Currently browsing posts by Jill Boniske.

Review: Luz

The classic horror film hasn’t entirely disappeared from the cinema landscape, but the current trend it to make more of it than just the easy jump out of your seat shriek-fest. Get Out, Suspria, and Hereditary have shown that there’s an audience for new kinds of horror. And Luz rides in on that wave with with a minimalist demonic possession flick that takes place mostly in a police station.

Review: The Farewell

In this bittersweet dramedy based on a real story from the writer/director’s own family, Billi (Awkwafina, Crazy Rich Asians) a struggling New York writer discovers that her Grandma (Zhou Shuzhen) back in China has cancer. It’s a huge blow since they’re really close, but Grandma doesn’t know and the family wants it to stay that way. But just so they can all see her before she dies, they concoct a wedding where everyone can get together with her back in Changchun. The Farewell boasts a fabulous ensemble cast in a story that while set squarely within its Chinese culture and location feels universal in its truths about family relationships and the lengths we’ll go to for someone we love.

Review: One Child Nation

Nanfu Wang has made a couple of my favorite documentaries of the past few years. Hooligan Sparrow followed a Chinese women’s rights activist’s journey and put both the subject and the filmmaker in danger. Her follow-up film I Am Another You took place in the US as she lived for a while with a charming young homeless man. In both films she was as much a part of the story as her subjects. In her newest film, which she co-directed with Jialing (Lynn) Zhang, she returns to China with her new baby to peel back the curtain on the country’s horrifying one child policy and the toll the decades long social experiment took on the women of China. From 1979 through 2015 the Chinese government decreed that women could only have one child, and to that end millions of women were forced to have abortions, be sterilized, or abandon their children to human traffickers. It’s a harrowing film as you hear the stories from many of the perpetrators who still think the policy made sense.

Review: Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Oh, to be a great man’s muse! To have him write poetry and songs about you, to you, for you. And all you need do is sit at his feet and adore him while he creates! This is the story of Marianne and Leonard. Marianne Ihlen was a Norwegian single mom living on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s, when Leonard Cohen came into her life. It was a love that would last both their lifetimes and would be responsible for many of his most memorable songs. Sadly though, what this documentary fails to tell us is who Marianne was. Her presence is only a means by which to tell the story of Cohen and his rise from writer/poet on a Greek isle to global folk music star. And while I did learn a few things about Leonard, the long stretches of the film with Marianne sitting on a boat or with people talking about her were actually boring. And at the end, you’re left with nothing of her to hang onto.

Review: The Dead Don’t Die

Anyone who’s been a fan of Jim Jarmusch’s movies over the years – Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train – knows he has an off-center view of the world and it’s events. So going into his take on a zombie flick, you don’t expect the usual Night of the Living Dead scare-fest. And you don’t get one. What you get is a deadpan Sheriff (Bill Murray) and his pessimistic Deputy (Adam Driver, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) dealing with their small town being overrun by hordes of their friends and family from the nearby graveyard, all watched from afar by the town’s wise Hermit Bob (Tom Waites). It’s a fairly straight zombie apocalypse story, but it’s peopled by a slew of wacky Jarmusch characters and told with a wink and a nod. All in all it’s sometimes fun, but definitely not a film for lovers of the horror genre it’s making fun of the whole time.

AFIDOCS 2019: Arty Chick’s Wrap-up

Usually when I see the slate for AFIDOCS I get excited for a few of them and intrigued by many more. But this time around, I was not all that blown away. So heading to DC, I had pretty low expectations. I think that was a good way to go. Not that there were any bad docs, but it was a very safe set of films this year, for the most part.

True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight For Equality Opening Night’s doc was about a pretty amazing man named Bryan Stevenson. He’s a lawyer in Montgomery, Alabama who defends men on death row. What animates him is his belief that the justice system doesn’t now or has it ever applied equally to the poor and people of color. And so he founded the Equal Justice Initiative. The film highlights the stories of a few of the men who were unjustly sent to death row for crimes they didn’t commit and who through Stevenson’s dogged determination were finally released after decades in prison. He’s argued 5 cases before the Supreme Court. But the most interesting part of the film is what he has to say about the systemic history of incarceration of black men. The film is a bit long and the filmmakers wanted to include a side story about the national lynching museum, which Stevenson spearheaded, and though it is interesting, it felt tacked onto a story about a man fighting the great fight. He’s amazing. The film is good.  (The documentary is currently on HBO. The trailer is below. A film adaptation of his bestseller, “True Mercy,” will open next year with Stevenson played by Michael B. Jordan.)

Quickie Review: The Third Wife

Set in a remote compound in 19th century Viet Nam, The Third Wife is a beautifully shot story of a young girl’s journey from childhood to marriage to motherhood. It was a society that did not value women except for their ability to produce a male heir, and young May is delivered into her new home to learn as she goes about status and custom. The other two wives are friendly, as are their children, but their worth is measured for them only by their sons. It’s a sad tale, but one that has been told many times before. And in this telling, there is not a whole lot of new territory covered.

Review: Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation

Woodstock, New York will always be associated with the concert that took place 50 years ago 43 miles from there in Bethel. Half a million young people came together for 3 days to enjoy an amazing slate of the era’s best musicians: The Who, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendricks and so many more. I was too young to go, but I wish I could have been there. The war in Viet Nam was still sending bodies home. Kennedy and King had been assassinated. The young people of America needed a place to chill and come together. And this was the perfect venue. They came from all over the country to be a part of it. And there will never be another moment like it. There was an Academy Award winning documentary made about it in 1970 called simply Woodstock. And it would make a great companion piece to this new film. It had a lot more of the performances. This one is from the perspective of the people who put the whole thing together and more a play by play as it happened. I missed the music, but Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation tells a great story and made me long for that 60s peace and love vibe.

Review: Souvenir

When 20-something Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) meets somewhat older Anthony (Tom Burke) at a film school party early on in Souvenir, you know exactly what their relationship will be all about. He’s pretentious and she’s attracted to that. She’s a young woman from a privileged background and an aspiring director, and he has some sort of important government job that they never really talk about. And their relationship develops with the understanding that he has the power. She’s fine with him telling her who she is and what she should want. She’s young and naive and he’s a user in every sense of the word. It’s the early 80s in London, too early to talk about toxic masculinity and mansplaining, but Anthony is the man for whom both concepts were invented. You find yourself wishing Julie would dump the guy from nearly the first moment they get together. But of course it’s not that simple. It’s a disturbing film, a series of moments in a dysfunctional and obsessive relationship that somehow you can’t look away from.

Quickie Review: Pasolini

Italian poet, philosopher and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini loved nothing more than to push the envelope, to scandalize, to shock the senses. So it’s only fitting that Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) should direct a film about his last days since they are gritty birds of a feather. Pasolini stars Willem Dafoe (Spiderman, At Eternity’s Gate) who bears more than a passing resemblance to the man who died in 1975, murdered and left to rot on a beach in Ostia. The film is a kaleidoscope of Pasolini’s final film and his final quotidian existence, eating with his mother, giving an interview to a journalist, writing away on his typewriter, and trolling for young men to have sex with. And throughout there are scenes from an imagined version of his final script. It’s in Italian and English, sometimes subtitled, and sometimes not. And the audience is left to make the connections. The film assumes a knowledge of the filmmaker and his films, frequently making it a frustrating experience. But mostly it’s just too coarse and pretentious for my taste.