Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Movie Review - Tumbledown (2016)

There have been several films with this title. The last one was in 2013 and was co-written and directed by Todd Verow, an out-and-proud, Bangor, Maine filmmaker. Verow also directed a movie called Vactionland (2006), which its title is a nickname for the state of Maine. I didn't realize that nickname until this film where a character calls it out. The title of that 2013 Verow movie and this one references the Tumbledown Mountain, a high, rocky area in that New England state. However, this movie is not about understanding geography but the place is significant but not as significant as the filmmakers wish it were.

Rebecca Hall (The Town and Vicky Cristina Barcelona) stars as Hannah, the widow of a musician named Hunter Miles, a guy who only released one album but who has developed a cult following. She's attempting to write a biography about him. She works freelance as a reporter in a tiny, rural newspaper, run out of a bookstore. She's beautiful but lives an isolated life with her two dogs but she's not lonely.

Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses and Race) co-stars as Andrew McCabe, a professor in New York who also is writing a book about Hunter Miles. He incessantly calls Hannah trying to get her interview. She resists, but he comes to Maine and eventually worms his way into her life. As a result, he starts to fall in love with her.

Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike and True Blood) also co-stars as Curtis, a deer hunter who works for the local power company. He's Hannah's nearest neighbor and a high school friend. He's now Hannah's sex buddy, but he has the quirk of bringing injured, cute animals for Hannah in lieu of flowers or chocolate.

The problem is that the movie wants Hannah to end up with Andrew. Yet, I didn't buy the relationship between Hannah and Andrew. I don't get why the two are attracted to each other. The real problem is that I don't get why Hannah was attracted to Hunter. We never get to know Hunter in any significant way. We hear his music and singing, as provided by Damien Jurado, but it's not enough, but what can be guessed about Hunter doesn't match with Andrew. The two don't seem to be anything alike.

It's not that Hannah has to go for the same kind of guy every time, but I don't see what's the big deal about Andrew. He's not as good-looking or as physically gorgeous as Curtis. He's not as rugged. He likes music but isn't particularly musical. His personality is a little off-putting. He's a smart alack and a bit annoying. Maybe she likes his writing, but it's something we'll never know because there isn't any voice-over of his writing for us to sample.

That being said, I don't even know why Andrew loves her. He says he loves her, but it rang so false. Besides being a beautiful woman, I don't get why he falls for her. Besides being Hunter's widow, there's nothing he learns about her that warrants his claim of love and his breaking-up with his girlfriend, Finley, played by Dianna Agron (Glee).

Written by Desi Van Til and directed by Sean Mewshaw in his feature debut, this is toned-down, romantic comedy. As such, it has to end with the two characters predictably deciding to be together, but honestly that's unsatisfying. I'm more curious as to what Hannah and Andrew's relationship would be.

It doesn't seem as if Hannah is going to leave Maine. She probably should because it doesn't seem like Andrew would have much to do in that rural, backwoods town. Maybe he could find a job, a teaching job at the nearest university and commute everyday. Will that be enough for him? What if his book fails and it doesn't sell? He so easily threw away his previous girlfriend, so what's to stop him from going off with the next musician's widow? He just doesn't seem like a solid dude on solid ground romantically.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for a sex scene.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.

Movie Review - The Club (El club)

Pablo Larraín is considered one of the greatest filmmakers ever to come out of Chile, perhaps one of the greatest to come out of South America. This is only after directing four previous features. Two of which rose to international prominence. His second feature was Tony Manero. It became Chile's submission to the 81st Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It didn't get nominated, but his fourth feature No (2012) was nominated in that category at the 85th Academy Awards. It didn't win, but it certainly put Larraín on the map. This current film premiered at the 2015 Berlinale where it won the Silver Bear. It was Chile's entry to the 88th Academy Awards. It wasn't nominated. Nor did it make the shortlist, but it did get recognized at the 73rd Golden Globe Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

The story focuses on a group of former priests living in a yellow house in a small community in Chile. One day, a new priest joins them named Matias Lorenzo. Immediately after his arrival, another man named Sandokan arrives claiming, in fact shouting, that Matias is a pedophile and that in fact Matias molested and raped Sandokan when he was younger. Later, a younger priest named Father Garcia arrives to investigate. Garcia reveals that all the priests in that yellow house are either pedophiles or child abusers in some way. Garcia has to assess the situation and figure out what to do with them.

There is an indication that this film is set in the present-day, meaning that it takes place in a world after the world established in the recent, Oscar-winner Spotlight (2015). That Tom McCarthy film focused on the true-life, newspaper reporters who exposed the Church abuse scandal that revealed how the church was covering up the significantly, numerous cases of priests molesting or raping children. If this Larraín film is indeed set following Spotlight, then a lot of what happens here makes no sense.

First off, there's a really great moment in Spotlight where Oscar-nominee Rachel McAdams' character interviews a pedophile priest and gets a horrifying glimpse into that priest's thinking and rationale or justification for what he did. This movie seemingly is a platform that provides more of those glimpses into pedophile priests and into their heads. Yet, that's all it is. It's just more glimpses. Larraín had an opportunity to dive deeper into their way of thinking or rationales, but Larraín squabbles that opportunity.

Larraín also incorporates a weird sub-plot involving greyhound dogs that don't add much to the narrative. He also doesn't really make clear what the point of all this is, and exploring what the possible point is requires a spoiler alert. So, spoilers ahead!

Sandokan basically camps out in front of the yellow house and screams the dirty details of Matias molesting and raping him. It gets to the point where Matias commits suicide in front of the yellow house and in front of Sandokan. Matias literally shoots himself in the head. The remaining priests in the yellow house then lie to the police in order to hide the truth of what happened.

Yet, it seems ridiculous that no one in the media or no one in the press would not look into this. A priest commits suicide in front of his house by putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. It's incredulous that the local newspaper would not have run something on that. It's incredulous a local TV station wouldn't cover it. It's incredulous that the neighbors wouldn't question or wonder about it, or that nobody else witnessed or heard Sandokan's screams.

It's not incredulous or necessarily odd, but it is a wonder as to why Sandokan wouldn't go to the police and scream the truth to them. It's a wonder why Sandokan wouldn't tell the people in town about the priests. Larraín maintains a bubble that feels very artificial for these characters.

It's not even clear why the priests themselves stay in that yellow house. One of them calls it a prison, but it's not. They perhaps supplement their income through betting on dog races, but it seems as if they could leave at any time. No one is forcing them to stay together in that house. Whether they can be priests again is unlikely, but Larraín never addresses why they stay in that little yellow place.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains graphic, sexual language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

DVD Review - Big Stone Gap

Adriana Trigiani is a writer and producer who worked on The Cosby Show and A Different World. She's probably best known for writing a series of novels about her hometown of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. This movie is an adaptation of those books, which begin and center on a 40-year-old woman in 1978 who is notably single and who runs her family's pharmacy. A recent tragedy forces the woman to re-examine her life. She considers settling down with a handsome, coal miner while also directing a play and musical in the town's makeshift amphitheater.

Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy and Dolphin Tale) stars as Ave Maria Mulligan, the aforementioned 40-year-old. She will occasionally deliver prescriptions to the elderly in her jeep. One regular run is to the MacChesney house, to hand over the drugs for Mrs. MacChesney. She doesn't say it, but clearly she has a flirtation with Mrs. MacChesney's son, Jack MacChesney, played by Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring and Watchmen). He's sexy, even in his scruffy, red pajamas. She hires him to play guitar in her play, which makes him even sexier.

However, he works mainly as a coal miner. Yet, it's strange because Trigiani who directs this movie shows Jack with a pick-ax doing surface mining. Yes, this movie takes place nearly 40 years in the past, but it seems as if, even in the late 70's, there would have been better and bigger technology, drills and excavators. Depicting Jack with an ax doing mining by hand almost makes it too old-world.

Yet, the old-world nature seems purposeful because while Jack is attractive, he's supposed to represent what Ave Maria doesn't want, or at least the life she doesn't want. Being a coal miner's wife, settling down and possibly having children isn't what she wants, even at age 40. She just wants to have fun, hang out with Jack, have sex with him and not tie any knots.

When Jack pushes that traditional, coal-mining life on her, she rejects it and considers letting it all go and even leaving town. For various reasons, she thinks maybe she'll escape to Italy. She even takes significant steps toward that escape. Yet, her plan to do so is somewhat dashed. She gets a happy ending, but I didn't know what it means for her character who didn't want the traditional life.

Trigiani has assembled a really great cast. I'm not sure each person is all-that well used. Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost and Sister Act) plays Fleeta, a sassy employee at the pharmacy. Besides being a wise sage or throwing shade here and there, I don't feel like I got a sense of whom Fleeta was, if she had any family or any kind of life outside the pharmacy and what was happening to Ave Maria. When Ave Maria thinks about selling the pharmacy, Fleeta isn't even a consideration. She's barely even an after-thought.

Emmy-nominee John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C and The Good Wife) plays Theodore Tipton, an actor and the star of Ave Maria's play. He's a bit of a diva. He doesn't seem like he's into the traditional, coal-mining life either. He seemingly has sex with Ave Maria, but the morning after is incredibly awkward, almost as if the two had no sexual chemistry. This is non-surprising given that Hickey in real-life is gay. It seems like the movie might be hinting that his character is as well, but it's never addressed, so it's only a supposition. Obviously, being set in the 70's in a small, Virginia town probably would have prevented someone like Theodore from coming out, but if Trigiani's film had been bolder, they would have tackled it.

Both Anthony LaPaglia and Jane Krakowski are wasted. Both are terrific, but both aren't given much to do. More people talk about Krakowski's Sweet Sue that Krakowski herself is given lines of dialogue. I also couldn't figure out what exactly LaPaglia's Spec had for a job. Spec seemed like a lawyer or something, yet he seemed to have a closer relationship to Ave Maria but it's never made clear.

There's a plot involving Ave Maria having to battle against relatives, namely Aunt Alice, for control of the pharmacy and even ownership of her parents' house. This plot comes almost out of nowhere. There isn't enough set-up for it. It's basically dropped in the third act and feels rushed, so there isn't enough time to get emotionally invested.

Emmy-nominee Jenna Elfman (Dharma &Greg) plays Iva Lou Wade, the best friend of Ave Maria. She gets a lot to do. She has a lot of fun scenes. She's a bright spot in the film. I definitely wanted to see more of her.

Patrick Wilson is of course a big draw. He's used effectively, but more could have been done with him. I didn't quite buy him as a coal-miner, but only because we don't get enough of him doing it. Regardless, Wilson is magnetic and gorgeous. He has been since his Tony-nominated performance in The Full Monty on Broadway, and he continues to be to this day. The whole film is watchable for his dynamic with Judd.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG - 13 for brief suggestive material.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Movie Review - Barbershop: The Next Cut

On February 12, 2012, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed in Stanford, Florida. The circumstances of the shooting made it a cause célèbre, which raised awareness about the deaths of young, African-American men. That awareness was exacerbated on August 9, 2014, when Michael Brown, another unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. That shooting led to the Black Lives Matter movement, an organization that seeks to change how police engage African-Americans, given Michael Brown as well as numerous others like him were killed by police officers. However, those who disapprove of Black Lives Matter or BLM argue that its focus shouldn't be police or law enforcement shootings of unarmed blacks but instead the focus should be on gang violence in cities like Chicago.

Last year, Spike Lee released Chi-Raq, a film that addressed this very issue. It rendered a fantasy of what could be done to tackle the problem of gang violence in Chicago, head-on. This movie essentially does the same, which makes sense because Malcolm D. Lee is the director here, and Malcolm D. Lee is the cousin of Spike Lee. Both films by both men are love letters to the city of Chicago, but Spike Lee's film is meant to rile you up, whereas Malcolm D. Lee's film is meant to settle you down and leave you wanting to live in Chi-Town.

What this movie is also about that perhaps supersedes or if nothing else complements the Chicago-gang-violence riposte is the idea of fatherhood. Ice Cube (Boyz N the Hood and Three Kings) stars as Calvin Palmer, the co-owner of a barbershop and beauty salon on the south-side of Chicago. He's also the lead barber. Michael Rainey, Jr. (Power and Orange is the New Black) co-stars as Jalen, the teenage son of Calvin who loves basketball more than school, wears long dreadlocks and is tempted to join one of the street gangs. Calvin sees this and his priority is to keep his child from succumbing to that.

Ice Cube's debut was in John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood (1991), a film that also dealt with fatherhood in the inner city but in south-central Los Angeles. Singleton had Laurence Fishburne as the father trying to keep his child from succumbing or participating in gang violence. Now, 25 years later, Ice Cube is doing the Fishburne role. This fact is perhaps not lost on this movie's screenwriter, Kenya Barris. Barris is the creator of the ABC series Black-ish, which co-stars Fishburne as the curmudgeonly grandfather.

This film is the third in a series that started with Barbershop (2002), but I never watched the two previous films, so I can argue that one can jump into this film without having the other two under one's belt. The film stands alone. Whatever continuity doesn't matter because the movie references Poetic Justice (1993), another film about people in a beauty salon, and like that film, this one does a good job of letting each person express where they're coming from and who they are.

The movie for the most part stays inside the barbershop and beauty salon. It ventures out for one of two reasons. The first is to follow Jalen as he becomes more and more tempted and pulled into the gang life. The other reason is to follow the movie's new character, as we see how his life contrasts to Calvin's.

Lonnie Lynn, Jr., aka Common, the rapper-turned-actor who in real-life is from Chicago and has a Grammy Award and an Oscar, co-stars as Rashad, a fellow barber and new love interest for Terri, played by Philadelphia-rapper Eve who was in both previous Barbershop films. Rashad is a former gang member trying to turn his life around who in fact has turned his life around. He has a good job and a good woman. He's also raising a teenager of his own, Kenny, played by Diallo Thompson, in his film debut. Unfortunately, he has to deal with trust issues both at work and at home, as his integrity is questioned by Calvin and Terri.

Along the way, the movie is buttressed by jokes and one-liners as the cast sits in the barbershop and banter about various issues and topics that range from crime in Chicago, sexism, monogamy, racism and even veers into criticism of President Barack Obama. It allows the cast, which includes a lot of comedic actors to riff and to shine.

Cedric the Entertainer (The Steve Harvey Show) as Eddie plays the elderly barber with conservative views much like Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks. Regina Hall (The Best Man and Think Like a Man) plays Angie, the co-owner running the beauty salon. J.B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm) plays One-Stop who has a makeshift clinic. Lamorne Morris (New Girl) plays Jerrod, a quirky barber, and Utkarsh Ambudkar (The Mindy Project) as Raja is the young barber of Indian descent. All shine.

Common, however, gets the two best moments in this movie. The moments were so great that it made me fall in love with him instantly. One moment involves a break-dance that just represents his amazing physicality, which he displayed in his action films, but the other moment is just him proving his comedic chops. Rashad is alone in his car after giving his co-worker Drea, played by Nicki Minaj, a ride home. The bit he does alone in that car is probably the most laugh-out-loud thing I've seen in a movie theater since The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).

Five Stars out of Five.

Rated PG-13 for sexual material and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 51 mins. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

VOD Review - Tab Hunter Confidential

I never knew Tab Hunter, but I bought his autobiography when it came out in 2006. It's probably because the cover photo was of Tab Hunter in his prime. As such, he was a tall, muscular, gorgeous blonde with an ebullient smile, a California-surfer look but also capable of having a clean-cut, military way about him, sexy as Hell, and oozing stardom and matinée-idol appeal. He was so striking and very attractive when he was younger. He rose to prominence back in the 1950's but never achieved the kind of fame of many contemporaries, probably because he wasn't perceived as equally talented, plus his own decisions that brought his career down. I purchased the book as a hardcover, but I never read it. I started but only got past a few chapters, but the book sat on my cabinet collecting dust for nearly a decade. I only finished reading it last year when I heard this documentary was being released. The documentary is pretty faithful to the book in that it's pretty dull and not as juicy as one would hope a tell-all book should be.

Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz (I Am Divine and Vito), the movie is basically Tab Hunter at age 83 recounting his life and career. He does so with slightly more distance than he does in the book. The problem is Schwarz doesn't push him for more details, not necessarily intimate details, which would have been great but simply greater or deeper dives into his thoughts, feelings and actions. Schwarz basically lets Tab get away with very generic responses. The movie is mostly highlights, most things that could be gleaned from third-party sources. It feels like we're not hearing the story straight from the horse's mouth, when obviously we are.

Schwarz incorporates a lot of photos and film footage of the younger Tab Hunter charting his progression. If nothing else, it's wonderful to be able to bask in his beauty. Watching the movie with the audio on mute can provide just as much pleasure and information as with the audio up. Tab Hunter was simply a hot guy, but that's really all we learn about him. He became extremely popular, mostly because one could put him in a movie where he takes his shirt off and it sold tickets. Yet, clearly he wasn't going to win any Oscars. He could sing and had a voice and a manner that made girls swoon, but it wasn't going to win him any Grammys. He eventually dropped off celebrity as he got older. Now, as an octogenarian, he tends to his horse.

That's it! There's not much more to it. There was the fact that he was secretly gay but that fact feels as incidental as the fact that he likes to ride equines. The hook or essential premise is practically dismissed. It's ironic because this movie was nominated for Outstanding Documentary at the 2016 GLAAD Media Awards.

The reason the movie has the title it does is because a significant event in Tab Hunter's life is when he was basically revealed or suspected of being gay in the pages of Confidential magazine. How the magazine knew was because Tab Hunter aka Art Gelien was arrested on October 14, 1950, at a party in Los Angeles for gay people. We get an overview of the party, nothing that couldn't have been guessed, but we don't get details, no concrete stuff that occurred there.

How did Tab know about the party? How did he get invited? Who invited him? What did he do when he was there? Those details are glossed over. Prior to the party, which Tab attended while still a teenager, we get an overview of his youth living at home with his mother and brother. He gives the usual response of feeling different and quasi-realizing he was gay, but we get no details of how that manifested itself. Did he have an attraction to a specific boy? Did he ever kiss a boy or want to kiss a boy? Those questions are never answered, which is probably a failing of Schwarz not even asking them.

This is indicative of how other things in his life are handled. We get the overview for example of all his major film roles. The book provides more, which is fine. I didn't need the movie to give us everything in the book. All we needed is enough to convey that he had a macho and heartthrob image that was controlled by Warner Bros. studio. The puppet-strings aren't felt as strongly as in the book, but the basic idea is here.

The only real interesting thing is when Tab mentions his four, significant, gay relationships. The first is with Olympic ice-skater, Ronnie Robertson. The second is with Oscar-nominated actor, Anthony Perkins. The third is Neal Noorleg, a horse jockey, and the fourth is with former, 20th Century Fox, studio executive, Allan Glaser.

Tab reveals practically nothing about Robertson. What they did together or what they talked about is left up to one's imagination. How they met, who approached whom and how far they went are all left up in the air. We get more about the relationship with Perkins but the more we get barely comes from Tab. It instead comes from Venetia Stevenson, a friend and fellow actress that Schwarz interviewed for this. Noorleg is quickly introduced and dismissed. Glaser who is still involved with Tab, even today, gets the most coverage, but most of the talk is about their careers rather than their love for one another.

It's sad to think that after seeing this movie and reading the book, I still feel like I don't know this man. He's good-looking and nice, but that's all superficial.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audience.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.
Available on iTunes on May 17.
Go to the movie's website for future VOD & DVD release.

DVD Review - Victoria (2015)

This movie won the Silver Bear Award at the 65th Berlinale. It was nominated for three European Awards. It won six German Film Awards, including Outstanding Feature. It was on Germany's shortlist to be submitted for Best Foreign Language Film. It was disqualified because the Academy deemed it had too much English, making it the primary language. The story focuses on the titular character who is a French woman living in Berlin who spends the late night with four, young, German men and she doesn't speak their mother-tongue very well, so she uses English, which the men know somewhat.

Directed and co-written by Sebastian Schipper, the movie is note-worthy because it's over 130 minutes in length but with absolutely no edits or film cuts. The whole thing is one, long, continuous take. Basically, once Schipper started his camera rolling, he didn't stop the camera until two hours and some change later. Once the actors started, they didn't stop until two hours and some change later. It was done like a live, stage play, except it was filmed on location on the streets of downtown Berlin.

Because of which, it already has two advantages and two challenges over the Oscar-winning Birdman. For starters, Birdman isn't actually one, long, continuous take. It just looks like it is, whereas this movie is the real deal. That gives it the advantage of feeling more visceral and more immediate.

It also presents the challenge of crafting beautiful visuals or even fantastic shots with artistic flair. The movie is instead forced to be more documentary-like in its production as it's just following actors as they run around. Birdman confined its actors, for the most part, to one setting, whereas this movie is scattered throughout the city, going down into actual nightclubs or up into actual high-rises. That gives this movie the advantage of feeling authentic, but it also presents the challenge of having to coordinate all of these aspects, live, without the ability to stop.

It can be impressive, but given what happens in the movie, it's not that compelling. The only time that it approaches being truly compelling is in the final act when an action scene breaks out. It's essentially a police shootout, but, compare it to something like Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men, which features a shootout done in one, long, continuous take, the infamous take that had blood-splatter land on the lens. Compare Cuarón's scene to Schipper's scene and what Schipper does is instantly forgettable.

The key difference is that Children of Men isn't entirely one, long, continuous take, just that one shootout scene, whereas this movie is entirely that, and it seems to build itself, as the title suggests, on the performance of its actress, as well as its lead actor. What Schipper wants people to get as they walk away from this movie is the emotional journey that star Laia Costa puts on display.

Laia Costa is a good actress and watching her raw, unedited performance from beginning to especially the end is a feat onto itself. It's no greater a feat than any Broadway actress, but this film allows more immersion, more reality, more examination of her face, even in this mostly, poorly-lit production.

Unfortunately, that emotional journey and the resonance of it don't hit as hard as it could have. This has to do with a confusion or disappointment about the titular character. Yes, the opening suggests that she's a lonely person, new to Berlin and not with many friends, but she joins up with the four, young, German men rather quickly and with reckless abandon.

All I could think about is Episode 7 of Netflix's Master of None, titled "Ladies and Gentlemen." In that episode, a woman describes the fear of leaving a bar or nightclub and being accosted or worse by creepy, leering or lingering men. The beginning of this movie is Victoria leaving a nightclub and being accosted by lingering and drunk men. Instead of avoiding them as the woman in Master of None does, Victoria goes along with them. Despite red flags that point to these guys being trouble, she continues to go along with them.

The question is why. At first, she might just be too polite, or perhaps there's something about the air of trouble or male roughness that she likes. Maybe she appreciates or it excites her in some way. The final straw though comes about half-way through the movie when Victoria is given a choice.

Victoria witnesses the four guys steal a car. They do so brazenly right in front of her. She's told that one of the guys, a possible skinhead named Boxer, played by Franz Rogowski, has been to prison and owes someone there a favor, an illegal one. That favor is armed robbery of a bank. Having only known these guys an hour, Victoria decides to go along when the leader of the four guys, Sonne, played by Frederick Lau, asks her to be their getaway-driver.

It's ridiculous. Either she's so stupid that she doesn't realize the danger or she wants the danger. Either way, it makes no sense. By going along with the robbery, it's not clear what she gets out of it. Does she want to live now a life of crime? Is she an unrealized thrill-seeker? Is she desperate to have these guys like her? She doesn't appear to be such in the beginning. It's just too weird.

However, even if one accepts whatever Victoria's motives are for participating in the crimes, the stupidity put on display afterward is also very frustrating. Yes, the stupidity of the criminals can be expected, but the stupidity of the police lowers whatever authenticity was established. The police are looking for a man-and-woman couple who ran into an apartment building, so when that exact couple walks past them, the police don't ask their names or for ID, and the couple just slips away easily. It's stupid.

Schipper's camera choices confuse me as well. It seems to follow Victoria, but sometimes not. Toward the end, it goes with her into a bathroom where she composes herself. Immediately after, the camera allows her to walk away as it hangs out with Sonne, so the movie changed point-of-view and I don't know why, but it ultimately reeked more of laziness than anything else.

Even though the movie is not worth its running time, if it's occurring in real-time, it actually is too short. I feel like I didn't get enough or the passage of time wasn't sufficient or satisfying to make me understand or care about the characters. It meanders and doesn't seem like it's totally solid. There were also some homophobic lines that rang horribly.

Two Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 18 mins.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

DVD Review - Mustang

Ten, César Award nominations were given with five wins. Here in the United States, this film won the Archie Award at the Philadelphia Film Festival. It won the National Board of Review Award. It was nominated for a Spirit Award, a Critics Choice and a Golden Globe. It ultimately received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It was submitted by France. It centers on a group of teenage girls living in Turkey. It was directed and co-written by Deniz Gamze Ergüven with the events in the film being semi-autobiographical.

The group consists of five girls ranging from 12 to 18 possibly. They live with their uncle and their grandmother in the countryside, outside or probably not that far from Istanbul. The parents of the girls have been dead for a decade, and any spouses of the uncle and the grandmother have probably been dead for that long too. Despite the country being a democracy with a diverse culture, it still is mostly a Muslim nation. Islam is the dominant religion, and the older population still has certain conservative and strict ideas.

The inciting incident is the backlash of the girls going to the beach with a group of boys and playing in the water in what could be considered revealing swimwear but nothing that Western culture would deem provocative. Their uncle and grandmother accuse them of basically being sluts when they've done nothing wrong.

The result is for the uncle and grandmother to lock the girls in the house and forbid them from doing anything until they're married. One might ask how they intend to get married if they can't leave and thus meet someone. The answer is that the uncle and grandmother would do arranged marriages where they pick the guys for the girls without any say from them.

Given that the uncle and grandmother take the girls to the doctor to ensure they've never had sex, this movie echoes Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides (1999). However, it suffers the same problems as The Wolfpack (2015), which is also about a group of siblings locked in a house and not allowed out. This film doesn't do much to distinguish the girls from one another and allow us to get to know them as individuals.

It's not like Dogtooth (2010), the Greek film also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. Dogtooth only had two teenagers who were locked in a house. One was a boy and one was a girl, so it was easy to distinguish the two. This movie has five girls who all look similar and often act in a collective way.

Güneş Sensoy who plays Lale, the youngest of the five girls, is the only one who stands out or is distinguishable at all, but only because she is the youngest and because of which she is the last one left after all the other girls are married off. Ergüven's script does the work of carving out her character. She likes football, aka soccer. She wants to learn to drive. She's also the most opposed to the arranged marriages.

It's barely enough to prepare us for the climactic, third act, which was fun and somewhat thrilling to watch. I just wish that Ergüven had done more to build on the characters of all the other girls. The film is told from the girls' points of view, but somehow there still is a kind of detachment where I didn't always feel like I was in their heads or understood their thinking.

Another problem was how Ergüven disappeared the girls one-by-one. As the girls were married off, we never follow them as they go off with their husbands. Maybe Ergüven is making the point that once the girls are married, they lose that connection or bond to their original family or whatever made them unique or special is lost to the marriage, so there's no reason to see them again. Maybe Ergüven prefers to stay with the girls who resist arranged marriage, embracing the spirit of the titular animal, the free-roaming and almost wild horse.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and a rude gesture.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 37 mins.