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Also included are films that include ethnic/cultural or historic fantasy that may be factually supported by contemporary oral tradition, though may be considered legend or myth by others. In no particular order, of course, selected of those I've chosen to see thus far.
The Reluctant Landlord (2018)
Very unlikeable main character
I'm often looking for shorter comedy shows that are different than the US norm, and British humor and locations can be quite interesting. I can like dry humor also, but Romesh comes over as extremely unlikeable, the type of person I would never want to be around, so I don't want to watch them either. Always rude, often insulting and laconic to the point of boredom, with supporting characters portrayed as daft, at best. I watched through 4 episodes to see if the tone or chemistry would improve, but no. Dropped.
Hibiscus & Ruthless (2018)
Light-hearted and Passably Enjoyable
"Hibiscus & Ruthless" will be no Academy Award nominee, it's true. It understandably is full of Kiwi & Pacific Islander humor and accents, which can often be quite dry and tongue-in-cheek. Sometimes this comes over as "wooden" to Americans, though outstanding actor and director Taika Waititi is known for similar one-liners, in his still upwardly mobile distinquished career.
Hibiscus, one of the main characters, her family, and most supporting characters are indigenous Pacific Islanders, and this is basically a "slice of life" story about her and a young female friend who have very different personalities, growing into young womanhood. There's the contrast between Hibicus's mother's strict traditional rules and a good and dutiful daughter who naturally just wants to have some fun, too. There's a good bit of comedy, some romance, and a few interesting scenes featuring Islander life, colorful dances and performances. I rated it a 6 for those particular elements.
It's not a waste of time by any means. It's light-hearted, passably enjoyable if you're not looking for Twilight level angst and drama, superheroes or guns blazing. Spamming 1 star reviews, boosting/reducing and copy/pasting comments of "this is a dumb and forgettable" film is unfortunately widespread these days, and they should be taken with a grain of salt.
Spandex sapiens (2015)
Love as common denominator
I found the documentary to be rather slow moving but effective in establishing one of the main protagonists opinions, viewpoints and lifestyle that affects their in-ring persona. The reality is understood that the abrasiveness, the nearly toxic masculinity they displayed is simply themselves. Their vulnerability is apparent, too, and the willingness to be seen that way at times, if it serves their goals. I had almost stopped watching, however, until the other protagonists's story intersected with then became intertwined.
Jessica was immediately engaging, as least to me anyway. You could feel their desire, their committment and...goodness, is the first word that comes to mind. Obviously, they've overcome personal and professional struggles and they want to be good at their chosen craft, that of making an audience believe in and cheer for them in the ring, as well as out of the ring for the right reasons.
There are some fanciful wrestling scenes included that was really fun but serious at the same time. You never lose the seriousness of how important this is for both wrestlers. You see how a new dramatic story evolves that comes to include both of them surprisingly fighting on the same side. Overall, I think it's several minutes overlong, that's the only critique I had, but it's a solid documentary overall.
Indigenous Perspective From Indigenous People Isn't a Cliché It's their Truth
It is entirely too easy for anyone to rate films like this. Rate them low or mediocre, to critique on the child actors who have only a few seconds on screen, to try to say indigenous peoples used clichés about themselves (patently absurd because it is self-knowledge not a stereotype), the sound levels or camera angles. Not that there might not be legitimate technical complaints in a film such as this. I am not from the community of the main peoples portrayed, but I am a person of color with indigenous heritage, who has researched, live and learned more than average of accurate history and the connection of things like invasion, colonization, forced assimilation and appropriation and how it affected the native populations. So much of the western society are oblivious to this reality or they downplay it with derision as they live on land that was stolen. Places where the Original peoples still struggle, not because they are monolithic or incapable, but because they were profoundly interrupted by Europeans then, if surviving genocide, now live with discrimination, stereotyping on in their own land but where everything around them, from lessons taught in school or the cabbie who makes this pay first unlike white customers, is strategically or inadvertently made to lessen them. Most do not see how all of these things are interconnected, and the dysfunctions, the abuses, the deaths while not directly their fault, they benefit from and their presence and willful privilege minimizes. And so, when a profound story is told from an indigenous perspective, unless it somehow reaches or emulates a Euro-created interpretation of indigenous issues, it is deemed passé, always compared to a baseline of Eurocentricity.
The series of short films are terrific in it's portrayal of the ranges of reactions to the death of a small boy of a very interconnected and interactive community. Such an unfortunate event can occur in any community around the world, any social level, but this gain insight into a Maori community with the complexity of needs, accents, prejudices and posturing...or complete honesty that happen in the aftermath of such a tragedy. Take with empathy, respect what the director and participants, which although a fictional film, draws from deeply personal, painful experiences. But that doesn't matter just like my review, and basic entreaty to be empathetic and a Human Being. A message of indigenous reality to mainstream Euro-ruled society in places like the US and New Zealand, which needs to nbe heard and understood, is too often rejectedor minimized because of having privilege to ignore it or use terms like "awful cliché", when that shows they do not even understand the difference when someone from WITHIN a community presents themselves as they see it, and when someone not from that community, like non-indigenous use a stereotype to describe the indigenous.
Bullet Head (2017)
Immersive if you allow the experience
For those of us who have watched Brody and Malkovich films and not only appreciated their immense talents, but also respected their free will. For those of us who respect and appreciate their acting abilities and presence that draws viewers into whatever roll they are playing, whatever the vehicle, we might appreciate the story might be more believable, better directed or realized, but it is rare you doubt the actors themselves. Even if the vehicle is...a bit strange or problematic. I liked the film well enough, it wasn't a waste of time, as I liked the dialogues between the two, and the style of showing flashbacks visualizing their revelries was smoothly done. For me, it didn't detract or disrupt the flow. That being said, the story didn't have great depth. It was a "slice of life" in a trio of career criminals day who were interrupted by a dog with issues. which viewers are given a glimpse into.
As some others have said, I thought the perspective of the dog was very well done, to help viewers better understand their perspective, even if overall the premise was almost comedic, but perhaps that was the mission of the writer carried out by the director. If so, it was fulfilled nicely. I've never seen Cujo. I've never seen Reservoir Dogs either. I think it doesn't matter, as they say, "comparisons are odious." The characters of Malkovich and Brody had good conversations and solid presence thoroughout. Their choice in the roles on a clearly non-Oscar worthy script will, of course, be debated by known critics and armchair criticizers, but the emotional aspects of the characters? I can understand why they took the roles. Besides they maybe liked each other, the director, or whatever else. To me, it was far from a waste of time. Another Kulkin, wasn't terrible either, but predictable, as the inevitable conclusion of the story takes place.
The Stakelander (2016)
Another "slice of life" in post-apoc vampire style
This sequel picks of the story of Martin, at least a few years after the first film, where 'following yet another great tragedy in his short life, he seeks to find "Mister" again, the man who had taken him in as a teenager and taught him how to fight vampires and take care of himself. Martin begins this new journey through mostly desolate regions where it's as dangerous to trust an "unturned" human, as it is to fight the ravenous undead.
This time around, the character Martin had a little more grit, depth and emotion, but I was still rather underwhelmed. Not terribly so, in that you can understand the "shellshock" due to his great personal losses, and hence a kind of detachment regarding anything except fighting and killing. "Mister", the unnamed aging vampire fighter played by Nick Damici, the writer of the story, is as intense and believable as ever, and the best part about the film in my opinion. Some old friends of "Mister" provide more backstory of his history, which content is not unexpected but welcome, and eventually influences the ending of the tale at this time.
There's a fair amount of blood and gore, a couple of surprises, and a revenge element that connects both of the main characters, as the necessity and burden of fighting for survival nearly becomes too much for each. I rated it a 7 mostly on Damici's performance, as the storyline is typical for post-apocalyptic vampire/undead movies, and the cinematography was pretty good. It's definitely worth a watch if you liked the first film, and you wanted to see what happened to Martin and "Mister".
The Night Stalker (2016)
Chilling and Sad
Richard Ramirez, the Satan worshiping "Night Stalker", was someone whose crimes and life I was required to study years ago, one of other serial killers for a criminal justice class. He stood out at one of the more understandable, among the many I researched both from personal and academic interest, because of his background: traumatized in several ways from an early age. Ultimately, however, his crimes were horrendous, extreme and effectively should end any sympathetic tendencies towards him as a convicted criminal who confessed to many of his crimes.
Engrossing, chilling and brilliantly acted by Phillips, Ramirez was "Brought to life" with all his cold intelligence and vulnerabilities in place. The subtle expressions, or at times lack thereof, the shift of eyes, the sudden violence. I felt his performance wasn't quite matched by Bellamy Young, but she was entirely believable. She played the lawyer Katherine "Kit", trying to get a confession from him about a crime another was wrongly accused of. The film revolves around the conflict between the two, as she seeks to gain his trust to draw more details of his crimes, which he astutely ascertained, and he to gain something from her he was denied in prison: a female victim he could exploit for his own needs. He sensed vulnerabilities beneath her cool self-assured facade, and sought them out, whether from simple curiosity or true malignancy is for the viewer to decide.
Ramirez' history, his background and the traumas and events directly influencing what he became were shown through flashbacks, a wise choice considering Phillips age, and since he was portraying the killer shortly before his death. The young Ramirez' performance was okay, and the vaguely seen crimes and his eventual capture were understated but at the same time dramatic.
Though many details were left out about the crimes, and the most atmospheric part of the events: the intensity of the hot weather when most occurred was mostly absent, just references or dialogue. I felt that should have played more of a factor in filming, but overall "The Night Stalker" was well done. Rewatchable at least once, to catch nuances one may miss, a quick scene or glance from the characters eyes, I feel most viewers may be left with the truth of the matter. That it was a tragedy all around, absolutely for the victims, but also for Ramirez as a child and young teen. Sympathy for the terrorizing adult, a cruel rapist and murderer? No way.
Waffle Street (2015)
Definitely a likable "Slice of Life"
As a non-Anglo professional person, having degrees which I worked hard to obtain, throughout I also worked in restaurant service and later as a chef to support those endeavors, so the premise of the film appealed to me for several reasons. Mostly because I work in what is considered to be a cerebral, academic field now where there are times you never have any personal connection with or support for or from colleagues, as compared to the team atmosphere in good kitchens.
But in kitchens/restaurants I've seen them: the "wealthy" or privileged who lost their jobs having to "slum it" in places and with people they might have been polite to when being served but never considered otherwise. They never thought of them at all beyond what they needed at the moment, as people with other goals, professions or may have been artists, writers, very creative people that needed to support themselves in the gastronomy or hospitality business.
It's a fictionalized account of a memoir, a comedy/drama designed to present the main character as sympathetic, and in that I felt they succeeded.Though Jimmy's attitude was, of course, about finding a job to support his now growing family he never looked down or slighted any of the other workers. Never the dreaded and ugly superiority complex for menial tasks. Some reviewers have pointed out, however, he got it easier because of his background to be accepted and trusted in such a position. I don't disagree at all, but some films don't need overthinking.
I didn't feel there was any agenda here to make him some kind of hero, though there is the reality in the US of the WMC having things easier because everything was built to support and facilitate and protect them. Sometimes though? Just watch the movie. The labels of redemption, etc.? Redemption from what? The character's statement of his background, his schooling and yes, privilege might be vexing to some but it was just the truth. If you don't like what was presented and how, help change America to where there is equality away from the century spanning oppression and privilege. Help change the presentation in film too, otherwise: face the facts. He couldn't have changed who were his parents any more than anyone else, but it is what he does with the privilege that's important. He still respected and treated others well, listened to them, tried to help. Whether it succeeded later was immaterial. We were just presented a "slice of life." Jimmy lost a big job from his own culpability then went to work in a comparatively "lesser" job from the perspective of his parents and former colleagues, but found he liked it better as it was entirely more honest. One wishes more WMC might have such an awakening and the country and world would be a better place.
Danny Glover was a nice but typical mentor, but it was a far better role than many he's recently played in low budget/rating action films. Otherwise, the acting was okay in general, and nothing special about the filming or location but I liked it. Yes, there were very stereotypical portrayals of minority people that lessened the whole. That crap really isn't necessary to be comical, and it just unnecessarily brought the film down a couple of levels to maybe get a laugh or two, but I liked the main characters. They were believable. The story wasn't anything new but it was an hour and a half of likability. Also was nice to see "Beetroot McKinley" again.
Born to Dance (2015)
A Fun Feel Good Film
Not a fan of hip-hop music or dancing, but I wanted to watch this film because of the Maori Auckland connection. With the "coming of age" billing and the family factor, a single dad taking care of his adolescent son with dreams of making it big if accepted into the K-Crew dance team, it appealed to me personally, too. Tu learns, however, that along with the "big time" comes betrayal and the reality of the "winning at all costs" method many "top" performers in whatever dance field consider SOP. The story is common, but the acting is believable. I'm still no fan of the music/dance genre but it was a fun film with a little romance, a little drama and a "feel good" message and ending: make new friends but stand with the loyal bros who always have your back.
A Time-Passer but Little More
I found this film searching roles of Lawrence Makoare, who is J.T., the security guard for the facility. The premise is one that's been done many times before: scientists studying something and things go wrong whether through their choices, the study subject itself or an outside force. Irritation simmers between two of the three scientists, only one of whom is even half way believable in the profession, and belief systems and religion is at the heart of the disagreement. The argument is exacerbated as they discover what might be new life developing.
Camera-work is very amateurish at times, but I gathered that was the intent:, as the story is filmed rather as a "day-in-the-life-of" as you see characters going about their work. Eventually, there is an obvious attempt to suggest all is not right at this facility with its many no-go zones and hazardous spots. When outside concerted efforts, highly suspicious and vaguely threatening despite the subjects quotation of Bible verse, everyone becomes concerned. Security cameras are methodically blacked out after showing intruders moving through the building and we are soon introduced to "their" philosophy about the enforcement of their god's will. Thus begins the scientists' need to forget their differences, cooperate and somehow survive. Viewers are supplied with a twist, however, if you keep watching.
Admittedly, acting seems rather stiff, alternating between over and under, but like many such productions, the script itself was limiting and uninspired. Much is assumed to be understood, as the concept isn't complex, but having some character background and build-up for the motivation of this scientific siege would have gone a long way in making this better and engaging viewers. I felt Makoare was later brilliant in "The Dead Lands" (2015), speaking his native language, but was ordinary in "Fundamental" (2012). Just the same, it was watchable, surpassing a few other low budget sci-fi (almost) thrillers, but just nothing remarkable. If you have 120 mins to spare for an "occasional glance" type flick and expectations aren't too high, "Fundamental" isn't the worst choice.
Stylish but serious
Dissonance shows the curious nature of the modern German mindset. Old thoughts and beliefs, the quickness to label and categorize, dismissive of the possibility of error. An example: the daughter saying her father said he would teach her how to play the piano and the mother say no, he can't, how is that possible: "He wouldn't live on the streets if he were so capable". Then you have those who are quite open, so open, they accept any and all frames of thought and ways, which can be good and bad. That's a societal introspective from a non-German who was born and lived in Germany for many years.
However, the personal aspect of the story creatively presents a situation that can happen in families most anyplace they are in the world, whatever background: the parents have separated because of some real or perceived failing on the other's part. One parent feels they must protect the child from the "failed" parent. Sometimes they really do need to, at others, it is as an imagined a danger as the pianist father's animated psychotic fears of the world, which he shares with a stuffed animal. It's all he has physically left of his daughter. This stuffed animal shares his world, interactive and observant but silent, until when sadly put aside by the pianist who sadly accepts he will no longer be allowed in, the toy tells his own story.
Dissonance was stylishly, beautifully done. Very simple in a way, but profound, thoughtful, sad and hopeful at the same time. The daughter naturally yearned for her father, but the mother's acceptable fears vs. the father's misunderstood fears, would likely keep them apart too long. The father, whose daughter meant so much to him, seemed ready to succumb to loneliness, his psychotic difference and "The Edge" he had avoided for so long.
In Football We Trust (2015)
It Has Heart
Family means a lot to Polynesian cultures, but sometimes family can feel like a blessing and a curse. Especially under these circumstances, with so much at stake for adolescents still prone to mistakes in judgment, who may make bad choices but have so much hope and responsibility on their shoulders.
I've not been an American football watcher for well over a decade, though I used to follow it closely. I listed away because it began to feel so contrived, just about the money, about team names, not the individuals. Or rather too much about the individual: the showboating, the attitudes and self-entitlement. Although it's unlikely I'll ever go back to actively watching, this film inspired me to again selectively follow the careers of some players because it highlighted their drive, desire, and love for the game, their determination to succeed not just for themselves, but to support their communities. It also showed how the pressure to succeed, both from schools, teams and their families, can bring push them to breaking point.
The four players have great support from their Islander roots, mothers strongly backing their sons, especially in that most of them have come from very humble, even desperate conditions: gang violence, personal losses. Families didn't have money to see their sons play, but traded work for tickets, cleaning up whole stadiums each week. "We don't have the money," one mother said, "but we have the heart."
The film touches on several subjects interrelated to life as a football player of Pacific Islander descent such as interracial dating, differences of religious beliefs and wanting to move beyond them. Others are the challenges of finally getting money above just survival level and how to navigate the colleges and leagues were exploitation can be an issue. It was filmed over four years, progressively showing how the four players improve, change, in possible good or bad ways, and their motivations, desires, fears, angers, and what is most important to them: Family.
In a straightforward way, "In Football We Trust" shows how complicated life can be, especially as immigrants from a very different culture coming to live in communities radically different than back home just to play football. Stereotyping, culture clash, the pressure to win at any cost, not just for themselves but for their families can be at times overwhelming and occasionally rewarding. A solid documentary for those interested in the culture and topic.
The Revenant (2015)
An Excellent Film
With its portrayal of life spend in nature, the shifts between intense action and often tedious but necessary patient waiting and work, "The Revenant" was rumored to be an unforgettable film centered on Leonard DiCaprio's performance and it delivered. "The Revenant" is directed by Mexico-born Alejandro González Iñárritu, an award-winning writer, director and producer born, an artist known for works highlighting the complexity of human motivations and needs. Self-described as music more often influencing for his work than other films, one easily discerned this in his latest offering for it was like watching a movie equivalent of a symphony: slow movements, a rising crescendo, and at last a finalé and resolution.
There have been survival dramas in the past, and the closest equivalent I can think of is "Jeremiah Johnson" (1972), whose titular character was played by Robert Redford. A similar theme of vengeance against those who wronged and murdered his adopted native family is central, as well as the poignant ending. DiCaprio's character Hugh Glass was left to die after a bear attack, though mostly because his former comrades rationalize this eventuality is best to save themselves from threatening natives. Thomas Hardy's character, John Fitzgerald, is most outspoken to abandon Glass along with a half native son, whose people and all natives John deeply hates. However, he volunteers to stay behind to witness Glass' passing, but as soon as the others leave his rancor is made evident to both Glass and his son.
Unlike most movies in the past, whether it was entirely absent or confusingly presented, "The Revenant" includes a European character who identifies with or lived in the "native" world, and Glass' visions of his deceased native wife strengthens his resolve to find his murderous betrayer despite life-threatening injuries. That special connection keeps him going, but it also keeps him from losing himself in mindless hatred and ultimately useless revenge. This quest is the central theme, and his journey through beautiful but treacherous for the unwise and unskilled landscapes provide some of the most "catch your breath" scenes in recent film.
I felt the material, pacing and progression was seamless for the type of story although some critics and viewers have remarked negatively, confused and distracted by Glass' "flashbacks" or "mystic reveries" of the past. Without need for dialogue or description, key details and events showcase the ugly truths of European invasion and colonization of North America and the brutalization of its peoples whose negative after-effects continue to this very day.
Although DiCaprio is far and away the central star with a powerful performance in which viewers can immerse themselves, Hardy's supporting performance is so strong you utterly believe him as the despicable coward and cold-blooded killer John Fitzgerald. Domhnall Gleeson is also entirely believable as young Captain Henry, the pragmatic leader of the original fur gathering expedition, who later tries to bring Fitzgerald to justice.
The title, "The Revenant" is apt, suggestively setting the mood and demonstrating the story by description: "a person who returns, especially and supposedly from the dead" yet that doesn't describe just DiCaprio's character alone. What seems a simple, direct story based on true events has been given multi-layers of meaning for those willing to look beyond the surface or pay open-minded attention throughout its near three hour runtime. 9/10
A "Slice of Life" Drama Exploring Connections
At times a little disjointed, "Matariki" is the story of how lives can coincide just through one violent act then overlap and metamorphosize into a new network of connections.
Everyone has their struggles, their strengths and weaknesses in this "slice of life" drama, and we see a common thread of wanting and needing love, of belonging, of being accepted for who and what they are. Sometimes it works out, at other times it doesn't, but more often they just don't really know what to do and things just happen...but they keep trying, however.
Each of the actors believably portrayed their characters: a gay couple living their lives with regular ridicule, a young couple with a baby imminently due that neither wanted in the first place, a mentally challenged man whose dog is his greatest friend, and a couple of teenagers just wanting to get away from the rules and misunderstanding with their parents. The central focus is the act of violence that has left a Maori former sport star in serious condition, his Anglo wife by his bedside. Never having felt accepted by his family before, nevertheless this potential tragedy may bring them together.
While not the most in-depth storyline, the simplicity of the direction, the pacing and subtle points of motive revelations are satisfying, and the climax very emotional. "Matakiri" doesn't try to be too much or full of itself. No over or underacting, and a few really poignant moments with standout scenes by Iaheto Ah Hi as "Tyrone".
I gave it a solid 7 out of 10, as I realize the director was perhaps focusing more on the relationships formed and changed by the attack, you can't help but wish a resolution as a viewer regarding the perpetrators. This is one I would also rewatch, which isn't always the case even with films I like.
The Last Saint (2014)
Intense "Coming of Age" Drama
Minka lives in a home where his mother obviously loves him, but who suffers from emotional and mental disorders due to PTSD and intergenerational trauma. She has long attempted to self-medicate through substance abuse, triggering episodes where she terrorized and abused her son leaving him traumatized as well. Like many children in such homes, however, he is deeply devoted to her, serving as a keeper, a parent, his childhood lost through having to take care of both her and himself, a lonely existence.
When his long absent father Joe returns offering him work, his mother having used all their funds on drugs, Minka accepts, not knowing what it really involves. Soon, the reality of the 'requirements' hits hard, leaving Minka between the proverbial 'rock and a hard place'. While he might gain a sense of belonging through the gang and attempts at 'normalizing the family, the 'live skills' Joe attempts to teach him and the casual, terrible violence and aggression often involved makes him question where will it all end. When tragedy occurs, Minka finds the answer for himself.
An emotional, intense "coming of age" drama that pointedly looks into the complexities and complications of life as a minority, but which anyone might suffer: that even as a youth, you are more often required to make brutal adult choices when all you want is a life like anyone else. A movie about the substitutions one makes when basic life needs are absent: the freedom to have a childhood, a nurturing home and regard as a human being simply wanting to belong and be loved.
The film was very hard to watch at times because it brought up memories of growing up, of seeing people and places like this, so it is authentic in that, and brilliantly acted by young Beulah Koale.
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Unforgettable For a Variety of Reasons
Russell, Fox and Jenkins give realistic, believable portrayals in their roles. Facing danger and death with the stoicism and dry wit historically attributed to many European settlers, as well as the historic though understated bigotry towards any non-whites one character voiced. Russell was on-point, his expressions and reactions excellent as Sheriff Hunt, and his "back-up" deputy Chicory played by Richard Jenkins and he had personal dynamics that really made the film.
Deaths were very, very graphic both visually and audibly in a stark brutally simplistic way. There is nothing of comedic horror in this film, of absurdity or "bloodshed for fun". The setting, the "reality" of their situation were harsh and horrific in the exact sense of that word, and though tagged as "horror" in genre, it's not one I would personally apply. While I didn't care for the typical "settler heroes" vs. "savages" theme, the comment by a Native American in the film, "Those are not MY people!" provided some relevant clarity and truth that all indigenous are not homogeneous, in past or present.
The only irritating part I found was Lili Simmons' "Mrs. O'Dwyer": a naturally young, very beautiful and highly skilled doctor who has lived in the west with her husband but still has to ask, "Are those gunshots?" Along with the end song, after setting such a gritty, touching western of determined courage in the face the unknown, those two aspects lessened the film from a higher rating for me. For those not used to or cannot handle such graphic visuals, the story itself is compelling enough to close your eyes at those points, because you don't want to miss this unforgettable tale.