Cinema Clash Podcast: Antebellum; Blackbird; The Way I See It; H is for Happiness; Cobra Kai

Quickie Review: Words on Bathroom Walls

Words on Bathroom Walls is the latest in a string of films adapted from popular novels – YA and otherwise. But as far as I can tell, it’s only being released in theaters at the moment, which makes it hard to find and even harder to break through as anything resembling a “must see” in the age of COVID-19. And that’s rather a shame, because the film explores a topic rarely seen on film and certainly not from this perspective. It tells the story of Adam (Charlie Plummer, All the Money in the World), a mostly typical teen who gets diagnosed with schizophrenia – and expelled – midway through his senior year of high school. He sometimes sees and hears people that aren’t there, which can lead to frightening psychotic breaks. Adam ends up getting accepted to a Catholic school on the condition he take his meds religiously. This prove difficult when the drugs interfere with his love of cooking (he dreams of going to culinary arts school) as well as his budding romance with Maya (Taylor Russell, Waves), the school’s smart, attractive, clever and industrious presumptive valedictorian. Adam tries to keep his mental illness a secret from Maya, and all his classmates, and ends up walking a very tight rope.

Review: American Street Kid

In this powerful documentary, director Michael Leoni headed to the streets of Los Angeles to see what it’s like to be a homeless kid. Initially he was planning on shooting a PSA, but he got sucked in and ended up becoming much more than a filmmaker. American Street Kid is about his relationship with a group of young people who came to rely on him and who he was bound and determined to save. It’s both an advocacy piece for building an infrastructure to help young people escaping abusive homes and a cautionary tale about documentarians who get too close to their subjects. And it’s equal parts heart-breaking and heart-warming.

Review: Tesla

I’ve been interested in inventor Nikola Tesla’s life and work for ages, so I was excited that a feature film was going to take him on. And I love Ethan Hawke who’s been getting better and better the last few years. (The Truth, First Reformed, Juliet, Naked, Maudie) Seemed like a great idea. But Telsa is anything but a standard biopic. It’s a jumble of scenes set in last days of America’s Gilded Age, the period when Tesla was warring with Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) over the best way to deliver electricity to the masses — Direct vs Alternating Current. (AC v DC. – spoiler, Tesla was right) Narrated by J.P. Morgan’s daughter Anne (Eve Hewson, Bridge of Spies), Tesla is a hybrid – documentary, experimental film, and period drama. Some of it works, and some is just weird.

Quickie Review: The Prey

Human hunting movies seem to be the thing right now. Early this year there was the controversial American film The Hunt that disappeared onto Netflix in the blink of an eye for political reasons. Then came Bacurau, a strange dystopian class struggle Western set in Brazil. And now we have an action movie from Cambodia that takes us down the same road. This time the wealthy elite are hunting a group of prisoners plucked from a jail run by a sadistic warden (Vithaya Pansringarm). But one of those prisoners Xin (Gu Shangwei) is a Chinese Interpol agent who was caught up in an undercover operation. It’s no surprise that he’s got more survival skills than the rest of the prey. What follows is just as you’d expect, a cat and mouse game punctuated by martial arts fight scenes and gun play. There’s not much in the way of character development, but then that’s par for the course with action films, isn’t it?

Review: Chemical Hearts

Chemical Hearts doesn’t quite fit the mold of a typical teenage romantic drama. Sure, there’s plenty of teen drama and teen angst and teen heartbreak. But there’s also an extra layer of character study and conflict grounded in the grief and circumspect motives of Grace Town (Lili Reinhart), the teenager who captures the heart of 17-year-old Henry Page (Austin Abrams) at the start of their senior year of High School.

Quickie Review: Burning Ghost (Vif-argent)

When we meet Juste (Thimotée Robart) he’s wandering on the train tracks somewhere in Paris, confused. He stops at a small house and the man there recognizes what is happening and tells him where he needs to go for help. Then flash forward 10 years and Juste is still wandering about Paris, only he’s not confused any longer. And it slowly becomes clear that he sees dead people, and he’s got a job helping them cross over by sharing a strong memory from their lives with him. And that’s pretty much all he does. That is until a young woman named Agathe (Judith Chemla) starts following him one day. And when he confronts her, it seems they had a brief, and for her memorable, connection back before he left the normal world. And so begins their otherworldly love affair.

Review: Desert One

Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-80; but the memories are vague. I recall watching Ted Koppel’s nightly updates (the precursor to Nightline), grieving over news of a rescue attempt gone awry, and celebrating the hostages’ return just as Ronald Reagan took the oath of office in January 1981 after a landslide victory over Jimmy Carter. Desert One recalls all of that – and much more. The documentary is both evocative and enlightening. It offers revealing details of the failed mission to rescue 52 Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, where they were ultimately held for 444 days. And it serves as a tribute to the sacrifice of eight servicemen who died when a helicopter crashed into a transport plane at “Desert One,” the staging area for the mission, which was in the process of being aborted when the accident occurred.

Review: Coup 53

Looking for a political thriller to suck you in for a couple of hours? Then watch this documentary. Iranian director Taghi Amirani spent ten years filming his obsessive hunt for documents and witnesses to tell the story of the coup d’état that stopped democracy in Iran in its tracks, all because the new, democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh had the gall to nationalize the oil industry. It is common knowledge that the US and UK were behind it, and the CIA has even declassified some of the documents related to their part in it, but the UK and MI6 have never admitted their role. In the film, Amirani is reading through transcripts from a 1985 BBC series called “End of Empire” that talks about Iran when he notices that there is one interview that has been totally redacted. The transcripts are heavily edited to obscure the name. The filmed interview itself is nowhere to be found in the BBC archives. And he knows that this interview could be the key to the whole story.

Review: Sputnik

Russia, 1983. The Cold War is still raging. Two men are orbiting earth in a spacecraft, preparing for their reentry when there is an incident. And when they crash land in Kazakhstan, the commander is found dead and the flight engineer in a coma. When he awakens, he has no memory of the accident or what happened up there in space. Hoping to get to the bottom of it, secretive Colonel Semiradov (Fedor Bondarchuk) lures psychologist Tatiana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) who is known for her unconventional methods to a remote, high security facility where the cosmonaut Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) is being held. It doesn’t take long for her to find out that there is an alien living inside him, and her quest becomes trying to find a way to get it out without harming the host. Director Egor Abramenko is upfront about his love of space horror flicks. “Alien was always in the DNA of Sputnik.” But it’s no rip-off. It has its own satisfying trajectory.

Review: Jazz on a Summer’s Day

The Newport Jazz Festival is America’s oldest jazz festival, having begun in 1954. All the luminaries of the genre have played there, and many of the best recordings of their music were recorded there. In 1958, celebrity photographer Bert Stern came to document it. And rather than being about the music, Jazz on a Summer’s Day is truly a document of a place and a time. From the aspect ratio to the style of shooting it is very much a film of its era. In addition, the audience for the festival is noticeably only somewhat integrated and mostly upper class. Not that the music isn’t present. It’s just that it’s the background for images of the town, the people, the sailboats, the privileged. It’s a fascinating documentary that was named to the National Film Registry in 1999, and its restoration was funded by the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress for the film’s 60th Anniversary.