Review: Styx

Currently browsing posts by Jill Boniske.

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.

Review: First Reformed

It’s that time of year again. The run-up to awards season, when I catch up on all the films I missed for one reason or another. And since First Reformed is already winning top honors in the early year-end critics’ awards, I thought I should watch it. It’s from Paul Schrader who was the hottest writer (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mosquito Coast) and sometimes director (American Gigolo) in the 70s and 80s and then mostly faded away. But with this film, it’s clear he’s still got it. He knows how to draw a deeply flawed man in a deepening personal crisis, and his Rev. Ernest Toller played masterfully by Ethan Hawke (Juliet, Naked, Maudie, Boyhood) is his best character in decades. Divorced, ill, drinking, and questioning his faith, Toller is circling the drain, while the tiny church he heads is planning its 250th anniversary rededication and one of his parishioners is in desperate need of guidance he’s ill-equipped to give. This is not a happy movie, but it is intensely thought-provoking and a glorious return to form for one of our great filmmakers.

Review: Becoming Astrid

This lovely Swedish biopic tells the story of the challenging early life of Astrid Ericsson (Lindgren) who would go on to write the children’s classic Pippi Longstocking and a slew other memorable books. Born in a rather idyllic if strict farming community, at 16 she was offered a job at the local paper and fell for the married editor. Though it was reciprocated, an unplanned pregnancy caused her to make some very difficult decisions that colored the way she saw children and undoubtedly made her the writer she was to become. Played by Alba August (The Rain), Astrid is initially brimming with curiosity and energy, but her pregnancy and the choices she is forced to make with the child take a heavy toll. Fortunately, it all works out by the end, or we wouldn’t have her wonderful books.