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Review: I Am Not a Witch

In this odd little satirical film from Zambian-born director Rungano Nyoni, 8-year-old Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is branded a witch and sent away to the camp where all the other witches are kept. It’s a strange place that tourists are brought to to see the women (yes, they’re all female) all tied to enormous spools of white ribbon, which allow them only limited freedom to roam and keeps them from flying away. Shula is told she can either accept the spool or be transformed into a goat. She grudgingly takes on the spool.

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.

Mainstream Chick’s Top Picks of 2018

It’s insanely difficult to do a “Top 10 Movies of 2018” list when you’ve seen about 200 movies in 365 days – everything from blockbusters, to arthouse films, to documentaries, to films that simply defy classification. I reviewed some of them for Chickflix; others I just bantered about on the Cinema Clash podcast; still others I never got around to reviewing, ‘cuz sometimes, Life happens and the catch-up game aint worth playin’.

Movies are subjective – and so is my list. And no movie is a “bad movie” if somebody out there “gets” it and likes it. My list is different today than it was yesterday. And it will surely be different tomorrow. But at this particular moment in time – as we enter 2019 – this is where I stand with my top picks, and why.

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: 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: 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.

Review: Shoplifters

This film from Japanese director Hiorkazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows) is a beautiful drama about what family means. I saw it at Middleburg, and it’s stayed with me. The story is about a group of people living together on the edges of society, with pretty fluid ethics but enormous hearts, and it’s both uplifting and heartbreaking.

Review: El Ángel

Set in Buenos Aires in 1971, El Ángel is a true crime drama about a baby-faced teenage sociopath named Carlitos (Lorenzo Ferro) whose love for thievery blossomed into a passion for cold-blooded murder when he met fellow student Ramon (Chino Darin). It’s a truly disturbing portrait of a kid totally devoid of a moral compass. And you’re on the edge of your seat the whole way because you just know he and his accomplices will (and should) be caught.

Arty Chick’s Middleburg Film Festival Download 2018

Another year at a fabulous festival! I wonder how long this little Virginia horse country festival can keep it up. It’s sure to burst its seams soon. This year’s slate was amazing, as usual. I was only able to fit in 10 of the 29 films offered in my three days of the festival and missed quite a few I really wanted to see. But what I saw was impressive. The big winner for me (it won the audience award, too) was Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, which will certainly be vying for the Oscar. But there really were quite a few standout films. Here’s my list with trailers and my preliminary impressions. Full reviews of select films will come later, so check back.