Archive for April, 2021

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on April 21, 2021 by Mark Hobin

This was recorded Sunday, April 18.  The Academy Awards are next week. In that spirit, the UK’s Martin Kelner of talkSPORT radio and I revisit NOMADLAND and PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. Also, we discuss THE SHADOW OF VIOLENCE (Netflix) a.k.a. CALM WITH HORSES which garnered 4 BAFTA nominations. My segment begins 22 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 8 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

Synchronic

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synchronic is one of those films that is conveniently described as “interesting” and it’s unclear whether you mean it as a compliment. The ambiguous word is perfection because it fits this movie to a T. Steve and Dennis (Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan) are paramedics in New Orleans who also happen to be best friends. They encounter a rash of unusual deaths in their line of work. A new designer drug called Synchronic is the common thread that unites all of the cases. It would appear this drug — which is sold in single-dose packets — might have otherworldly powers. When his partner’s daughter Brianna goes missing, Steve investigates.

The narrative is a slow starter. The first half establishes the close relationship between the central duo. It’s nice to see their bond is a positive depiction of male friendship. However, both men are adrift in their everyday lives, occasionally turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. Anthony Mackie’s character is a ladies’ man that has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Jamie Dornan portrays a man who had difficulty meeting women in the past (!) but is now married with two kids. He’s currently having marital problems. When the pair confront a series of bizarre fatalities in their job, it unfolds like a crime drama, disseminated in fragments using a piecemeal approach.

The second half improves. Steve becomes the hero as it concerns his investigation into the whereabouts of Brianna. His EMT partner Dennis is mostly sidelined. Dennis’ vague personality lacks a compelling identity anyway. Steve’s experimentation with Synchronic is intriguing. Here the chronicle starts to connect the threads of the grisly murders we witnessed before. These developments provide some much-needed clarification in a picture heretofore wallowing in existential gloom. The script plays with the idea that sometimes nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. “The past f—–g sucks, man!” Steve cries out at one point.

This is the fourth feature from filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Scott Moorhead who specialize in quirky features (Spring, The Endless) that blend sci-fi with horror. Synchronic debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 but didn’t get released to the public until after Project Power and Tenet. It feels like an amalgamation of those movies but through a low-budget indie B-movie aesthetic. Synchronic is a real downer of a film. Not a criticism. Just a fact. Nevertheless, its aimless meandering feels somewhat pointless until that mic drop of an ending involving a troubling sacrifice. The “good old days” are a misnomer. “Be thankful you live in the present” is the veiled admonition presented in its final scene. Fair enough. However I suspect a hundred years from today, someone will make a similar movie condemning our current era.

04-19-21

The Shadow of Violence

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on April 18, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Selecting the right title for a film is an artistic decision. In the UK this production was poetically released as Calm with Horses — based on the short story of the same name by Irish writer Colin Barrett. This is what the movie was called everywhere. Everywhere except in the US, where it was changed to The Shadow of Violence. So bland. That generic title always escapes me.

Thankfully the picture itself is anything but forgettable. The debut feature from director Nick Rowland is skillfully composed and self-assured. It deserves a bigger audience. Inexplicably it was dropped in U.S. theaters last year on July 31, 2020, during the economic shutdown. Given that most theaters were closed, it isn’t surprising that few Americans saw it. Then it debuted on Netflix on January 21, 2021. To be honest, this still wasn’t even on my radar until the April 11th BAFTAs where it garnered an impressive four nominations.

The chronicle concerns an ex-boxer (Cosmo Jarvis) who works as the muscle for the Devers, a drug-dealing family in rural Ireland. Despite his rough exterior Douglas — whose nickname is Arm — is a sympathetic soul. He’s trying to break away from the negative influence of his troublemaking chum (Barry Keoghan). Arm wants to concentrate on being a good father to his 5-year-old autistic son Jack. Calm with Horses refers to the peace that Jack finds when he’s engaged in equestrian pursuits. Arm’s loyalties are tested when the Devers clan asks him to kill someone.

Actor Cosmo Jarvis is impressive in the lead. His memorable performance is full of passion and nuance . Arm is a man conflicted between his son vs. his loyalty to violent mobsters. Choosing the right path is complicated. The Devers took him in at a low point in his life. He feels like he owes them. Jarvis is compelling even though he did not pick up a BAFTA nomination. Actor Barry Keoghan did. He portrays his violent buddy Dymphna. Actress Niamh Algar playing his estranged girlfriend Ursula did as well. She is also the mother to his son.

Other cast members may have reaped more accolades, but it’s Jarvis that seizes our attention. Douglas may look like a massive brute, but his appearance belies a sensitive and tender personality. The difference in size between the hulking Cosmo Jarvis and the diminutive Barry Keoghan sort of gave me a George and Lennie vibe from Of Mice and Men. This is exceptionally bleak and depressing, a somewhat atypical view of Ireland. It takes a while for the narrative to take shape. Once it does, it’s a captivating character-driven drama with several authentic performances.

04-14-21

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on April 16, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio!  On Apr 11, I had a chat with the UK’s Martin Kelner of talkSPORT radio about CONCRETE COWBOY (Netflix) starring Idris Elba, the BBC TV drama PAGE EIGHT, Andy Samberg’s comedy PALM SPRINGS, and another comedy BARB AND STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR starting Kristen Wiig. My segment begins 18 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 12 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Posted in Comedy with tags on April 15, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

They say, write what you know. Yet there’s a wee bit of self-loathing in two middle-aged women lampooning middle-aged women. Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo wrote the hilarious classic Bridesmaids. I know the film is only ten years old, but I loved it — so it’s now a classic. They’re reunited here, starring as two single ladies in their 40s from the Midwest who decide to take a trip. They are a carefree but traditional pair decked out in a wardrobe of culottes and floral prints in Florida. There they become entangled in a lot of silly shenanigans.

Barb and Star have left their bubble of Soft Rock, Nebraska, for some fun and sun. They’re looking for a new lease on life after having just lost their jobs at the same couch store. The setup sounds rather quaint, but the developments are anything but. The story introduces an arch-villain incongruously named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Kristin Wiig in a dual role). Bullies teased her as a child for having pale skin. She’s mad at humanity, as most scoundrels are. Now she wants to unleash killer mosquitoes on the town to exact revenge.

This is a wacky comedy. Anyone trying to divine some logic here may be irritated by the plot. At first, I was a little confused by what I was watching because it’s all so random. After a while, I warmed up to the screenplay’s absurdist sensibility. Jaime Dornan plays the chief assistant to the evil Sharon. The suave and handsome Edgar is like a James Bond type. He’s inexplicably in love with Sharon despite the fact she clearly doesn’t feel the same. Head scratching idiosyncrasies like that are a fundamental component of the film.

The mood is bright and colorful and Barb and Star are charming characters. Their saga is also a musical. The radiant numbers employ high production values with amusing choreography. The lyrics are ridiculous, but they’re insanely catchy. When the ladies arrive at their accommodations, the hotel bursts into song with a vivid ditty welcoming them to the “Palm Vista Hotel.” A lounge singer named Richard Cheese (Mark Jonathan Davis) sings inappropriate songs (“I Love Boobies”). But the moment the picture won me over was during Jamie Dornan’s performance of “Edgar’s Prayer”, a soaring power ballad where he laments what he is doing. The inspiring lyrics include: “I’m going up a palm tree/Like a cat up a palm tree/Who’s decided to go up a palm tree.” I can’t justify my enthusiasm for the supremely nonsensical adventure. Yet I enjoyed the goofiness. Barb and Star invokes the vibe of a stoner comedy without actually being about smoking weed. These girls are high on life.

04-06-21

Mark’s money-saving tips: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar debuted February 12 on what they call “premium” video on demand. That distinction meant you had to originally pay a “premium” price of $20. Hefty charge if you were TV watching solo that evening. However, the feature was released on April 6 on DVD which means you can now rent it at your local Redbox kiosk (yes they still exist) for $1.80. At that price, the movie is an excellent value.

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on April 10, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio!  On Sun, Apr 04, I had a chat with UK’s Martin Kelner of talkSPORT radio about the biggest film of 2021 thus far: GODZILLA VS. KONG. We also talk about the Tina Turner documentary, simply called TINA, and the very British espionage drama SIX MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT. My segment begins 15 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 15 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Documentary, Drama, Shorts on April 9, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (documentary, animated, live-action) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.

DOCUMENTARY

This is my 9th year watching the documentary shorts. I’ve seen every Oscar nominee in this program since 2013. I must say, it hasn’t always been a bed of roses. The Oscar voters in this particular branch overwhelmingly favor stories of hardship. Topics of this year’s nominees include the Holocaust, civil unrest, starving children, discrimination and racism. Injustice is an underlying theme in all 5 docs. I did rank these, but I appreciated them all more or less equally, so my order is somewhat arbitrary.

A LOVE SONG FOR LATASHA
USA/19 MINS/2019
Director: SOPHIA NAHLI ALLISON

The life of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins is celebrated. She was shot to death in March 1991 after an altercation escalated between the owner of a South Central Los Angeles store. She believed Latasha was stealing a bottle of orange juice. Many believe the tragedy — which occurred just 13 days after the videotaped beating of Rodney King — partly fueled the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

The portrait is focused on the joy of Latasha as a human being. Her best friend Tybie O’Bard and her cousin Shinese Harlins recount touching memories in gentle narration. Fictional and non-fictional storytelling elements unite in a reflection of what could have been, in order to remember the young girl. More of a meditation than a conventional bio, the flow of thoughts and feelings are presented in a stream of consciousness. Actors, animation, and music converge in a visual pastiche. It’s somewhat disorienting but undeniably poetic.

A CONCERTO IS A CONVERSATION
USA/13 MINS/2020
Directors: KRIS BOWERS, BEN PROUDFOOT

A discussion between jazz pianist/composer Kris Bowers and his grandfather Horace Bowers Sr. sheds light on Kris’s career. Kris scored the Oscar-winning Best Picture Green Book. He also had a successful premiere of his violin concerto “For a Younger Self” that was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on January 28, 2020. Kris himself co-directs this conversation on his achievements made possible by the life of his 91-year-old grandfather.

The African American business icon left Jim Crow Florida by hitchhiking across the country at age 17. Years later in 1960, Horace purchased the small dry-cleaning plant in South Los Angeles where he had worked. Today he owns the entire block. A two-hander featuring admirable protagonists separated by over six decades. The sacrifices of one undoubtedly contributed to the advance of another. The most upbeat entry in the program.

COLETTE
USA/25 MINS/2020
Director: ANTHONY GIACCHINO

Another year, another entry about the Holocaust. Colette Marin-Catherine is a 90-year-old French woman and one of the last surviving members of the French Resistance. She came from a family of fighters that included her older brother Jean-Pierre who she last saw in 1943.

Lucie Fouble is a young history student who is investigating the story of Jean-Pierre. At her behest, Colette begrudgingly agrees to visit the concentration camp in Germany where he died. Colette is an irascible individual. She most definitely has every right to be bitter. I’m just surprised because these docs so often feature individuals with sanguine views on life and Colette is a bit edgier.

HUNGER WARD
USA/40 MINS/2020
Director: SKYE FITZGERALD

One minute longer and this short would have had to compete in the FEATURE category.

Unflinching portrait highlights the admirable efforts of Dr. Aida Alsadeeq and Nurse Mekkia Mahdi, a couple of health care workers who tirelessly dedicate their lives to help starving children. The two pediatric malnutrition wards are unquestionably a blessing in war-torn Yemen. However, seeing hunger-stricken kids so frail they can barely stand is a horror few people will be able to bear. Days later and I can still see the heartbreaking faces of these youngsters.

The resulting famine is a direct result of the Yemeni Civil War which has been an ongoing conflict since late 2014. Most of the world has forgotten about their issues. Luckily this documentary shines a brighter light on this humanitarian crisis. I’ll forewarn you though: “tough to watch” doesn’t even begin to describe the weight of this tragedy.

DO NOT SPLIT
USA/NORWAY/35 MINS/2020
Director: ANDERS HAMMER

Beijing is censoring the 2021 Academy Awards. This inside view of the front lines in Hong Kong’s fight for democracy is the reason why.

Before the British government handed over Hong Kong in 1997, China allowed the region considerable political autonomy for 50 years under a constitutional principle known as “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong enjoys some independence but it is still not full-fledged democracy. These limitations on their freedoms have only gotten worse over time. I’m simplifying things, but the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests focused around an Extradition Bill that Hong Kong citizens believed would further undermine their autonomy from mainland China.

Norwegian filmmaker Anders Hammer often inserts himself in dangerous environments. The clash of citizens and the police is extremely chaotic and confusing. However, a documentary about the revolt shouldn’t be. More detailed background information would have helped to fully comprehend the issues at stake here. Viewers already well versed in the antagonistic political relationship of Hong Kong and China will appreciate this more. Incidentally, the bizarre title refers to a rallying cry of demonstrators. That is, to maintain solidarity against the repressive regime of China.

04-06-21

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on April 7, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio! On my March 28th appearance on talkSPORT with Martin Kelner we chat about three movies: ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE, THE BEES GEES documentary HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART, and the Oscar contender MINARI. My segment begins 16 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 14 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Animation, Awards, Shorts with tags on April 6, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has made the Oscar-nominated short films (animated, live-action, documentary) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.

ANIMATION

I hate to be a gloomy Gus, but this year’s crop of animated films did not enchant me. Sadly Out, the man-dog body-swapping tale and Kapaemahu, the poetically beautiful Hawaiian folkloric tale didn’t even make the cut this year. With one notable exception, this animation program is not for kids. I’ve ranked these predominantly unlikable shorts in order of likability. It was hard.

BURROW
USA/6 MINS/2020
Director: MADELINE SHARAFIAN

A rabbit trying to dig herself an underground home keeps running into her neighbors. She’s confused. Her subterranean tunnels form a delightful labyrinth and the adorable critters are amusing. I get Wind in the Willows vibes. It’s a simple pleasure, but at least it’s pure and innocent. Burrow is from SparkShorts, a series produced by Pixar Animation Studios. It’s undeniably cute. What it lacks in innovation, it makes up for in feel-good spirit. Ironically that quality makes this entry unique by default this year. The rest of the submissions are dour, depressing and frankly a little twisted.

OPERA
SOUTH KOREA/USA/9 MINS/2020
Director: ERICK OH

This one grew on me upon closer study. A pyramidal diorama of a corrupt society is depicted in an overview of tiny figures before our eyes. The people on top have an effect on the humanity below. This would be impressive playing on a massive wall on a loop in a modern art gallery. It is impossible to grasp everything that is happening on screen, but upon further examination (I watched it more than once) a sense of purpose develops. Somewhat reminiscent of the work of Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch and his depictions of hell. This is an animated update for our modern times. It’s supremely unsettling but easily the most innovative of this year’s nominees. It begs your attention.

IF ANYTHING HAPPENS I LOVE YOU
USA/13 MINS/2020
Directors: MICHAEL GOVIER, WILL MCCORMACK

A husband and wife grieve the loss of their daughter — their only child — taken by a mass shooting. Minimalist, expressive black and white pencil sketches are a mediation on violence against children. The worst thing that any parent can possibly imagine is depicted for your entertainment in the form of a cartoon. There’s even a contemporary pop song “1950” by King Princess for your listening enjoyment. Clearly, their motives are pure. The filmmakers are opposed to school shootings which I think (I can safely say) is something everyone is against. The filmmakers worked closely with the American nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety. I can’t see this not winning the Oscar as the filmmakers have literally done their homework with a sanctioned advocacy group.

GENIUS LOCI
FRANCE/16 MINS/2019
Director: ADRIEN MERIGEAU

In the polytheistic religion of ancient Rome, a “genius loci” was the protective spirit of a place. The longest at 16 minutes, this is extremely avant-garde. Reine is a young Black woman who ventures through the urban chaos of Paris. The people and places around her are an ever-shifting collage of surrealism. Is she on drugs? Is she mentally unstable? Are paranormal forces afoot? Who’s to say. One thing’s for sure. She is anxious and dissatisfied with life. Disconnected from her thoughts and body, she even becomes a canine at one point. The most experimental of the nominees which is a nice way of saying, I didn’t get it.

YES-PEOPLE
ICELAND/9 MINS/2020
Director: GÍSLI DARRI HALLDÓRSSON

A group of unsavory residents live in an apartment building. The characters with their exaggerated features are visually grotesque in this portrait of domesticity. Good luck divining a story in this narrative. Their nonverbal dialogue consists of grunts before culminating with moans and screams of ecstasy at the end. These (amusingly?) reverberate throughout the building when one couple decides to get intimate. How on earth is this up for an award? The worst of the lot.

03-28-21

2021 Oscar Nominated Short Films (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in Awards, Drama, Shorts with tags on April 5, 2021 by Mark Hobin

ShortsTV has been making the Oscar-nominated short films (live-action, animated, documentary) available to audiences for over a decade. This year you can watch them online or via VOD or in a theater where they’ve been playing since April 2.

Live-Action

Cops or prejudice or a combination of the two are the connective themes that unite the majority of this year’s nominees. Incidentally, it wasn’t the subject of Pedro Almodóvar’s highly promoted short The Human Voice starring Tilda Swinton. That may explain why a submission many thought could potentially win in this category, didn’t even get nominated. Regardless, there are some worthy films here. I’ve ranked the nominees in order of best to worst.

TWO DISTANT STRANGERS
USA/29 MINS/2020
Directors: TRAVON FREE, MARTIN DESMOND ROE

Carter James, a black graphic designer (Joey Badass) wakes up in the bed of the girl (Zaria Simone) he met last night. After some chitchat, he leaves her apartment only to be stopped by an aggressive white cop (Andrew Howard) in an altercation that shockingly leads to Carter’s death. Suddenly he’s back in her bed. Apparently, it was all a dream. Yet the cycle is repeated again and again with different iterations but always ending in his demise. What can he do differently to survive? Because I just saw Joe Carnahan’s recent Boss Level, I’ll compare this time-loop nightmare as a clever amalgamation of that film mixed with the social message of Black Lives Matter. Pay attention to how Carter dies each time because you best believe there’s meaning behind each one.

THE PRESENT
PALESTINE/25 MINS/2020
Director: FARAH NABULSI

Yusuf (Saleh Bakri) simply wants to get his wife Noor (Mariam Kanj) a present — a new refrigerator. — for their anniversary. What seems like a simple task is anything but. You see Yusuf lives in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. He must cross a pedestrian bridge before reaching a checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers. There Yusuf must submit to a humiliating detention before being able to cross over. The fact that he has brought his daughter Yasmine (Mariam Kanj) along further complicates matters. Drama elucidates how even the most mundane tasks are difficult for a Palestinian under Israeli occupation. The tone deftly switches from lighthearted to tense back and forth several times in a mere 25 minutes.

THE LETTER ROOM
USA/33 MINS/2020
Director: ELVIRA LIND

Richard (Oscar Isaac) is a kindhearted but lonely corrections officer recently transferred to the prison’s letter room. He must monitor all prisoners’ incoming and outgoing mail. While there he becomes familiar with the lives of two inmates: Jackson (John Douglas Thompson) hasn’t gotten a message from his daughter in two years . He beseeches Richard to verify that the mail wasn’t withheld. Meanwhile, Cris (Brian Petsos) is facing execution. He receives rather passionate letters from his girlfriend Rosita (Alia Shawkat ). Earns points for daring to feature a good-natured officer. That’s almost nonexistent in 2021, but this slight chronicle is not justified by the length. At 33 minutes, it’s the longest “short” in this program. For what it’s worth, this is the handpicked frontrunner to win. The category is also notoriously hard to predict. I initially thought this feature was lucky to secure an actor as talented and famous as Oscar Issac. He’s the husband of director Elvira Lind.

FEELING THROUGH
USA/19 MINS/2019
Director: DOUG ROLAND

Tereek (Steven Prescod) a young black teen wandering the streets of New York. He’s been texting a girl for a possible hookup. Then he encounters Artie (Robert Tarango), a deaf-blind man in need of assistance in locating his bus stop. Their unexpected interaction is the subject of a connection that is almost spiritual. This poignant tale coasts on emotion, not dialogue. Star Robert Tarango is actually a dishwasher from Long Island with no acting experience. The press materials boast that this is the first film to star an actual deaf-blind actor. Hard to believe but kudos to the filmmakers for their consideration.

WHITE EYE
ISRAEL/20 MINS/2019
Director: TOMER SHUSHAN

“White eye” is an affliction of someone who is blind. Ah but to what? Omer (Daniel Gad) discovers his stolen bicycle locked up on a street corner in a squalid quarter of Tel Aviv. Yunes (Dawit Tekelaeb) is a migrant worker from Eritrea who claims to have recently bought the vehicle. Omer angrily demands his bike. His ensuing reaction sets off a sequence of events that ultimately gives him pause. The idea that you should allow others to take things you own because they need them more is an *interesting* moral. Shot in one continuous take, the narrative deals with corrupt cops and the plight of migrant refugees from northeastern Africa looking for employment in Israel. The ending is frustrating, to say the least.

04-04-21