Currently browsing posts by Jill Boniske.

Timbuktu

Timbuktu was a very deserving 2015 Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign film. The movie was inspired by the real life events of 2012-13 when religious fundamentalists, took over the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, destroying much its cultural heritage in the name of Islam and imposing Sharia law on the inhabitants. (They were ultimately run out.) In the film, we meet these militants as they chase down and shoot gazelles from their jeep and then turn those same guns on a cache of wooden statues, particularly ones of naked women. We find them next strutting around the town with megaphones laying down the law, upsetting the townspeople with their strict-to-the-point-of-ridiculous rules. No music. No soccer. No smoking or drinking. No fun. And women need to be nearly invisible and have zero rights. Needless so say, the locals don’t take kindly to it, including the local imam who shoos the heavily armed Jihadists from his mosque. Director Abderrahmane Sissako contrasts this claustrophobic extremism with the story of a pastoral family living in the dunes just outside town whose life soon intersects with the new order.

Still Alice

The reason to see Still Alice, and you really should, is Julianne Moore. She just won an Academy Award for her beautiful and heartbreaking performance as Alice Howland, a successful linguistics professor with a loving husband and several grown children who is stunned to find that she is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It is the story of her trying to keep it together even though she knows what is coming, and her family trying its best to take care of her as she disappears before their eyes. Alec Baldwin plays the husband who is as helpless as Alice against the disease, but tries to make her diminishing world as livable has he can. And Kristen Stewart is remarkably competent as her youngest daughter, a would-be actress who turns out to be the one who can help her Mom when she needs it most.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Sitting in the theater watching Kingsman: The Secret Service, I was in front of an older couple who talked through the film, at one point declaring, “This is the worst movie!” In front of me were a couple of young men who laughed raucously throughout the film, thoroughly enjoying the silly ride. I’m not sure what the couple behind me were expecting, but I do think the audience for this one is teenage (or slightly older) boys. it is basically an adolescent James Bond flick, with all the cool gadgetry and a hot chick villainess thrown in. There is nothing of the suave nature of Bond though. It’s crude humor and cartoon violence. But if you just go with it, a lot of it is mindless fun.

A Most Violent Year

Writer/director J. C. Chandor knows how to keep an audience glued to their seats. With his first film, Margin Call, he had us wondering until the final scene whether a Wall Street firm would crash and burn. And in his second, All is Lost, he was able to make a man all alone in a life raft compelling for nearly two hours. With his third film, A Most Violent Year, he has found another story that would not seem to be terribly interesting and found the tension that forces the audience to care. Set in 1981 in the heating oil trade, it is the tale of a good guy trying to keep his integrity when everything is set against him. Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) plays the central character Abel Morales, an immigrant made good who is doing everything he can to build a business and take care of his family, but it is the most violent year in modern New York City history and you’re not sure if he can make it.

The Duke of Burgundy

This is definitely not a film for everyone. It is a very arty, beautifully shot story of a lesbian couple who enjoy a rich dominant/submissive sex life. But it is no Fifty Shades of Grey wannabe. Instead it is a surreal, sensual meditation on a loving relationship and lengths people will go to for the ones they love.

American Sniper

War is hell. So is this intensely polarizing movie. You either love American Sniper or hate it. I was one of the latter. Adapted from a biography of the same name, it is the story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) who became a hero to many for being our most lethal sniper and killing the most Iraqis. My problem with the film is how the whole situation is portrayed as entirely black and white. Kyle and the Americans are the good guys, and every single Iraqi is evil. I am sure to the men and women who fought there, that was the perfect rationalization for what they did, but as storytelling goes, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Inherent Vice

I have liked Paul Thomas Anderson’s films a lot in the past (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, There Will be Blood,) and Inherent Vice has a lot of the elements he is known for — a great ensemble cast, intertwining story lines, a sense of the world being off kilter. But in this case, it just never seems to come together. By the end of two and a half hours, you are as befuddled as the pothead protagonist, all the while thinking that it has to ultimately make sense. My suspicion is that adapting this (or any other) Thomas Pynchon novel seemed like a great challenge, since no one has done it before. But I think this film should serve as a cautionary tale for future screenwriters who think they’ll be the one who gets it right.

The Interview

If you have a adolescent nephew, this is the perfect flick to share. It is full of dumb laughs and mostly harmless hijinks (unless you happen to be Kim Jong-un.) And it is funny. I laughed quite a bit, between cringes over silly bathroom humor. And as my teenage nephew noted at the end, “It was better than The Hobbit.” (Yep, we saw that too, and the consensus was that it was the weakest of the trilogy.) It does help that we watched The Interview at home on a nice big screen, not paying theater prices, and our expectations were pretty low to start with. But as dumb movies go, it doesn’t suck.

Force Majeure

There is a lot of buzz around Force Majeure, a Swedish relationship drama. They LOVED it at Cannes, it is Sweden’s Oscar entry, and the Foreign Press has just nominated it as best foreign language film. But the question to me is, does it appeal more to European audiences than Americans? I liked it and I think it is a well-done film with a compelling question at its center, but best film?

Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

As a photography major in college, I studied all the “famous” photographers and their “important” images. But what we did not see were photographers of color and their important images. Did they not exist or were they just not in the canon? The eye-opening documentary Through a Lens Darkly tackles that question and looks at the rich and largely ignored history of black photographers in America. It also takes on the notion of identity that we draw from photos and the distortions that African-Americans have had to endure since the beginning of photo-technology. The film is based on the book “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present,” by Deborah Willis, which must be the most exhaustive study of black photographers, images of African-Americans, and the use of photographs as propaganda in both positive and negative ways as a vehicle for social change. Fortunately director Thomas Allen Harris doesn’t go too far into the academic arguments. He smartly begins from a personal viewpoint, using the photographic traditions of his own family as a jumping off point.