And the Oscar Goes To… Not a Clue

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Review: Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon

Ana Lily Amirpour’s Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon is one of those little Indies that you hope people will see because it’s weird and quirky and a fun ride. It might not get a lot of coverage in mainstream press for those same reasons, since most of the Indies that get covered this time of year are the ones that might be in contention for the big year-end awards. And though it stars Kate Hudson (Glass Onion, Almost Famous), it’s a pretty low budget, niche genre flick. But if you can, go see it.

Review: Breaking

Watching this “based on a true story” drama, you can’t help but think back to several other films about decent men taking hostages because the system is horribly unfair to them — Dog Day Afternoon is the most obvious comparison. But Breaking had me thinking more of John Q with Denzel commandeering a hospital ER when his insurance company refuses coverage for his son’s heart transplant. Here John Bodega turns in a career topping performance as Brian Brown-Easley, a decorated Marine who brings a bomb to a bank because he wants the VA to give him the money they owe him so he can take care of his family. And it’s that performance and Michael K. Williams’s (“The Wire”) last turn before his death as the hostage negotiator that make this fairly predictable drama worth watching.

Review: Happening

Talk about a film arriving at just the right moment! This gripping French drama about a young woman in the early 1960s who gets pregnant and has to go through hell for an abortion will hit you right in the gut. If I’d seen it a month ago, I’d have described it as a cautionary tale. Now it feels more like a glimpse into our dystopian future.

Review: The Lost Daughter

In her directorial debut Maggie Gyllenhaal demonstrates that she’s as talented behind the camera as in front. Oscar winner Olivia Coleman (The Favourite) stars in this psychological drama adapted from a novel by Elena Ferrante (“My Brilliant Friend”).  She’s Leda, a college professor on a working holiday in Greece who encounters a young mother named Nina (Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades,The Peanut Butter Falcon) and her unsettling family on the beach and becomes fascinated by her and  lost in the memories of her own fraught relationship with marriage and childrearing. It’s a strangely suspenseful film blessed with fabulous performances.

Review: Holler

Set in the grim milieu of America’s Rust Belt, Holler is Ruth’s story.  Wicked smart and strangled by her impoverished circumstances, she and her older brother Blaze (Gus Halper) are just keeping their heads above water and her future is not looking up. Drug addicted Mom (Pamela Adlon) is in prison, waiting for a place in rehab, and Ruth and her brother are in serious danger of eviction. They spend all their free time searching for cans to sell to the local scrap yard. But Ruth is about to graduate and unbeknownst to her Blaze mailed in the college application she’d fill out, and she was accepted. She just needs to find the funds to get there. And there’s the rub.

Review: Bergman Island

You don’t have to be a fan of the legendary director Ingmar Bergman to enjoy this film, but it certainly does help. In it a couple of American filmmakers, Chris (Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread) and Tony (Tim Roth, Selma, The Hateful Eight), take a summer trip to Fårö island in Sweden where Bergman lived and shot some of his best known movies. Both of them are hoping for some inspiration for the films they’re working on. One of Tony’s films is showing in the annual Bergman Week there, and he and Chris are in residence at the house where Bergman shot his award winning series Scenes from a Marriage, about the disintegration of a marriage. And while theirs doesn’t, it’s clearly seen better days.

Nashville Film Festival Rundown

This was my first time (virtually) attending the Nashville Film Festival.  It is close enough for me to drive over, but that was not possible this time around. They had a great slate of films spread over a week. But sadly a lot of the films I’d have loved to see were only available in person, mostly the big prestige flicks. Nevertheless, I did get to see quite a few worthy films from the comfort of my couch. Below is my rundown.

The films are: Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road; Fanny: The Right to Rock; Everybody is Looking for some Light; Poser; Leftover Feelings: A Studio B Revival; 7 Days; Window Boy Would Also Like To Have A Submarine; Potato Dreams; Porcupine; The Good Traitor; Huda’s Salon; Green Sea; Ayar; Luzzu.

Review: Lorelei

At the center of this working class drama is Wayland (Pablo Schreiber, First Man, “Orange Is the New Black”), just out of prison after 15 years and looking to go straight. And running into his high school sweetheart Dolores aka Lola (Jena Malone, Hunger Games, Inherent Vice) while still living in the half-way house gives him something to hope for. She’s just barely hanging on though, working part-time and taking care of three kids alone. And it becomes clear that she’s been waiting for him all this time, to start the life they both dreamed of back in their youth. But can love conquer all, including the lure of his old pals and the money they need to live?

Review: Black Widow

It’s been a looooong time coming to get Russian spy-turned-Avenger Black Widow aka Natasha Romanov’s backstory onto the big screen. And now Marvel fans can breathe a sigh of relief. The combination origin story and fill-in-the-gap between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War is a satisfying, action-packed spy thriller with a dysfunctional family dynamic that is both toxic and amusing. If you lost me at ‘Avenger, ‘Black Widow’, ‘Captain America’, or ‘Infinity War’, then you probably haven’t been waiting on the edge of your post-vaccination seat to see this in theaters. And that’s okay. If you’re not into Marvel movies, move on. Black Widow requires a certain base knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to maximize the entertainment value and fully appreciate Natasha’s history – and potential legacy. (note: It’s not a spoiler to remind folks that Natasha met a tragic, self-sacrificing end in Avengers: Endgame.)

AFIDOCS 2021: Arty Chick’s Download

This year was a distance festival. There were opportunities to be in the theaters in DC, but I chose to watch everything online from afar, on my couch. That’s a mixed blessing. No running from theater to theater. No missing something because it overlapped with another film. No frozen feet from arctic-cooled theaters. Lots of good snuggles with my dog. But also no standing in line with other festival-goers and talking about what we’ve seen and loved. No Q&A’s after the films. (There were some that were available, but it just didn’t seem the same taped from a distance.) And no watching films in some of DC’s beautiful landmarks like the National Archives. A slew of distractions that made it very different from sitting in a dark room with an audience. And for me the worst part was that I don’t have a big screen television, so some of the films were definitely shortchanged.

Nevertheless, it was a good festival and there were several films I will be thinking of for a while. The Audience Award for Best Feature went to one of my faves for sure, Storm Lake. It is a smaller film and I hope that the award will mean it gets seen by a lot more people.

The films I saw were: The First Step – Radiograph of a Family – Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer – LFG – Storm Lake –  The Neutral Ground – The One and Only Dick Gregory – Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union –  Roadrunner: A Film about Anthony Bourdain – The Story Won’t Die –  Daughter of a Lost Bird –  and The Lost Leonardo.