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Allied (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Robert Zemeckis’ “Allied” wears the spirit of a 1940s picture, so beautifully detailed in nearly every aspect. With its ability and willingness to unfold slowly, it dares us to appreciate the minutiae, from the material of clothing and how it matches with or contrasts against walls or sides of buildings to the subtle interior changes a character goes through upon learning information that might lead to a reassessment of a relationship. Here is a film that has an intriguing story to tell where no easy solution is offered. Had screenwriter Steven Knight been less ambitious, it would have turned out to be just another spy thriller and a hunt for a mole.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard portray an intelligence officer and a French Resistance fighter in World War II, Max Vatan and Marianne Beauséjour, who are assigned in Casablanca to assassinate a Nazi ambassador. It is apparent that the two experienced dramatic performers enjoy their roles for they infuse a high level of energy behind every body language and between exchange of words. And coating their enthusiasm for the roles is a frisky elegance, so joyous to watch and think about because these are characters who at times do not say exactly what they mean. They come across as real individuals who just so happen to belong in a world of secrets and lies where differences could mean life or death.

The first half of the film comes across as an extended exposition. Although it may bother or annoy less patient viewers who crave action from the get-go, I was completely enraptured by its rhythm, long silences, and knowing glances. The material provides a realistic situation of how people may act around one another when handling a top-secret government assignment. Equally important during this hypnotic first hour, we get to a chance to ascertain who is the better tactician depending on the occasion. Max and Marianne’s respective approaches to complete a task differ greatly sometimes. And through their differences we recognize specific reasons why are attracted to one another eventually.

Although still intriguing, the second half is less strong by comparison. With the story moving away from exotic Casablanca to London, the locales are not as exciting visually. Perhaps the intention is to shift our focus from environment to increasing internal struggles, particularly of Max receiving news that his wife is possibly a German spy, but there is a way to pull off such a strategy. One way is perhaps to amplify the human drama. Instead, the dramatic core, while able to offer surprising details at times with its elegant screenplay, it remains as subtle as a flickering ember rather than a full-on blaze.

The suspense is embedded in how much we have grown to care for the characters. This is a challenge because we go in with the assumption that it is going to trick us somehow, or try to at the very least, since, after all, it is an espionage picture. But because those behind and in front of the camera choose to treat the material seriously and with respect, genuinely committing to a sub-genre that is not foreign to a spice of melodrama, it works somehow. Those who jump in with an open mind will be pleasantly surprised.


Red 2

Red 2 (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Though Frank (Bruce Willis) and Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) are attempting to live a life of normalcy by playing everything safe, both of them are not exactly happy with where their relationship is heading. Sarah wants a bit of adventure and Frank has not killed anybody in months. It is most opportune that Marvin (John Malkovich) appears at a Costco aisle and informs Frank that an international ruckus is about to occur. It involves Nightingale, a project they had been involved in back in ’79. Sarah is thrilled to join the elite CIA operatives but Frank would rather have her stay in a safe house.

Based on the screenplay by Jon and Erich Hoeber, “Red 2” accomplishes very little despite its characters gallivanting across the world while being hunted by assassins. While it retains some of the charm of the predecessor, the story needs to be cleaned up a bit. Perhaps it would have been better if one less city was visited or two supporting characters were written out. Make room for more or extended friendly banters or show more serious moments to suggest there is something more to the characters than being good at wielding weapons. Since it fails to go behind its skeletal framework, the twists and turns end up disorganized and unfocused rather than being genuinely surprising.

The revolving doors of several characters’ loyalties grate the nerves. Since it occurs too often, every time our protagonists are pushed to a corner, it becomes near impossible to feel like they are in any sort of real danger. While light entertainment is the film’s main purpose, changing the tone once in a while would have done it good—especially since it is a sequel and many of us already know what to expect. Its unwillingness to take a risk or try something new is a problem.

I still adored watching Helen Mirren fire guns and beat men into unconsciousness. She does it with so much verve and charisma. She commits to the character without being cartoonish. The right decision would have been to give her character, Victoria, and Ivan (Brian Cox) more substance. The older couple could have been an interesting contrast to Sarah and Frank—which feels too much like two teenagers falling in love or what they consider to be love. We get only a glimpse of the potential sounding board and it is played too cute.

The chases are visually stimulating but standard as a whole. On foot, guns are used too often but there is an entertaining sequence involving Frank being stuck in a file room. Though using a gun from an enemy becomes available eventually, he becomes resourceful in disarming those who wish to capture him.

“Red 2” is an unnecessary but harmless sequel. It offers nothing special but it is nice to see seasoned performers clearly enjoying themselves. Anthony Hopkins, playing a patient in a mental institution, stands out because he does not create a character around the lightness of the material. Bailey has his share of quirks but he is not defined by them.


Ladybird, Ladybird

Ladybird, Ladybird (1994)
★★★★ / ★★★★

After Maggie (Crissy Rock) sings a song at a karaoke bar, Jorge (Vladimir Vega), impressed by her performance, approaches and invites her for a drink. Though she is with friends, she accepts and the two sit in a quieter corner to talk. Within minutes, Maggie’s sadness, something that Jorge has detected, unspools: she tells the stranger before her that her four children have been taken away by Social Services. Very soon a court hearing will determine if Maggie could keep them or if the kids must be displaced.

Written by Rona Munro and directed by Ken Loach, “Ladybird, Ladybird” is an enthralling and educational exploration of a woman’s relationship with a social system. Whenever Social Services get involved and kids are taken away, it is easy to jump to conclusions and blame the parents. And why not? There is a pattern and there are many irresponsible parents out there who are not fit to raise a child. And yet more challenging is taking a step back and considering all the facts—information that we do not have when there is a big scene in our neighborhood. This film paints an entire history and makes sure that we have the relevant facts. Suddenly, the demarcation between right and wrong is out of focus.

The picture benefits greatly from Rock’s performance. Her capacity to jump between being personable and delivering explosive fits of rage, like turning on a light switch, without hitting a false note is scary and impressive. The way she plays Maggie, there is no doubt that her character is an angry person but there is also a lot of pain and hurt behind the screaming and hollering. Despite her volatile nature, we believe that she loves her children.

Maggie is likely a woman we see every time take a trip to the supermarket. You know, the one with so many kids but not enough hands to keep them from going all over the place. I’ve given a Maggie a dirty look and judged. Why bring your kids to the store when you can’t control them, right? This film inspired me to think twice. Great films makes us look within by placing us in someone else’s shoes and encourages us to be more sympathetic.

The director maintains control of the camera even if a scuffle turns into a tornado. At least these days, the inclination is to shake as to create the illusion of reality, to be “in the middle of the action.” Here, it is unnecessary to move the camera like so. The struggle occurs only after we have an understanding of the main players, what is at stake, and what it implies about the future. We yearn for an alternative but it is difficult to break the cycle.

In the film, there is a poem told orally, in Spanish, about a candle that lights other candles that have died out. The relationship between Maggie and Jorge can be viewed this way. What they share is good but, like real relationships, it requires a lot of work. Sometimes it burns. There is no villain here: not Maggie, not the Social Services, not even the nosy and racist neighbor. There is only our prejudice and how sometimes we might surprise even ourselves when reality is wrinkled and upside down.


Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2 (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

While the soulless “Cars” sequels are made solely to sell more toys, chugging out yet another mediocre entry approximately every five years, the follow-up to “The Incredibles” is released fourteen years later—and it shows. Notice right from the opening action sequence the numerous and seemingly superfluous details. For example, how light hits an object from a certain angle and the reflected light, its intensity, is adjusted based on tricky camera movements and hundreds of other factors, like shadows, around the object of interest.

This is one shot. Now imagine this love for detail and level of hard work throughout a handful of fast-paced battles or even when it is just two characters sharing a clever and funny conversation. Freeze every frame and it is highly likely that something in the background is changed even just a little. Pixar delivers yet another home run.

Sequels to animated movies tend to annoy me because most of them end up becoming just a rehash of what had worked in the original. “Incredibles 2,” written and directed by Brad Bird, is a shining exception, more within the veins of John Lasseter’s “Toy Story 2” than “Despicable Me 2,” “Hotel Transylvania 2,” or, dare I say it, even “Finding Dory.” I appreciated that this entry is actively interested in world-building: more superheroes are introduced, the politics of their legalization is explored a bit more, we get a villain who relies less on explosions and more on the long game of waiting to strike until all chess pieces are properly placed in order to optimize chances of victory.

Most importantly, the veteran writer-director is aware that the most effective weapon of the original is the Parr family dynamics—when they do not have their superhero suits on, when they are just a regular family dealing with regular things, like the pains of raising a toddler and babysitting, of being liked by a boy at school, struggling to get through math homework. The voice cast is top-notch. Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, providing the voices for Bob and Helen, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, respectively, have such lovable chemistry. How they emote command such range.

For instance, when it sounds as though the dialogue is leading them toward a big argument, like whether or not Helen should accept a curious job that could eventually lead to the legalization of superheroes around the world, the material is capable of shifting suddenly toward sillier territory, like Bob’s jealousy of not being the client’s first choice. In the middle of the picture, I was convinced that the actors must have been in the same room while creating the exchanges because the final product commands dynamism—the kind that we do not feel in our bones when performers simply recite lines by themselves rather than aiming the words toward another person who is within an arm’s length. Context and subtext matter in voice work—especially when conflict is supposed to be convincing. Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, and Eli Fucile provide voices of the Parr children.

Notice I have not detailed much of the plot. This is because the picture is not about the plot and so it is negligible in my eyes. Rather, the focus is on the colors, the energy, the painstaking details of animation, the visual jokes, the clever lines, the surprising and ironic situations. “Incredibles 2” delivers on providing a terrific time. I was in high school when its predecessor was released. I have a career now but this film, even though it has some familiar elements, inspired me to lean forward with my childlike eyes, a big smile plastered on my face.


Day of the Dead: Bloodline

Day of the Dead: Bloodline (2018)
★ / ★★★★

There should be a rule for every remake or reimagining: strive to be better than the film from which the project is inspired by. Here is yet another zombie picture that goes on autopilot, devoid of any intrigue by the fifteen-minute mark. In the middle of all the flesh-bitings, arguments amongst survivors in an underground bunker, and long periods in which nothing of interest ever happens, I wondered how it received the green light to be made. A mediocre episode of the early seasons of “The Walking Dead” is better than this drivel, certainly better at establishing a specific mood and unhurried pacing.

If the dearth curiosity or intrigue doesn’t get under your skin eventually, the terrible dialogue ought to do the job. Without failure, notice that in just about every other scene someone must describe exactly what he or she is feeling or thinking. Couple this with the inexperience of some of the performers, it is deadly. As a result, we do not feel inclined to look more deeply into the characters. What is the point of it when their motivations are laid out for us like a welcoming mat? There is a way to write dialogue, especially in horror films, so that the viewers wish to know, to observe the various personalities like a hawk, to understand what makes them tick, to anticipate a potential betrayal when things do not feel quite right.

There is neither suspense nor thrills. Part of the issue is a lack of understanding regarding which type of editing and pacing should be utilized in order to maximize a sense of discombobulation. It is very quick to go for the jugular, so to speak, rather than taking its time to bait us, to allow us to consider whether a setup might be heading toward a false alarm or about to unfold into a genuinely horrifying experience. For some reason, it is shot like an action film just because there are guns in it. It comes across as confused regarding what type of movie it wishes to be.

Even in pictures like Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” and its high-quality sequel, sure there are guns and manic editing is employed at times, but there are variations in the way scenes play out. We get long stretches of silence where we cannot help but anticipate what is possibly hiding behind the shadows. Only because there are variation in setting, mood, and pacing, perhaps then that the best ten- to fifteen-minute section involves a trip outside of the bunker in order to acquire medicine for a little girl (Lillian Blankenship). Specifically, Zoe (Sophie Skelton), being trained as a physician prior to the virus outbreak, and others with military training (Marcus Vanco, Atanas Srebev, Mark Rhino Smith) must break into a medical facility despite the place being infested with zombies—referred to in the film as Rotters. This is not enough to elevate a material lacking freshness.

The dead may be on the run in “Day of the Dead: Bloodline,” directed by Hèctor Hernández Vicens, but it is potential audiences who should be running away from it. As someone who works in a lab, it got so boring at times that I couldn’t help but wonder about the brands of pipets, microscope slides, and centrifuges; whether the actors were holding laboratory equipments the right way, whether they were wearing personal protective equipment.


The Tribes of Palos Verdes

Tribes of Palos Verdes, The (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

This is a story about a father (Justin Kirk) who leaves his family, his tribe, and the rest of his unit (Jennifer Garner, Maika Monroe, Cody Fern) must deal, in his or her own way, with the sudden shift in the tide. The setup is a standard template for family dramas, particularly melodramas, but what is initially intriguing about it is that it takes place in a wealthy community of Palos Verdes, where keeping up appearances is adhered to as it if were a religious cult. Because it has the potential to be so pointed in its critiques of a specific community and others like it, it is all the more disappointing that the material lacks focus.

“The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” based on the novel by Joy Nicholson, is written for the screen by Karen Croner. While I admired its enthusiasm and willingness to introduce every subplot, notice how the story never stops beginning. While numerous subplots may work in novels, particularly those that are heavy in interior monologues so that every character’s complexity is painted on a canvas, this approach can kill the pacing of lean dramas that must get to the point of every important arc in order to prevent the pitfall of boredom. While not completely tedious, the picture’s content is repetitive—which does not help because its melancholy tone is enveloping. The material requires urgency in order for the viewer to care.

Our heroine is Medina (Monroe) whose identity is largely tethered to her twin brother (Fern). Through narration, we learn of her thoughts and yearnings, her dreams of surfing coasts across the globe. Particularly interesting about her is in how she describes her new community (her family recently moved from Michigan) in a somewhat sarcastic, flat tone. Words flow out of her but the emotions behind those words are actually more interesting. Small but curious choices like this that Monroe gives her character makes Medina tolerable rather than being a complete bore. Realize the lack of depth in her journey from novel to screenplay; she merely reacts to the changes that members of her family undergo: the divorce between her parents, the mother’s breakdown, the father’s apathy, and the brother’s drug addiction.

As a result, when a romantic subplot involving Medina and Adrian (Noah Silver) comes along, the aspiring veterinarian steals the spotlight from under our surfer girl. He is the more interesting character because not only is there an effortless warmth to him, he is intelligent and there is a stability to his presence, his spirit—traits that we wish our central protagonist possessed despite the tornado within her household. In other words, in order for us to be fully immersed with the drama, viewers require an anchor. There is none to be found here.

At least the picture is photographed in an interesting way. Despite the setting being an affluent California coastal community, it almost never looks completely sunny. It creates the impression that we are seeing the story unfold through sunglasses—an intriguing choice since it underscores the misery and desperation that its subjects must wrestle against. A point can also be made that these sunglasses are meant to blind the audience from recognizing silver linings of sudden, sad plot developments.

There is one silver lining I was not blind to: Garner in a dramatic film. She has played numerous thankless “mom roles” in comedies and children’s movies that many have forgotten that she has the capability, certainly the nuanced facial expressions, to create a truly moving scene out of tired or cliché situations.



Rosetta (1999)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Shot without distraction or decoration, it is critical that “Rosetta” shows only the truth because its aim is to show a stark portrait of poverty. Its style is so bare, so skeletal and realistic that a handheld shooting style is employed in order for viewers to be placed right in the action as a desperate teenage girl, having just been let go from a temporary position without warning, hunts for a new job. Rosetta is played by Émilie Dequenne and she dominates every frame and devastating moment in the film—an astounding achievement because not only is it her first starring role, it is her first role ever on film.

Writer-directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are masters of showing rather than telling. Instead of relying on dialogue as a tool to explain or acknowledge the hardships of Rosetta’s life, the camera simply follows her day-to-day activities, the frame in focus from the waist up, often shot from behind. We observe the state of her trailer home. The interiors are drained of color and excitement. We notice her alcoholic mother (Anne Yernaux), panic-stricken at the sight of her daughter coming home because she knows that Rosetta is like a bloodhound, always searching for evidence that mother has been drinking yet again.

Lesser filmmakers would likely have made the parent a target of ridicule, someone to judge and blame. Instead, the Dardenne brothers, so focused in their objective of showing a specific lifestyle of a specific life, use the matriarch as a figure of Rosetta’s possible future. Rosetta regards her mother not necessarily with love or pity but a wilting thing that needs to be cared for because she is helpless. She fears she will become her mother if she fails to get “a real job” and live “a normal life.” The dialogue is scant but when utilized, we are made to remember what is expressed and how.

We note Rosetta is always drinking tap water. She rarely eats because there is nothing to eat. But she must quench the hunger somehow. She is prone to abdominal pains so crippling, it is one of the rare moments when we see her react intensely. Despite her discomfort and exhaustion—in body, mind, and spirit—someone in their two-person household must land a job so bills can be paid. The campground manager (Bernard Marbaix) shuts things off without warning when payments are late.

And so off Rosetta goes to ask around if anyone is looking to hire. Many of those she encounters never bother to look her in the eye. But looks or judgment, or lack thereof, do not defeat her. She is used to it, inured by people’s apathy. And when a rare person comes along who appears to genuinely care for her, who likes her in all of her simplicity, this individual (Fabrizio Rongione) is tested. Why should they care for trash like her? We look in Rosetta’s eyes and realize that perhaps trash is exactly how she sees herself sometimes. Still, she remains to have the will to fight, refusing to accept welfare or handouts. She’d rather sell clothes off her back.

Notice how “Rosetta” does not employ soundtrack or score. Nor does it need to. Its music can be heard all around, from the way people move, like during a scuffle with security guards because someone would not leave the premises when asked, and how they feel when they are struck with a discovery, such as coming across one’s unconscious mother exposed outdoors for all the neighbors to see or a when a friend offers a helping hand. The music is ingrained in the every day happenings for the viewers to absorb raw, unfiltered.


Ocean’s Eight

Ocean’s Eight (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

If the goal of heist comedy “Ocean’s Eight” is to jumpstart a new trilogy with a female-centric cast, as opposed to a male-centric cast of its three predecessors, then the attempt is unimpressive for the most part. In fact, it comes across uncommitted. While there are familiar elements like a highly charismatic cast, a script that exudes effortless cool, an ambitious heist, and a few left turns during the third act, there is an important ingredient that the picture is missing: Not once do we believe that the crew is close—so close that, if a member were to get caught, no one would be thrown under the bus.

While the previous trilogy need not provide character development because the element of a strong bond is established almost immediately, an argument can be made that having it front and center in this case would have separated this installment from the previous entries. Especially curious is Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), having just released from prison after serving five years, being relegated to the side once the rest of the crew (Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter) have been put together.

This is a miscalculation on two fronts. First, it is paramount that the viewers are given a thorough understanding of why Debbie is worth following in this film and possibly onwards. It is not enough that she is the sister of Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney since “Ocean’s Eleven”) and that she came up with the daring idea of stealing diamonds worth around a hundred fifty million during a posh event at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Putting her on the sidelines and allowing the other characters to shine brighter do not contribute in strengthening the bond between Debbie and the viewer.

Second, her relationship with Lou (Cate Blanchett) is never explored. They are supposed to be best friends but we are never provided an appreciation of the complexities in their relationship. They have one disagreement in the film and it comes across as forced, disingenuous, out of place. How can we buy into their clash when we only know how they are together on a superficial level? Like Debbie, Lou is also benched for the majority of the picture. I wished to know this woman who dresses masculine and rides her bike everywhere. It is the correct decision to cast Bullock and Blanchett in their respective roles, but their characters are not given the required substance in order for the material to command a level of gravity. What is the point of hiring high-caliber performers?

The heist is not that ingenious—which I did not have a problem with. It is meant to be breezy, occasionally silly, and alluring. Notice how the camera glides over the extremely detailed dresses, how the jewels shine a certain way depending on how the light hits them, the atmosphere of an “elite-only” party where cameos abound. The intention is pure escapism and there is nothing wrong with that.

It is apparent that the performers are having a ball with their roles. The standout is Anne Hathaway who plays an actress who will wear the diamonds to be purloined. One gets the impression that she is aware of the adjectives that people use to describe her online and so she decides to use some of the pointed words by creating a character that is, at the very least, annoying… but you cannot take your eyes off her. Her character is the most fun to watch. If only the rest of the film were as creative or inspired.



Hereditary (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Have you ever been in a place outside your home, maybe at work when you decide to come in an hour earlier or stay a little later than everyone else, and you know—or thought you knew—you’re alone in that space? Yet somehow you hear—or thought you heard—a noise from a several feet away, the sound subtle enough that it is near impossible to discern where it comes from exactly, that the first thing that comes to mind is perhaps you’re not as alone as you had initially thought. That sneaky and creepy vibe perfectly captures what “Hereditary” has to offer, written and directed by Ari Aster, a horror film that understands the many different definitions of the genre.

It works because it has a deep imagination—one that lasts until a disappointing final act so generic, I wished the writer-director had taken a final close look at the material and realized that his work, as a whole, is so much better than a series of would-be spooky images aimed to satisfy mainstream expectations. Here is a movie in which it is demanded that the conclusion not be explained because everything else that leads to it is detailed enough for viewers to be able to come up with their own conclusions. I argue that this is a rare case in which a project might have gotten away without a third act. It is that strong. To add more, as what happened ultimately, is to take away from that power. It would have been so daring.

The first half unfolds like an intense family drama that just happens to have horror elements in it. Frightening images are shown but they are mostly hidden in shadows. It drenches us with foreshadowing, right from the opening shot of a window with a random fly. We see markings etched on walls and wonder what they mean. The interior of the home offers such a cold and crippling look and feeling about it, during the exposition I had thought that the family were staying at their recently deceased relative’s house. It comes across as though they are not comfortable in a place where, in theory, they should be at peace. Because the characters do not feel at home, neither do we. And so we become alert to every possible turn of the plot. When day turns to night, we anticipate what might happen. Modern horror movies have conditioned us to expect something to occur. It plays with our expectations.

Toni Collette plays Annie, a wife of a patient husband (Gabriel Byrne) and a mother of two teenagers (Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro). It is one of Collette’s best roles and performances in years as she balances being beleaguered and fierce often in the same scene. While certain images are ugly and terrifying, like a corpse infested with ants, equally unpleasant is the manner in which the family interacts. While the unit is undergoing a state of grief, there are things they do or say that communicate to us that they do not like each other very much—even if the act of mourning were taken out completely. Still, they must co-exist under the same roof because they are blood. Collette is a master at playing subtlety but she is throughly capable of creating an explosion at a drop of a hat. There is a dinner scene that perfectly captures her raw power as a consummate performer.

Overt scares are uncommon in the film. It values restraint over utilizing monsters, ghosts, or whatnot to jump out at the audience. While there is nothing wrong with the latter approach, such is a scare tactic designed to generate an evanescent response. It is simply not right for this material. Instead, the Aster’s story is more concerned with strengthening its thesis when it comes to the subject of one’s a genetic predisposition to mental illness.

I think the film functions, for the most part, as a metaphor for not knowing with certainty what the future might entail for someone who has a family history of mental illness, specifically schizophrenia. And so, it works better as a horror film that wrestles with private feelings, longings, and fears than as a horror film that attempts to appeal to mass audiences. Thus, the ending is a severe miscalculation. While not quite a horror film for the ages, I admired its intentions and most of its decisions.


Le quattro volte

Quattro volte, Le (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

In a remote town in southern Italy, we follow an aging gentleman who herds goats. With each day that passes, we watch him lead the goats onto the field for them to eat grass, wait many hours under the sun, and then head home before the sun sets. When the herdsman dies from old age, a goat delivers a kid right before our eyes. The camera, as it did the old man, follows the goat’s daily activities.

Written and directed by Michaelangelo Frammartino, if someone goes into “Le quattro volte” without any idea of the concept it is attempting to expound, he or she will likely to be very confused. Understandably, many might end up being frustrated within the first fifteen minutes and decide to watch something else. I was aware of its ideas but still I found the film difficult to sit through at times, even though the concept itself is fascinating, because of its uncompromising techniques.

The picture is without any dialogue—at least none we can hear clearly. We hear voices very occasionally and when we do they are muted. What we hear clearly is the barking of a dog, coughing of the herder, bleating of the goats, and the wind rustling the leaves. It forces us to pay attention to the images and independently try to make sense of what is going on. I enjoyed looking at the many simple but beautiful images that idyllic Caulonia offers. At one point, I started to think that I wouldn’t mind going on vacation there.

But the movie is about Pythagoras’ belief in reincarnation, not a travelogue. The old man’s soul is transferred to a kid and when that baby goat dies, it is transferred to something else. The transference occurs until immortality is reached.

Perhaps if the pacing had been less sluggish, it would have been less soporific. This is such a terrible thing to admit but it has to be said: I kept wondering when the old man would finally die just so the film could move on. It is so slow that if you look away for about three minutes, you will not miss anything.

At the same time, if one chooses to engage with it, there are details worth noticing. For instance, a parallel is drawn between humans and goats. The goats go out every morning, execute their business, and return before nightfall (as most human adults do). Meanwhile, the kids stay in an enclosed area, explore their environment, and learn how to interact with other goats (as most human children do at school). The material is at its most interesting when Pythagoras’ belief is in direct connection to what defines us as a species instead of remaining abstract and, consequently, abstruse.

“The Four Times” challenges more than entertains. It is meditative and spiritual. Although I enjoyed it to some extent, I would mind watching it again. Some experiences are—and should be—once in a lifetime.


The Beguiled

Beguiled, The (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sofia Coppola’s period drama “The Beguiled,” based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan, is such a beautiful-looking film that its images likens that of looking into a memory from a hundred years ago. From the exquisite details of handmade dresses, curious paintings hanging on walls, to the manner in which only natural light is used even when there is no daylight, it offers a transportive experience as the tension boils from underneath a seemingly straightforward plot involving a badly wounded soldier (Colin Farrell) being taken in by a seminary led by Miss Farnworth (Nicole Kidman).

This is not a movie for viewers who expect fast-paced unfolding of the material, but it is exactly for audiences who appreciate details both in what is shown or merely insinuated. It is most concerned with human interactions and flaws: how female characters interact before and after a man is in their living space, what they are willing to do in order to garner the attention of a stranger, how they change themselves just to be regarded a certain way by someone who they do not even know. This is a film about attraction, how blinding it is—not necessarily romantic attraction but that of lust and how the energy around us is transformed by something or someone we want so badly. Although set in the Civil War era, the subject is timeless.

There are solid performances across the board. The females in the seminary vary in age. Notice how each of them has a specific strategy when it comes to getting the attention of the opposite sex. For example, Amy (Oona Laurence), about thirteen or fourteen, uses sweetness and friendship to get on Corporal McBurney’s good side. On the other hand, Alicia (Elle Fanning), about sixteen or seventeen, uses her feminine wiles, her body, her eyes, to lure the attention of a man easily twice her age. And then there is Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), possibly in her thirties, who doesn’t even bother to pretend to be anyone else. Meanwhile, Miss Farnsworth’s strategy (Kidman) is apparent disinterest in the man but she reminds everyone, not only the stranger in their midst, that she has the most power in their home. Laurence, Fanning, Dunst, and Kidman approach their characters with curiosity, grace, and, when necessary, danger.

The picture can be criticized for its lack of fluctuation in delivering emotions. Some may call it downright tedious or boring. I believe its rather monotonous look and feeling is done on purpose because these are characters who are essentially dead. Yes, they are alive physically but they have been hidden from society for so long, away from their friends and loved ones, that they could only refer to the life outside as if they would be stuck forever in a never-ending war. Take special notice of the very last shot. These women and children are prisoners by choice. In a way, this is a horror film underneath dramatic layers.

“The Beguiled” is a product of a precise vision and it can be enjoyed with the right mindset. The picture is not about action but inaction. What are these people saying to one another during moments of silence, how they hold their faces down when should be looking up, the discrepancies between what they choose to express versus what they wish to express? Clearly, the work is, but not exclusively, for deep thinkers.