Currently browsing posts by Jill Boniske.

Quickie review: Don’t Come Back from the Moon

This quietly meditative indie sells itself on James Franco’s involvement, but truth be told, he’s only in it for a moment before he, like all the other fathers in town, disappears following the closing of the local factory. And that’s okay, since the kids who are left behind are the real story anyway. Based on a book by Dean Bakopoulos, the story centers on a group of young adults who are coming of age in a desert town on the edge of a dying lake. When their fathers abandon them, there is initially a sense of kids gone wild before they settle into the reality that they need to step up and take care of each other.

Review: Cold War

In this passionate love story set in Soviet-era Poland, Zula, a young singer with a past, enters a state-run performing academy where she meets the love of her life, Wictor, the pianist-musical director of the program. The film follows their on-again and off-again relationship across decades as they escape the Iron Curtain and ultimately return. Music is a key element of the story. There is one folk song that is sung first as an audition piece, then as a chorus in concert, then as a Polish jazz song, then translated into French. And Joanna Kulig’s performance as Zula is particularly powerful. Not only does she sing beautifully, but her face lights up the screen.

Arty Chick’s Best of 2018 list

This was a hard year to choose my favorites. There were great movies in a lot of categories that deserved attention. It was a GREAT year for foreign films and documentaries, as well as some big and small features. I skew to the arty side, so I was not a big fan of most of the blockbusters, but there are a few. Here’s my oh-so-personal, definitely-not-an-Oscar-prediction list.

Review: Mary Queen of Scots

2018 is the year filmmakers decided to school their audiences on the Queens of England. In the archly funny The Favourite, a couple of women battle to become Queen Anne’s confidante and proxy. On the flip side, Mary Queen of Scots, is an unfunny battle royale to be the sovereign of the whole of England and Scotland, with armies deployed and lots of palace intrigue. It stars two actresses at the top of their game. Saoirse Ronan plays Mary, and Margot Robbie is Elizabeth I. But sadly, while both of their performances are strong, it’s not enough to lift an otherwise poorly framed history lesson of a script.

Review: Destroyer

When beautiful actresses make themselves ugly for a role, it’s always hard to see them that way. In Destroyer, Nicole Kidman plays an LA detective whose life took a dark turn after an undercover stint that went terribly wrong. It’s been 17 years since then and she’s still haunted by it. And then the man who made her into the drunk and lonely woman she has become comes back into her life, and she’s on a solo mission to finally take him out. The film jumps around in time, back to when she was undercover and then forward to her pursuit, and it’s sometimes a bit intentionally fuzzy as to the timeline. It’s not a particularly new story, and the script uses a bit too many film noir clichés. But my biggest problem with the film is the way that the filmmakers chose to make Kidman ugly. She’s supposed to be so broken as to not care about how she looks, but she has highlights! And her hair looks like a bad wig, but it’s styled and the grizzled face make-up is just over the top. It’s entirely distracting because is doesn’t look real, and Kidman is on camera the whole time, frequently in close-up. Grrrr!

Quickie Review: Border (Gräns)

You probably won’t see a more satisfyingly strange film this year than Border. The main character is Tina, a Swedish customs agent with an extraordinary talent. She can smell fear and deceit, so she regularly catches people bringing in contraband, too many bottles of wine, and even porn. But when a strange man named Vore passes through her line, she knows there is a something there, but she can’t read him. And she’s attracted to him. And the more she gets to know him, the more she learns about herself and why she has always been so different from everyone else. For her it’s a voyage of self-discovery and her first real romance. For him, it’s political. For us, it’s a bizarrely fun ride.

Review: Capernaum (Capharnaüm)

Capernaum in French is used usually in French literature to signify chaos, to signify hell, disorder,” according to Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, director of this emotionally wrenching film. At the center of this hell is a little boy named Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), a young Lebanese boy who is exploited and miserable. He’s 12-years-old but looks about 8. And his world collapses when the one person that he has a loving relationship with, his 11-year-old sister Sahar (Cedra Izam), is sold off as a child bride. So he runs away from his useless parents and has to fend for himself in a very ugly world. And he finds a temporary haven with an Ethiopian woman named Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw) and her baby son Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole), only that, too, falls apart and he ends up in jail for stabbing the “son of a bitch” who stole his sister. And it’s there that he decides to sue his parents for having him. And you totally understand his reasoning.

Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful series of vignettes that tell the story of a young black couple in the early 70s in New York. Directed by Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), this adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel is a racial justice story wrapped in a love story that is uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. At the center are Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James – Race, Selma), young lovers just starting their lives together when their world is upended with a false rape allegation. And it’s through a family’s love that things don’t entirely fall apart.

Review: Vox Lux

Vox Lux aka A Pop Star is Born begins in 1999 with a school shooting where young Celeste played by Raffey Cassidy (Tomorrowland, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) is badly injured, but survives. And when she performs a song she’s written with her sister at the memorial to express her feelings, it strikes a chord with the public and before you know it she’s a little pop star, despite having middling talent. The rest of the film is a meditation on our fixation with celebrity and violence and what that does to older Celeste played by Natalie Portman as she lives through it. I can see why the concept would attract a writer to hang a story on it, but unfortunately the execution of the film doesn’t ultimately support such a heavy load.

Review: Roma

Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Gravity) recreated the Mexico City neighborhood of his childhood to tell the story of Cleo, an indigenous woman who worked for his family and was an integral and loving part of his young life in the 1970s. Shot in gorgeous black and white, the film has all the details of a child’s memory, while foregrounding Cleo’s role and her struggles within the story of a middle class family going through some difficult changes. Roma is populated mostly by non-actors, and Yalitza Aparicio’s performance as Cleo is riveting. You’ll fall in love with her by the end. And I think that’s the point.