BONES AND ALL (USA/Italy 2022) ***
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Hot on the heels of director Guadagnino’s SALVATORE: SHOEMAKER OF DREAMS, a delightful documentary that is pleasant and easy to watch comes this film from the director’s alter-ego, a difficult to watch film about characters living in the fringe of society who are yet to discover the their own personalities.
The publicist for the film BONES AND ALL encouraged reviewers to read the director’ statement below before watching the film. The statement is reproduced here as it provides insight to the director’s frame of mind that extends to all viewers of his film.
There is something about the disenfranchised, there is something about people living at the margins of society that I am drawn toward and touched by. All my movies are about outcasts, and the characters in “Bones and All” resonated with me. In that regard, it’s also interesting to me to tackle texture-wise the midWest in the 80s. The idea of the traveler, the one who roams, the wanderer in this kind of modern setting felt very American to me and seemed to me to be a good place to start making movies in the USA.
The heart of the movie is tender and affectionate to its characters. I’m interested in their emotional journeys and what is going to happen to them – where is the possibility inside the impossibility for these characters? No, I don’t think the movie is transgressive, but perhaps we’ve moved so far into postmodernism that to tell this story in a classical way may feel transgressive.
I am asking my audience to join this journey; it’s about discovery. Who are these people? Why do they behave as they do? What are they learning? And so what do we learn about ourselves?
I come from a Catholic country and we have the metaphor of cannibalism every day of our lives – the Body of Christ in the metaphor of the thin (eucharistic) wafer. At the same time we are still animals – part reason and part instinct. Part of our drive is social and part is ancestral. It is the ultimate way in which a human being can annihilate another human being, but that’s not what the movie is about. The movie wants to be, for me, more of a meditation on who I am and how I can overcome what I feel, if it is something I cannot control in myself. And lastly, when will I be able to find myself in the gaze of the other?
BONES AND ALL is a love story and a coming-of-age one as well. The two lovers are teenage cannibals who are discovering that eating human flesh is like a drug. The film based on the book by Camille DeAngelis could very well have been about drug addicted teens and not man-eating teens. The plot line might therefore seem too puzzling, together with its open ending, for commercial cinema goers but Guadagnino’s film is for that reason mystifying and surprising in its delivery.
The plot line is simple enough. Maren (Taylor Russell) meets another fellow human flesh eater, Lee (Timothée Chalamet) as they apparently smell each other. As the story unfolds, the film reveals their past and their problems, primarily with family. Following Maren, is a creepy old flesh eater, Sully (Mark Rylance) who has something else on his agenda.
Guadagnino’s film moves along slowly but surely, Guadagnino allowing lots of breathing space for the audience to absorb the details of the strange tale. Performances are excellent, especially Rylance as Sully.
BONES AND ALL is so called because the cannibals devour the entire body part, flesh, bones and all - not very pleasant. Maren’s mother, for example, has gone crazy, eating her two hands and part arms, leaving two stumps to show.
BONES AND ALL won Best Film and Best Director at the Venice Film Festival. The film is not (pardon the pun) for all tastes.
CROSSING (Rivers of Milk and Honey)(USA 2019) ***1/2
Directed by Arthur Ian
A young man from a Soviet family leaves his country during the final act of the Cold War to achieve the life of his dreams. Twenty years later, his life is caught in the cataclysm of the financial crisis of 2008-2009, bringing him back to square one and forcing him to re-discover his family, his country and his values. The film marks an impressive feature directorial debut of Arthur Ian who wrote the script as well.
CROSSING begins with a voiceover that cracks a joke: “My mother used to tell me that if you want to make God laugh, then you should tell him your plans for tomorrow.” Joke or no joke - the saying is often stepped in reality.
In the final years of the Cold War, a Soviet family splinters along East/West lines. Andrei (Mesrop Tsaghikyan), a free-spirited teenager, leaves the USSR to follow his dream of becoming a successful businessman in the United States. Ultimately, Andrei’s (Rudolph Martin) dreams come to a halt 20 years later when his new world is shattered by the Great Recession. Forced to reunite with his family, including his eccentric mother (Marina Sirtis), and caught between struggles both present and past, Andrei reexamines the values from his life.
Mother has more sayings throughout the film. At midpoint she says: “The trouble is that I got smart near the end of my life. If only I were not that stupid girl when I was young.” But it gets better. When Andrei tells his mother that he owes a huge debt to the bank, she says that she is still waiting for her money. She claims that a surrogate mother got $40,000 for one birth and she brought her son into the world and got nothing. Andrei, the son, was also smart when he was young. In school economics as a teenager, he writes an essay of the entrepreneur and worker working together for the common good only to have the school call his father and being labelled a dissident.
CROSSING is a sly look at life with lots and lots of wry humour that makes one laugh at the mishap-endings of poor Andrei and his family. The American dream? That was busted in the Great Depression and the stock market crash following Black Monday and Russia is no better. As the saying goes in the film: If the current is very bad, one can always go back to the past, especially when there is no choice. The family lives on the fringe of an American city, where as the film informs, they can do their own thing and speak their own language.
CROSSINGS is a very low budget look at life in the United States from a Russian immigrant family’s point of view. It is so unexpectedly funny with hilarious dialogue poking fun at the financial catastrophe. The film will drop worldwide on multiple digital platforms including iTunes/AppleTV and Amazon on December 1. It is the perfect film to see after losing a bundle on a bad day at the stock market.
EO (Poland/UK 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski
’ Following the story of life from the point of view of a donkey, as in Robert Bresson’s 1966 classic Au Hasard Balthazar, Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO (which shared the Jury Prize in this year’s Cannes competition) is the latest work from the 84-year-old Polish master (DEEP END, MOONLIGHTING). It has been more than 50 years since Bresson's film, so what transpired in EO could be considered material hardly seen. In EO, the audience sees the donkey from birth to its ultimate death. His name is EO and he undergoes several owners from the circus to a farm to just straying away with no owner. The most difficult to watch scenes are the ones where EO is mistreated or beaten up for no reason. Why is the animal chosen the donkey? Probably because it is the most abused and misunderstood animal on the planet. Not as moving as Bresson's 1966 classic Au Hasard Balthazar, but just as riveting!
EMERGENCY (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Carey Williams
From the pen of K.B. Davila and direction of Carey Williams with the aid of an enthusiastic and spirited young cast comes the rather amusing and affecting EMERGENCY. Ready for a night of legendary partying, three college students must weigh the pros and cons of calling the police when faced with an unexpected situation.
Expanded from the short film, EMERGENCY is a low budget no name actors teen comedy dealing with a few key issues like race, partying and morals. When three friends, two balls and a latino discover an unconscious white, and worse still, underaged girl in their apartment, they have to decide the right thing to do.
The three friends, though minorities, are quite different as night and day. One. Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) comes from black professional parents who want their son to become a doctor. Kunle has been accepted to Princeton but has not yet informed his test pal, Sean (RJ Cyler) who parties and smokes weed half the time. They plan to attend some concert but what would be the right thing to do when an unconscious girl who could be at the bank of death suddenly shows up? The third is Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) who plays video games all the time.
The story is simple enough which allows jokes and key issues to be included into the story without any rush. Kunle and Sean only have two tickets and decided to keep the secret of the concert between themselves. When they discover Emma, unconscious, Kunle decides the right thing to do is to bring her to the hospital. But Sean wants to just dump her. Sean is scared at what would happen when a white irl is found dead with two blacks and a latino. “They are going to shoot us…..” is Sean’s reaction. The artist theme is also touched at the film’s start when the two attend a lesson in class then the teacher plans the word ‘nigger’ on the board and asks the class why that work is so powerful. Sean is upset that a teacher from Britain is testing them on the word that they clearly know more about. These are some of the film’s good spots.
On the side of flaws, the film is not as funny as it wants to be, despite a few good jokes. With the music soundtrack, the film seems to be a KID N PLAY HOUSE PARTY wannabe. The film is littered with many songs with lyrics that tell or remind the audience of what is going on. There is a clever spot in the script where the film parodies itself. Whending CPR on the unconscious Emma, Kunle is singing “Staying live”. Stope it, remarks the others, tai is really stupid.
The film is based on the 2018 "Special Jury Prize" winning Sundance short film, by the same name. The expansion to the feature format can be observed in the padding of a few scenes that drag out and can be eliminated. The introduction of the frat party and the couple that accompany Emma’s sister is an example. They do not contribute much to the story nor are the couple particularly funny.
EMERGENCY is currently playing on Prime Video.
THE FABELMANS (USA 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Steven Spielberg
THE FABELMANS won the prestigious Audience Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Spielberg’s personal auto-biographical film is a difficult watch as many, myself included had not expected what was revealed on screen - Spielberg’s difficult family life, his struggle into moviemaking and anti-semitic bullying.
The film traces his life, his name changed to Manny Fabelman.
The film’s best parts involve the moviemaking, or anything that involves the movies. From the very start when the audience gets to see the first film Spielberg gets to see as a child brought to the cinema by his parents. Cecil B. DeMille’s excellent THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, the scene of the circus train crash which terrified the boy, gave him nightmares, one can see the effect on cinema of a child. Myself, I saw THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH and also was terrified and had nightmares of the train crash when I first saw it as a boy, but not so much the second viewing when I was in high school. The segments where the teen Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel MaBelle) makes his own amateur movies are also terrific. His 8mm films like ESCAPE TO NOWHERE and THE LAST GUNFIGHT show Spielberg’s talent at a young age. There are segments showing how these two films were made as well as their screenings. Sammy Fabelman was always desperate for a new piece of gear so he could make ever-bigger movies with his friends.
The film also contains Sammy’s struggle with his dysfunctional family. Michelle Williams is the heart of the story as Sammy’s encouraging mother, a skilled pianist. She brings life to their household, a fact Mr. Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer, finds it as enchanting as he does discombobulating. Their family is rounded out by his loveable co-worker Benny (Seth Rogen), who becomes an uncle to Sammy and his sisters, always along for the ride with the Fabelmans. This unique combination of parental figures eventually becomes a source of tension with Sammy at the centre, and that seeps into his creative work. The part of the film is not that pleasant to watch as it encompasses a slightly mentally unstable mother and a weird relationship between his mother and his father’s best friend, Uncle Benny.
The film also contains Sammy’s first love and his trouble in school after moving to California. He is called bullied with anti-semitic jokes and beaten up a couple of times.
With so many aspects of Sammy shown in the film, the running time goes over the 2 hour mark. The film also feels uneven especially whenever Sammy’s mother comes into the picture - she brings a downer to the overall story.
One must give credit to Spielberg for being so open about his difficult passage of his early life before he became famous. Steven Spielberg’s most personal film yet is based on the master director’s childhood passion for movie making, and the family dynamics that found their way into his work.
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (USA 2022) ****
Directed by Rian Johnson
Writer/director Rian Johnson (LOOPER, KNIVES OUT) has found his niche in helming exceptional Agatha Christie murder mystery type movies. This film was dedicated to the late MURDER, SHE WRTE’s Angela Lansbury (and Stephen Sondheim). His first foray into the murder mystery genre was the much enjoyed KNIVES OUT boasting a stellar cast including James Bond’s Daniel Craig as a Belgium name sounding detective Benoit Blanc (a fond nod to Hercule Poirot), who for reasons unexplained speaks with a southern drawl - perhaps the biggest mystery yet to be figured out. His second KNIVES OUT mystery is a better film than the first with lots of clues and mystery and hidden skeletons in the closet. Though over 2 hours, GLASS ONION moves fast and one can hardly feel the time passing a one enjoys a solid murder mystery.
The only thing missing is Jamie Lee Curtis but there are other stars playing deliciously wicked characters in the story.
A few of the actors are showing their age. Edward Norton (FIGHT CLUB) and Daniel Craig (James Bond) can be seen showing their age, both donning white hair, but they are still fit, showing off their chiseled bodies. The make-up artists in the film do quite a good job in certain scenes hiding the age of these two actors.
Famed Southern detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) travels to Greece for his latest case. But how and why he comes to be there is only the first of many mysteries. Blanc soon encounters a distinctly disparate group of characters, played by notable actors such as Edward Norton as Bron (Fight Club, The Italian Job), Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton, One Night in Miami...), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Dune), Janelle Monáe (Moonlight, Hidden Figures), Kate Hudson (Almost Famous), Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms, Transparent), Madelyn Cline (Boy Erased), and Jessica Henwick (The Gray Man), among others. Bron is the ultra rich host of the guests who are invited annually. Blanc receives an invite but not from Bron. Apparently one of the guests invited Blanc. A murder game devised by Bron tuns up becoming the real thing with a real murder.
Director Johnson accomplishes a somewhat brilliant script. It is impossible to guess the motives of the real killer or the real killer as Johnson only provides the information and the clues just before answers are revealed. There are a few solid jokes in the script the funniest one being the influencer screaming out whether everything is real when a murdered victim suddenly shows up alive.
The special effects of the GLASS ONION are impressive as are the film’s props particularly the big cardboard box invite that works like an old Chinese puzzle box.
Deliciously wicked, with a little satire on the rich and wealthy thrown in - they seem to be a favourite target in recent films like TRIANGLE OF SADNESS and THE MENU.
GLASS ONION premiered at this year’s TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL and has a limited theatrical run before streaming on Netflix.
RIFT (USA 2022) **
Directed b Jason Winn
Written by Tammie Renee Renee Mickle and directed by Jason Winn, best known for his classic on obesity bullying film THE FAT BOY CHRONICLES, RIFT returns the director to a combination of horror/drama and it examines rather than play on the cat-and-mouse chase between a predator and senior FBI agent Jason Cole (Darren Cane).
The film poses and attempts to answer the important question: "What do you do when doing the right thing costs you everything?” The film also shows during the confrontation between Agent Cole and his female boss, Supervisory Agent Greene (Lisa Wu) that the question is not black and white and different answers may be sought depending on one's perspective as there are different points of view.
Sr. Agent Jason Cole is an accomplished and driven FBI agent assigned to the elite "white collar crimes" division. A dedicated family man at heart, Jason is torn between moving up the ranks of the department and starting a new family with his beautiful wife Savannah (Brooke Montalvo). The trouble starts when his drinks bill is covered by the predator who takes his wife hostage as a personal vengeance mission. Their busy schedules don't allow for much quality time so Jason plans a special midday getaway for their anniversary only to be accosted by a stranger (Josh Hooks)with an interesting proposition. As he patiently awaits the arrival of his wife the nefarious plans of the unsuspecting "stranger" begin to emerge.
With time running out, and under the watchful eye of millions of online onlookers, when faced with the ultimate decision, will he do the right thing -- even if it costs him everything? Agent Cole had already lost his partner and friend in a previous incident and he is intent on not letting his wife end up in the same tragedy.
Credit should be given to director Winn for focusing on the drama side of the siege. Unfortunately, the film lacks the suspense and action of the typical thriller, not to say that the actors appear to be just going through the emotions regarding the drama. The confrontation segment between Agent Cole and his supervisor has many lines of the dialogue repeated and the segment could have been improved with a little more emotional drama shown by the two actors. Savannah, the wife and damsel in distress is not given much to say but scream and shudder. At least the female character is given a prestigious doctor vocation in the film., though the doctor element is never used in the story.
RIFT runs a short hour and a quarter or so. Unlike director Winn’s FAT BOY CHRONICLES where there is more of a key issue at stake, RIFT hardly generates much interest. Winn is a producer with more than 20 years experience with 2 more new films DEADLY SECRETS OF A CAM GIRL and DIVISION under his belt.
RIFT opens November 25 on Amazon, Apple TV/iTunes, Vudu, Cable on Demand and more.
SOMETHING IN THE DIRT (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Benson and Moorhead
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are the film’s actors, directors and writers in what they called a friends-made movie, celebrating this what might-be-called new created genre of filmmaking. The two of them are in almost every scene and the film is basically a two-handler in the very sense of the term. Unfortunately, it is a strange and weird exercise, and safe to say, not for everyone, less the average commercial filmgoer, but this is what makes SOMETHING IN THE DIRT different, inventive and occasionally wonderful.
Why is the film called SOMETHING IN THE DIRT? Alternative titles for the film include SOMETHING IN THE LIGHT or THIS DOOR DOES NOT CLOSE as proposed by Benson and Moorhead’s two oddball characters in one of the film’s scenes.
The film begins oddly with a 10-minute sequence which can be described by the following words: What the hell is going on? A man wakes up in a bare apartment, looks out the window and leaves the apartment to see a helicopter and a strange man outside.
Levi has snagged a no-lease apartment sight unseen in the Hollywood Hills to crash at while he ties up loose ends for his exodus from Los Angeles. He quickly strikes up a rapport with his new neighbour John, swapping stories like old friends under the glowing, smoke-filled skies of the city. The two smoke all throughout the film. Soon after meeting, Levi and John witness something impossible in one of their apartments - multicoloured light moving their crystal-looking ashtray. Terrified at first, they soon realize this could change their lives and give them a purpose. With dollar signs in their eyes, these two eccentric strangers will attempt to prove the supernatural.
SOMETHING IN THE DIRT can be described as twisted, sci-fi talkie, because there is a lot of talk. One has to be a bit patient as the two do mumble half the time, and when they do as scientific or mathematical theories are introduced to explain the phenomena, it does not always make sense. The two do share an odd-ball chemistry but they also do fight and insult each other terribly. They are also not ideal specimens of society nor are they grounded in reality. Levi is poor, has a criminal record while Levi is a member of some church cult.
The film is often all over the place. This is where the film is flawed as it appears lacking direction. Besides including flashbacks of Levi and John as children, the two also talk to the camera, as well as a few other assorted characters. One so-called phenomena expert even speaks Italian to the camera. The film also includes some special effects like the levitating ashtray that is never explained. None of the so-called light phenomena is explained, or when attempted to, never makes much sense anyway, not that it matters.
SOMETHING IN THE DIRT is available on demand Nov 22.
STRANGE WORLD (USA 2022) ***1/2
Directed by Don Hall
Strange World chronicles the legendary Clades, the father, Jagger (Dennis Quaid) but mainly his son, Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) who has always been a farmer and has never had the bravery of his family of explorers. As they are forced to tackle their latest and most crucial mission, they must rely on each other and are forced to put away their differences (explorer vs. farmer) while in the uncharted and treacherous land of Avalonia.
STRANGE WORLD is a 2022 American computer-animated science-fiction action-adventure film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures (the record 61st animated film produced by the studio). Coming from Disney, there are lots of expectations and formulaic problems that come with them. Disney products especially their animation features are always too-notch and STRANGE WORLD is no exception. The animation is impressive and the studios have their established and talented teams to produce their product. But this also comes with a price. With all the rules and regulations that follow, the main flaw is a stereo-typed formulaic product that is good to look at but with nothing fresh to show.
The film takes inspiration from pulp magazines—popular fiction from the first half of the 20th century; the film also pays homage to retro science-fiction flicks such as Jules Verne’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH and THE KING KONG films. In addition, the land of Avalonia was given an orange-and-white colour palette to contrast with the titular strange world, as the filmmakers chose red and magenta. The best part of STRANGE WORLD is its first 10 minutes where the audience sees a spirited and lively rendition of the tribute to pulp magazines and comics. The voiceover and music are over the top as the audience sees Jagger running up mountains and down values with his son in hand.
The main part of the story - the rift between father and son is unfortunately sentimental fare, which audiences have seen then and again. It does not take a genius to guess that the father and son relationship will be patched up at the end, as Searcher now faces the same rift with his son. Jaboukie Young-White plays Ethan Clade, Searcher's 16-year-old gay son who longs for adventure beyond his father's farm while also navigating a school crush. Credit should be given to the filmmakers to not only make the film LGBT friendly but also be brave enough to keep the gay content in their movies though gay content has been banned in many countries as in Saudi Arabia.
Still, STRANGE WORLD is totally entertaining with its impressive animation, even though the story might tread a familiar course. The animation of the STRANGE WORLD and the surprises of what the strange world is make a few fresh turns. STRANGE WORLD should interest the adventure and curiosity aspect in all of us.