Review: Wife of a Spy

This stylish thriller from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is set in Japan in 1940 shortly before they entered World War II. It opens with beautiful young couple making an amateur movie about betrayal. The husband Yusaku (Issey Takahashi, Kill Bill) though is in the import-export business and movie-making, just a hobby. He and his wife Satoko (Aoi Yû ) are a thoroughly cosmopolitan couple, but the prevailing winds in the country are turning anti-Western and nationalistic. Then on a business trip to Manchuria, Yusaku witnesses horrifying atrocities being committed by the Imperial Japanese Army and returns with documentary proof that he plans to share with the world. But once Satoko discovers her husband’s plan, the question becomes whether she will be loyal to him or her country.

Review: Azor

This claustrophobic drama is set in Argentina in the late 1970s, just after a military junta has taken over the country and the moneyed elite are trying to pretend that they are not scared to death. Private banker Yvan (Fabrizio Rongione) comes to Buenos Aires from Switzerland with his wife Ines (Stéphanie Cléau) following the disappearance of his partner Keys. He’s there to shore up accounts and find out what happened. What he finds as he visits with his clients in their mansions and on their thoroughbred estates is that Keys was both loved and despised and possibly reckless. And he had a secret client that Yvan was not privvy to.

2fer review: The Salvator Mundi docs

Back in June I saw The Lost Leonardo at AFIDOCS and described it as a great art thriller documentary. I remember when the Salvator Mundi (Savior of the world) painting was front page news and shook up the art world. But the story here begins when an art dealer finds a painting at a small New Orleans auction house and purchases it for $1175. He takes it to a respected art restorer who removes years of over-painting and comes to believe that it is in fact an undiscovered work by the master Leonardo da Vinci.  It goes on to become the most expensive ($450 million) painting ever sold.  And what the twisty documentary does is take the audience behind the scenes as the authenticity of the painting is questioned and then obscured. The cast of characters involved in its journey upward are politicians, art dealers, a Russian oligarch, even Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And the question of whether its provenance even matters becomes the big question. It’s a fascinating look inside the hidden art world where owning a piece has nothing to do with its aesthetics and more to do with its perceived worth.

Review: Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali

If you saw the excellent One Night in Miami earlier this year, you’re aware that Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali were close friends. And if you’re like me, you wanted to know more about that friendship. That one night was just a small part of their story. This new documentary airing on Netflix tells what happened before and after. It’s a fascinating and sad story of three years in the lives of two charismatic giants of the 20th century.

Quickie Review: Zone 414

I like a good sci-fi flick. And the blurb for this one sounded intriguing: “Set in the near future, private detective David Carmichael is hired by Marlon Veidt, an eccentric businessman, to track down his missing daughter. David teams up with Jane, a highly advanced A.I. to solve the mystery.”  That it stars Guy Pierce also made me think it might be worth a look. But boy was I wrong! Not that the story is all that bad, but the longer I watched, the more I realized that someone had watched Blade Runner one too many times and was incapable to coming up with their own story. And then, in his feature debut director Andrew Baird chose to go with a ripped off look and feel from the same film. Why, why, why?

Review: Yakuza Princess

Set in São Paulo, Brazil, home to the largest Japanese diaspora in the world, Yakuza Princess is an action packed martial arts thriller and story of self-discovery. A young Japanese woman with a mysterious past, an ancient and powerful Muramasa katana (sword), and an amnesiac stranger come together to right a wrong and find redemption.  Adapted from a graphic novel, the movie begins in Osaka with the massacre of an entire family, except for a little girl. Fast forward 20 years and Akemi (Japanese pop musician MASUMI) is now a grown woman, working on her martial arts skills in Brazil, unaware of her true origins. But when a disfigured stranger (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, “The Tudors”, Match Point) appears in her apartment just in time to save her from would-be assassins, their fates are set. What follows is a couple of hours of violence as they draw closer and closer to their truths. 

Review: Cinderella

This latest take on the fairytale classic is actually quite entertaining and refreshingly different while still retaining a comfortable air of familiarity. Just don’t expect to hear the enduring, trademark songs of Rodgers & Hammerstein. 2021’s Cinderella features a modern twist, with modern music that includes some original songs and a bunch of covers, from Madonna to Queen and stuff in-between. The contemporary live-action film opens with a toe-tapping production number showcasing a hip array of subjects in the Kingdom of Rhythm Nation, where Ella (Camila Cabello) resides in the basement of a home with her stepmother (Idina Menzel) and step-sisters (Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer). The ‘steps’ aren’t exactly evil in the tradition of most “Cinderella” tales, but they aren’t a loving, supportive bunch either.  Jealous much? 

Review: Candyman

Candyman… Candyman… Candyman… Candyman…

Say the name, or see the movie, and you’re in for a whole lot of bloodshed – and a hefty splattering of social commentary.

Review: The Magnificent Meyersons

This family drama is for those who like a good conversation. The film consists of a series of talks between various members of the Meyerson family and their friends and family over the course of one day in New York, frequently walking down the street or sitting on a park bench. They’re a normal enough family with the usual kinds of problems we all have. There are four grown siblings, a mother, and a grandmother, and the elephant in the room is the father who left and affected them all in different ways that still resonate.  It’s a smart script that lets you get to know, and mostly like, the characters as the deeper story of the family emerges.

Quickie Review: The Night House

I rarely enjoy horror movies. They’re simply not my thing (with exceptions falling along the lines of a Poltergeist, A Quiet Place or The Conjuring). So I admit I’m not the best judge of whether it’s worth catching the unsettling, creepy ghost story put forward in The Night House. If you’re a fan of the genre, it probably can’t hurt – especially because the film is elevated by the ‘presence’ of British-American actress Rebecca Hall (Godzilla vs Kong, Christine). Hall plays Beth, a recent widow who discovers her husband led a secret life. As she seeks to unravel what triggered his sudden, unexpected death outside their dream house on a lake, Beth is beset by nightmares filled with disturbing visions and voices.