Posts tagged "Sundance"

“The Courier” poignantly punctuates humanity in history

March 16th, 2021 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Courier” poignantly punctuates humanity in history”

“The Courier” is an unlikely story of espionage, bravery and most importantly, friendship which may have saved the world as we know it. The film is based on the true story of Greville Wynne, a British businessman, husband, and father during the Cold War, who is recruited by British Intelligence and the CIA to insinuate himself into Russia, make contact with an informant, and bring back communication of the country’s gains in nuclear warfare.

We meet Wynne, a committed family man who works hard to maintain his meager position in life. He’s unremarkable in many ways which makes him the perfect patsy for the joint government venture to exploit. Tapping into his civic duties, Wynne agrees to begin a new business prospect in Moscow. Given little information, Wynne blindly plunges into meetings with the corporate Russian leaders but one man, Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) notes a signal from Wynne and their partnership and ultimately their friendship begins.

This is a high stakes game which writer Tom O’Connor and director Dominic Cooke tap into immediately. Oleg aka Alex demonstrates the dangers of his actions in the very first scene and while the story rides a rhythmic wave of tension, the underlying current of life and death is never out of sight. Upon multiple viewings, it’s evident that O’Connor painstakingly plants seeds of verbal foreshadowing. These carefully sown seeds grow gradually to reveal government secrets, historical events which perhaps prior to this film were nothing more than footnotes in life, and finally, the conclusion of the men’s lives.

While “The Courier” is an historical recreation, it also has tremendous heart thanks again to not only the direction and writing, but the superb performances by Cumberbatch and Ninidze. These two characters could not have been any more different—their background, their position in life—but they find a commonality as men, husbands, fathers, the hope for peace and the greater good…perhaps at their own expense.

Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Wynne finds the subtle characteristics that allow us to connect with him. You can see the hesitancy in his initial response as well as the complacency he has grown to embrace. His confidence lacking, he begins to fancy himself a spy as we see a simper delicately wash over his face upon the completion of his first task. That, of course, quickly fades as he realizes that he is in over his head, ill-equipped physically and emotionally to be a spy.

Ultimately, this is a story of friendship forged under pressure, as precious as a diamond, and Cumberbatch and Ninidze’s authenticity give way to an evocative one. The initial goal of the two men is to parlay information, but upon subsequent meetings, the men learn more about one another and that connection cannot be severed…even under duress. Loyalty is a key element in their unlikely friendship which places us in their shoes, questioning ourselves as to whether or not we could possibly react so selflessly.

Cooke expertly takes us back in time to this era in both England and Russia. We are submerged in the murkiness of underhanded politics as well as the cost analysis. With so many moving parts in this puzzle, it would be easy to get lost, but with succinct writing and editing, the story is a heartfelt and captivating one, clearly relaying this complicated tale.

We remind ourselves throughout the quickly-paced running time of just under two hours that this is based on a true story and it punctuates the harrowing situation that most of us never had heard of. It is these unsung heroes that have unknowingly changed the course of history that need their stories sung from the highest mountaintops. And thanks to the talents of O’Connor, Cooke, and the entire cast and crew of “The Courier,” we can.

4 Stars

“Bad Hair” never looked so good

October 23rd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Bad Hair” never looked so good”

If you think you’re having a bad hair day, wait till you see Justin Simien’s newest film “Bad Hair,” starring Elle Lorraine and Vanessa Williams. This film gives the term a whole new meaning! As Anna (Elle Lorraine), a young Black woman in the late 1980’s struggles for recognition as a television host for cutting edge music, she finds that looks matter more than talent in this industry. With a corporate shake up lead by Zora (Williams), Anna (Lorraine) is encouraged to do something with her hair if she wants to succeed. Succumbing to the pressure, Anna pleads with a hip salon to put in a weave to make her hair luxuriously beautiful. The results are unexpectedly horrific and oftentimes jaw-droopingly comedic as she climbs that corporate ladder.

We meet Anna (Zaria Kelley) as a youngster, adopted into a loving yet high-pressured family. Her sister Linda (Corinne Massiah) is busy helping to relax Anna’s hair using the chemical process of the day. This becomes a traumatic event which will impact her and the story well into her adult life. Dad (Blair Underwood), an accomplished historian shares with his girls a story of their African ancestors. Anna, ever the rebellious one, questions these folklores which sets her adoptive parents into a tizzy. Fast forward about twenty years later and Anna’s working in one of the most prestigious L.A. music television stations, surrounded (and taken advantage of) by high profile talent and industry leaders. But Anna isn’t getting anywhere in this company no matter how many great ideas she has–she’s always overlooked. Lacking confidence, she’s like a quiet mouse but when Zora shows up, there’s a connection and admiration which inspires her to change.

The groundwork is slowly, perhaps a bit too slowly, and methodically set up for the first half of the film, but as soon as Anna sits in that salon chair to have that hair weave brutally installed (yes, installed), the tone shifts dramatically and we have a horror story unraveling before our eyes. Anna’s hair is straight, long, and luxurious. She’s turning heads everywhere she goes. Her confidence rises but still plagued by financial issues and imminent eviction from her dilapidated apartment by her slimy landlord, the hair begins to have a mind of its own and the blood begins to spill.

To give you any more information would ruin the fun of this film, but suffice it to say, the landlord isn’t the only victim of Anna’s bad hair. This film artfully combines gruesome over-the-top horror with an underlying story of how Black women were/are perceived. And the lengths they go to in order to change their appearance and be accepted in a white world is astounding. Acknowledging the inequities and pressure to assimilate, the film blends lore and superstition into a world of reality to give us a unique horror story that sticks with you.

Simien brings us back to L.A. in the ’80’s complete with shoulder pads, crazy colors, and the music of the day. The cast of characters embrace their roles and this era to bring it to life, never missing an opportunity to make us laugh as we witness some of the horrors. Lorraine’s reactions are priceless as her character discovers a new part of herself. She invites us into her mind as she struggles with what’s happening and the conundrum of succeeding because of it. Balancing Lorraine’s depiction of the innocent Anna is Williams’ evil persona of Zora, but there’s more to her than meets the eye. Williams holds nothing back which is perfect and she’s having fun in this role. In fact, no one holds anything back which speaks to the fine direction of Simien resulting in a thrill ride of a film.

“Bad Hair” is a unique horror film which makes you laugh, gasp, cringe, and understand more about perception and struggle for equality in the work place not just as a woman but a Black woman. While it’s quite gruesome, it may not be for everyone, but there are plenty of comedic and dramatic elements to counterbalance that horror.

**Streaming now on Hulu**

3 1/2 Stars

“The Forty-Year-Old Version” Brilliantly funny and poignant coming of age film

October 6th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Forty-Year-Old Version” Brilliantly funny and poignant coming of age film”

“The Forty-Year-Old Version” is an unexpectedly universal story filled with comedy yet a brilliant poignancy that is simply delightful. Writer/Director/Star Radha Blank finds herself in a rut as she approaches her 40th birthday. Desperately wanting to be that person she thought she could be ten years ago, she attempts to reinvent herself from playwright to a rap artist. This charming and relatable film, whether you enjoy rap or not, is filled with heart, soul, and a little bit of rhythm to reawaken your own future self.

Watch the trailer here

Living in New York City in an unsavory part of town and barely making her rent, Radha teaches inner city college students how to write plays. The kids are tough, frequently lashing out at Radha and calling her on the carpet to remind her of her unsuccessful and stalling career. It’s brutal, but Radha handles the situation with grace. The accusations cut through her and like a bubbling volcano, she eventually erupts in the most inconvenient of places. Archie (Peter Kim), her long-time friend and now agent has gained an opportunity for Radha to meet with the king of Broadway producers, Josh Whitman (Reed Birney). His smug, condescending inability to understand a Black woman’s point of view as he critiques her latest submitted play is maddening and Radha, on her last nerve, loses it. As we watch her lunge, it’s shocking and surprisingly funny at the same time. And by this time in the film, we are completely connected to this woman who has lost sight of her dreams as the passing years sweep by.

The remorseful Radha who is still in a state of mourning after losing her mother, digs deep into her former self who was a rhyming master in her youth. Still having the knack for it, she pours her thoughts and troubles into her lyrics as she reaches out to D (Oswin Benjamin) an underground beat mix artist to help her develop. This adventure has its own troubles, successes, and even sparks of love as Radha battles her failures and how she can move forward as RadhaMUSPrime, an aging rapper.

Blank’s exceptional use of humor throughout the film carries us through awkward and cringe-worthy scenes as well as those of Radha’s personal disappointments. The deeply textured characters shine in a complex and layered script allowing us to not only know, but connect with the main character. In many ways, Blank has created a coming of age film that any woman over the age of 39 can completely relate.

Wearing three of the most important hats in a film — writer, director, and star — is a balancing act most cannot attain, but Blank deftly does so. Filmed in black and white, this accentuates the shades of grey within us all as we grow, but we also hone in on the characters more clearly. There is also an occasional gritty texture within the black and white film which punctuates the issues at the forefront. And Blank isn’t afraid to tackle topics of race, poverty, and struggle, with all its inequities, but somehow she is able to do so with humor as she finds a way for everyone, no matter our race or socioeconomic class, to understand and relate. It’s a brilliant combination that comes as a welcomed surprise.

As Blank portrays Radha, her performance finds an unguarded genuineness giving it a tone which creates not only a memorable character, but a lovable one. The baggage she carries as we unlock the suitcase and peer inside, is filled with common issues such as loss and regret, but there are also unique items that only a woman can carry and those which only a Black woman shoulders. And while the exterior of the baggage isn’t shiny and new, the complexity of what’s inside is what makes this character so beautiful.

Blank’s cast supports and lifts her character and the story which allows us into Radha’s world, rolling out the red carpet and welcoming us to see her point of view. Archie reminds Radha (and us) of the importance of compromise while Radha digs her heels in in an effort to not sell out. Each of Radha’s relationships, from her students to friends, and those on the periphery of her circle, are key to Radha’s growth, the story’s narrative arc, and of course, to add incredible interest. Imani Lewis (Elaine) and Haskiri Velazquez (Rosa) stand out as students who are angry and trying to sort out why and Oswin Benjamin helps us to see beyond our expected stereotypes of rappers. Blank even finds a way for all of the supporting characters to travel along their own story arc without taking away from the focal point of Radha’s character.

“The Forty-Year-Old Version” finds and implements the right rhythm and pace to tell a familiar and relatable story of a woman trying to find her own voice as she recalls her youthful goals. With a powerful ending filled with awe and even a touch of humor, Blank reminds us of the importance for all of us to “find your own voice.” #FYOV

3 1/2 Stars

“Abe” creates food for thought in this family film

April 16th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Abe” creates food for thought in this family film”

Food. It’s an art form, a science, and a language, many say a language of love. Young Abe (Noah Schnapp “Stranger Things”) tries to use his yet-unrefined but passionate culinary skills to bring his Jewish mom and Muslim father and their in-laws together. Will his love of food communicate the desired effects? This sweet and succulent film delves into the difficulties of uniting polar opposite religions, but somehow keeps it relatively light as Noah finds his identity.


Abe, an introverted yet bold 12 year-old boy, lives in New York City with his parents. We meet Abe making his own birthday cake, a task he relishes. With voice over, we get a glimpse into his personality and his intellect as he recites the substitution of cream of tartar and baking soda to replicate baking powder. As his parents seem to give him great leeway in what he does and identifying Abe’s desires to become a chef, they enroll him in a kids’ cooking class. Abe, however, is no ordinary kid and ditches the camp, unbeknownst to his parents, and instead seeks out his cooking idol, Chico (Seu Jorge), a Brazilian fusion chef.

Cooking is an escape for Abe as he attempts to make his very divided family happy. Raised in a secular home, but continually exposed to the pressure of choosing Judaism over being Muslim or no religion at all, it seems Abe can’t make anyone happy including himself. As any youngster can attest to, watching your parents fight is difficult, especially as Abe feels he is the focal point of the arguments. And with this guilt, Abe tries to fix it through food.

“Abe” thoughtfully uses food as a vehicle to learn about two warring countries, Palastine and Israel, and the traditions important to each of them. As Abe’s love of cooking seems to be a part of his DNA, he spends time with his paternal grandmother and also embraces the recipes and memories left behind by his maternal grandmother. Abe is always thinking and creating. He’s certainly ahead of the curve compared to other 12 year-olds, but his understanding of the world and his experiences confirm his age as he pushes the boundaries, rebells, and grows.

Relationships are at the core of this film, but it is the relationship between Chico and Abe that is the glue that binds this story together. Chico reluctantly allows Abe in his pop-up kitchen to learn the ropes, but Chico teaches him much more than just how to wash dishes, take out the trash, and begin to do the prep work. Abe learns about cultures, traditions, and how to meld them together into palate-pleasing works of art. Chico is that one steady person in Abe’s life to give him the guidance and resiliency to deal with his family’s escalating situation. And one person dependable person is exactly what Abe needs.

Schnapp portrays Abe skillfully. His awkward confidence rising to the surface, Schnapp gives Abe the right balance of emotion and internal conflict while never going over-the-top. Mark Margolis’ role of Benjamin, his Jewish unflinching and bitter grandfather adds the element of unforgiving cynicism countered by the hilarious off-the-cuff comments from Ari (Daniel Oreskes), his Jewish uncle. Seu Jorge, however, stands out in this film as Chico as he develops not only a believable character as a new-age chef, but as a mentor and friend to Abe.

“Abe” isn’t your typical family film as it does something most do not—addresses the complicated topics of history, politics, and religion and their effects upon relationships. The balance in the story is key to making sure that we understand the inner workings of this family, but also find solace, just like Abe, in cooking and learning about the craft. There’s plenty of humor in this film as well as Abe posts on Instagram and makes a few mistakes along the way. With all the right ingredients, “Abe” is an uplifting and entertaining film with just the right amount of zest. It just might inspire you to try a few new dishes at home given your new-found culinary knowledge!

3 1/2 Stars

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era”

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is the third film by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky to address the environment, preceded by “Manufactured Landscapes” (2006) and “Watermark” (2013). The film, narrated in layman’s terms by Alicia Vikander, gives us a stunning visual education of our current world’s state as we leave behind the Halocene Era, one which nature provides changes, to the Anthropocene Era, where man is responsible for all of them.

The opening scene is visually gripping as you are drawn to the flames like a moth that fill every corner of the screen, mesmerizing you with its beauty. You then find the source of the flames which engulf your visual field. The beauty quickly turns to horror and this visual slight of hand pattern occurs throughout the film. What initially is gorgeously striking suddenly comes into comprehensible view to create a disturbing image. It perfectly imitates our own consciousness as we are at first ignorant about issues, but then, with information, we are awakened and see things for what they truly are.

Baichwal and Burtynsky takes us on an extraordinary journey through time and around the world to explore and explain the effects of mankind on our world. Chapter by chapter, beginning with “Extraction,” we understand how our need for earth’s resources have inadvertently depleted other necessary resources. We start in Russia at a huge metal factory. To fuel the fire, trees are cut, but that is a source of oxygen not to mention the benefits of helping with processing carbon dioxide. There’s a delicate balance that has been tipped too far in one direction as the community depends on this plant for wages, but at the same time it’s hurting them. This juggling act, understanding and caring for our environment while attempting to give people a way to support themselves is always at the forefront as is the gluttony and greed, and the land is losing.

This is the theme throughout the film as we travel to Carrara, Italy and witness the extraction of the finest marble in the world. Seen from high above as a gorgeous symmetrical design we plunge more closely and our breath is taken away by the image that lies before us. This cinematic accentuation upon the narration clearly defines the irrevocable damage upon our planet. From the phosphate mines in Florida to the grinding jaws of machinery in Germany which appear like monsters rising above the clouds, we see a land that replicates a scene from “Mad Max” or “Mortal Engines.” There’s a sense of hopelessness at what has been lost.

The film looks at this new era of man, dissecting how we have impacted climate change and extinction of animals. Interviews with residents, employees, and those who are stepping up in an effort to make a difference, save endangered species, or protect our current state from getting worse, support the underlying feel of an emergency. For example, the president of Kenya eloquently states, “…blessings come with duties” as he refers to the land and the gracious endangered species of elephants and rhinoceroses roam the land. As we extrapolate the information, it is evident that our own demise or extinction is eminent. This is a warning tale, an eye-opening, riveting masterpiece of art and story that shakes your soul as it hopefully alarms you into action.

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is masterfully detailed, captivating you visually with a subtle yet haunting musical layer to tell a difficult yet necessary story. From streets comprised of compressed trash surrounded by mountains of rubbish looking serene from high above and plats of water that reflect a contemplative neon green to rocky striations of reds, blues, purples and whites, appearing like ancient stone carvings only to be revealed as a signature of our chemical times and the imprint upon the earth’s surface. There’s an artistry in our devastation making it even more disturbing as you initially find beauty in it.

“Anthropocene” The Human Epoch” is a wake up call. A call to action. A call to awareness. And a plea to understand how we have left the Halocene Epoch and are now in an era of man’s giant and crushing footprint upon our world. The film’s beauty is undeniable as are the horrors it reveals. This is one of the most visually arresting and informative films about our world and our future.

For more information about the film at the Sundance Film Festival, go to SUNDANCE.ORG



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