mother’s car won’t start. A recently fired statistical analyst gives up his seat on a commuter train to a pregnant woman. Coincidences? Or part of a discernable pattern?

Markus (Mikkelsen) is inclined to believe the former. You see, his wife was the mother whose car wouldn’t start. She is also the pregnant woman who the statistical analyst gave up his seat for. When a freight train crashed into the commuter train, the analyst survived the crash. So did the teenage girl, Mathilde (Gadeberg), who is Markus’ daughter. Markus’ wife did not. Markus, a Danish soldier serving in Afghanistan, returns home to take care of his daughter, but the relationship between Markus and Mathilde was strained to begin with. Markus isn’t the most talkative guy, after all.

Then Otto (Kaas), the statistical analyst who owes his survival to his act of chivalry, shows up at his door along with his colleague Lennart (Brygmann). Otto is convinced that the crash was no accident; you see, he saw someone get off the train moments before the crash, throwing out a nearly full beverage and uneaten sandwich in the process. That seemed suspicious. However, one of the other victims of the crash was a man about to testify against a powerful biker gang, the Riders of Justice. Otto’s algorithm shows that the odds of the crash happening randomly is almost astronomical. The accident was almost certainly created, and the most likely suspect is the biker leader, and after the two analysts bring aboard computer hacker Emmenthaler (Bro) and his facial recognition software which connects the person who got off the train to the Riders of Justice, Markus has a new mission: vengeance.

A typical action revenge thriller would move in a specific direction from this point, with plenty of set action pieces, some brutality, maybe a bit of comic relief and a cathartic final confrontation. This is far from typical, however; for one thing, the comedy is a bit darker and more in the foreground. For another, there is some depth here as the three nerds try to get Markus to psychoanalyze himself, and in doing so, analyzing the machismo ethos that dominates action movies and to a certain extent, modern life.

Mikkelsen has become one of my favorite actors. He has absolutely perfect body language throughout; often a coiled spring waiting to release all sorts of rage-fueled energy, but dead-eyed right up until the point he explodes. Markus is a man of few words so much of what Mikkelsen has to get across is done through facial expression and body language.

Jensen, who also co-wrote the script with Nikolaj Arcel (the two also co-wrote the disappointing adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower), utilizes his musical score note-perfect, if you’ll forgive the pun. The writing is also really tight, well-plotted and logically laid out – when the analysts talk about probability and statistical analysis, it almost makes sense. Makes one wonder if such an algorithm might not someday be figured out by some similarly bright boy that might predict seemingly random events. Even better (and exceedingly rare for an action flick) the background characters are fairly well-developed, meaning the audience will care what happens to all of them. The final twist is a humdinger, too.

=This is not your average action movie but don’t let that put you off. The action sequences and fight sequences are well-staged. Markus may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s a badass nonetheless. The comedy elements don’t distract from the action, but rather enhance it. Yeah, it’s a little bit different but not so much that it’s annoying and that difference actually makes the movie more enjoyable.

I imagine that there are action fans who will be turned off by the subtitles, but then most are willing to put up with them for great Hong Kong action movies and this one is certainly up there with some of the best of those. This played the recent Florida Film Festival and was my favorite film this year; it’s playing at the Enzian right now for those ready to make the trek into theatres. For those that aren’t, it should be on VOD fairly soon.

REASONS TO SEE: Really, really well-written. Mikkelsen seethes and simmers. Just off-beat enough to be interesting, but not enough to be annoying.
REASONS TO AVOID: Drags a little during the middle.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence and some sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fifth time that Mikkelsen and Kaas have appeared together in a film directed by Jensen.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/18/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews; Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Very Bad Things
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Citizen Penn

Inhabitants: An Indigenous Perspective


Effective land management techniques that go back two millennia.

(2021) Documentary (Inhabit) Michael Kotutwa Johnson, Kalani Souza, Ervin Carlson, Frank Lake, Teri Dahle, Bill Tripp, Chris Caldwell, Pershing Frechette, Caleb Johnson, Betty Cooper, Marshall Recore, Gregory Arteche, Kathy McCoury, Kenneth Brink, Tony Waupochick, Rick O’Rourke, Stormy Palmeteer, Laurie Reiter, Shirley Kauhaiho, Vikki Preston. Directed by Costas Boutsikaris and Anna Palmer

 

Native Americans have always had a very special relationship with the land that they lived on. They consider it their sacred duty to act as stewards, to protect and nurture the land that protects and nurtures them. For millennia they lived in harmony with their surroundings, until European colonists came and chose to exploit that land, driving them into small reservations and nearly annihilating their culture. In spite of it all, that culture perseveres and their connection to the land endures.

This documentary examines the relationships of five different indigenous peoples and the land they live on; the Hopi of the American Southwest, the Karuk of Northern California, the Blackfeet of the Plains, the Menominee of the Northern Midwest and the Native Hawaiians.

Dr. Michael Kotutwa Johnson of the Hopi explains dry farming – farming done without artificial irrigation – and how it has been able to bring drought-resistant crops in even in the arid Southwest. He shows ancient Hopi methods – using a planting stick to push the seeds deeper into the soil where they get to where the moisture is retained, and shy away from the straight lines of Western farming, using drought-resistant plants like certain strains of beans and corn to help make the Hopi more self-sustaining; more importantly, as climate change could potentially turn farming land more arid, it will provide valuable ways to continue to feed those who rely on that farmland for food.

As California has been ravaged by wildfires, the Karuk aboriginals have had the solution for generations; controlled burns that rid the redwood forests of highly flammable underbrush; the smoke from the controlled burns gathers in the canopies and helps retain moisture in the soil, and the nutrients from the burning also enrich the soil. More importantly, these control burns make the trees more fire-resistant with layers of carbon that protect the trees in case of a wildfire. Bill Tripp of the Karuk oversees their efforts at keeping the homes and people on their reservation safe from the devastating wildfires that have plagued the state the past two years, and it may be that the state of California is taking notice of their methods.

For the Plains natives, the buffalo was always a major economic engine; the bison provided food, clothing and shelter for the natives, but the animals – who once numbered in the millions, were down to about 200 by the mid-20th century and were on the endangered species list. Careful stewardship of the buffalo, including that of Erwin Carlson (President of the Intertribal Buffalo Council) and Teri Dahle (Program Director of the Iinii Initiative that is providing an ecological reserve on which the buffalo can thrive) have brought the animals back from the brink of extinction to the point that they are no longer on the edge of extinction; in fact, non-native culture is discovering the benefits of the bison as an alternative to beef.

For the Menominee tribe of the Northern Midwest, the forest is their sacred land and protecting it is their responsibility. They do it through selective tree harvesting, removing diseased and stunted trees for lumber harvesting while planting seedlings for future growth. Chris Caldwell of the Menominee shows graphically the deforested areas adjacent to the reservation where lumber barons wiped the forests out without regard for replanting. The Menominee forests are thick, lush and healthy, illustrating how a sustainable model can be economically viable for all concerned.

Finally, native Hawaiians led by the Reverend Kalani Souza illustrate the concept of food forestry – using native plants and roots as a food source. Planting breadfruit, taro and other plants native to the islands creates a sustainable food source that thrives in Hawaii’s temperate climate, even as European settlers threatened to overwhelm the islands with pineapple and coffee plantations, neither native to Hawaii. As seen in all these examples, the wisdom of the original inhabitants is finally being heard, as it is being rediscovered by the indigenous peoples themselves.

Co-directors Costas Boutsikaris and Anna Palmer prefer to tell their stories in a non-linear fashion, jumping around from region to region which does dilute the power of the messages a bit. However, the talking heads recruited here are incredibly persuasive and passionate about their various fields of expertise. The cinematography is often breathtaking and conveys the spirituality with which Native Americans regard the land they reside on.

We non-indigenous folks have a tendency to misunderstand the deep connection between indigenous peoples and the land they live on; it is a part of their culture that is often overlooked. As the world is faced with the sobering realities of climate change, it is somehow comforting to know that some of the solutions are ancient and have been with us for two thousand years and more. We ignore this ancient wisdom at our own peril.

This is the last day that the film will be available online as part of the DocLands film festival (you can purchase it by clicking the link under Virtual Cinema below), but keep an eye out for it on the festival circuit. It is also likely to end up on PBS or Discovery at some point.

REASONS TO SEE: The information is fascinating. Beautiful cinematography in an almost spiritual way.
REASONS TO AVOID: Bounces around a bit.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all family members.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Native Americans of the Karuk tribe used controlled burns to regulate forest undergrowth two thousand years ago; for awhile in the early 20th century it was illegal to use that method on their own tribal lands. Ony now as science has discovered the benefits of controlled burns have they been allowed to return to their tried and true methods.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema (today only)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: If a Tree Falls
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Riders of Justice

The Djinn


There are some things you don’t want to see in your flashlight beam.

(2021) Horror (IFC Midnight) Ezra Dewey, Rob Brownstein, Tevy Poe, John Erickson, Donald Pitts, Jilbert Daniel, Isaiah Dell, Colin Joe, Omaryus Luckett. Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell

 

One of those old truisms that you don’t need to complete the sentence to understand its meaning: “Be careful what you wish for.” As this film posits, also be careful who you make your wish from.

Dylan (Dewey) is a mute 12-year-old boy reeling from a family tragedy. His dad (Brownstein) is a late night DJ who is working a double shift on what the title card describes as a pleasant summer night in 1989. The two men have moved into a new house in a new town and Dylan will be on his own until Dad comes home. The bond between them is strong but Dylan wonders, using American Sign Language, “Would Mom have left if I weren’t…different?” While Dad assures him that he’s perfect the way he is, Dylan isn’t so sure.

Dylan also confirms that the previous resident, an old man (Pitts), indeed died there. He thoughtfully left behind a framed portrait of himself, as well as The Book of Shadows in a burlap sack for Dylan to find, complete with instructions on how to summon a Djinn who would grant whichever wish Dylan makes – so long as he survives an hour alone with the Djinn and so longas he does’t extinguish the candle he has lit for the ceremony before midnight. Those Djinn, they’re sticklers for the rules.

Most of the film is of a terrified Dylan fleeing and hiding from the Djinn (Erickson) while having flashbacks of his sad, disturbed mom (Poe). The Djinn can take a number of different forms and it does so throughout the short running time of the film, giving Dylan a different horror to deal with. All of this is done with virtually no dialogue; what dialogue there is occurs at a dinner table scene at the beginning of the film and is spoken by Dylan’s Dad. There is also a recording of the instructions for summoning the Djinn, although whether that is in Dylan’s head or not is up to your interpretation.

For a film like this to work you need a child actor who can express a variety of emotions (mainly fear) almost completely through body language and facial expression, and the filmmakers found one in Dewey. He does a remarkable job carrying the film on his frail shoulders, although the filmmakers tendency to use extreme close-ups of his face in a rictus of terror doesn’t do him any favors. However, for a role like this they coud have done much, much worse.

The monster itself isn’t super terrifying although it does the trick for the most part. There is an overuse of jump scares, particularly a central air unit that kicks off with an apocalyptic thud that would fray the nerves of any homeowner after not too long.

There are a fair amount of horror tropes here and the filmmakers wisely don’t try to reinvent the wheel. What they do is provide a basic, no-frills horror film off of an interesting premise and deliver it in a compact amount of time without an overabundance of filler. These days, that’s something of an accomplishment.

REASONS TO SEE: Different in a good way. Some nice world building.
REASONS TO AVOID: Relies a bit too much on jump scares.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some frightening violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In Islamic/Arabic mythology, a djinn is a highly intelligent spirit who is neither good nor evil, but is capable of mimicking any form and occasionally can possess human beings.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews; Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Witchboard
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Inhabitants: An Indigenous Perspective

Two Gods


A tisket, a tasket, I’ll teach you to make a casket.

(2020) Documentary (CNN) Hanif Muhammad, Furquan Maynard, Nazir Dowell, Rashed Reece, Joann Maynard, Keerah Davis, Barbara Campbell, Jayne Hodge, Khadija Samad, Tyler Hodge. Directed by Zeshawn Ali

 

Poverty and racial injustice make a wicked one-two punch. We have been watching in horror as thousands of young black men have fallen prey to it, destroyed by despair, drugs and crime. It is no easy feat to turn away from what appear to be easy – or sometimes, only – solutions.

But Hanif Muhammad did manage to break the cycle for himself. As a young man, he made plenty of wrong choices, and paid the price, ending up incarcerated. However, he found Islam and his new faith enabled him to turn down a righteous path. He got himself a trade, building caskets and conducting funeral rites for his fellow Muslims in the mean streets of Newark, New Jersey.

He hoped to show a couple of other kids from the neighborhood that life didn’t have to be an inevitable spiral into death. He took 12-year-old Furquan Maynard and 18-year-old Nazir Dowell under his wing, both boys without fathers, to give them an example of a better way.

But it isn’t easy. Farquan’s mom has a boyfriend who beats up both her and her son, and she seems unwilling or unable to do anything about it. Nazir has already had brushes with the law and if he can’t make some sort of correction is liable to wind up in one of Hanif’s caskets. It also must be said that Hanif’s grip on sobriety and stability is fragile at best; temptation bedevils him at every turn and he is one bad choice away from losing everything he’s built.

This searing black and white documentary is a stark slice of the streets, with all the positive and negative that it implies. We see the obstacles these young boys are up against, how so many of the men in the neighborhood have wound up dead too young or in jail too long. There aren’t a lot of talking heads here; this is mainly a stream of consciousness type documentary a la Erroll Morris, and while from time to time it feels that the Ali loses the focus of his story, for the most part his movie keeps viewers locked into a story that could be goingon anywhere in America that has neighborhoods that are under siege from that one-two punch.

Hanif is a flawed man, but he is charming in his own way, dancing to hip hop music as he works on his caskets in the shop he works in. His faith is undeniable, and one thing the movie might accomplish is to allow people to see Islam in a different light; all we ever tend to see is fanatics foaming at the mouth for a holy war, terrifyingly ignorant of the truth that there is nothing holy about war.

These aren’t those sorts. They are people, just like thee and me, who only want to live their life with dignity and perhaps, the potential to prosper. But these particular people have more obstacles to overcome than most, and it isn’t always sunshine and light. Some of this movie is grim indeed and I’m not talking about the images of dead bodies being prepared for burial. Ali has crafted a movie that is real and open and honest and informative. This is an outstanding work from a director who is someone to keep a sharp eye on for the future.

REASONS TO SEE: Hasif is an engaging subject. A real slice of the streets.
REASONS TO AVOID: Meanders a little bit.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as images of corpses being prepared for burial.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at the 2020 edition of the Hot Docs festival in Toronto.
BEYOND THE THEATER:/span> Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/14/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Princess of the Row
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Djinn

Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts


Art that evokes the primal side of man.

(2021) Documentary (Kino Lorber) Bill Traylor, Sharon Washington, Jason Samuels Smith, Richard Oosterom, Greg Tate, Russell G. Jones, Charles Shannon, Dr. Howard O. Robinson, Radcliffe Bailey, Leslie Umberger, Roberta Smith. Directed by Jeffrey Wolf

 

Bill Traylor is a name that may not register with the average American unless the average American happens to be an art lover – most average Americans aren’t, however. Traylor was born into slavery in Alabama back in 1853. Following Emancipation, he became a sharecropper and supported his growing family as a farmer – he was practical enough to grow edible crops rather than cotton, although he grew a lot of that as well.

He was also a bit of a drinker and a carouser; his marriages were dotted with infidelity on his part, fathering children by many different lovers. In his 80s, he was no longer able to work on a farm and so moved to Montgomery, where he was homeless off and on and supplemented his relief checks with drawings he made on found paper.

His work has been called “beautifully simple,” “primitive” and “powerful,” all of which are accurate. In many ways his drawings are reminiscent of the cave drawings that were drawn tens of thousands of years ago. His pictures are vibrant, full of movement and capture the era of slavery and the Jim Crow South.

We are treated to art experts discussing his work and its significance, black artists who discuss his lasting influence on African-American art, and his descendants who regale us with anecdotes about his colorful life. Actors read relevant passages from writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes and tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith adds motion and sound to the interpretation of his work. All of this is set to a magnificent blues soundtrack.

The problem with the film is that it is often extraordinarily dry, playing like it was meant for an advanced art history course at an Ivy League school. There are a lot of talking heads which when given the vibrancy of the art that we’re shown seems a bit counterintuitive.

It is the artwork that is the center of the film and Wolf takes great pains to show us as much of it as he is able. We are given artistic insights into the work; arguing couples are shown pointing in different directions, animals are totems that are predators in some cases, observers in others. The color blue represents the blues. It’s hard to believe that Traylor accomplished all of this with scraps of cardboard and paper, pencils and children’s poster paint, but he did.

Sadly, much of his work was discarded years after his death and presumably has been lost forever, although some hold out hope that it may surface in an Alabama landfill someday. There are still several hundred pieces of his work available and there is no denying its power and pull to the human spirit. If you’re going to see one documentary about an artist this year, this is the one to catch.

REASONS TO SEE: The artwork is as compelling as it’s creator. Wonderful blues soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: Occasionally becomes overly dry with too many tallking heads.
FAMILY VALUES: There are descriptions of horrific violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Traylor preferred to work with scraps of paper he found in the trash rather than clean sheets of paper that admirers would give him; he would work the imperfections in the scraps into the artwork.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Virtual Cinema
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Maya Angelou And Still I Rise
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Two Gods

Mandibles (Mandibules)


The No-Pest strip isn’t working.

(2020) Fantasy Comedy (Magnolia) Grégoire Ludig, David Marsais, Adéle Exarchopoulos, India Hair, Roméo Elvis, Coralie Russier, Bruno Lochet, Raphaél Quenard, Gaspard Augé, Thomas Blanchard, Philippe Dusseau, Olivier Blanc, Jean-Paul Solal, Dave Chapman, Marius Colucci, Jézebel Marques, Pablo Beugnet, Marie Narbonne. Directed by Quentin Dupieux

 

Anyone familiar with Dumb and Dumber and other idiot buddy comedies of the 90s knows that watching stupid people do stupid things can be entertaining, if only to make us feel better about ourselves. In a more woke era such as this, there may be those who might have an issue with people who are portrayed as “intellectually challenged” for laughs.

Screw those people. Manu (Ludig) is a bearded kinda-sorta-hippie stoner who is best friends with Jean-Gab (Marsais). They both have IQs somewhat below that of coral. When Manu gets a job to deliver a suitcase that will pay him 500 Euros, he doesn’t think too much that it might be illegal. It doesn’t even bother him that he doesn’t have a car. He just knows that he needs one, so he hotwires a disreputable-looking Mercedes and takes off with Jean-Gab.

While en route through the picturesque byways of the South of France, they hear an odd buzzing sound as well as thumps coming from the trunk. What have they gotten themselves into? Well, it turns out that there’s a fly in the trunk – one the size of an Alsatian.

Normal people would slam the trunk shut and run screaming in the other direction. Not Manu; he hits upon a get-rich-quick idea utilizing the fly as a kind of trained flying monkey to steal valuable items. He and Jean-Gab set out to train their new pet. In an odd case of mistaken identity, a beautiful rich gal (Hair) mistakes Manu for an ex-lover and invites him and Jean-Gab to a mansion for the weekend. The two bumbling lowlifes at least know enough to try and keep their fly secret, but the suspicious resident Agnes (Exarchopoulos) – who shouts everything she says and takes offense to everything due to a brain trauma caused by a skiing accident – knows the two are up to something.

Dupieux has carved a name for himself with absurdist comedies like Rubber and Deerskin. He takes oddball concepts that might be found in a horror spoof – killer tires, killer jackets, giant houseflies – and turns them into something quite different than you might imagine. I can’t say that I was a big fan of Rubber and I haven’t seen Deerskin but this is by all accounts his most accessible film yet, and I did find that it actually made me laugh.

Ludig and Marsais are a sketch comedy duo in France, so it’s no surprise that the chemistry between them is strong. You can believe they are BFFs and the witlessness of their characters makes for some pretty decent comedy (such as when they attempt to cook a simple meal on their own – they are literally a couple of guys who could try to boil water and burn it.

The character of Agnes is a little overdone and is a bit of a waste of the talents of Exarchopoulos, so good in Blue is the Warmest Color. Her constant shrieking gets on the nerves quickly and while she has some funny moments, it just feels like weirdness for its own sake, a problem Dupieux sometimes demonstrates.

Still, while this is certainly an acquired taste, it isn’t necessarily one most people can’t acquire. If you’re going to get into Dupieux, this is the movie that’s going to do it for you unless you have a preference for the truly off-beat. This is as mainstream as the French director has ever gotten; that doesn’t mean he won’t necessarily continue to head in that direction, but this may well be a one-off. I hope not.

REASONS TO SEE: Bizarre but entertaining nonetheless.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pretty much an acquired taste.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and strange situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The fly puppet is operated by Dave Chapman, who performed similar duties in the Star Wars movies.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/12/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews; Metacritic: 75/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Zombeaver
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts

Sweet River


There are few things more beautiful than a mother smiling at her child.

(2020) Horror (Gravitas) Lisa Kay, Martin Sacks, Genevieve Lemon, Rob Carlton, Eddie Baroo, Chris Haywood, Charlotte Stent, Jordan Shields, Cymone Rose (voice), Bryan Probets, Jack Ellis, Jeremy Waters, Sam Parsonson, James McGregor (voice), Jayden McGinlay, Ario De Beer, Kate Dodd, Kelly Joyce, Hamish Cleary, Kerry Blakeman, Ashley McLeod. Directed by Justin McMillan

 

In the face of unthinkable tragedy, we have a tendency to pull ourselves into a protective shell, admitting only those we trust absolutely. When that tragedy is accompanied by unimaginable horror, that shell often leaves us unable to escape.

The town of Billins in the sugar cane country of Tweed Valley has had more than their share of tragedy. A school bus crash into the Tweed River resulted in the drowning of a good portion of the town’s children. Some of those that remained as well as a few visitors fell victim to a serial killer (Ellis) who eventually, wracked by guilt, hung himself.

Hanna (Kay) comes to Billins after all these events have occurred, renting a worker’s cottage on the edge of the cane fields. Unbeknownst to her, James Lipton – the man (Waters) who rented her the cottage – has met with an untimely end but his neighbor John Drake (Sacks) honors their rental agreement, although his wife Eleanor (Lemon) is less neighborly. It’s hard to blame her – the couple are mourning the death of their daughter Violet (Stent) – more on that later.

Hanna can relate, because she is in mourning as well – her son Joey disappeared, a presumed victim of the serial killer although his body was never recovered. In fact, Hanna believes Joey’s body is somewhere in the cane fields and while the local constable (Carlton) tries to persuade her to leave, she is adamant; she’s not going anywhere until Joey’s remains are found and properly laid to rest.

But something else is going on in the town. The children may be dead but they are surely not gone; many of the townspeople can see them and there is some comfort in that. The fact that Lipton had boasted that he was going to harvest the cane field the night he died is not insignificant. The dearly departed may not always be completely gone.

This Aussie film doesn’t lack for ambition, although it doesn’t seem as if director Justin McMillan absolutely knows what he wants his film to be. At times it is a supernatural horror film that is rife with haunted house tropes (things that go bang in the night, half-seen figures of giggling children and so on), while at other times it is a sober look at the effects of grief on a small town a la The Sweet Hereafter, which it appears heavily influenced this film (then again, so did Children of the Corn).

The movie is constructed a bit awkwardly, with a ton of sub-threads and flashbacks that make it a confusing watch at times. That’s a shame, because a lot of the elements here work from Kay’s heartfelt performance to the slow build-up of tension to some of the more horrific elements. At the end of the day, McMillan tries to make this more intricate than it needed to be and his ambitions outstripped the film’s ability to deliver. It’s a bit on the unsatisfying side particularly because there are so many elements that work well, but still worth a look.

REASONS TO SEE: A slow burner of a thriller.
REASONS TO AVOID: Lots of good elements but an unsatisfying whole.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence and some terrifying images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Tweed Valley, where this was filmed, is located in New South Wales, Australia.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/11/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: In the Tall Grass
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Mandibles

The Paper Tigers


Cobra Kai has nothing to be worried about.

(2020) Action Comedy (Well Go USA) Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, Mykel Shannon Jenkins, Roger Yuan, Raymond Ma, Jae Suh Park, Peter Adrian Sudarso, Yoshi Sudarso, Gui DaSilva-Greene, Matthew Page, Yuji Okumoto, Andy Le, La’Tevin Alexander, Phillip Dang, Ken Quitugua, Brian Le, Kieran Tamondong, Ray Hopper, Jozaiah Lagonoy, Annette Toutonghi. Directed by Quoc Bao Tran

 

Those of us who were around back then remember Spielberg’s version of growing up in the 80s and 90s. Idyllic, suburban existences in which you make the best friends you’ll ever have. Those movies have generated a kind of subgenre of nostalgia that is with us even to this day – not just from Spielberg, who rarely if ever does those sorts of movies anymore, but in movies and TV shows that mine such films as The Goonies, E.T. and The Karate Kid.

But even Ralph Macchio grows up which has led to a successful TV show based on the movie called Cobra Kai. This movie has little to do with the Netflix show, but audiences of that show may well find this movie to be their cup of tea. Danny (Uy) is finding mid-life to be a crisis. A divorced dad who sees his son (Lagonoy) only occasionally and as his ex-wife Caryn (Park) has come to expect, generally ends up disappointing him when he does get together. Danny wasn’t always like that though; as a teen, he was part of the Three Tigers, disciples of Sifu (another term for sensei) Cheung (Roger Yuan). Danny was Seattle’s version of the Karate Kid, so phenomenal was his speed that he was known as Danny Eight Hands.

But now his buddy Hing (Ron Yuan) has come to him with terrible news – Sifu Cheung is dead and it looks very well like he might have been murdered. The two round up the third tiger – Jim (Jenkins), who of the three of them was the only one to stay in shape, but is training MMA fighters and has lost the discipline that his teacher instilled in him. The three feel the need to bring their Sifu’s killer to justice, but they’ll need to load up on the Ben-Gay and Advil if they’re going to do any sort of butt-kicking.

Much of the comedy is derived from the three men’s age and lack of physical prowess. Although Jim is still relatively fit, he’s still a middle-aged man and he’s just not up for competitive martial arts any longer. Both Danny and Hing are woefully out of shape and although Hing has some healing powers that he learned from Sifu Cheung, he also has a bad knee following a construction accident and has ballooned into a pear-shaped couch gelatin. Danny fares even worse; his memory tells him he’s got lightning-quick reflexes, but his 40-year-old-plus body tells him those days are long gone. For someone whose martial arts prowess was a source of pride (and maybe even arrogance), it’s quite a blow to the ego.

The fight sequences are good enough, and while the plot is a bit stale (the Shaw Brothers made a cottage industry out of this sort of tale back in the 70s) the gung-ho attitudes of the actors as well as a genuine chemistry between the three of them gives the viewer something to hang their gi on. However, the humor and the over-emphasis on the deteriorating physical condition of the Three Paper Tigers becomes a little bit repetitive and maybe a little too broad for some tastes. Still, this is a movie that has a tremendous amount of heart at the center as even when half your life has gone by, it’s still not too late to fulfill the potential you had as a kid.

REASONS TO SEE: There’s a good deal of heart here.
REASONS TO AVOID: The comedy may be a bit too broad for some.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and profanity including racial slurs.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Quitugua, who plays the film’s villain, was also the movie’s fight choreographer.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/10/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cobra Kai
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Sweet River

Everything in the End


There are worse places to spend Earth’s final days than in Iceland.

(2021) Drama (Hello Charles) Hugo de Sousa, Bergdis Julia Johannsdottir, Lilja ɒorisdottir, Joi Johannsson, Elizabeth Austin, Gunnar Ragnarsson, Raul Portero, Reynir Ingvason, Kolbrun Erna Petursdottir, Ylfa Marie Haraldsdottir. Directed by Mylissa Fitzsimmons

 

I don’t know why it’s so hard to make a good movie about the end of the world. Very few have succeeded, possibly because the subject is so grim it’s hard to even contemplate. Facing our own mortality is never easy, but facing the end of any sort of future for the human race – unthinkable, but given how much we’ve abused this planet, it might be something that bears contemplation.

Young Paulo (de Sousa) is stranded in a small town in Iceland. He, like everybody else, is aware that the planet is about to fall victim to a cataclysm that is going to end all life in a few days. He is Portuguese but doesn’t seem particularly heartbroken about not being able to return home. Instead, he tries to form bonds with everyone else he meets, from a sweet English expat (Austin) to a terrified young single mother (Johannsdottir) to an innkeeper who seems resigned to the coming cataclysm (Ragnarsson).

That’s essentially it for the movie, other than stunning shots of Icelandic country side and endless, repetitive shots of the ocean crashing on the rugged shore. It feels like the filmmaker looked at this movie as an opportunity to spend some time in Iceland and forgot to bring a script with her. Everything seems so flat and without emotion. There is little hysteria (one person drowns themself) and most people seem to just go on with life even as the hours count down.

There should be some profound insight about the fragility and wonder of life, but I really didn’t see any. There are a lot of pretentious utterings and little emotional impact to the film, not enough to sustain anyone’s interest. One gets the sense of a party coming to an end and everyone headed home without much in the way of regret. I don’t know if it was because I saw this at home and not with an audience, but I just didn’t connect with this film at all; it just felt as lifeless and dull as what was awaiting the cast at the end of the movie. When the end finally came, it was more of an “oh well” than an “ah shit.” That seems to me to be a lame epitaph. This was one of the most disappointing films I’ve ever seen at the Florida Film Festival.

REASONS TO SEE: Some beautiful cinematography.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pretentious as all get out. Barely over an hour long, it still felt padded.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the debut narrative feature film for Fitzsimmons.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/3/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
The Paper Tigers

It Is Not Over Yet


The picture of compassion.

(2021) Documentary (First Hand) May Bjerre Elby. Directed by Louise Detlefsen

 

Aging is a bitch. Getting old means the physical degrading of our bodies as we slowly lose the ability to do the things we once took for granted. Worse yet, society tends to treat the aged as lovable idiots who are terrible drivers, absolutely clueless when it comes to technology and generally burdens on society.

As I write this, my mother is 85 years old. I see her regularly and yes, her memory isn’t as reliable as it once was. She tires easily. She has many infirmities which she sometimes complains about. I can see her spiraling down, no longer the woman I remember her being, the woman who raise my sister and I, who worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever known and who fought fiercely for my sister and I to get the very best opportunities we could to have a good life. She remains sharp and still essentially herself. Not every child gets that blessing for their parents.

In Denmark, as in the United States, elder care is a problem, particularly for those with dementia. Often their kids at some point have to put them in a care facility, exhausted and no onger to provide the care for their parents that is needed. In those places, the patients are often medicated within an inch of their lives, shut in their rooms, frightened, angry and lonely, their memories faded to virtually nothing. They are given little stimulation and less attention.

Danish nurse May Bjerre Elby worked in facilities like that. Worse yet, she had to place her father in a facility like that and watch the neglect take its toll until he passed away. Horrified at the treatment of people who had worked all their lives and helped build Denmark into the country it is today, she decided to do something about it. She opened a care center in Dasmarsminde, north of Copenhagen. Rather than utilizing advanced technology and pharmaceuticals (her residents are given little more than occasional pain medication for the aches and pains of old age), Elby instead went back to the philosophies of the original nurse Florence Nightingale as well as Danish philosopher Løgstrup for a more compassionate kind of care.

The eleven residents are given almost resort-like treatment; they are led on walks through the beautiful Danish countryside, into the garden and chicken coop, and are treated as adults. Staff look them in the eyes and give them hugs, also encouraging them to hug trees (something my mother would definitely approve of) and in general, enjoy the moment. Cake is served on a regular basis. When one of the residents passes away, the survivors drink a toast to their fallen comrade and sing their favorite song as their coffins are wheeled out to a waiting hearse.

We are introduced to a variety of the residents such as temperamental Torkild whose wife Vibeke has become unable to care for herself; Torkild also has dementia but refuses to believe it so his children manipulate him into staying with Vibeke until she is able to walk again, something that is unlikely to happen There is Inge, who flirts shamelessly with Torkild, and whose husband Jørgen has essentially given up on life, unable to take care of himself or his wife. There’s gentle Grete who breaks down at one point in the arms of a patient staffer. And yes, we meet the staff as well, particularly Dorte and Lotte.

The movie is at times overwhelming, but there is so much beauty here; yes, there are beautiful shots of the woods in all four Danish seasons (the filmmakers spent a year at the facility) but it is the beauty of the human spirit that really impresses about this movie. May’s facility is the sort of place I would want my mother to be in if her cognitive functions deteriorated to the point where she needed better care than my sister or I could provide for her ourselves – and I do think that’s at the core of May’s philosophy of care; treating the patients as she would want her own parents to be treated. It is a revolutionary – and somewhat controversial – idea for the care for our elderly, and one I hope is adopted throughout the world. Those of that age group spent their lives working, building a home for their children, creating the world (sometimes for better, sometimes for worse) that we live in. They deserve to be given dignity, respect and compassion. Perhaps if we treated our elderly that way, we could learn to treat each other that way as well. And wouldn’t that make for a better world entirely?

REASONS TO SEE: A beautiful rendering of how humans respond to compassion. Treats the elderly with respect. Highly moving and emotionally gripping. Tackles a subject we tend to turn away from as a society.
REASONS TO AVOID: Can get extremely painful to watch.
FAMILY VALUES: The film deals with adult themes and the sometimes painful realities of dementia.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bjerre recently won the prestigious Fonsberg Prize, an award given to Danish citizens who raise awareness of social issues.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/7/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dick Johnson is Dead
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT:
Everything in the End