Capernaum (2018)

‘I want adults to listen to me’ this is said by Zain, a 12 year old boy, as he stands in court, he has committed a crime and is serving his sentence but has decided to sue his parents for bringing him into this world.

Nadine Labaki’s film is a harrowing and powerful depiction of a childhood lost. It is set in Lebanon and follows Zain and his day to day life as a errand boy for a local shop owner. He works all day taking whatever food is given to him at the end of the day to his family to eat. There is a scene where he looks on in desperation at the school bus and the children getting off it.

For a few hours he gets to hangout with his siblings in particular sister Sahar. Zain is protective of her, and they spend time playing drums and selling fruit juices to people. However as Sahar grows older her parents make a decision that turns Zain’s world into chaos.

Zain runs away and ends up at a fairground, there he meets Rahil an Ethiopian migrant who helps him with some food, but Rahil has a problems of her own and lives in fear of being found out that her work permit has expired and is hiding her baby from her employer. Zain ends up staying with her and ends up being a babysitter to Yonas (Rahils baby).

The relationship between Zain and Yonas is touching and beautiful. To note these are real people who are acting for the first time, so it is remarkable the performances on display here.

Zain accepts his role but things take another turn as Rahil does not come from work one day. This sets Zain on another course of action as he is now solely responsible for Yonas and has to feed, change and look after him. He tries his best but eventually he has to make a tough decision.

This is a good film, there is documentary style to it, but it is done very well that you feel immersed in everything that is happening on the screen, I was glued from start to finish. Comparisons to City of God and The Florida Project come to mind, but this stands on its own (for a start this has a better ending than The Florida Project), the film does not force a message to the viewer, the less that is said onscreen the more I got from it.

Are people not human and don’t matter because they do not have a ID card or number, does a piece of paper define our outcomes and opportunities? Are some people destined to be stuck in a social cycle inherited from their parents? Hmmm, to be discussed.

The central performance from Zain Al Rafeea is superb, he is completely mesmerising, you want to know what happens to him. The supporting cast is equally superb, the music is well done and adds weight to the film.

I would thoroughly recommend watching this, it rightly secured the Jury Prize at Cannes, should have won the Oscar, but, it’s not always about the awards for filmmakers (for most, I think) its about telling a story, and this story is definitely worth telling.

Rating 4/5

Rumble Fish (1983)

Dennis Hopper (Father): ‘No, your mother…is not crazy. And neither, contrary to popular belief, is your brother crazy. He’s merely miscast in a play. He was born in the wrong era, on the wrong side of the river… With the ability to do anything that he wants to do and… finding nothing that he wants to do. I mean nothing’.

The above quote from Rusty James (Matt Dillion) father about his brother The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke).

Motorcycle Boy: ‘Even the most primitive society has an innate respect for the insane’

Rumble Fish is Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of S.E Hinton’s novel about two brothers and their desire to break out of their environment. Rusty James is a young and simple boy who yearns for the past of gang wars and of times when his brother The Motorcycle Boy ran things, he has no real direction in his life and his brothers shadow hangs over him. The problem for him is his brother has left town and there has been a treaty of no gang fights.

He plans to shake up things and picks a fight with Biff, however things don’t according to plan and he gets hurt, but, his brother turns up to save him. The arrival of his brother attracts the attention of the local police force who start to monitor the Motorcycle Boy. Rusty is happy to see his brother and starts thinking things are going to be the same again and he can take over from his brother, but his brother is not the same as he was, he is more withdrawn and distance than ever before.

They spend the next few days getting back time lost and Rusty learns more about his brothers trip to California, Rusty asks him what it was like he replies:

The Motorcycle Boy: ‘California is like a beautiful, wild… beautiful, wild girl on heroin… who’s high as a kite, thinking she’s on the top of the world, not knowing she’s dying even if you show her the marks’

It is lines like this that make the Motorcycle Boy so intriguing and fascinating to watch, Mickey Rourke is brilliant at delivering them, you can’t help wonder if he hadn’t entered boxing he could have had a much more meatier roles.

The brothers are reunited with their father, an alcoholic lawyer who doesn’t have a job and spends most his time in bars wasting away his welfare cheques, the loss of his wife being a massive factor in this behaviour. Rusty learns his mother is alive and living in California, he feels let down that his brother and father did not tell him this. The restlessness in both brothers leads to events that sets them on a course that they will never forget.

Stewart Copeland drummer of the Police provides the music and the song ‘Don’t box me in’ is a favourite of mine. The film is shot in black and white and the cinematography is standout, there is one scene which will stay with you, it involves the rumble fish which appear in colour which the Motorcycle Boy finds fascinating as he is colour blind. The time lapse shots are a amazing to see and are perfectly balanced with the chimes and of course the drumming provided by Copeland. The cast is also easy on the eye – even Tom Waits.

I first saw Rumble Fish about 15 years ago (yep showing my age here) and wondered what was that? Why am I being recommended this film? What is this telling me? (coincidentally this was the same time my father banned me from riding his motorcycle and any motorcycle period) But the more times I have revisited this the more I have understood it to be a simple story told in a stylistic and overreaching way. My summary is essentially we are all lost in our youth and yearning for something to happen or save us or guide us, normally that the guidance comes from a peer we respect or idolise such as a parent or an older sibling. But what happens when they too are lost? Well I think the only way to combat this is through self discovery which can take some time to achieve, while some get there, others never do, so the search is the ultimate point of life.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend, don’t expect it to be just an art film for teenagers, there is depth if you look for it.

Rating 4/5

Cold War (2018)

After a five year break Pawel Pawlikowski returns with Cold War (2018) it follows Ida (2013) (see my earlier review of this) and it continues to showcase Pawlikowski as a filmmaker to watch for. It is easy to say this is Romeo and Juliet, but, it sort of is.

Set after the Second World War, Poland is under communist rule and trying to rebuild itself. The Polish authorities see folk music as a way of keeping their tradition alive and ask a team including music director Wiktor to find singers and dancers. Interestingly when the team search for tradition music styles one of them remarks that a certain song is in Lemko language which is a shame – this is a country divided in its own identity and still coming to terms to with what it is and what it wants to be.

There is a X Factor style audition where Wiktor spots Zula. He is immediately captivated by her (and she with him), and he chooses her to be his singer. She is then trained and developed. Wiktor and Zula grow closer together and eventually they fall for each other.

But there is more to Zula, she has a criminal record for attempted murder of her father and has been released on probation to take part in the singing. There is a exquisite scene near the river where Zula admits that she has been asked to spy on Wiktor. What follows is a something out of a dream. Pawlikowski does not does explain what has been said between the two, all we see is the aftermath.

The group are then sent to tour the music to other countries, it is in Berlin when Wiktor decides they need to leave for Paris and asks Zula to meet him at an outpost, it is there they both make a decision that leaves a lasting mark.

The story then switches to several years later when the two meet in Paris, where Wiktor is still performing and Zula meets him in a cafe. The love reignites between them but they are in relationships with other people, Wiktor persuades Zula to stay over for a while and they begin their affair, but it doesn’t last and she eventually leaves.

The pairs paths cross again over the years, until one meeting Wiktor learns Zula has married. She says she has done it for them, as she can now escape and travel freely. They continue to see each other, but, after a late night party and a fit of jealousy Zula leaves. Wiktor is completely lost and tries to find her, he eventually does the unthinkable, he hands himself into the authorities so he can go back to Poland to see her, he ends up in prison. But Zula finds him and they reconcile, she plans to help him escape.

The cinematography is amazing and Pawlikowski again has shot this in black and white which works. The music is great too. I am not surprised it was nominated for a number of awards, but, there is a but, I did feel like I have sort of seen this story before. Nevertheless Pavel has reinvented the love story and it is still worth catching, just for the river scenes.

Rating 3.5/5

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Spike Lee is a bit like marmite you either enjoy his films or you don’t, I am sort of on the fence with him. I liked Do The Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), Summer of Sam (1999) and Bamboozled (2000) the latter is definitely sleeper film that needs viewing (though some would say argue with me on that, oh well), but then Lee has also remade Oldboy (2013) I would say that was criminal! And the bizarre Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014) (featuring Rami Malek) it can be argued he is hit and miss, more misses recently, so I had strong apprehensions before I started to watch BlacKkKlansman, I am pleased to say they were dispelled.

BlacKkKlansman is about a young African American man, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington – yes the son of Denzel), who wants to be a police officer, he manages to pass the comical interview and takes up a role in the records room in Colorado Springs Police Department. But he feels destained to be more than a records man, so asks to be moved to another department, initially he is denied but then an opportunity arises, there is a speech being delivered by a Black Civil Rights Activist Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) which the Chief believes Ron should go to, undercover. Ron does well and meets Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) who is he instantly drawn to, but does not fully embrace her stance on cops being called pigs. Back at the station he comes up with an idea of calling the Ku Klux Klan membership line, surprisingly he gets through and is invited to meet the local leader Walter (Ryan Eggold), shocked but eager to get more on the case he enlists Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to go in his place, even more surprisingly Walter does not notice the differences in the voices, and Flip gets further and further inside the Klan.
Ron continues to have telephone conversations with Walter, he even gets through to David Duke (Topher Grace) who is the Grand Wizard.

What is shocking is this is based on a true story, and it was initially bought to Spike Lee by (Get Out Writer/Director) Jordan Peele, Lee liked it but suggested a few changes and he has definitely put his stamp on it. This is a Spike Lee joint. He has used the film as a strong social commentary on the current problems and issues within the United States of America. There is a strong use of conflicting messages and hijacking of events and propaganda – for me Lee is back on form and he is best when he addressing these issues. The powerful scene of the speech being delivered by Kwame with faces fading in and out is great, as is the juxtaposed scenes of Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) remembering his friend being murdered against the speech by David Duke and the Klan watching The Birth of a Nation, this is a harrowing scene.

There are also comedic scenes which are light but, you are on a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions throughout the film that you are not sure when things are being serious and when not, which, is where it does fall. The editing and music is also chaotic, perhaps on purpose to disjoint you or not. I was impressed by all the actors here and this is the film where the ensemble cast is worth praising, and perhaps this makes it less about Ron, which I think may have been a misstep. I wanted to know more about him and what he was going through and also what he got out of it, instead Lee has used him as a canvas to tell a more elaborate and far reaching story on the issues of race and hate. I will give him credit for doing this, as it creates dialogue and highlights the issues, but it is difficult to condense it into a film which if not handled appropriately can completely miss the mark.

I would recommend the film, the ending is very moving and there is a payoff (notably it has been nominated for several awards, rightly so), but, I would not class it as Lee’s best but definitely his best in the last few years, but then again I do not know what is his best, which is frustrating.

Rating 4/5

A Quiet Place (2018)

It’s oh so quiet, Shh shh, being quiet is what you need to be to thoroughly enjoy this film, it stars real-life couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski (who also directs) as the Abbotts who are doing their best to protect their children from alien like creatures who hunt based entirely on noise. The family seem to be doing well and understanding sign language (their eldest daughter is deaf) has helped them, how long can they remain safe is the question.

If you leave some of your logic behind, then you will enjoy this film, it is a good horror film. Logic? Well there are bits which you will question and find strange, hence the leaving it behind. The good thing is the film makes you sit up and pay attention, the lack of sound and dialogue draws you into the claustrophobic and paranoid world the Abbotts are living in. There is no human contact with others, everything has to be considered, no microwave, no music, down to even the toys the children can play with, but, they do manage to conceive a child as Blunts character is pregnant (leave the logic behind). So, this is difficult time for the family to pull and stay together, but it is not easy and mistakes can happen.

I really liked the atmospheric sound and music that was used (incidentally the sound editing was rightly nominated for an Oscar). It creates a tense edge of the seat feeling – exactly what is required of a good horror. I first noticed Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau (2011) and have followed her roles since, particularly Looper (2012), Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Sicario (2015), she is brilliant in this, she is supported well by Krasinski and child actors Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and Cade Woodward.

An interesting fact, abbots in Catholicism usually live in monasteries, living self-sufficient lives, sometimes in silence. I was fully engrossed with this film from start to finish, I would recommend it purely for the experience, sometimes silence is golden.

Rating 3.5/5

First Reformed (2017)

‘Courage is the solution to despair, reason provides no answers. I can’t know what the future will bring; we have to choose despite uncertainty. Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind, simultaneously, Hope and Despair. A life without despair is a life without hope. Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself’

Yep, that makes you ponder and pondering is what First Reformed does. The film centres on 46 year-old Reverend Ernst Toller, who is the pastor of First Reformed Church, a small church with a small congregation which is seen as a tourist spot more than a church. Ernst has just started a journal, specifically a handwritten one, in which he tries to write down his thoughts into everyday. He also has a simple mobile phone, one with no social media apps or Internet – just a simple messages and call phone – like a phone used to be, he sleeps in a modest room with modest furnishings.

Ernst has had some sadness in his life, he lost his son Joseph to an unjust war, subsequently his marriage soon feel apart. He now preaches, but he is on a downward spiral, he drinks heavily and is passing blood. He meets Mary, a young woman who is concerned about her husband Michael an environmentalist who has recently home after a stint in prison for his activities. Mary is pregnant but Michael is concerned about bringing a baby into the world which he believes is doomed.

Ernst tries his best to council Michael, but, he stumbles as he is at a crisis himself about his beliefs and thoughts. The more Ernst learns about Michael and his belief about the world the more he spirals. Even with all the people around him, Ernst is still lonely, he in fact embraces it as some sort of badge of honour,

‘Some are called for their gregariousness, some are called for their suffering. Others are called for their loneliness’

But deep down, he knows he needs emotion but where will he find?
‘The desire to pray itself is a type of prayer. How often we ask for genuine experience when all we really want is emotion’

It is no surprise First Reformed screenplay has been nominated for an Oscar, it is excellent. Similarities have been made to Taxi Driver (also written by Paul Schrader) and to some extent it is rightly so, I would also say there are elements of David Lynch with its dark tones, the cinematography is also quite soft and reserved and the film is shot on a 1:37:1 aspect which is an old style of filming allowing for more focus.

Ethan Hawke is very good, he delivers a restraint and emotional performance as Ernst, (not sure why he didn’t get an Oscar Nod for it). He supported by Amanda Seyfried and Cedric Kyles. I have not mentioned the ending, as, it is interesting one, I will leave it up to you to decide, I just hope you don’t despair.

Rating 4/5

Isle of Dogs (2018)

What ever happened?
To man’s best friend
Falling – Spring – Blossom

The above haiku is read by 12 year old Atari (the adopted son of Mayor Kobayashi) to the people of Megasaki in an attempt to save all dogs from being killed.

This is the second animated film by Wes Anderson (the first being Fantastic Mr. Fox) and it is just as exquisite and delightful as the first. The film starts with a brief background of the plight of dogs from being free and independent to being hunted, tamed and eventually domesticated. We are then hit with thudding drumming and credits appearing – the music by Alexandre Desplat in this is excellent by the way.

We are then thrown straight into the near future in Japan where a dog flu outbreak has occurred with the risk of it spreading to humans. To save humans the Mayor Kenji Kobayashi signs a decree to banish all dogs to ‘Trash Island’ a place where all the city’s rubbish is sent, Atari’s dog Spots, a white and black speckled pink nosed dog, is the first to go and is sent in his cage across in a cable cart, soon more and more dogs are sent across.

Six months later, we are then shown a pack of dogs who march over to a fallen rubbish bag, the pack is lead by Chief a stray dog (voiced by Bryan Cranston) who has never had a master, and includes Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and Boss (Bill Murray). The dogs are met with another group and battle ensues over the pile of rubbish. This scene sets the tone that this is a Wes Anderson film, it is funny, dry and quirky. Chiefs group wins. As the group is enjoying the ‘taste of victory’ (soz) they spot a plane crash land on the island. They investigate, it is Atari, he has come to find Spots.

The dogs are happy to see a human or a master, all except for Chief who is sceptical, ‘I’m a stray’ he says, ‘we are alpha dogs’ and do not need humans. But the dogs rally round Atari and help him. Soon the Mayor finds out that Atari is alive and sends forces in to retrieve him. But Atari does not want to leave and the dogs help him once more and save him. Then begins a journey with to find Spots.

All the while a enthused group of students lead by foreign exchange student Tracey are finding the truth about the Kobayashi regime. There is an amazing scene featuring sushi being prepared which leaves you quite enthralled. In the end do we care if Atari finds Spots? The answer is yes we do.

This a good film, it is split into parts, the stop motion style animation is amazing, the way the dogs hairs move is pretty cool, and the plasticine humans are good too. But it is not the great film it could be have been, I like the way it can interpreted into different meanings, for example, the plight of the dogs can be seen as the way immigrants are treated – used as a scapegoat and fear mongering, there is also the way a regime controls propaganda and news. But the story doesn’t touch into this too much, and it sort of becomes a film that starts a conversation but leaves before engaging. I feel Anderson has aimed at the younger audience whereas his previous effort was more of a older one, which gives us a mixed bag.

The heart of the story is about the relationship between a boy and his dog and the lengths both will go to look after each other – something we can all appreciate and do more of.

Rating 3.5/5