2022 In Film: Day Five (Once Was Enough)

Films which were fine, I’m glad I saw them, but I’m in no hurry to see them again.

A Hero

Ups: Very human

Looks amazing, some beautiful setpieces.

The relationship between the lead and his girlfriend feels very natural

Downs: The writer/director is a dick.

Quite dull in times.

Best Moment: The scene of him in the bank saying he found the bag. Great background acting from the extras when he mentions he’s in prison.

Worst Moment: The ending. It drags slightly

Best Performer: Amir Jadidi

Opening: He’s let out of prison. The pure joy on his face, and then the slight disappointment when none of the taxi cabs stop for him. It’s such a small way to introduce a character, but it does so much. Almost no dialogue for the first five minutes, mostly him walking. But it does allow you to look at the nice scenery.

Closing: He’s back in prison, but with some form of dignity. You don’t hear what his son says to him, but it’s weirdly powerful to watch them say goodbye to each other, it’s heartbreaking. It does go on a few minutes longer than it needs to. The final shot of him inside, queuing up to go back in just feels a bit like wasted time.

Best Line: “where in the world are people celebrated for not doing wrong?” Essentially Chris Rock’s “you don’t get credit for doing shit you’re supposed to do”, but in a dramatic sense.

Original Review here

All My Friends Hate Me

Ups: Very funny

All felt real.

The performances

So awkward.

Downs: A bit too real to be enjoyable.

The friends are really unlikeable.

Best Moment: The ending. Mainly because it’s the only bit of warmth.

Worst Moment: The reveal of the death, seemed to come out of nowhere.

Best Performer: Tom Stourton

Opening: Pete drives to the party, intercut with him having a conversation with his girlfriend. It’s a really weak opening actually, the editing feels a bit weird, like you’re watching a DVD on shuffle.

Closing: Someone nearly dies. I won’t say who, and I won’t say how (I mean, I probably did in the original review but still, nobody reads those). Okay that’s not the ending, but it should have been. It’s a natural crescendo, but then the film continues into an awkward car ride home which doesn’t really land narratively.

Best Line: “You’re doing a bit crap”. It’s at this point the shift happens and he does start being hated by everybody.

Original Review here

Amsterdam

Ups: Very funny.

Good ensemble cast.

About a fascinating piece of US history.

Downs: Issues with tone.

Has trouble with pacing. Going too quickly and then too slowly.

Far far too long.

The characters don’t take the situation seriously, which means the audience don’t.

Best Moment: The three characters in Amsterdam. Weirdly life-affirming.

Worst Moment: The many many instances of tonal whiplash.

Best Performer: John David Washington

Opening: Burt Berendsen is a doctor who specialises in treating war veterans. Good way to introduce both the character and the world.

Closing: The plot is uncovered, and nothing happens. Bit bleak, and not sure that’s what’s really needed right now.

Best Line: “Each one of us is given a tapestry, our own opera. This person and this person. Thinking about it… love is not enough. You got to fight to protect kindness. You get attached to people and things. And they might just break your heart… but that’s being alive”

Original Review here

Avatar: The Way Of Water

Ups: It looks superb.

Good performances.

Sets up the sequel well.

Adds to the mythology.

Downs: Stupid character decisions.

Actually, stupid characters (especially Spider).

Exhaustingly long. That’s the only reason it’s in this section, otherwise it would be the “very good”. But I’m not sure I can stand to watch this film again.

Best Moment: The first time we see Omaticaya. Breathtaking.

Worst Moment: The very lazy way it handwaves everyone speaking in English (sometimes). Oh, and the entire final act.

Best Performer: Sigourney Weaver

Opening: A “where we are now” explaining what’s happened in the last 12 years, Jake now has a family. I think this film assumed everybody remembered the last film, almost zero attempt to appeal to people who can’t remember that much.

Closing: A completely unnecessary sequence set on a sinking boat. The audience had already got into “okay it’s ending soon” mode, only to have another 20 minutes or so tacked on. Oh, and Spider saves his not-dad, even though he hates him because of the whole “genocide” thing. Done purely so the character can come back in the sequel.

Best Line: “Well, I hate you times infinity Lo’ak. Penis face!” Mainly because it came out of nowhere.

Original Review here

Ballad Of A White Cow

Ups: Very tense.

Great performances.

Unique.

Important.

Downs: Could cut about 10 minutes from it

Pacing a bit slow

Muddled messages

Best Moment: Just after the worst moment (depicted below). He gets back in the car and starts driving her around. She’s haunted and just stares ahead with tears on her face. Not a word is said but her face says so much.

Worst Moment: There’s a scene at the end of a phone conversation where she finds out the truth about the guy who’s helping her (that he was one of the men who sentenced her husband to death). The camera is focused on a car on the opposite side of the road. So it’s a static shot of nothing of any importance.

Best Performer: Maryam Moqadam

Opening: Opening text about a quote from the Quran about slaughtering a cow. Then a white cow in a courtyard of a really bleak building. Looks weirdly CGI.

Closing: She poisons someone. It’s not quick or comedic. It’s probably the best poisoning I’ve seen in a film for the long time You truly get his panic and torment, but also how ultimately it doesn’t make her feel better or bring her peace. Although it then shows him sitting at the table, so it’s likely she imagined it and realised the meaningless of doing it. Or she just sat his body up on the chair, which is much less likely.

Best Line: “why don’t we ask daddy for some?” Makes you aware that she hasn’t told her daughter that her dad was executed. Tbf, how do you say that?

Original Review here

DC League Of Super-Pets

Ups: Good jokes, some of which will only work in this film.

Full of references.

Downs: Kevin Hart doesn’t work as Bat-Hound

Bit simple.

The human heroes get overpowered too easily

The human/pet choices are far too convenient.

Not enough for adults.

Best Moment: The bat-hound flashback saying why he got abandoned. Heartbreaking.

Worst Moment: The “sacrifice”. Mainly because you know it won’t stick so there’s zero tension.

Best Performer: Keanu Reeves. Not in it much but is perfect.

Opening: Destruction of Krypton. Because that’s not been seen enough in films.

Closing: All the pets have formed a super-hero team. Pretty obvious. The big thing from the ending (well, mid credits scene) is the film debut of Black Adam. Didn’t really gather that much hype though.

Best Line: “That’d better be a licensed toy or I will freak out.”

Original Review here

Lingui, The Sacred Bonds

Ups: So very tense.

Some lush landscapes. Africa is still presented as “sand and sadness” so it’s good to see lush greenery and beautiful rivers.

So powerful.

There’s an act of violence near the end which is incredibly realistic. That works for it and against it. It doesn’t make it seem cinematic, but the dull thuds give it a strange bruality.

Downs: The editing could be slightly clearer at parts.

Some shots could be better.

Chemistry between the two leads isn’t quite there.

Best Moment: When Maria tries to drown herself. It’s eerily calm and quiet. Most drownings are like a series of crashing waves, this is more like a calm lake

Worst Moment: There’s one REALLY bad edit where someone is walking and suddenly it’s edited so they’re about 2 feet away and standing in a position where they’ve been there a while.

Best Performer: Achouackh Abakar Souleyman

Opening: Character cutting open and stripping a tire, using the parts of it to make wire stoves. Good introduction to how resourceful she can be.

Closing: Brutal violence, followed by the daughter being given independence.

Best Line: “Many girls get pregnant, and it’s bad for our image” ouch.

Original Review here

Moonfall

Ups: Delightfully dumb.

Fun.

The large setpieces are well-crafted and unique.

Downs: Some really bad CGI for backgrounds.

Even an idiot could point out scientific inaccuracies.

Aggressively American

Best Moment: Most of the moments with John Bradley’s character. He’s funny and really nerdy.

Worst Moment: The entire sub-plot of the family back on earth getting to a safe location. Adds nothing.

Best Performer: John Bradley.

Opening: The original incident. Showing two of the characters being attacked. On the plus side it’s dynamic, exciting, and lets you know what’s happening. On the downside, it lets you know what’s happening. It would have been nice if they withheld the truth a little bit longer, let us have doubts about the main character’s recollection.

Closing: The character who died forever lives as AI. A massive cop-out that I saw coming a mile off. Also seems like really unsubtle sequel baiting.

Best Line: “You’re part of the Moon now.” so dumb.

Original Review here

Ballad Of A White Cow (2020)

Quick synopsis: An Iranian woman (Maryam Moqadam) learns that her husband was actually innocent of the crime he was executed for. She’s not very happy about this.

This film will infuriate you. When you find out that the man executed was actually innocent it will make you want to tear your hair out. This is a great example of why I’m anti-execution btw. I’ve had this discussion with people and I’ve offered this sentence:

“Make executions legal, but have everybody who supports it on a list. If it’s discovered that someone was executed wrongfully, or if there’s a small piece of doubt about it, someone on the list gets killed”

Usually, that’s met with “but that’s not fair, you can’t kill people who didn’t do anything”, by people who are completely missing the irony. Plus if they’re so certain that only the guilty will be executed, they’d have no problem with it because they’d know for sure they’re safe. Once you perform that act, you can’t take it back, and that’s what this film is about. No matter what happens, the mans death can never be reversed.

Not that much is happening anyway. The people who sentenced him to death tell his widow “Nothing we can do, it is gods will”. “we can’t deny people their rights. The death penalty is a human right”. “The prophet himself made a judgement”, no, he didn’t. You did. It must be nice to have that level of faith which allows you to ignore culpability. That’s how problems don’t get solved, when people don’t take responsibility for their decisions. There is one person who seems to care, Reza (played by Alirez Sanifar), who seems to realise how shitty a situation it is. He was the judge who sentenced her husband to death. It was his first death sentence and it turned out to be wrong. You can tell he is wracked with guilt over this, and is trying to do everything he can to fix it, but knowing there’s nothing he can do.

It’s harrowing to watch her so beaten down because of her gender. She gets made homeless because she has a man in her house. Landlords won’t rent to her because she’s a single woman, putting her in the same category as junkies. It’s ugly, it’s horrible, and it’s far too true.

The ugliness extends to the look. Not in an “eww this was really badly made” way, but if I had to describe it as a colour I would say “grey”. It’s a very washed out film, and that perfectly suits the tone and the story. The lead, Maryam Moqadam, co-directed this with Behtash Sanaeeha (better known for 2014’s Risk Of Acid Rain). It’s not often you get co-directed films (he says, a few weeks after watching and reviewing one), and to their credit it never feels disjointed in terms of style. The whole thing does feel like it belongs to one voice.

There is a slight warmness to the whole thing at times. Despite what it may seem, this is not a story about loss, or revenge. It’s a story of human perseverance, about the strength people find in adversity.

This strength, as well as the pain, is filtered through Moqadam’s character, Mina. She carries a heavy burden, the film rests upon her shoulders, and she carries it wonderfully. There’s a scene near the end which best demonstrates this. I’ll explain the lead-up first. She meets a stranger who claims to be a friend of her husband, the aforementioned Reza. He’s decided to ease his guilt by turning up at her house, saying he owes her husband some money, so he’ll give it to her.

Sadly, this act of kindness ends up getting her evicted (for having an unrelated male in the house), but she never mentions it to him. She hides it from him out of kindness for him. Because she doesn’t want him to feel guilty. So when she finds out who he really is, she feels doubly betrayed. She just sits in her car seething, not saying a single word, she doesn’t need to; her face says everything. It’s a masterclass in both performance and directing. That scene alone makes this worth watching, but watch the rest too as it’s well worth your time. In most other countries, this would be a film of anger and violence, in this it’s just despair. She can’t win, she’s utterly helpless, a victim of the world she lives in. It sucks, and it’s depressing, but it’s also very compelling to watch.