Ricky Baker, a foster child, feels trapped in the New Zealand home of his adoptive parents. When the kindly mother dies, he and his “uncle” find themselves escaping into the bush in order to evade an aggressive social worker determined to bring the boy to a different family.
The tone is light, even when there is danger. Soundtrack mirrors the mood, alternating Nina Simone with Bob Marley as the two heroes wander the beautiful landscape of New Zealand. Not that all of it is beautiful. When Ricky drives a pick up truck recklessly and lands upside down in a car dump, the land does not look so good.
Waititi knows how to work with child actors. The first time I saw one of his films was Jo Jo Rabbit, where a ten or twelve year old, convinced he was best friends with an imaginary Adolph Hitler, ruled the screen. In this movie, Julian Dennison plays a completely charming slightly deranged but perfectly understandable boy who has lost his way, and wants to continue being lost, if only he can have a willing adult at his side.
That willing adult, Sam Neill, playing Hec, is a complicated character. At first he does not want to have anything to do with the scheme of running away, but once he has been mistaken for a criminal, he latches on to the young Ricky. The two of them are not exactly Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but they have some escapades that are endearing. This buddy movie crosses age, race, and style lines in ways that prove Waititi to be a master director of hybrid genres, crossing dramatic adventure with coming of age, and comedy. It ends not with grace and happiness but with hope for the future. I would like to check in on Ricky and Hec around five years from now to see how things are going.
Four men, teachers in Denmark, decide to test a theory that humans are born with a deficit of alcohol by drinking to make up for it. What begins as an experiment veers out of control.
The movie opens with exhilaration and joy, as we watch the hedonistic pleasure of youthful drinking experienced by a bunch of graduating high school seniors. Soon we shift gears, and watch Martin, a middle aged history teacher in an enormous funk. His ennui does not just make his teacher bland and unintelligible, his marriage has fallen apart. What is left is the camaraderie he share with his fellow teachers.
The ensemble cast convinces us that they know and love each other. Acting as Martin, Mads Mikkelsen anchors the group. Every thought is registered in subtle movements of his face.
Women play little part except Martin’s wife, Annika, whose disaffection creates more psychological anguish. Music buoys the mood especially the Danish anthem sung sweetly by the students. I found it hard to believe that four intelligent adults in their right mind would subject themselves to such n experiment, and as a result as the movie took its downward dive, I became disengaged.
What saved it for me was the relationship between the teachers and their students. It isn’t just dedication to their profession that keeps teachers going, it’s outright love for young people who hold such promise. Scenes between the PE teacher and his shy bullied student, and between the music teacher and his soulful singers, keep the movie from being maudlin. Still, at the end, as another graduating class class participates in drinking games, I had to wonder if Denmark has a genuine drinking problem.
with Rachel McAdams, Will Ferrell, Dan Stevens, Pierce Brosnan
Husavik is a song about an Icelandic town that is home to Lars and Sigrit, who think they may be related due to Lars’ father’s philandering. The song has emotional power and depth, breaking out into the Icelandic language to the delight of Icelanders watching on TV. The song is a triumph, bursting with pride of place. Rachel McAdams as Sigrit gives it her all, even if she is dubbed by a singer capable of maintaining a high G for what seems like a full minute.
You really have to forgive Will Ferrell as Lars his corniness to get through the rest of the movie. He plays Lars so earnestly that he almost forgets to milk the laughs which I wish were more plentiful.
Most entertaining is the role of Alexander Lemtov, a Russian pop star, played perfectly by Dan Stevens. Stevens struts on stage in an over the top production number featuring lions and four bare chested pretty boys opening their legs for him. It is pleasantly ridiculous.
The plot is about the two would be siblings accidentally qualifying for the semi finals of the Eurovision song contest, which is a real event with such an exaggerated appeal it barely needs satirizing. Sigrit and Lars work out their sets dutifully until Alexander flirts his way in to Sigrit’s head and Lars feels jilted.
The soapy bits suds the humor out, no matter how much I enjoy Stevens’ campy performance. If only he had been the main character it would have been much funnier. Or am I just admitting to my preference for watching Dan Stevens over Will Ferrell?
As it stands, the final number, along with most of the musical numbers, serve the movie best, playing sly homage to a valiant musical tradition.
When you see the beauty of the land that Jacob wants to farm, when you know he has a plan, and the skill to put it into action, you get the feeling that this movie is about a man trying to succeed. It is a struggle for a Korean immigrant not to be ripped off by connivers. He does not trust the man with the divining rod to be honest about how to find water. Instead, he trusts his own instincts, and digs a well, turns over the soil, and plants his crops, meant to be sold to Korean Americans in nearby towns of rural Arkansas.
This does not mean that Jacob and his wife Monica can stop working in the chicken factory, where their job is to determine the sex of the animal — males not so lucky, females survive. The parents of two young children, they lack child care, so bring their son David, around aged five, and daughter, Anne, a bit older, to work with them where they witness their father’s extreme skill at determining the gender of the animals. He is so fast, he can take breaks while others frantically try to meet their quotas. When David asks what smoke is, his dad answers male chickens don’t taste good, they have no use, they go to be smoked (killed). We’d better be useful he warns his son.
This warning pretty much informs the movie’s soul. How useful is a man whose crop depends on a well that runs dry? Seeking child care, Monica summons her mother from Korea. Grandma is a pistol. She teaches the children to gamble, she swears, she gets David to run even though he has a heart murmur and is generally treated with kid gloves when it comes to physical activity. The relationship between five year old David and Grandma, who moves into David’s room, develops and is complex. They start out having not particularly good chemistry, and David is quite naughty at times with her. But it is clear that she loves him, and wants to teach him things he cannot learn from other Americans. Most important to her is not the farm that Jacob is creating, but the minari that she plants and grows on the riverbank. Frequent visits to this site give the movie a timeless feeling.
The second half of the film, where Jacob is ready to sell his crop, and Grandma suffers a health emergency, begin to wear one down. The only native Arkansas character is a born again Christian so extreme, he carries a cross on his back to walk to town. Music wears one down as well. Every time he began talking about God as a savior, I cringed. I began to question inconsistent decisions being made by the characters who up until the second half made sense. Marital tensions create melodrama and add to the feeling of exhaustion on the part of the audience.
Still, the children’s acting, especially Allan S. Kim as David, the photography of the landscape, and the struggle of outsiders in an unforgiving culture, ring true.
with Meryl Streep, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, Keegan Michael Key, Jo Ellen Pellman
This website focuses on movies and tv shows of high quality. There should be successful casting, performances, production values, costumes. Most importantly, if it is a musical, the music should be good, it should match the mood trying to be set.
The Prom’s music made me want to leave the room. The premise of the play is worthy, important even, to let a lesbian take her date to the prom. But having a bunch of washed up celebrities played by A List celebrities, ostensibly coming to her aid as a kind of publicity stunt, just feels pathetic. All of them do their level best to bring the material to life, but can’t. The choreography– don’t get me started
I still will watch just about anything with James Corden and Meryl Streep but let them find better material next time. Jo Ellen Pellman plays the lead looking slightly older than a teen — I wish her luck in her career.
One big redeeming grace note:
Keegan Michael Key. He almost saves it in his performance as the high school principal with a deep crush on Meryl Streep’s character. He just couldn’t be on the screen long enough to do so.
Fern is an itinerant worker, a widow, an ex substitute teacher. She seems to have lived in the southwest, in Arizona, and since her husband died, she has gone from place to place, making enough money to survive. Along the way, she runs into other nomads she has met before. Swankie has cancer, and is ready to die. Fern gives her a hair cut.
When Fern arrives at a major national park, she recognizes David Strathairn, a fellow nomad, giving tours. They might actually have enough in common to strike up a long lasting relationship. But this movie is not about that. It is about how uncomfortable Fern is, and the people she has this trait in common with, staying in any one place. Everyone she becomes attached to leaves, every job is temporary. The laborers might be right out of Thomas Hardy novels, but instead of walking, they ride in vans to harvest the beetroots in the midwest.
In the beginning of the movie, Amazon is one of the employers of these nomads. I thought the movie would focus more on how that company has changed not only the way retail works, but the whole consumer economy, and how people have grown used to receiving everything they buy by mail, and the employees are forced to work through difficult conditions. But that would take away from the personal odyssey that Fern makes, her inner life, her connection to the people on the road.
Locations are important. New Mexico, Arizona, Nebraska, California. Where does her sister live? In a conventional house in a suburb. Fern is not comfortable sleeping in a nice bed with fresh sheets. She depends on her van, and when it breaks down, it becomes a minor crisis until she can rustle up the money to fix it. There are haunting images of factories closed down where Americans used to make things. Now we only sell things, and ship things made in China.
Not a single cell phone appears. All of the people talk face to face. In this way, the movie is an abstraction, and does not feel real. Later, I learned that the only actors in the movie were Strathairn and McDormand. The rest of the cast were actually who they appeared to be, nomads who live the life of migrant workers.
After watching Gunda, a movie from the point of view of a large sow on a farm, I was thinking that Stray would be told from the point of view of the dog, Zeytin, a charming, caramel colored mutt roaming the streets of Istanbul. But it is hard to ignore human crowds, especially a group of Syrian refugees living at a construction site. These young men get high on glue, and follow the dogs which they find very appealing. A subplot has to do with their kidnapping a new puppy.
Mostly, we are in the company of the dogs which like their human counterparts, the refugees, are homeless. The dogs though seem incapable of being bad. Is it because they are animals and have no morals? It is true there a few skirmishes over a bone. It is clear that they don’t care where they take a shit. The camera alternates between the dogs and the humans.
“Human beings live artificially and hypocritically and would do well to study the dog.”
“I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy, and bite the scoundrels.”
“Dogs and philosophers do the greatest good and get the fewest rewards.”
These quotes from Diogenes come off a bit as stating the obvious, or trying to bring depth to a subject that is grounded on earth, not in the high planes of the brain.
Dogs and humans deserve places to live. The Turkish government, we are told, has a law that says strays dogs cannot be corralled or euthanized. It seems like a kind gesture, a reaction to people murdering strays with impunity, but watching the dogs fend for themselves, and the humans be abandoned, are two sides of the same coin. They demonstrate human neglect toward all parties, human and animal.
Overheard conversations from men and women growl in dissatisfaction with each other. This portion of the dialogue is translated from Turkish. The sung prayers are not. The dog is witness: He turns toward the camera as if to say, did you hear that? Some strays have tags in their ears, which is never explained. I wish there were less fraught violin music to accentuate the dramatic bits. The last part of the movie is best, when Zeytin moans in response to the prayers sung at dusk. That is what I was expecting to see more of, the inner life of the dog. As it is I saw teen boys discarded from Syria aging before their time.
with Marco Giallini, Ernesto d’Argenio, Francesco Acquaroli, Isabella Ragonese.
Chain smoking Rocco has been banished from his police duties in Rome to northern Italy in the chilly Alpine city of Aosta. Here Rocco whose title is inspector, comes across many murders he must solve, usually while smoking if not tobacco then marijuana. The buddies he left behind in Rome deal in weed, and keep him supplied.
Rocco often confides in his beautiful wife, Marina, who comes and goes as a ghostly character.
Slowly we learn of Rocco’s transgressions which go way beyond smoking in the office, and being rude and surly to his coworkers. As Rocco figures things out, the mysteries are satisfying to watch.
The landscape is beautiful, but Rocco will not give up his loden coat and desert boots, and resists the much more suitable parka and snow boots worn by colleagues.
His love for his wife is genuine even though he dallies with several women who are wrong for him. I love the attitude of Rocco: his disgruntled competence, his growls.
With Oyku Karael, Fatih Artman, Funda Eryigit, Defni Kayalar,
After watching my friends appear on the screen in little boxes, instead of sitting side by side eating and drinking with them, this series made me appreciate the outstanding production values. Again and again we see close up faces acting in a drama with heartfelt situations in Turkey.
Meryem is an observant Muslim being seen by a psychiatrist to help her understand why she is having fainting spells with no physical cause. Besides caring for the children of her brother, Meryem is employed as a housekeeper for Mr Sinan, a well to do playboy in Istanbul. In the course of one session, the psychiatrist teases out, based on the hidden nature of her replies to questions about Mr. Sinan, that she is in love with him but afraid to discuss it.
Cultural signals like wearing head scarves and being self deprecating are only one side to the complexity of Meryem’s character. When her psychiatrist, Peri, has a session with her own psychiatrist, Gulbin, who she calls sweetie, we are led into another character seamlessly. The need for psychiatrists to be receivers not reactors of all your most intimate troubling thoughts is brilliantly portrayed. I’ve never seen anything like it on screen before. Of course siblings don’t always get along. But have we ever seen two sisters go at each other physically with such disdain before? Gulbin and her sister Gulan go after each other like two four year olds. What would it be like to be queer in a closed society that doesn’t even let you listen to rap music? The series grapples with this dilemma. So many characters need someone to confide in, tending to their wounded psyches.
Meryem’s brother, Yasin, has rage barely kept at a simmer, and his wife Ruhiye who seems to be in the middle of a nervous breakdown, suffers several suicide attempts.
Most important in the community is Hoca, the spiritual leader, who advises Meryem on her questions that seem to go beyond faith.
At one point or another, each of the characters is shown watching tv, especially a show featuring Melisa, a popular soap opera actress who befriends Peri during a yoga class. The series sometimes has a meta feeling to it as it explores the quality of popular shows, especially soaps. Is this series itself a bit of a soap? Only when the music pours on the violins lavishly does it threaten to be.
The treatment of such a wide array of characters in Istanbul made me question: how different are we here in the United States from these observant and non observant Turkish people? Don’t all societies have the observant religious and the secular living side by side, or trying to stay away from each other? Meryem’s head scarf and Peri’s tidy sweater set stand in for their cultural place holders. How addicted are we to our popular cultural heroes, our soap opera stars, our musical titans? How much do we just want to dance with those we love, or tell them how we really feel at the end of the day?
The photography and images of all the characters are outstanding. When Yasin is so frustrated he stuffs a bunch of persimmons in his mouth it is a perfect metaphor for the bitterness of his frustration. Sometimes I think all of the characters are insane, or each of them has a reason to want to end their lives, and only Ruhiye, Yasin’s wife, has the energy to do so. But by the 8th episode, when many things are resolved, and Meryem is courted by a clumsy but loving man, the show’s direction changes course. It is hopeful. Still, several things are left hanging. Does this mean that there will be a season two? It is something to look forward to.
Spike Lee has captured this concert’s heart and soul with David Byrne’s music and an amazing cast of dancers and musical performers surrounding him. The footage puts you in there with the dancers, and in the head of David Byrne who has a spiritual side as well as a political one. He features a song written by Janelle Monae, “Hell You Talmabout” that demands to say the names of blacks killed by the police under unjust circumstances. This is much more direct than the slightly zoned out music of Byrne, and provides a welcome contrast.
The camera knows exactly where to be at the right moment.
Admirable twist: Don’t skip the credits when David Byrne, bicycling advocate, leads his group out into the Manhattan streets, all of them on bicycles following his lead. It is a touching tribute to the city as it once existed, with artists going about their business without face masks, and to Byrne’s mystical appeal. Based on what they are wearing, scarves, gloves, parkas, it is winter, when riding a bicycle takes a true commitment.