Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dearest... Short Cuts 2016, Part 3: Oscar's Live Action Short Film Nominees



ShortsHD once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming device near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make our break your office Oscar pool. In the last of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.


I'd love to be able to tell you that this year's slate of live action short nominees are as over-all great as last year's, but that is sadly just not the case. Still, the majority of them are terrifically entertaining, so there will be some suspense before the envelope is read naming the winner come this Sunday night.

In addition to my reviews and trailer links, I've suggested a similarly-themed Oscar nominated feature film to pair with each live action short nominee to create your own Academy-sanctioned double feature. Bring on the popcorn!

And the nominees are...



Ennemis Intérieurs (Enemies Within), Sélim Azzazi (France, 27 minutes).

A simple interview for French citizenship turns into a witch hunt when the Algerian applicant is asked to name names of possible terrorists. Basically a two-hander, and an overly familiar one at that. Hassam Ghancy gives an intense performance as the interviewee, but in this time of immigrant crises and international terrorism this one brings nothing new or surprising to the table.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 6/10
Pair it with: Another cat-and-mouse story, Hell or High Water.



La Femme et le TGV (The Railroad Lady), Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff (Switzerland, 30 minutes).

A lonely woman, who methodically but joyfully waves a Swiss flag at the train every time it passes by her quaint country home, finds her life unexpectedly revitalized when she begins corresponding with the train's unseen driver. Jane Birkin (yes, of Birkin bag fame) shines in this lovely, bittersweet tale (inspired by a true story) of hope and finding connections in the unlikeliest of places.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: A Man Called Ove is another curmudgeonly protagonist you'll grow to love.



Silent Nights, Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson (Denmark, 30 minutes).

While volunteering at a housing shelter, a Danish woman falls in love with a homeless immigrant from Ghana, who unbeknownst to her has a wife and family back home. With its boring characters doing stupid things, this one is quite the disappointment coming from producer Magnusson, who previously won in this category for the much-more deserving Election Night and Helium.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 4/10
Pair it with: The other interracial love story this year, Loving.



Sing (Mindenki), Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy (Hungary, 25 minutes).

Set in a Budapest elementary school, new girl Zsófi becomes fast friends with popular student Liza, but trouble arises when a secret about their school's award-winning choir comes to light. Further proof that foreign films "get" stories about children far more realistically and interestingly than most Hollywood fare, this charming tale of rebellion in the face of adult conformity is an inspirational breath of fresh air.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: My Life as a Zucchini also centers on a "new kid in town".



Timecode, Juanjo Giménez (Spain, 15 minutes).

Although parking lot attendants Luna (day shift) and Diego (night shift) only see each other fleetingly, they develop a unique relationship via their work station security cameras. Already a Palme d'Or winner from last year's Cannes Film Festival, this original and surprisingly artful take on workplace romance not only features a great "take this job and shove it" denouement, but also the best punchline of any of this year's short film nominees.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 7/10
Pair it with: Another unique love story, The Lobster.


Coming soon: A Movie Dearest annual tradition... "If We Picked the Oscars"!.

Click here for part one, my reviews of this year's Animated Short Film nominees, and click here for part two, my reviews of this year's Documentary Short Subject nominees.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reverend's Reviews: A Gay New Film Year


 

While we're all concerned about the rise of der führer Trump, we mustn't allow him to obscure the fact that we are living in a darn good time for LGBTQ film and filmmakers.  Moonlight is up for multiple Oscars including Best Picture and several award winners from last year's festival circuit are newly available on home video.  If that wasn't enough, last month's Sundance Film Festival introduced a whole new crop of LGBTQ-themed movies that will be distributed later this year.


Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro is now in theatrical release and couldn't be better timed.  An Oscar nominee for Best Feature Documentary, it draws from gay and African-American writer James Baldwin's notes for a book he wasn't able to finish before his death in 1987.  The film also incorporates considerable TV footage of and commentary by Baldwin himself as it explores race relations in the US then and now.

Whereas Baldwin's book was primarily concerned with the assassinations of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X, Peck expands this into an examination of civil rights today.  Samuel L. Jackson gives appropriately strong voice to Baldwin's incisive words. The doc's bottom line is a galvanizing one: the ongoing "racial problem" in America has more to do with how short we have fallen as a nation in upholding our foundational values. Race is merely an excuse. As Baldwin states in the film, "The story of the Negro in America is the story of America... this is not the Land of the Free."

Baldwin was by his own admission, however, an optimist.  The dream shared by him and the martyrs he was writing about can yet be achieved.  In fact, we must achieve it.  I Am Not Your Negro is undeniably challenging but ultimately inspiring and should not be missed.


Ethnic differences are also a factor in the gay romantic-drama Akron, though more subtle.  It is now available on DVD and VOD from Wolfe Video.  Benny and Christopher are openly gay students attending college in the title Ohio city. They meet cute one day while playing football and begin dating soon after.  Unfortunately, they discover that a tragic event from their early childhood has put their parents at odds.  Benny's Latino family has a more difficult time accepting Christopher as a result.

Matthew Frias and Edmund Donovan are sweet, not to mention attractive, as the beleaguered young lovers, and Broadway actress Andrea Burns (In the Heights) gives a solid performance as Benny's mother.  Brian O'Donnell, the film's gay writer/director/producer, was born and raised in Akron and subsequently captures its Midwest melting pot vibe well (Sasha King serves as co-director).  While the script's family dynamics get soapy at times, it is refreshing to see how otherwise well-adjusted the gay characters are.  Teens and young adults especially should check Akron out.  Also new from Wolfe and worth checking out is the German drama Jonathan, about a straight young man who learns his terminally-ill father is gay.


Out fashion designer Tom Ford made a splash with his filmmaking debut, 2009's A Single Man.  He has returned with Nocturnal Animals, a decided change of pace that is newly available for digital download and on Blu-ray/DVD combo courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.  Based on Austin Wright's novel Tony and Susan, the stylish yet noir-esque film is also decidedly darker than its predecessor.

Amy Adams stars as Susan, an art gallery buyer in an unhappy second marriage.  She one day receives out of the blue the pre-published proof of a novel written by her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).  She is initially flattered that the book is dedicated to her but becomes increasingly horrified by its vengeance-tinged plot about a man whose wife and daughter are murdered by a gang of hoodlums headed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who last month won a Golden Globe for his creepy turn here.  Michael Shannon is currently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Nocturnal Animals as a dying detective trying to hunt down the killers.

As a thriller, Ford's latest is unsettling yet satisfying.  It is less successful as a portrait of a failed marriage and many viewers will find the finale downright polarizing.  Thankfully, the film is not without humor courtesy of Shannon's and Taylor-Johnson's unhinged performances.  There is mention of Susan's brother being gay but otherwise no LGBT content.  Ford continues to stretch and grow, however, as a gay filmmaker.


Sadly, it is more difficult to say the same of Alain Guiraudie.  The French writer-director garnered international acclaim for his sexually-explicit, 2013 gay suspense-drama Stranger by the Lake. Guiraudie's new film, Staying Vertical, is still sexually-explicit but also pretty darn bad.  This confused story about a sexually confused man manages to be more repellent than engrossing.  More adventurous and/or non-discriminating moviegoers will be tempted to take it in during its current theatrical release in select US cities.  Just don't say I didn't warn you.  You'll be better off with the award-winning documentary Kiki, kind of an update of 1991's Paris is Burning about NYC's current ball culture, or the real-time gay romance Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo.  Both are also now in US theatrical release.

Looking ahead, we've got LGBTQ Sundance darlings Call Me By My Name, Beach Rats and God's Own Country on the horizon.  Not even Trump can stop 2017 from being a great gay year at the cinema!

Reverend's Ratings:
I Am Not Your Negro: A
Akron: B
Jonathan: B+
Nocturnal Animals: B-
Staying Vertical: D

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dearest... Short Cuts 2016, Part 2: Oscar's Documentary Short Subject Nominees



ShortsHD once again presents this year's Academy Award nominated animated, live action and documentary short films at a theater or streaming device near you. These special programs are usually the only way for most movie fans to see these otherwise illusive short film nominees that can make our break your office Oscar pool. In the second of three parts, Movie Dearest takes a look at this year's five nominees for Best Documentary Short Subject.


Two British and three American short documentaries are the finalists for the Oscar this year, with loss and global conflict the dominant themes.

In addition to my reviews and trailer links, I've suggested a similarly-themed Oscar nominated feature film to pair with each documentary short nominee to create your own Academy-sanctioned double feature. Bring on the popcorn!

And the nominees are...



Extremis, Dan Krauss (USA, 24 minutes).

Set in the bustling confines of a hospital intensive care unit, compassionate doctors help families make the agonizing decisions on whether or not to keep their loved ones on life support (the title refers to the Latin phrase in extremis, which means “at the point of death”). Needless to say, this one is an intense, but effective, emotional roller coaster, and the one nominee here most likely to hit close to home. Krauss was previously nominated in this category for The Life of Kevin Carter.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on Netflix.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Manchester by the Sea is steeped in grief and guilt.



4.1 Miles, Daphne Matziaraki (USA, 26 minutes).

4.1 miles is the distance across the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, where thousands of refugees, fleeing from the war in Syria, attempted to cross the perilous waters on flimsy inflatable rafts. Most wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for the tireless rescue efforts of the Greek Coast Guard. The raw footage here is absolutely harrowing, with child after child plucked from certain death right in front of your eyes. Visceral and immediate, you won’t soon forget this one, already a Student Academy Award winner.

Watch trailer, or watch in full here.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: Documentary Feature nominee Fire at Sea, another view of the plight of refugees.



Joe's Violin, Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen (USA, 24 minutes).

A 91-year-old Polish Holocaust survivor donates his treasured violin, which immigrated with him to America, to a school instrument drive, where it is adopted by a 12-year-old schoolgirl from an impoverished neighborhood. I hate to bag on something so well-intentioned, but this one feels so manufactured it’s practically a reality show. Even the big “emotional moment” when the two meet feels forced and falls flat. Sigh; Holocaust-related documentaries have become the Meryl Streep of this category, automatically nominated regardless of their actual merit.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on YouTube.
Dearest Rating: 5/10
Pair it with: another inspirational heart-tugger, Hidden Figures.



Watani: My Homeland, Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis (UK, 40 minutes).

The family of a Free Syrian Army commander live on the literal frontline of the Syrian Civil War, where bombs and gunfire are such everyday occurrences that the children actually “play ISIS”. After the father is captured, the family flees to Germany. Not sure what this one is trying to say, as it’s hard to sympathize with a father who would keep his children in a war zone or a mother who wants to go back to where her husband has been likely tortured and/or brutally murdered.

Watch trailer.
Dearest Rating: 4/10
Pair it with: The grim Jim: The James Foley Story.



The White Helmets, Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara (UK, 40 minutes).

They are the Syrian Civil Defense, a group of volunteer rescue workers who rush in to recently bombed-out neighborhoods to save as many victims as they can. You’ll witness their triumphs (rescuing a “miracle baby” from under tons of rubble) and defeats (not all of them make it home). Above all, you’ll be struck by not just the bravery of these selfless heroes but also their steadfast commitment to preserve life. Even after all the death and destruction, the filmmakers (previously nominated for the documentary feature Virunga) end their story on an uplifting note.

Watch trailer, or watch in full on Netflix.
Dearest Rating: 8/10
Pair it with: For more drama on the frontlines, try 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.


Coming soon: Part 3 takes a look at the five Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Film.

Click here for Part 1, my reviews of this year's Animated Short Film nominees.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...