REVIEWS

Berlinale 2020: Burhan Qurbani's Phenomenal 'Berlin Alexanderplatz'

Berlin Alexanderplatz

"It's a sad and stupid thing to have to proclaim yourself a revolutionary just to be a decent man." What kind of world do we live in where being decent is an impossibility? That's the question this film answers. I had a good feeling about this beforehand, but it still exceeded my expectations in every possible way. I will never forget watching this at a packed press screening at 8 o'clock in the morning at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival. Burhan Qurbani's Berlin Alexanderplatz is an utterly phenomenal film, an astonishing work of profound cinema and empathetic storytelling that hit me deep in my gut. It is an epic saga in the life of one man, and one of the best examinations of modern Berlin and the way the city treats immigrants. It may be three hours long, but all of it is vital. There is not a single frame or any specific scene in this I would change.

Review: 'The Invisible Man' is a Sci-Fi Thriller About Real-Life Trauma

The Invisible Man Review

Almost every person I know has had that feeling. The bloodcurdling, anxious feeling of someone watching them. No matter what, you'll always feel shivers down your back and an unsettling atmosphere that doesn't want to leave. Elisabeth Moss' character in this movie, Cecilia Kass, knows precisely how it's like to be watched at all times. The Invisible Man, based on H.G. Wells' novel, and written & directed by Leigh Whannell, brings the new meaning to that feeling. Cecilia seems to have everything. A beautiful, modern house, a generous husband, a dog. Still, something makes her abandon her life in the middle of the night. After endless psychological and domestic abuse, a distressed woman leaves her husband (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and finds refuge at her friends' house (Aldis Hodge). But the nightmare only begins. Left with PTSD and depression, Cecilia is still tormented by what seems to be a ghost of Adrian. The woman must convince her friends and find a solution before the man (or whatever he is) utterly destroys her and her life.

 Posted February 26 in Horror, Review | Comments

Berlinale 2020: Jóhann Jóhannsson's Entrancing 'Last and First Men'

Last and First Men Review

The iconic Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson passed away with a few years ago, but he has left us with something timeless and extraordinary – an awe-inspiring work of cinematic brilliance, both aurally and visually. Last and First Men is a 70-minute documentary feature that Jóhannsson originally created as a visual piece to accompany his live concerts. The finished "documentary" film was put together by Icelandic producer Thor Sigurjonsson and Norwegian cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, and it has just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival – two years after his death. Maybe it helped that I was deliriously tired (film fest exhaustion) when I watched this but… This is one of the most entrancing cinematic experiences I have ever had. I feel like I stopped caring about time and was completely lost in the footage and the music and the words. My mind melded with the screen on this journey. I loved every last second of this experience.

Berlinale 2020: Riz Ahmed Raps & Reflects on Life in 'Mogul Mowgli'

Mogul Mowgli

This film is one of the finest discoveries at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival. Mogul Mowgli is an outstanding gem of a film, made authentically by genuine artists giving it their all. It's a remarkable relief to come across a film so surprising yet so entirely refreshing and engaging, an unforgettable experience to watch, and I can't help but rave about it when this happens. Mogul Mowgli is one of my favorite surprises at Berlinale this year. A few of my colleagues mentioned it as a film on their schedule and I looked it up, saw that it stars Riz Ahmed as a rapper, and decided to give it a look. I have high hopes that the film will find an audience outside of the film festival circuit, and connect with many people. It doesn't matter where you come from or what religion you follow, this film is about an artist wanting it all struggling with the painful realities of life.

Berlinale 2020: Kelly Reichardt's Film 'First Cow' is the Bakers' Delight

First Cow Review

I would really, really like an oily biscuit with honey and a touch of cinnamon after finishing this film. Please. First Cow is the latest feature made by American filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (of Old Joy, Meek's Cutoff, Night Moves). After initially premiering at the Telluride & New York Film Festivals last fall, it has made an appearance at the Berlin Film Festival this year showing as a European premiere in the main competition section. Set at the beginning of the 19th century in the rural Northwest (mainly in Oregon), the film is about a friendship and successful local business started by two lonely misfits. It's not just a film about a cow, it's not just a film about friends, and it's not just a film about the Northwest frontier. It has so much depth and heart and humility, an entirely wonderful film. I think I loved it, to be fully honest, which even surprises me.

Berlinale 2020: 'Minamata' Reminds of the Power of Photojournalism

Minamata Review

It is always important to shine a light on stories that remind us of the power of journalism. Not only about all the hard-working, courageous people committed to reporting the stories, but also about the impact it can have on the world. It also goes without saying that photojournalism is just as powerful, if not even moreso sometimes. One image can change the world. This is the ultimate value of this particular film, and the true story it tells. Minamata tells the story of renowned American photographer W. Eugene Smith, who went to Japan in the early 1970s to photograph the inhabitants of a small town being poisoned by a careless, greedy chemical corporation that had a dangerous factory there. It's a very moving, earnest film about the power of photography and the tenacity of journalists. And it won me over big time, unleashing all kinds of emotions.

Sundance 2020: Arthur Jones' Exceptional Doc Film 'Feels Good Man'

Feels Good Man Review

This is the wacky, weird, wild story of a goofy cartoon frog that became an anti-hero meme in the age of the internet. Feels Good Man is much more than a documentary about "Pepe the Frog". It's a documentary about this dangerous modern society we now live in, and how things have gotten seriously out of hand. It's a documentary about the internet, and how it has allowed billions of people to take control over anything they want, twisting stories and hijacking ideas to suit their own desires, their own ideologies. It's about how you "can't put the genie back in the bottle." It's about how hard it is to fight back against mob mentality fueled by the internet, and how hard it is to defend yourself since we seem to have reverted to the wild west online. Feels Good Man is, without a doubt, one of the best documentaries from the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

Review: Cathy Yan's Effervescent 'Birds of Prey' Flies High, Rules Hard

Birds of Prey Review

Created by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, Harley Quinn first appeared in Batman: The Animated Series in September of 1992. A psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, Dr. Harleen Quinzel was seduced by the Joker into becoming his crazed, mallet-wielding partner-in-crime. 24 years later, the fan-favorite villainess made her big-screen debut in 2016's Suicide Squad, portrayed by Margot Robbie (seen in Bombshell, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, I, Tonya). While that movie, about a team of supervillains saving the world, was an incoherent and aggressively dull mess, Robbie's memorable performance all but guaranteed that we would see the character on-screen again. Enter Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, in which Harley leads her very own girl gang into battle against a Gotham City crime lord.

 Posted February 7 in DC Movies, Review | Comments

Review: 'Birds of Prey' Breaks the Fourth Wall in Harley Quinn's Style

Birds of Prey Review

Harley Quinn. Two words, many meanings, one powerful woman. The woman that she used to be in Suicide Squad is gone. Now, audiences have a chance to experience this badass lady cause some serious mayhem and teach a spoiled man a lesson. The action unfurls swiftly as Harley breezes by in her sparkling roller-skates and breaks bones. Cathy Yan and Christina Hodson demonstrate their phenomenal directing and writing skills with DC's Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. They bestow upon us a thrilling, full of twists and turns, packed with action, entertaining movie. The tale in Harley's narrative jumps back and forth, where past blends with the present. We are introduced to all the characters in their own legendary style. The way the story is told defines the crazy, multidimensional, and complex personality of the former doctor. But before we go further, let's get back to the core plot of BoP.

 Posted February 5 in DC Movies, Review | Comments

IFFR Review: Werner Herzog's 'Family Romance, LLC' Made in Japan

Family Romance, LLC Review

One of the most damaging aspects of neo-liberalism has been its commodification of human relationships. This is demonstrated and analyzed in a New Yorker article entitled "Japan's Rent-a-Family industry," and that same article is the basis of Werner Herzog's newest film, Family Romance, LLC, named after the profiled company. Herzog, however, is not much interested in politics. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) is a colonialist scenario depicted as a search for the sublime; in Lo & Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016), Herzog is more interested in capitalists and their victims than capitalism as such. Such is the case in Family Romance, in which the casting of non-professional actors, including Yuichi Ishii, the founder of Family Romance, as himself, is the tell. For Herzog, psychic effects matter more than political conditions.

 Posted February 5 in Review | Comments

Review: Richard Stanley's 'Color Out of Space' is a Blessing From the Beyond

Color Out of Space Review

South African filmmaker Richard Stanley made his feature directorial debut in 1990 with Hardware, a post-apocalyptic science fiction flick about a self-repairing cyborg that goes on a rampage. His second film, 1992's Dust Devil, is a kind of supernatural Spaghetti Western about a shape-shifting, hitchhiking serial killer. These low-budget genre movies, while commercial failures, showed potential and made it possible for Stanley to work on his dream project – an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau for New Line Cinema (in 1996). What was meant to be the filmmaker's big break became his undoing. After years of developing the script, Stanley was fired a few days after principal photography began and replaced by John Frankenheimer. The filmmaker retreated, quite literally, into the wilderness and left Hollywood behind.

 Posted February 4 in Horror, Review, Sci-Fi | Comments

Sundance 2020: Rekindling Childhood in Benh Zeitlin's Film 'Wendy'

Wendy Review

"I believe in you, Peter." So worth the wait. New Orleans-based filmmaker Benh Zeitlin is finally back with his second feature film at the Sundance Film Festival. He rocked the festival in 2012 with his debut Beasts of the Southern Wild, and is back again eight years later to share his latest creation. Wendy is Zeitlin's new take on Peter Pan, a re-imagining of the classic J.M. Barrie story, this time focusing on the character of Wendy as the adventurous leader of the group of boys. It follows the same story beats and themes as the original "Peter Pan" – it's all in there, including Captain Hook – but it also adds in Zeitlin's unique, gritty southern aesthetic. The film starts with kids escaping to the mythical island by hopping on top of a freight train. It's amazing. One of the most rousing, invigorating sequences in in any film from the festival this year.

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