Currently browsing posts by Jill Boniske.

The Handmaiden

Korean director Chan-wook Park’s (Oldboy) latest film The Handmaiden is an amazing adult thriller. It is twisty and erotic and romantic and funny and utterly surprising. And very hard to review because the many plot twists that make it so fun to watch have to be kept secret. No spoilers here. It is reminiscent of The Grifters or Sleuth with people trying to con one another from start to finish, and the audience’s assumptions proved wrong again and again. At its center is the story of a con artist The Count (Ha Jung-woo) who finds a job for one of his minions, pretty young Sookee (Tae-ri Kim), as the handmaid to a very rich and very attractive young Japanese woman Lady Hidekowith (Min-hee Kim) with the aim of his seducing and marrying her for her fortune. But needless to say, it doesn’t go exactly as planned.

Aquarius

Aquarius is the name of an apartment building overlooking the beach in Recife, Brazil. Clara (Sônia Braga) is the only resident there. A beautiful woman in her mid-sixties, she loves her apartment, and try as hard as they might, the company that has bought out all the other residents cannot persuade her to take their very generous offer so they can build another high-rise like those surrounding her. But to Clara this is her home, where she loved her now deceased husband and raised her children. It is where she is planning to die, after a life well-lived. The developers suffer under the mistaken notion that they can force this old woman out. But Clara is not going!

All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone

This is without doubt the perfect film for this particular time in America! The question this documentary poses is what the hell is wrong with our current media and why don’t we have journalists doing the work that I.F. Stone did so well back in the day. I’ll admit not knowing much about I. F. Stone before seeing this one. Apparently he once said, “All governments lie,” and the duty of the press is to ferret it out and keep them honest. More than being a biopic, this one looks at Stone’s influence on modern day independent journalists. With interviews from Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi and may others, it skewers the news that most Americans depend on to keep them informed and suggests that it is just an extension of an entertainment-centric dumbing-down strategy to keep the people ignorant.

Hooligan Sparrow

I love gutsy women and Ye Haiyan aka Hooligan Sparrow has got to be one of the gutsiest around. As a Chinese women’s rights activist she has put herself in serious peril over and over to get the government to treat women better. In this gripping documentary, American based Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang also puts herself in jeopardy simply by telling Ye’s story. She begins in the south of China on Hainan Island with a group of women who are protesting outside a school whose principal, accused of supplying six underage girls to government officials for sex, has been given a slap on the wrist. And this first encounter with the police (and their undercover thugs) and the women on the front lines of China’s women’s activism sets up the whole film. The filmmaker is questioned by police and becomes along with Hooligan Sparrow the object of constant surveillance and intimidation.

Ixcanul (Volcano)

This fascinating drama takes its audience into a culture few of us will ever experience. Ixcanul means volcano and the film takes place in a village that is just on the edge of an inactive one in the mountains of Guatemala. A family lives there cut off from the modern world, speaking Kaqchikel, the ancient language of the indigenous Mayans. The few times they interact with the outside world they mistakenly trust a translator with an agenda to tell them what was said in Spanish. Though it is mainly a coming of age story of the central character Maria, it is also a tale of the divide between the powerful and the powerless, and a starkly written and beautifully shot enthnography of a mysterious place out of time with the world. It is probably too slow for many people (Mainstream Chick, I’m talking to you), but I was taken with it. And it’s Guatemala’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film.

The Birth of a Nation

The story of Nat Turner deserves a big screen telling. He inspired his fellow slaves to fight back against their owners and sent shock waves across the South in 1831 when he led the biggest rebellion against the institution of slavery in American history. Nate Parker wrote, directed and stars in a fairly straight forward retelling of the story, though an off-screen controversy has probably hurt the reception of this film. That said, it is a good movie, though not what I was expecting considering the overwhelming Sundance and Toronto festival buzz.

A Man Called Ove (En man som heter Ove)

This adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s bestselling novel is one of my favorite films of the year. Written and directed by Hannes Holm it’s a Swedish curmudgeon finds his humanity story that could easily have been sappy and cliched, but balances the mean and the sweet just right for a totally enjoyable ride.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

Fun! Fun! Fun! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! This documentary from Ron Howard looks at the touring years of the greatest musical group the world has ever known. Okay, that’s just my considered opinion, but if you’re a Beatles fan, this is a must see flick. The film combines archival footage and interviews that take you inside the Beatles’ world during their early years on the road, which only lasted from 1963-66. But during that time they performed 250 concerts and went from obscurity to legend!

The Magnificent Seven

A remake of a remake has a lot to live up to. The original was the Japanese film Seven Samurai, shot in 1954, considered one of director Akira Kurosawa’s masterpieces starring the legendary Toshiro Mifune. Fast forward six years and Hollywood makes a version substituting cowboys for Samurai, starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. Now we have another one with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard. All three films follow the same essential plot. A village is being preyed upon by outsiders, so they hire Samurai/Cowboys to defend them and mayhem ensues. So is the new one magnificent?

Snowden

Unless you never watch the news or have been hiding under a rock for several years, you’ve probably heard of Edward Snowden. A gripping documentary called Citizen Four was made about him in 2013 and won the 2015 Oscar. Here’s what I said about that film:

In January of 2013, filmmaker Laura Poitras began receiving emails from a mysterious person who only identified himself as “citizenfour” and who had information about US government surveillance on a scale unheard of in history. A few months later, after a number of encrypted email exchanges, Poitras headed to Hong Kong along with journalist Glenn Greenwald to meet the sender. The rest is history. Waiting for them in a hotel room was Edward Snowden who would hand them evidence of massive citizen surveillance and data mining by the NSA and other government agencies, and would expose our global cyber-spy program.

Oliver Stone’s new movie Snowden begins in that hotel with Poitras (Melissa Leo) and Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and flashes back to Snowden’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tortured path to this clandestine meeting. The film succeeds in telling its story without becoming a typical Oliver Stone polemic. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to you.