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

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on April 4, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio! On my March 21st talkSPORT appearance, Martin Kelner and I discussed four movies: A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK, THE MAURITANIAN, CREATION STORIES, and BOSS LEVEL. My segment begins 17 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 13 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

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

Godzilla vs. Kong

Posted in Action, Science Fiction, Thriller with tags on April 1, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

You’d think a movie with the title Godzilla vs. Kong would be pretty self-explanatory. Not hard to understand, right? Well, you’d be wrong. This is the fourth entry in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse — a comprehensive series featuring Godzilla and King Kong. Like Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, the filmmakers have decided to devise a needlessly complicated backstory to connect it to the previous installments. This directly draws upon the setup in Kong: Skull Island (2017) as well as Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). I just want to see two beasts face off in the biggest beatdown in history. Can I?

The answer is yes, you can….after suffering through 40 minutes of exposition that weaves a lot of convoluted details that connect the stories of the earlier chapters into this one. This includes a discussion of “Hollow Earth” That is the idea that the center of the planet has an excavated space with other titans living within. Devoted viewers may recall this was brought up in Kong: Skull Island. The Skull Crawlers from that feature also make a brief appearance here too. Hollow Earth was likewise discussed in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Godzilla is using subterranean tunnels to swim across the globe. Just quickly tell me, but don’t subject me to nearly an hour of talking heads pontificating about the idea. It’s a tortuous set of details that is bewilderingly hard to follow. News flash: Your movie is called Godzilla vs. Kong. If I wanted a confusing scientific explanation I’ll watch Primer. Director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) doesn’t seem to grasp the idea that audiences don’t require laborious clarifications in a monster flick. One line from Rebecca Hall as Dr. Ilene Andrews explains it perfectly: the rivalry between these two beastly kings is rooted in a historical feud traversing centuries to an epic Titan War. Their hate spans generations. Got it. That’s all I needed to know.

The title is about creatures, but the screenplay written by Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok) and Max Borenstein (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) is frustratingly all about the people. They deliver their lines in blunt simplistic declarations. Alexander Skarsgård is Dr. Nathan Lindof of the Monarch corporation. Monarch is the secret scientific organization created to study these huge beasts. With his matinee-idol good looks, Nathan is handsome but very capable. Rebecca Hall is Dr. Ilene Andrews, the beautiful but still extremely brilliant anthropological linguist who’s been trying to communicate with Kong with little success. Surprise! It’s Ilene’s adopted daughter who has established a rapport that she cannot. Jia is an eight-year-old orphan — cute as a button — who happens to be an Iwi native that forms an unusual bond with Kong.

Sorry, the humans are uninteresting. Nevertheless, actress Kaylee Hottle as Jia is possibly the human MVP of the ensemble. As if her character wasn’t already precious enough, she is a deaf/mute actress that communicates through sign language. The contrast between the diminutive Jia communicating with the larger-than-life Kong is the closest thing you’ll get to poignancy in this undertaking. If a tribal girl with seemingly magical abilities isn’t a predictable trope, I don’t know what is. There’s also Brian Tyree Henry as a quirky conspiracy theorist who joins forces with two precocious kids played by Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison. The random tangent of their story arc promises a Goonies-esque adventure that never materializes in any meaningful way. But who cares? None of this nonsense is crucial to the plot anyway. Demián Bechir portrays Walter Simmons, the tech founder of Apex Cybernetics. He’s an evil billionaire (Is there any other kind?). He has a sexy adult daughter embodied by rising star Eiza González. She’s a top-tier executive but is fond of wearing tight fitting clothing that doesn’t highlight her intelligence. Apex Cybernetics is responsible for creating Mechagodzilla, a man-made weapon designed to destroy Godzilla. Later Bechir’s character selects a Japanese employee (Shun Oguri) to pilot the man-made contraption. I don’t write this stuff folks. I merely review it.

Luckily the picture is smart enough to know that we came here for the battles and there are a couple of doozies. The first one is under the sea where Godzilla has the upper hand. But the second one begins in the hollow earth where Kong realizes that this might be his ancestral home. It’s here that he picks up an ax made from a spike off the back of Godzilla’s ancestors . The second showdown ultimately occurs when Kong jumps through a portal to meet Godzilla. They end up in the streets of Hong Kong. The setting amongst the buildings with neon outlines resembles a disco nightclub. It’s in these moments that Godzilla vs. Kong redeems itself into the movie you came to see.

There was a time when I enjoyed these nonsensical fight fests without giving a care. I often wonder how I would’ve reacted to a flick such as this when I was 5. Back then, they utilized actual people in suits. That would have been preferable. Here the CGI fest feels more like a cartoon than an organic meeting of physical enemies. Welcome to 2021. Another peculiarity of the 21st century is that insidery callbacks to earlier episodes are considered more of a priority than simply telling a coherent story. Only diehard fans will recognize every single one of these “easter eggs” inserted into the dense narrative. Ah but that is the current state of cinema. Speaking of which, this was simultaneously released for free to subscribers on HBO Max and in theaters in the U.S. Given our current reality, it’s obvious most people will see this on a TV. That’s fine. Even IMAX can’t fix a bad script. At least the production has a sense of humor. The quirky soundtrack emphasizes selections that perfectly describe the scene. “Over The Mountain, Across The Sea” by Bobby Vinton, Elvis Presley’s “Loving Arms”, “Breaking The Law” by Judas Priest, and “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies all play at key intervals. I chuckled at how the lyrics perfectly encapsulate the action on screen. Godzilla vs. Kong is by no means a good movie, but it’s moments like these that remind me it can still be fun. At this juncture in time, that just might be enough.

03-31-21

Another Round

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on March 28, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Academy Awards often bring welcome attention to overseas cinema that many U.S. viewers haven’t seen. The Oscars still have a certain cachet. Though people deride their selections and snubs, critics continue to discuss them passionately on social media. When the announcement occurred on Monday, March 15th, Another Round surprisingly emerged with TWO nominations. This release had been the frontrunner for International Feature, so that honor was anticipated. However, Thomas Vinterberg was also cited as Best Director — one of the biggest surprises of this year’s reveal. Most pundits predicted that Aaron Sorkin’s name would be mentioned for The Trial of the Chicago 7, especially after it placed in 6 other categories including Best Picture. Vinterberg’s citation is a solid reflection on the merits of this film.

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are four teachers at a High School in Copenhagen. They make a most unusual pact — to drink consistently throughout the day. Their decision is rooted in the theories of real-life Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud. He opined that humans are born with a blood alcohol level that is 0.05 percent too low. Therefore they should compensate for that deficit. It sounds highly questionable, but given that their lives are in various degrees of unhappiness, they’re ready to try anything to improve. All four are dealing with unmotivated students and feel that their lives have become stale. Learning to imbibe more, seems like tasty medicine. They decide to put Skårderud’s theory to the test.

Fortunately and rather amusingly, their agreement has an immediate boost. Mild intoxication as a means to get yourself out of a rut would appear to be a recipe for disaster. Please keep an open mind. Anyone who has ever felt more socially at ease after a drink or two will appreciate how it could help. Director Vinterberg’s screenplay which he cowrote with Tobias Lindholm, takes a pragmatic approach to the advantages of inebriation. This is conferred under the guises of a research project. It’s an admittedly superficial justification. Regardless, the benefits are immediately transparent. Martin’s marriage to his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) improves. He subsequently bonds with his family by taking them on a weekend getaway.

The other teachers experience positive outcomes as well. Tommy coaches his soccer team to victory. The least likely player — nicknamed “Specs” because of his glasses — scores the game-winning goal. Peter inspires his choir to sing better than they ever have. Nikolaj helps an undergraduate who is failing. Martin’s pupils respond positively to his more engaged methods. “The world is never as you expect,” Martin teaches. He cheekily discusses the drinking habits of Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Adolph Hitler. Can you guess who eschewed liquor altogether? Perhaps alcohol isn’t such a bad thing he surmises. The students are amused and so are we.

Actor Mads Mikkelsen ties the whole production together with a sympathetic performance. He embodies a man making improvements at a crossroads. Ah but then things start to collapse. If a little booze is good, more must be even better. No clearheaded person would ever think such a thing. Nevertheless, the men decide to push the boundaries of the study. The narrative starts to settle into the more expected cautionary tale about the pitfalls of drinking — with less surprising results. Director Thomas Vinterberg — poignantly uncovers a mid-life crisis with both humor and introspection. This is Vinterberg’s first Oscar nomination. Yes, he directed The Hunt — also starring Mikkelsen — which was nominated for International Feature in 2014. However the Academy Award for that category is rather unfairly bestowed upon the country represented, not the filmmaker responsible. The Great Beauty (Italy) won that year but there’s still a chance a movie helmed by Vinterberg will win “the prize formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film.” If that happens on April 25, I will toast his success.

03-15-21

The Mauritanian

Posted in Drama, Thriller with tags on March 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The story of what happened to Mohamedou Ould Salahi is a troubling tale that details a shocking abuse of human rights.

The Mauritanian is based on his memoir Guantánamo Diary published in January 2015. Salahi was detained on suspicion of being involved with the planning of the September 11 attacks. The story begins when he is apprehended at a wedding back in his home country. The case against him includes a lot of ties to various people who were indeed involved. However, the evidence implicating him is circumstantial. Clear-cut proof that Salahi himself had anything to do with 9/11 is lacking. Part of the film details his experiences at the prison as well as his interactions with other inmates. The constant demands made upon him to give a confession grow more and more intense. It is an emotional portrait that humanizes the man and stokes our anger over the way he is treated. Tahar Rahim stars as Salahi. He elevates the production with a powerful performance that draws us into his plight.

The chronicle is also a legal drama that features his defense team. Jodie Foster is criminal defense lawyer Nancy Hollander and her associate Teri Duncan is portrayed by Shailene Woodley. Doubts over whether their client is culpable keep coming up. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch on the side of the prosecution. His desire to get a conviction is balanced with a need to make sure they have the right man. Even though everyone seems conflicted, we the audience are not. Salahi’s innocence is implied at the beginning so coming to terms with his guilt or lack thereof is never a conundrum. The Mauritanian is pretty clear-cut in its presentation that the U.S. government failed.

This is a disturbing movie. Salahi was ultimately held for fourteen years in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp from 2002 until his release in 2016 without ever being charged. That prison is infamous for the inhumane treatment that detainees experienced there. This movie climaxes with torture. The picture is noble in its intentions to bring a grave injustice to light but it’s hard to watch at times. I didn’t need to see graphic abuse to know bad things happened there. Director Kevin Macdonald famously directed The Last King of Scotland which brilliantly demonstrated how sometimes evil remains hidden in plain sight. Here it’s never a question of who’s right and who’s wrong, so the viewer must simply suffer along with Salahi until his eventual freedom.

03-11-21

Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast with tags on March 20, 2021 by Mark Hobin

I’m on the radio! On Sunday, March 14th I had this chat with UK’s Martin Kelner of talkSPORT about the BAFTA nominations but before the Oscar nominations were announced. NOMADLAND, ROCKS, and THE FATHER are the movies we discuss. 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

Boss Level

Posted in Action, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on March 19, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Boss Level doesn’t waste any time getting right to the point. The focus is action, pure and simple. It starts when a man named Roy (Frank Grillo) wakes up in bed next to a woman (Annabelle Wallis). She screams just as an attacker swings at him with a machete, barely missing his head. Another assassin outside his window flies up in a helicopter and fires a machine gun into the apartment conveniently eliminating the first hitman with bullets that were clearly meant for Roy. He calmly reacts with calculated precision looking rather bored by these attempts on his life. After the chopper crashes through the window, Roy jumps out, safely landing in the back of a truck filled with sand. He carjacks a guy and recklessly dodges two more killers before crashing into an oncoming bus and promptly dies after flying through the window.

This chronicle is a bit disorienting at first. The story gleefully drops the viewer in the middle of some crazy events without much explanation. Roy Pulver is a retired Delta Force soldier. He tells us through voiceover narration that this isn’t the first time he has experienced this day. It unfolds in a continuous loop reverting to the same morning whenever he dies. Specifics like who is after him and why — as well as the science explaining why time repeats — are helpful because it rationalizes this cartoonish film. Even though things may not always make sense, that’s OK because the exposition is merely a superficial justification for a lot of exciting and often humorous set-pieces.

Square-jawed and physically fit, actor Frank Grillo doesn’t get the starring role often but he makes a badass action hero. It’s the kind of part Arnold would have played during his prime in the 1980s. He learns from his mistakes by carefully remembering what went wrong in the previous sequence, then improving on it. As a character, Roy Pulver is singularly fixated on getting the job done and not much else. Roy’s workaholic obsession is what caused his estranged wife Jemma (Naomi Watts) to break up with him. Together they have a son Joe (Grillo’s real-life 12-year-old son Rio). However, Jemma has not yet told the boy that Roy is his father.

Boss Level is more than nonstop combat. It’s also about the connections Roy makes with other people. As the various scenarios play out, relationships are deepened. Details of his marriage with Jemma are revealed. The bond with his son is strengthened. Jemma’s boss is somehow involved too. Mel Gibson shows up portraying the evil head of a shadowy corporation. His sardonic appearances are brief, but just enough to add a little camp to the recipe. Roy also gets assistance from Chef Jake (Ken Jeong), who owns a diner/bar, a security expert named Dave (Sheaun McKinney), and Dai Feng (Michelle Yeoh) a champion sword fighter. These characters are welcome additions that elevate the drama with much-needed interactions that humanize his character. This tale is about more than action. It concerns friendships and family too.

This is a Joe Carnahan movie. The filmmaker has a solid reputation for brutal excitement. The title of his directorial debut Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane established the tone for his career. Narc, Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team, and The Grey all followed as he built a loyal fan base. He’s a director whose style is personified by: “action speaks a lot louder than words.” In that vein Boss Level is one of his best. Using fast edits, explosions, and intense activity, the saga entertains . The energy rarely lets up so there isn’t much opportunity to pick apart possible inconsistencies. The mood is savage but remains somewhat lighthearted because you know Roy’s death will never be the end. He’s killed a lot. Frequent assailant Guan Yin (Selina Lo) is fond of beheadings with her sword and then proudly declaring, “I am Guan Yin….and Guan Yin has done this!” The atmosphere recalls other films, most directly Edge of Tomorrow for the time loop shenanigans, but also Crank for its relentless pace and Total Recall for its blending sci-fi into the mix. The ability to reset and start over with an infinite number of lives is a nod to video games too. The narrative doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. It’s silly and violent and its pleasures are admittedly ephemeral. However, while I watched I was consistently enthralled. I enjoyed the ride.

03-08-21