Currently browsing posts by Jill Boniske.

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom is only available on Netflix right now, so if you don’t have a subscription, you’re missing a very powerful, well-made documentary. The bulk of the film was shot over 93 days in 2013 and 2014 in the central square of Kiev called the Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Thousands of students came to the square to protest Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s choice not to join the EU. But what began as a peaceful protest quickly became a violent revolution and ultimately led to the president sneaking away in the night. The film is very much like last year’s The Square, in that it puts you right in the center of the action with the people fighting and dying around you. Their courage to stand up for democracy is truly inspiring.


If you’ve ever wondered how violent and insidious the Mexican drug cartels and our persistent war against them are, this is the movie for you! From the first frame you’re plunged into a blood-soaked world where law enforcement is impotent, and successes come with collateral damage. Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an FBI agent who’s trying unsuccessfully to stem the tide of killings on the US side of the Arizona border. Following a bombing that kills several of her fellow agents, she is invited to join a multi-agency task force tracking down the perpetrator. It’s headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) who keeps her (and the audience) in the dark about his strategies and motivations for much of the operation. Benicio Del Toro joins them as Alejandro, the titular sicario, Spanish for hitman, though he’s given “consultant” status. And before you know it, they’re all in Mexico where mutilated bodies hang from bridges as warnings from the cartels, blazing in with the help of the Mexican federal police to extract someone for Alejandro to torture some information out of back home. It is not a pretty picture.

Tower to the People-Tesla’s Dream at Wardenclyffe Continues

When people hear the name Tesla these days, most probably think of the car from Elon Musk. But Musk named that car after one of the great unsung inventors of the last century, Nikola Tesla. Tesla invented so many things we take for granted these days — alternating current, radio (before Marconi), even neon — but he died penniless and forgotten. This documentary attempts to bring his name and genius to a wider audience. I’ve known about him for years, as no doubt have most science geeks. And anyone who saw The Prestige might remember David Bowie’s turn as Tesla in that film. Mostly this earnest documentary concentrates on his attempts to build a tower in Long Island that he believed could transmit electrical power through the air around the world. Free power to the people!

The Walk

To enjoy this film you must a) get past Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s French accent and b) have no fear of heights. The Walk is a pretty straight forward telling of what was undoubtedly the most audacious aerialist crime ever. In 1974, just as the World Trade Center twin towers were nearing completion, French high wire performer Philippe Petit decided to sneak into the buildings, string a wire between them, and perform his act 1,350 feet above Lower Manhattan. He enlisted a motley crew of French and American conspirators for what he referred to as his “coup” and somehow got away with it. But sadly, as exciting as the final walk is (thank you CGI artists!), the build up to it isn’t really all that interesting, especially if you saw the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire, which told the story with real tension.

The Keeping Room

I really wanted to like this movie. The script was on the Black List, you know the one for the best un-produced screenplays. It’s very small and very indie. And usually that works for me. It’s being touted as a brilliant genre twist because it is a Southern western, whatever that means, and because its protagonists are women who kick ass. But it is just so slow and so predictably that I could barely make my way to the end.

The New Girlfriend

Written and directed by one of my favorite French directors, François Ozon (Potiche, In the House), The New Girlfriend is loosely adapted from a story by the wonderful mystery writer Ruth Rendell. But it isn’t really a mystery. It’s more a psychological thriller about a woman’s loss of her BFF and her finding a new one in the most unexpected place. It’s about love and loss and gender identity and the fine line between attraction and friendship. And it is extremely well done.

Wolf Totem

Wolf Totem is based on one of my favorite books of the last decade, so it had a lot to live up to. Sadly, it didn’t. I saw it on a small screen though, and could tell that on a big screen (or even better, the IMAX version) the landscape would be a powerful element in the story, perhaps even making up for some of the narrative deficiencies in the adaptation. The book is a semi-autobiography of Chen Zhen, a young Chinese college student during the Cultural Revolution, who is sent out to Inner Mongolia with one of his friends to civilize the nomads. He grows to respect the indigenous people, their way of life, and particularly the wolves. It is a tale of the massive environmental and cultural damage done by the Han Chinese in their misguided conquest of the Mongolian grasslands. As adapted and directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Quest for Fire, Seven Years in Tibet) though, the story is more about the wolves as fierce killers than as part of the life cycle of the place.

Mistress America

Writer/director Noah Baumbach and writer/actress Greta Gerwig have great chemistry (apparently both on and off screen.) Mistress America is their second collaboration, the first being the wonderful 2013 comedy Frances Ha. Both are set in New York and both star Ms. Gerwig as a lovable, yet kooky woman trying to find her place in the world. In the very funny Mistress America, she plays Brooke whose father is about to get married to Tracy’s (Lola Kirke) mom. It really is Tracy’s story, but Brooke is the big character that animates her life. Tracy is having a hard freshman year at Barnard, and her mother wants her to meet her soon to be step-sister who is 10 years older and lives in the city, so she calls her and is immediately drawn into Brooke’s very dramatic life.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution tells the heartbreaking history of the rise and fall of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. I saw it earlier this year at a festival, and it was without a doubt one of the best films I saw there. An incredibly important and fascinating story, extremely well told and sadly, so much of it feels decidedly déjà vu. It really is a must see documentary.

The Gift

This film seemed to fly under the radar for me. But it really shouldn’t have. It is a very creepy and very well-done psychological thriller. Written and directed by and starring Australian actor Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom, The Great Gatsby), it is the story of a young couple, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), who move to Los Angeles, and run into a former schoolmate of Simon’s who knows him better than his wife. And who isn’t afraid to use that knowledge against him.