Tag Archives: foreign films

Red Dot

Engaged and pregnant, Nadja (Nanna Blondell) and David (Anastasios Soulis) travel to the north of Sweden for a hiking trip to hopefully check out the northern lights. A little parking lot scuffle involving scratched cars, racism, and dead deer turns into something much more sinister, turning their romance under the stars into a real nightmare.

Sleeping in their tent wayyyyyy out in the middle of the snowy nowhere and “keeping warm,” they suddenly notice lights on the horizon that aren’t northern. Outside the tent, a red dot appears in the middle of Nadja’s chest, and then David’s head. They can’t see anything, but a red dot would make anyone nervous. Trying to get back to their car, the gunshots start. The first to fall is their dog, Boris. Poor, innocent Boris. But no time for mourning! Unknown psychotic gunmen are out there, apparently very upset about some cosmetic bumper damage. Cold and increasingly wounded, Nadja and David are chased out into the frozen wilderness where crazed shooters are only a portion of their worries. Survival becomes all-consuming and increasingly unlikely.

Director Alain Darborg’s movie really has nowhere to go but deeper and deeper into the fray and we go limping along with it. If you’re in the mood for a harrowing movie about constantly almost dying, this might be right up your alley, or across your frozen tundra or what have you. The pursuit is relentless and after a while, borderline monotonous. And then there’s a twisty ending that’s kind of infuriating because it comes out of absolutely nowhere and is kind of unfair and totally unearned. But there it is. If you’re in it just for the action I bet you can overlook it but if you were hoping for a good, satisfying movie, keep moving, it’s best to look elsewhere.

Below Zero

Below Zero, despite its stupid name, is actually about a prison break – or a prison transport break, anyway. Yeah, it’s also cold outside. Big whoop. Calling it Below Zero is like calling Drive ’70 Degrees and Sunny’ or Blade Runner ‘Smoggy With a Chance of Rain.’ Incidental weather does not a title make.

Anyway. It’s Martin’s first day on a new police force so he’s been assigned to prisoner transport. Martin (Javier Gutiérrez) will be driving the truck, earringed officer Montesinos (Isak Férriz) will be in the back, and at least half a dozen prisoners will fill the little prisoner cubby holes en route to…well, who cares, the point is, they’ll never make it there. On a dark and foggy road, the truck loses track of the cop car escort that was leading the way. The truck blows a tire and the truck veers off the road. This is actually the least of Martin’s concerns. When this ambush is over, Martin will be the only officer still standing, trapped between the unknown baddies trying to break into the truck and the now loosed prisoners trying to break out. It’s a tough spot that’s only going to get tougher. The guys on the outside want one specific prisoner and will kill everyone and anyone else to get to him. That prisoner knows a bad deal when he sees it and refuses to leave. The truck is impenetrable except for the one key in Martin’s possession so there’s a three way standoff and the guy on the outside will stop at nothing to get his way.

This is not an exceptional movie, but it’s a pretty good one in the action crime genre, if less so from a character point of view. It’s effective, it’s tense, it’s nothing new but it’s well executed, and it’s playing on Netflix right now for your convenience.

Sundance 2021: Human Factors

It starts with a home invasion. Jan (Mark Waschke) and Nina (Sabine Timoteo) have taken their family to their vacation home in a coastal town where the trouble awaits. Jan is outside on the phone when he hears a scream. When no second scream is forthcoming, he resumes his call, unaware that his wife has just encountered people in the house, who flee before anyone else spots them. Rattled, Jan and Nina share their bed with their two children that night, a young son named Max (Wanja Valentin Kube) and teenage daughter Emma (Jule Hermann), their restful weekend getaway already shattered.

Forging on with the weekend in an attempt to put the incident behind them, it would seem their shaky nerves aren’t the only thing troubling this suburban family. Everything is off-balance. Jan hates that Nina has called her brother, who swoops in to the rescue. Nina hates that Jan has made a huge decision at their mutually owned and run business by himself. Jan suspects the break-in is a product of Nina’s nervous imagination, since she’s the only witness. And son Max accuses his father of “hiding” during the incident. Seeds of doubt and mistrust have been sown this weekend, and soon these weeds are growing out of control through the cracks of their family’s core. This has been a triggering event that challenges our notion of truth and of perspective. There is no one narrative, only shifting lenses that reveal the fragility of familial bonds.

Though I admire writer-director Ronny Trocker’s film thematically, I found the viewing experience to be less than ideal. Not because it’s brutally tense, though it is. And not because the characters aren’t particularly likeable, though that’s true too. The incident in question, whether or not it happened, was fairly trivial, and of no real consequences. Yet this relatively small stone thrown into the family puddle creates unexpected ripples whose effects are long-lasting. It’s really just a trigger point to expose already-existing fault lines, and then we sit back and watch this family quake. My problem with the film is that it was simply a boring watch. I wasn’t compelled by this characters, and didn’t much care about the aftershocks or the outcome for this family. Human Factors means well but asks for too much patience in exchange for too little pay out.

Sundance 2021: One For The Road

Aood (Ice Natara) finds out he’s dying of cancer and knows just who to call: everyone! Working his way through his contact list, he calls every friend and acquaintance to thank them for whatever it was that they’d shared. At the end he’s got only a select few remaining, close friends that he must say goodbye to in person.

His first call is to estranged best friend Boss (Tor Thanapob), a club owner in New York City, who agrees to return to Thailand to help his friend with a last request. Aood has a couple of ex-girlfriends to return mementos of their past relationship to, though closure is what he’s really after, on their behalf more than his own, being quite familiar with the dull ache of being the one left behind. One girlfriend is happier to see him than another, but either way, names are getting ticked off the list, dwindling contacts deleted from his phone. You might start to wonder, as I did, with half the movie still to go, is Aood’s cancer linger just a little too long? Alas, there is one relationship left to repair: predictably, that of Aood and Boss, and an ex they more or less have in common.

At this point the film jogs backwards, illuminating their shared history, but derailing the narrative of the first film quite drastically. Surprisingly, it eventually finds its way back, but I’m not convinced this was the best path to telling the story. More than just a story, though, One For The Road is a toast to male friendship and complicated bonds between young men.

Although the film didn’t blow me away, it did have some truly stand-out moments, and even if a bit derivative, it’s clear director Baz Poonpiriya has a voice and style he’s just beginning to own. If One For the Road is manipulative, at least it’s skillfully manipulative, and delivered via some fine performances. Poonpiriya shows promise, with some room for improvement.

My Little Sister

My Little Sister is Switzerland’s official entry for the Academy Awards’ International Feature Film category this year, and its unofficial selection for Biggest Bummer of 2020, which is saying a lot.

Not that it’s a bad film, not at all. It’s just the opposite of cheery. Gloomy. Depressing. Upsetting. It’s about grown up twins Lisa (Nina Hoss), a playwright, and Sven (Lars Eidinger), a stage actor, who are dealing with his cancer diagnosis and resulting transplant. Even on the mend, Sven is still very unwell, and since their mother is a flake, Lisa’s been doing the caring. Lisa already put her life and career on hold once, to follow her husband to Switzerland where he runs an international school and she raises their children. Desperate to get back to the Berlin arts scene, Lisa isn’t happy to learn that her husband’s been contemplating extending his contract, but she’s already got more on her plate than most people can handle. Again she puts her life on hold to care for her “big brother” (born 2 minutes earlier) as he struggles to get back on his feet.

Sven’s illness is quite severe but Lisa can’t really face that. She has appointed herself the perpetual fountain of hope, and even goes back to play writing to make sure he has a meaty role to inspire his recovery. She is so committed to his recuperation she’ll even neglect her marriage to be at his bedside. Nina Hoss is nearly equally committed to the role, playing Lisa with sensitivity, and a naturalness that really helps to bolster the relationship between the twins. Clearly they are close, the kind of bond that can always be relied upon, as illustrated by Eidinger’s performance. Sven has bravado for everyone else, but in front of Lisa, he is vulnerable, he is weak. And though Hoss shows us how scared Lisa is, for him she is strong, sure, and optimistic.

Cancer dramas are a dime a dozen, but this one manages to detour away from the genre’s deepest ruts and treads new(ish) ground with intimate and instinctive performances from the two leads. Directors Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond give us a story that’s emotional without trying to be. It simply presents truth, unadorned. The death of a loved one can force us to reevaluate our own lives; Lisa’s certainly reassessing things, even with so many balls still up in the air. It’s a resonant reminder that life never stops, not even while you’re losing the person you hold most dear.

Rose Island

In 1968, there were dreamers, and Giorgio Rosa wasn’t the only one, but he’s the man we’re going follow today, all the way to Rose Island.

Actually, in 1968 there was no Rose Island as Giorgio (Elio Germano) hadn’t built it yet. But he’s about to. He’s an engineer, a creator, and a thinker. And one day he gets to thinking: wouldn’t it be nice to build an island out in international waters? All to his own?

Rose Island tells the “incredible true story!” of how Rosa solved the problem of how to build an island, but more importantly, how it captured people’s imaginations, drew crowds, and was eventually declared its own nation. Built off Italy’s Rimini coast, it looked a lot like a party barge but also embodied ideals of independence, anarchy, challenging the status quo, and living life off grid, and without rules. Rosa and his acolytes believed their island could change the world, and the first step was establishing it as its own sovereign nation. Of course, that’s also what attracts the attention of the Italian government, who declares Rosa and his island an enemy. Founding your own island nation is fun and games until someone aims their cannons at you.

Rose Island is a fun movie for dreamers and disruptors but the truth is, not a lot actually happens. Between construction and war, there’s just a lot of sitting around and drinking sangria, with the occasional cut to Italian government officials wondering what they should do, who they should tell, pushing around bits of paper, and probably wishing they could jet out to the island themselves for some anonymous debauchery.

I admit that the story definitely deserves to be told and there’s definitely a vitality to rebellion and revolution. I didn’t love the movie, its on-again, off-again momentum was a bit frustrating, but I was glad to hear this little bit of history that I’d never known before.

Break

Lucie (Sabrina Ouazani) is on a very weird path. First, she’s in a coma. Well, first she’s in an accident, then she’s in a coma, and then she wakes up, pretty much completely fine, other than a memory (vision?) of a mysterious man by her bedside. Could it be her long lost father? Lucie’s mom insists no, but Lucie’s gut is saying yes, so she combines her need to get right back into training for an upcoming dance competition with a desperate search for a father she’s never known.

It leads her to Max’s bar/seedy motel, Max (Hassam Ghancy) being the prime suspect. Turns out Max is a reformed criminal who helps newly released prisoners get back on their feet. Which explains what makes barkeep Vincent (Kevin Mischel) such an irresistible bad boy – that ankle bracelet really does something for the ladies. Also, in an incredible coincidence, Vincent is a dancer who “doesn’t dance anymore” yet is continually caught dancing. Or what the French call dancing, which actually seems a little painful and spastic. A dark secret (besides the one that landed him in jail) is hinted at.

But Lucie already has a partner! A dance partner/boyfriend, one who is quickly losing patience with her quest to find herself through “dancing” with dangerous, handsome men.

Sabrina Ouazani is quite compelling to watch, and the film stumbles upon an occasional spark or two, but mostly it’s uncomfortably corny and left me rolling my eyes way more often than must be good for my health.

Director Marc Fouchard struggles to establish any tension between Lucie and her maybe-daddy, and fails to find chemistry between his two leads, which makes for a pretty lackluster movie that really didn’t hold my interest.

Queer Japan

Director Graham Kolbeins’s Queer Japan has a big, open heart. The documentary examines the multi-faceted queer community in Japan with a generous cross-section of its members. Tomato Hatakeno is a transgender activist and video game guide book author; Gengoroh Tagame is a gay erotic artist known internationally for his hardcore BDSM-themed manga; Vivienne Sato is a famed artist and drag queen. But despite the film’s depth of  trailblazing artists and activists, it punches most heavily when it’s sitting with everyday people, people who are making compromises and taking risks just to live some part of their truth. One young person, a misfit, a gender outlaw, commented at a pride parade “I don’t give a shit about love, I need toilets” – a brutally honest reminder of a hierarchy of needs and rights that are not addressed equally within the community (or, I suppose, without).

Curating from over a hundred interviews conducted over 3 years in various locations across Japan, Kolbein has more than enough colour to paint a rainbow. We get a back stage pass to the glossy parties and the seedy underground, meeting people living boldly in all walks of life. It’s truly a prismatic view of Japan’s deliciously diverse queer culture, and a glossary of terms is helpfully provided so we enjoy as immersive an experience as possible.

Queer Japan is a celebration of non-conformity, of alternative thinking, of living life without apology. But this party is also well-informed by that same community’s hardships, struggles, and minority status. While much of it is still lived in the margins, the documentary’s hopeful, irrepressible tone makes it clear that change is coming, and this vibrant, resilient community is not just ready for it. They’re making it happen.

Queer Japan is available in virtual cinemas and on demand December 11.

Just Another Christmas

It’s like Groundhog Day, but for masochists.

Jorge (Leandro Hassum) hates Christmas. Officially it’s because he shares his birthday with the baby Jesus, and he’s a pretty bad sport about it. Even though he’s a fully grown man now. But he also seems to hate everything else about the holiday too: the food, the gifts, the family. THE FAMILY. Fair to say it’s pretty irksome when he develops some sort of Groundhog Day disorder – or at least that’s the movie they’d love to be compared to. In fact, Jorge is not doomed to repeat the same day over and over; he’s merely only living on Christmas now. That sounds weird, and it is, but the Jorge we know wakes up and it Christmas morning. He’s technically lived a full year between each Christmas, but he never remembers it. He’s aged a year, and so have his wife and kids. It’s a weird amnesia and the Jorge who “wakes” up each Christmas doesn’t approve of the Jorge who makes decisions all year long. That Jorge doesn’t seem to share his same values and priorities, and “living” only one day a year seems to have really put things into perspective for him.

Jorge is not exactly a likeable guy so it’s hard to root for, or know what we’re rooting for. Plus, Brazilian comedy seems to be a little…obnoxious. Leandro Hassum is like Gerard Depardieux at his worst, and even his best is pretty intolerable.

Since Jorge only “wakes up” on (or remembers) Christmas, it’s not exactly a great time to get vital information as to his condition. His wife and kids are busy with preparations, and hosting parties, so we never the full picture. We just wake up as disoriented as he is, and try to piece together what’s happened over the last year based on how things have subtly changed since last Christmas.

It’s an interesting-ish premise but I didn’t enjoy its execution. Hassum is one of those people who confuses yelling with acting. It’s hard to pick up any emotional nuance when everything is shouted. And this particular conceit isn’t exactly condusive to personal growth. Even if he does manage to learn a lesson during this 16 hours of Christmassing, his other self won’t remember it come Boxing Day and will spend the whole year undoing any progress that’s been made. It’s a pointless exercise and it’s not even entertaining to watch. Verdict: sleep through it.

It’s like Groundhog Day, but for masochists.

Jorge (Leandro Hassum) hates Christmas. Officially it’s because he shares his birthday with the baby Jesus, and he’s a pretty bad sport about it. Even though he’s a fully grown man now. But he also seems to hate everything else about the holiday too: the food, the gifts, the family. THE FAMILY. Fair to say it’s pretty irksome when he develops some sort of Groundhog Day disorder wherein the Jorge we know wakes up

The Beast

We all have bad days at work. A client pushes your buttons or a colleague isn’t pulling their weight or a vital piece of equipment is on the fritz again, wasting your time and feeding your work monster. The Beast is about a bad day at work. Some guy wakes up, probably with a positive attitude and a spring in his step, but when he gets to work, things all fall apart. He thought kidnapping a little girl would be easy, and it was at first, but boy did he kidnap the wrong dude’s daughter. And no, her dad is not Liam Neeson.

Teresa’s (Giada Gagliardi) dad is The Beast. You can call him Riva (Fabrizio Gifuni), for now. Riva is a lone wolf veteran, estranged from his family ever since he returned from Afghanistan as only a shadow where a man used to be. Haunted by his combat experience, only little Teresa still loves him whole-heartedly. So when his growly teenage son reports her missing, Riva goes BEAST MODE to find her and bring her home. The cops whose actual job it is to find Teresa aren’t too happy about his rogue status and neither is Riva’s PTSD, which is being triggered rather wildly, incapacitating him with flashbacks to his time BEING TORTURED AS A PRISONER OF WAR. So there’s that.

Riva is not exactly a man with a very particular set of skills; I mean, I’m sure he’s no slouch what with his special forces training, but he’s not super-human either, merely a dedicated man with only one goal in his mind. The fights are not slick, over-choreographed affairs, they’re messy and savage and desperate, just a dad trying to survive long enough to get to the next door, behind which he may find and save his daughter. Or not. It’s a big city with a lot of doors, and a lot of bad guys standing menacingly in front of them.

Apparently this is not an Italian remake of Taken, or at least that’s what their legal team assures us, but it sure feels like it. Gifuni is a convincing anti-hero, always stalking the next dose of his meds, never sure which is the greater threat – the guy with the knife in front of him, or the guy with the knife in his memories. Probably not quite sure which is which either. He takes a lot of punishment, but when your daughter is Taken taken, the math goes wonky, the damage inflicted to damage sustained ratio ever malleable.

I didn’t dislike this movie, it’s well set-up even if it’s a premise we’ve definitely 100% seen before in a movie called Taken. The pacing of the third act is pretty screwy, the climax anti-climactic as it comes about 30 minutes too early in the movie. Or the movie goes on 30 minutes too long afterward (and it’s only 97 minutes). Still, if you’re looking for some gritty action, that’s exactly what you’ll get, and The Beast (La Belva) is streaming right now on Netflix.