Friday, March 1, 2024
Monday, February 26, 2024
Huge in scale, long in the telling (166 minutes). and sporting arcane references from author Frank Herbert's landmark 1965 sci-fi novel, Dune: Part II has arrived. Don’t fret. Director Denis Villeneuve, who released Part One in 2023, delivers a movie with enough visionary heft and action to justify its epic scope.
Thursday, February 22, 2024
I’m late to the party reviewing director Wim Wenders' Perfect Days, which had its premiere at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, traveled the fall festival circuit, and finally found its way to theaters.
Perfect Days is about noticing the unnoticed. If you were to see a person meticulously cleaning toilets would you ask yourself, "What is the totality of this person’s life?"
Subsequent questions might follow: Is this person humiliated by what might be regarded as “lowly” work? Is he ever disgusted by it? Does he aspire to more? Does his work breed contempt for those who create the dirt he strives to eliminate?
Wenders applied his imagination to the task, and, in so doing, has created a movie that only hints at answers. Hirayama is a bit of a blank, a character defined by a series of small actions and routine.
Hirayama awakens at the same time everyday. He trims his mustache before leaving his small apartment, furnished with bookshelves, a sleeping mat and not much else. The plants he waters are his only companions.
Each morning, Hirayama buys a drink from a vending machine, boards his truck, and drives to work. En route, he listens to tapes of rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s. He lives in a world of oldies.
On the job, Hirayama has minimal interactions with a more voluble co-worker (Tokio Emoto). When he breaks for lunch in a surrounding park, he takes photos of the swaying tree tops.
Contrary to expectation, Hirayama isn’t a hermit or misanthrope. He’s a loner, taking his evening meals in an underground mall restaurant. He bathes at a public bathhouse. He doesn't seem lonely.
When the film brings Hirayama into contact with a niece (Arisa Nakano), he's unexpectedly open. He later meets with the sister from whom he’s estranged. It's clear that she represents something he wants no part of.
Whatever the reasons for Hirayama's rejection of his earlier life, he has reduced his days to repetition and pattern. Rather than presenting him with suffocating constriction, his choices seem to have made life manageable, maybe even deeper.
Consider: There's much to be gained by simply observing the same trees every day, watching light bounce around their leaves or observing how wind changes their posture. If Hirayama were an artist, no one would find his behavior odd.
Maybe all we need to know is this: Hirayama had one kind of life. Now, he has another. He lives with concentrated attention in a city that affords him the anonymity he seems to need.
We can't fully understand what all this means to Hirayama, and Wenders mostly keeps it that way. If he's an outsider, so, too, are we.
Or maybe I'm overthinking this. Maybe all Wenders is doing is answering a simple question: How does one man live? It's enough for a movie that resists the usual dramatic touchstones, opting instead for singularity, an undiluted look at a man thoroughly committed to the choices he’s made.
Friday, February 16, 2024
Bob’s Cinema Diary: February 16, 2024 -- 'God & Country,' a documentary, and 'Monolith, a drama set in one location
Religion and politics can make for a toxic mix, something the founding fathers of our enduring but often wobbly nation understood. Director Dan Partland, in a documentary produced by Rob Reiner, delves into the fervor that lights the Christian Nationalist fire. Does Partland's God & Country preach to the secular choir? Not entirely. Some of the best voices in this volatile documentary are raised by people of faith, notably Rev. William Barber, New York Times columnist David French, author Jamar Tisby, historian Anthea Butler, and sister Simone Campbell, a nun, lawyer, and activist. An equal number of fiery voices spout their nationalist convictions with tub-thumping fury. The gist of their proclamations include the claim of direct instructions from God, the assertion that the U.S. is a Christian nation, pro forma condemnations of abortion and Joe Biden, as well as unwavering allegiance to the MAGA movement. Served in large doses, so much Christian Nationalism will leave many viewers fearful about a country founded on the genius idea that church and state should be separate. I don't think Partland aims to change any minds. Instead, he sounds a warning about Christian Nationalism and explains its origins, linking it to racism inflamed by school desegregation. Put another way, the film sounds an alarm for everyone who subscribes to a common sense bromide, "You go to your church. I'll go to mine." To which I'd add, "or no church at all." Partland's incendiary documentary reminds us that if the US falls apart, it won't be because of any external enemy; it will be because of intense factionalism, in this case represented by extreme Christian Nationalism.
Monolith focuses on a disgraced journalist (Lily Sullivan) who’s licking her wounds at her parents' isolated but austere home. In an effort to reclaim her reputation, Sullivan's character (referred to only as The Interviewer) dives into the turbulent waters of podcasting. She works on Beyond Belief, a series in which she applies investigative skills to oddball stories. She interviews characters (always heard and never seen) in pursuit of a story that will reopen doors for her. Early on, she encounters a woman who tells her about a 20-year-old event involving a rift with the wealthy family for whom she worked. At the heart of the story: a mysterious black brick that contains indecipherable writings and exposes those who possess them (there's more than one brick) to bizarre visions. A warning from aliens? Obscure art objects? Australian director Matt Vesely blurs the line between reality and paranoia, and fabrication and truth, putting Sullivan’s character into an increasingly agitated state. He opens up a one-woman show by allowing his camera to explore the house, observe the journalist’s computer screen, listen to her phone calls, and see the many text messages she receives. Monolith ultimately works better as a character study of a desperate woman than as a fully realized sci-fi thriller, but credit Vesely with getting further than you might expect from a minimalist approach.
Tuesday, February 13, 2024
Monday, February 12, 2024
Aside from a stop as one the Kens in Barbie, British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir might be en route to an icon-centered career. In Regina King's One Night in Miami, Ben-Adir gave an almost bookish spin to his portrayal of Malcolm X. Now, he appears as Bob Marley in director Reinaldo Marcus Green's Bob Marley: One Love.
Friday, February 9, 2024
How to Have Sex should not be mistaken for a big-screen instruction manual for those hoping to spice up life in the bedroom. Director Molly Manning Walker delivers a movie that's less libidinous than woozy with drink, partying, drugs, and excess. The story, if it can be called that, begins when three British teens (Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake, and Enva Lewis) arrive in Greece for a bust-out, post-exams holiday. The girls are determined to have sex, or so they say, and McKenna-Bruce's Tara aims to lose her virginity, a reversal of the usual adolescent boy ploy. Two boys (Shaun Thomas and Samuel Bottomley) soon figure into the mix. The movie immerses us among partying teenagers whose lives unfold against an incessant baseline beat. At first, the girls operate at party peak but something must shatter the upbeat throb of drunken teenage mania. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that the sex Tara finds has nothing to do with love, affection or even pleasure. McKenna-Bruce's performance deepens as the movie progresses. She hasn't done well on the exams that determine whether she’ll be college-bound. No amount of diversion can conceal her future, and it's possible we're meant to think that Tara finally attains some form of realization. Maybe How to Have Sex is a telling picture of young people, many of whom are on the cusp of ... well ... nothing much. Perhaps these kids party like there's no tomorrow because they can't envision one. Whatever Manning Walker had in mind, her movie struck me as too much of an ordeal. Mania has its place in movies but it also tends to breed exhaustion.