Cinema Clash podcast: Radioactive; Yes, God, Yes; The Rental

Review: The Painted Bird

Based on Jerzy Kosiński’s novel, The Painted Bird is a brutal tale of a young nameless boy’s fight to survive on his own during World War II in the wilds of Eastern Europe. He’s beaten and abused wherever he turns, and all he wants to do is find home, though he doesn’t really know where that is. And as he makes his way towards that imagined home, he grows more and more hardened and more like the people he meets, scared and mistrustful of the world at large. Though it takes place during the war, the conflict is distant even if the effects are all around The Boy. While it’s beautifully shot in black and white, it’s also 169 minutes long and essentially a litany of horrors. It’s not a film for the masses.

Mini-Review: Dirt Music

Good actors in gorgeous settings without a cohesive story does not add up to a great movie. In this rom-dram from down under, Georgie (Kelly Macdonald – No Country for Old Men, Puzzle) is living in an insular small town in Western Australia with its most powerful resident Jim (David Wenham – Lord of the Rings, 300) who she’s not really that fond of any longer. One early morning while swimming nude she meets a hunk named Lu Fox (Garrett Hedlund – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Mudbound) who’s out lobster fishing where he isn’t supposed to. But one thing leads to another and soon they’re romantically entangled. A tragedy haunts Lu and though Georgie is prepared to give everything up for him, her partner Jim doesn’t want to let her go. But when Lu leaves town to get away from Jim’s thugs, Georgie follows him to the ends of the earth.

Quickie review: The Tobacconist

In this coming-of-age story, set mostly in Vienna just as the Nazis are rising, 17-year-old Franz (Simon Morzé) arrives from the countryside to work at a tobacco shop owned by his mother’s old flame Otto Trsnjek (Johannes Krisch). He’s a kind man and takes to Franz immediately, teaching him the ropes of the place. And who should walk through the doors but one of his regular customers, Sigmund Freud (Bruno Ganz, Wings of Desire, Downfall) who also takes to Franz and gives him advice on finding love.

Quickie Review: Guest of Honour

Somewhere in this movie from director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) is a decent story, but you really have to work to find it. It’s a father-daughter melodrama about Jim (David Thewlis – The Harry Potter series) and Veronica (Laysla De Oliveira) that cuts back and forth in time as she tells a priest (Luke Wilson- Legally Blonde, Rushmore) the story of their lives so he can deliver Jim’s eulogy. Jim is a lonely food inspector who spends his days testing the temperature of meat and hunting under kitchen cabinets for rat droppings. Veronica is a music teacher who willingly goes to jail for a crime she didn’t commit out of a sense of guilt for something she did do. He visits her in jail and tries to understand why. She can’t forgive him for a transgression she misunderstood in childhood. Ultimately, it’s a bleak and not very coherent story buoyed ever so slightly by David Thewlis’s nuanced performance.

Review: The Old Guard

In the mood for a superhero action movie? Historical fiction? A supernatural flick? A war drama? Sci-fi/fantasy? A message movie? A hint of romance? A high-octane, double-dose of girl power? The Old Guard is all of the above. It stars Charlize Theron as Andy (aka Andromache of Scythia), the leader of a small army of immortal, centuries-old mercenaries who land in the present-day crosshairs of an ex-CIA operative and a cartoonishly evil big pharma CEO motivated by profits.

Review: Hamilton

Let’s be real. Hamilton is critic-proof. Everyone I know who desperately wanted to see it has, by now, seen the filmed version of the hit Broadway musical at least once since its debut on Disney+ in the wee hours of the morning on July third. A slew of others have seen it too, out of sheer curiosity or pop culture public shaming. And some – declaring their independence from peer pressure, or harboring an inexplicable disdain for musical theater – will simply take a pass. That’s okay. You are excused. This show will go on.

Review: Denise Ho: Becoming the Song

This film could not be more timely. Just days ago the Chinese government passed a repressive national security law that essentially kills the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. I was probably watching this documentary at the same time it was happening. I’ll admit, I know nothing about Cantopop music. And I’d never heard of Denise Ho before I saw this film, but I’m a huge fan now. Not for her music, though some of it is quite beautiful, but for her heroic sacrifice in the name of democracy for Hong Kong. Denise Ho: Becoming the Song is the story of her rise to stardom alongside the story of Hong Kong’s history post-British rule, the creeping power grab by Beijing, and Ho’s evolution from pop star to activist. She’s truly an inspiration.

Review: The Truth (La Vérité)

Director Hirokazu Koreeda’s follow-up to his award winning Shoplifters could not be more different. No longer set in his home country Japan, The Truth is a mother-daughter drama set in a lovely Paris house where an aging actress and her grown daughter come together for the launch of the mother’s memoirs. That the mother is played by the inestimable Catherine Deneuve and the daughter by the equally talented Juliette Binoche makes it a pleasure to watch, despite its fairly well-trodden storyline.

Review: John Lewis: Good Trouble

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just — say something, do something…” Make trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble. That’s the message from civil rights icon, and longtime U.S. Congressman from Georgia, John Lewis. He’s been talking the talk – and walking the walk – since the 1960s: The 1961 Freedom Rides from DC to New Orleans? Lewis was on them; The historic 1963 March on Washington with MLK? Lewis helped organize it; The treacherous walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on what became known as “Bloody Sunday” in 1965? Lewis was there – and badly beaten.

Review: The Outpost

The Outpost is a war movie. War movies are hard to watch. They’re especially hard to watch when you can’t tell the characters apart – even with on-screen “lower thirds” peppered throughout to try and alert you to who’s who, and where. But hey- this is war. It’s ugly. And loud. And bloody. And, as with most war movies, it pays tribute to soldiers lost, heroes made, and survivors burdened with the memory of what they’ve been through… in this case, a deadly attack by the Taliban on an “indefensible” Outpost in eastern Afghanistan in 2009. The Outpost is based on the 2012 New York Times best-seller “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor” by CNN’s Jake Tapper. Everything about this film screams low-budget labor of love. So while I found the acting and dialogue inconsistent at best, I can appreciate what it’s trying to do. And, it’s a story that gains extra resonance in light of recent intelligence reports that Russia has been offering Taliban-linked militants money to kill coalition troops in Afghanistan. If nothing else, this type of film reminds us there is still (for all intents and purposes) a war going on – and American troops are still dying over there – a full decade after the battle depicted in The Outpost.