Like many of you, I’ve lost all concept of space and time during this lockdown era. I’d watch movie after movie, but somehow forget to write about them. I’d consume films for sustenance, but then I’d move on to the next task of cleaning a room, doing a crossword puzzle, or staring at my dog for hours on end. Thank goodness I have a few friends to have breakfast with every now and then, or else I’d have assumed I had been transported to a cabin in Montana. “Am I a film critic or a hermit?” I’d ask myself daily…that is, if I even understand what days are anymore. All of this is to say that I have a lot of catching up to do now that we’ve taken a baby step or two towards returning to some sense of normalcy. Wait a minute. What’s that? Highly transmissible variants? Back into the cave I go. While I still can, I’ve managed to blurt out a few capsule reviews of some films worth mentioning.
In Between Gays – Film Review: Summer Of 85 ★★★★
Prolific French filmmaker, François Ozon, has made a career out of finding dark crevices in the most unexpected of places. Here, with Summer Of 85, he tweaks this New Wave era gay romance just enough to upend our expectations. In pure Talented Mr. Ripley meets Call Me By Your Name meets Luca fashion, Ozon spins what could have been that sun-dappled, seaside summer that changed everything into a love that perhaps never was, zeroing in instead on a young man’s obsession for something unobtainable. Beautifully shot and acted, Ozon takes the story to more provocative places than you’d initially expect while still maintaining the boppy fizz of a great Cure song. Despite the mish mash of tones, the film has a pulse all of its own. It’ll make you swoon, pull the rug out from under you, and then make you wonder how he managed to quietly get a little twisted.
Truffle In Mind – Film Review: Pig ★★★★
Writer-director Michael Sarnoski makes an auspicious feature debut with the story of a man searching for his stolen truffle-hunting pig. Caked in dirt, blood and looking not so much like a homeless man but as a person who died inside a thousand times over, Nicholas Cage gives one of his best performances ever as a man who seeks the truth at all costs. He asks his only connection to the outside world, Amir, played wonderfully by Alex Wolff, to drive him through Portland’s dark underbelly to retrieve his pet companion.
Although the film takes us to a rather unbelievable “Fight Club” moment, it generally holds its mood with credibility. It’s a great calling card, not only for Sarnoski, but also for his talented cinematographer Patrick Scola, who brings a painterly quality to every single image. The film finds beauty in a bite of food, a breath of air, or simply the compassion between two main characters who have seemingly little in common. It’s a shame the trailer elicits laughs when Cage utters lines like, “Who has my pig?” Clearly they want to sell the actor’s neo-gonzo persona, but Cage brings so much depth and seriousness to this project, only raising his voice once. He deserves the highest praise for committing to such an oddly touching, gorgeously quiet story. At risk of sounding Dad-jokey, the only thing that hogs the scenery is his porcine friend.
Pig is in theaters now.
All Is Lost – Film Review: Old ★★
In 1999, M. Night Shyamalan made a great film, The Sixth Sense, and has been chasing that dragon ever since, often to diminishing returns. His films, however, often do well because he has great concepts, a keen eye for visuals and timing, yet things always seem to turn clunky and inane real fast. With Old, he continues down that path by giving us something compelling—a group of people on a beach who age quickly—and ruining it with dialogue seemingly written by an algorithm and rendered unintelligible much of the time, while the terrific cast seem to have no idea how to make Shyamalan’s words sound any better than a high school play. A couple of sequences did make me sit up and take notice, and he uses compositions and offscreen space well, but overall, Old plays like a stretched-out episode of Lost, and like that cool but overstuffed series, you’re not gonna get very good explanations as to what transpires. Sure, the big twist works well enough on some level, but it doesn’t save you from the discomfort of watching good actors flatline in more ways than one.
Old is currently in theaters nationally.
Hi Fidel-ity – Film Review: Revolution Rent ★★★1/2
Shot in 2014, Andy Señor Jr., who played Angel on Broadway along with a host of other credits, staged the classic musical Rent in Havana during a thaw in our relations with the Communist regime. He did so against the wishes of his Cuban family, who suffered under Castro and insisted his production would merely serve as a propaganda tool for the government. He plows ahead instead, capturing the months long process in a rather artless home movie style. The aesthetics don’t carry any weight here when you have such a compelling subject matter. Witnessing his actors struggling with their performances while also living in harsh conditions adds new layers to the late Jonathan Larson’s story of squatters in the age of AIDS.
With a limited talent pool, one of whom doesn’t feel comfortable with the gay subject matter and another who lives with HIV himself, Señor finds new connections to Larson’s material as well as an affection for his heritage. What we may have taken for granted here in the US in terms of sexuality and gender expression feels like a whole new experience when seen through a Cuban lens. Señor speaks out against the Castros with quick sequences showing moments of oppression, thus preventing this film from perpetuating the lies of its government. Instead, he gifts the people of this poor, struggling country with a real sense of community and its first burst of musical theater in ages. Sure he’s a privileged westerner who dangles hope in front of people only to return to his cushy life, but he does so with heart and good intentions. You end up loving and rooting for his cast in this moving, sweet documentary.
Revolution Rent is currently streaming on HBO Max.
Do The Hustlers – Film Review: Zola ★★★★
Call me wary when I went to see a movie based on a viral twitter thread and directed by Janicza Brava, whose Sundance Award-winning short, Gregory Go Boom, proved to be not only tone deaf but downright offensive towards people with disabilities. Her new film, Zola, excels however, in ways her prior work has not. Taylour Paige, a standout in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, plays the title character, a stripper who meets Stefani (Riley Keough) one night and is convinced to travel with her down to Florida where they can make a lot of money dancing all weekend. Things, however, do not go as planned, with Zola’s story escalating from one insane twist after another. Paige and Keough are outstanding, as are Nicholas Braun and Colman Domingo as their traveling companions. Jason Mitchell, so great in Straight Outta Compton and Mudbound, brings a wild, dangerous energy, something he shares with the film itself. It comes across as The Florida Project meets Hustlers, but with its own surreal, unexpected tone. I laughed out loud often, especially with Paige’s loopy reactions to her surroundings and the giddy, zippy energy on display. Zola chews you up, twerks on your face, and spits you out, exhausted yet anxious to see whatever this talented group of people will do next.
Zola is currently playing in select theaters and available on demand.
Banned On The Run – Film Review: There Is No Evil ★★★★
It’s impossible to review There Is No Evil without giving away its central premise, so I will avoid as much description as possible. Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof has crafted a four-part anthology of sorts around an agonizing moral issue important to people worldwide. At the end of the first part, a stunning cut to an unforgettable visual reveals everything and allows you to watch the rest with informed eyes. Rasoulof seamlessly excels at different genres, from family drama, to action escape, to romance, weaving a tale of such depth and sorrow for its talented cast of characters.
The making of it proves as interesting at the film itself. Banned by the regime from producing feature films for two years and prohibited from traveling outside of Iran, Rasoulof, like any crafty filmmaker, came up with an ingenious plan. He slipped under the radar by calling these four short films, mostly shot in small towns far outside the reach of Tehran, and then had the final product smuggled out of the country. A filmmaker with such talent not only at telling stories, but the with ability to will his vision into existence against all odds, deserves the world’s attention.
There Is No Evil is available on DVD, BluRay and VOD now.
In Space No One Can Hear You Think – Film Review: F9: The Fast Saga ★★★
Considered review-proof, the Fast and the Furious franchise has ruled the box office for the past 20 years, so my calling its latest entry, F9: The Fast Saga, monumentally dumb will have zero influence on anyone’s decision to see it. We all know it’s big and stupid, as do the filmmakers. These films deliver said stupid with such gusto that you simply surrender and have a great time nonetheless. Nothing, however, prepared me for this series to go all Moonraker, sending a car to a place no car has ever gone before. You’ll know it when you see it and probably say, “That’s ludicrous!” and also say, “That’s Ludacris!”
F9: The Fast Saga is currently playing on every screen on Earth and in select theaters throughout the universe.
by Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic