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Film Review: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

BY RUBI DEL RÍO-HERRERA

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is based on cartoonist John Callahan’s autobiography of the same name. Directed by Gus Van Sant, who’s known for indie films such as My Own Private Idaho (1991) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989), we get what feels like an indie/documentary-style film that doesn’t quite reach the level to which it aspires. Van Sant’s style of storytelling focuses on the humanistic side of life; the ordinary individual struggling with inner demons while trying to find their way through life.

The film starts out promising enough. Van Sant utilizes tight close up shots, “rack focus” (going in and out of focus) and that grainy look that makes you think he is actually shooting on film. This gives the audience that sense of his indie/documentary style, but as the film progresses and our protagonist begins to evolve, the film takes a turn into the long, boring fare of the type you might find in your dad’s 1970s VHS collection. I have to say though that the writing, the dialogue, and the cast of actors are superb.

Joaquin Phoenix as Callahan plays the quadriplegic cartoonist flawlessly. Phoenix takes his method acting to a new level, diving into the role with such finesse that you forget the actor is bipedal. But Van Sant must have lost interest in his own film somewhere along the way, and Phoenix loses some of his finesse when his character finally reaches an emotional climax towards the end of the film. Phoenix falls completely flat, as John finally understands the reason for his drinking. Flat to the point that I was unable to connect with his performance at that point.

It’s a shame because right around then, Jonah Hill who plays Donnie, a rich homosexual alcoholic and John’s sponsor, gives a performance that has never before been seen in Hill. Jonah reaches deep for this scene, when he tells John why he stopped drinking. It is at this moment that the audience finally gets a feel for his character that has been one dimensional right up to this point. It is a breath of fresh air to know that Jonah Hill’s acting has matured and he has finally outgrown his former dumb-witted characters.

The movie doesn’t lack for intrigue. If you like humanistic films, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is one you’ll enjoy: the true story of John Callahan, Portland-based musician and cartoonist who overcame his drinking after his life altering experience that left him paralyzed and unable to fend for himself.

Jack Black plays Dexter; His performance is mediocre at best. His character, though important to the storyline, is forgettable. Rooney Mara plays Annu, a character who’s also forgettable, as Van Sant breezes through John’s life in snippets. The remainder of the cast includes Udo Kier as Hans, Ronnie Adrien as Martingale, and Kim Gordon (bassist and singer for the rock group Sonic Youth) as Corky. Beth Ditto as Reba, despite minimal lines, gives the best performance of the bunch.

My only real dislikes here are that the running time is just too long, and you lose interest near the end.

3 of 5 stars

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Film Reviews

Film Review: En El Séptimo Día (On The Seventh Day)

"Flowers are born in the desert today; Which is stained by our tears, by our blood; Our pain, our sweat; This cold that burns is freezing my cry." -Zenen Zeferino Huervo, from his song "Flores en el desierto."

BY ANDRES SOLAR

Realist writer-director Jim McKay (Everyday People [2004]) delivers a delicious dish of a film in En El Séptimo Día (On The Seventh Day). The U.S.-based filmmaker with deep roots in the American South brings his community sensibilities to a charming, penetrating, and simple story set in present-day Brooklyn, New York.

José (Fernando Cardona) is a Mexican-American man in his twenties who came to the United States, it appears, not more than a decade ago. A bicycle deliveryman for a popular restaurant, he lives in a small apartment with several compatriots from the Mexican mountain town of Puebla.

Top of their agendas is keeping jobs to pay the bills, improve their lives, and perhaps bring a loved one or two up to the “promised land.” McKay makes it crystal clear that, to that end, they work their asses off six days a week. On the proverbial, titular seventh day, they don their Puebla jerseys and set off to Sunset Park for spirited contests in the world’s most popular sport: futból.

That En El Séptimo Día credits no production designer or art director hints at the type of film artist Jim McKay is. His narrative work is often described as having a “documentary feel,” and to a small degree that’s true here.

The director and his cinematographer Charles Libin (Remote Control [2013]) have made sure, though, that this film is a pleasure to look at. Beautifully composed shots of Brooklyn streets fade in often and provide contrast to the more purposeful angles in and around the restaurant kitchen and views of the city’s less picturesque locales. One gorgeous wide angle in particular—at dusk from the top of a hill, depicting a twinkling Manhattan skyline in the distance—will leave anyone with an appreciation for photography shaking their head in awe.

The writer-director began his career in the Athens, Georgia art and music scene that gave us visual artists including Jem Cohen (Museum Hours [2013]) and Jim Herbert, as well as The B-52’s and R.E.M.

Combined, Cohen and Herbert directed 15 videos for what would become the rock-n-roll cash cow R.E.M., led by Michael Stipe, their visual-arts-loving singer. For his part, McKay directed the concert documentary Tourfilm: R.E.M. (1990) and the music videos “Half A World Away” (1991) and “Every Day Is Yours To Win” (2011).

The band didn’t mind spreading its wealth and also made videos with future feature directors Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris and Spike Jonze, among others. Its emphasis on  preserving its small-town character, a tradition of strong community participation, and the incredible talent per capita continue to make Athens a fascinating and supportive breeding ground for the arts.

In keeping with McKay’s experience in, and vision of, integrated community, he respectfully subtitled both the Spanish and English dialogue here, thus creating something rare: a bilingual film that non-Spanish-speakers and non-English-speakers can experience together. The superior writing and natural dialogue are bolstered by faithful translations.

En El Séptimo Día doesn’t shy away from commenting on the plight of immigrants in the U.S. in the 21st Century. In fact, it does so in an unusually subdued way that’s thus more subversive. The movie makes you feel the verve with which these men have taken to their adopted country, rat-race and all. But it also bracingly burrows into the business machinations and personal workplace dynamics ever at play across our nation. The ones that, if we’re not careful, turn us into 60-hours-per-week, workaday zombies; the real “walking dead”!

But McKay accomplishes this, masterfully, in an observational style that evokes calm atmospheres and mellow moods. A soccer match at Sunset Park sounds and feels like a pleasant, leisurely Sunday evening. Cutaways to non-actors in the periphery, from a little boy enjoying his paper cup of ice cream to elderly men gesturing casual disapproval of their preferred team’s play, show simply lovely moments in time.

The director indicates no interest in intensity of characters, of conflicts, or of plot. Instead, he opens his lens to a flow of relaxed, placid realism that’s no less impressive. This, combined with the aesthetically pleasing photography, might give rise to the question of whether this work is more idealistic than realistic. It’s a fair question, though a fairly cynical one.

McKay’s Mexican-American perspective on a diverse Brooklyn neighborhood isn’t idyllic. Instead, he shows us a picture of supportive cooperation among Americans of a hundred demographic categories. What we see is entirely feasible, and therefore realistic. If En El Séptimo Día betrays optimism in its creator, we can hardly fault him for that.

5 of 5 stars

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Ocean’s 8

BY RUBI DEL RÍO-HERRERA

Ocean’s 8 may have just pulled off what 2016’s Ghostbusters remake attempted—a successful all-female cast. The film oozes sex appeal, something the Ghostbusters reboot didn’t bring to the table. Now take those elements, mix in some A-list actors (along with a few “B”s and “C”s), add in a heist, and this may be summer 2018’s biggest hit—with the potential for a few sequels to boot.

Our story starts with Debbie Ocean, the sister of Danny Ocean (played by Sandra Bullock), sitting in front of the parole board after serving a five year stint. Debbie manages to convince the board that her criminal intentions are in the past and that she just wants to live a normal life; though it’s not long after that we realize that her Sweet Polly Purebred act is just an act. She soon works her criminal magic in a five-star hotel. Bullock is masterful; she is your girl next door, your sexy goddess, and your smart diva rolled into one for this character.

Now, we all know that since this is Ocean’s 8, our protagonist has come up with some elaborate plan involving criminal activity, and soon enough we find out how Debbie has been keeping busy in jail for the past five years—planning an elaborate jewelry heist. Knowing she can’t pull this off alone, she teams up with her trusty sidekick, Lou (played by Cate Blanchett), the counterpart to Rusty in Ocean’s 11. Together this sexy criminal duo recruits an all-female team to pull off the biggest jewelry heist in history.

The plan is to steal a Cartier necklace—the Cartier Necklace— at the Met Gala, the biggest fashion party in New York City. The first step is to get the famous Miss Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) to wear the diamond dangler. Daphne is their way into the party, and they recruit Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), a washed up designer who is desperate for money, to couture the dress Daphne will be wearing at the Gala.

“Nine Ball” is played by “Umbrella” singer Rihanna, who is the computer hacker of the bunch. Comedian Mindy Kaling plays Amita the diamond expert, while “American Horror Story” alum Sara Paulson plays Tammy the swindler housewife. Newcomer Awkwafina plays Constance, the street hustler. The plan seems perfect… until they meet a few glitches along the way, but it won’t be long before this sexy group is able to think on their feet and smooth out the creases to try and get away with the perfect plan.

There is one thing I’m leaving out: my favorite part, and all I want to say is that indeed hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I guess you can say it’s Debbie’s payback. But you’ll have to go see it to know what it’s all about. If you are an Ocean’s fan, then I highly recommend Ocean’s 8. It’s super sexy. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett are definitely the female version of George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Their chemistry works and they are able to pull off the story. I smell sequels with this duo.

3 of 5 stars

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Pope Francis – A Man of His Word

BY RUBI DEL RÍO-HERRERA

Director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire [1987]) makes a tough task look easy in his new documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. The task is no less than capturing the essence of a man.

Wenders’ wisest choice here is breaking the fourth wall, a technique that allows the individual in front of the lens (the subject) to look directly into the camera and address the viewer. This is exactly what happens when Wenders interviews Pope Francis. The effect draws the viewer into the story and makes one feel as if the Pope is directly talking to you. It is an ingenious method for certain documentaries, as it touches each viewer personally and allows them to be absorbed by the story. In this case, you also draw near to the words and messages of a man who speaks with candor, love, and truth.

One has to wonder, What is Wenders’ objective? Is it the man behind the robe? As we watch, we begin to understand that this film is not just about Pope Francis’ life. It only glimpses his past through archival footage, that of the man previously known as Jorge Bergoglio, an Argentine Jesuit. Instead, Wenders concentrates on the present and the papacy.

Pope Francis’ papacy begins at the retirement of the last pope in 2013, and the film opens recounting the life of St. Francis of Assisi in a shot of the Umbrian village of Assisi. The birthplace of the patron saint of the poor and sick. This is the man after whom Pope Francis was named and, more importantly, the saint who he has devoted his life to following.

This is evident in Pope Francis’ vows, rejecting the offerings of the papacy. We also see that his home is less extravagant than the official papal residence in the Apostolic Palace. He travels in a small electric car to meet heads of states. So, the film focuses on Pope Francis’ humbleness, compassion and, most of all his love for mankind, in keeping with the lifework of St. Francis.

Wenders does occasionally turn his lens toward subjects the Catholic Church for years has not wanted advertised, such as its positions on homosexuality, its plague of sexual abuse spread by priests, and the cover-ups thereof. Pope Francis’ answers to difficult questions reveal a man who is empathetic to each cause differently. He issues no criticism on homosexuality by answering, “Who am I to judge?” He feels that the Church needs to repair the wrongdoings of sexual abuse, and shows support of civil proceedings against defendants formerly of the Church.

In truth, Pope Francis is the pope of the people. He is just a man who recognizes that he has been given a gift to share with all who will accept and listen to his message of love. Wenders’ film will make you feel good about yourself. Leave you to feel warm and accepting of what it means to be an individual.

3 of 5 stars

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Godard Mon Amour (Le Redoubtable)

BY ANDRES SOLAR

Celebrated contemporary French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius (Best Picture Oscar winner The Artist [2011]) has delivered his “valentine” to the godfather of the French New Wave in Godard Mon Amour. While it might have come genuinely from the heart, as a work of cinema, its pulse is weak.

A film always says something about its creator, and one gets the sense that Hazanavicius’ story is also being told. Like Jean-Luc Godard, he lives the life of a French filmmaker and he’s married to a younger, beautiful actress (Bérénice Bejo, who starred in The Artist and appears here in a supporting role). The fragility of the artist (no pun intended) works as the film’s main theme.

I can see where making Godard Mon Amour could serve as a form of therapy for Hazanavicius, perhaps exorcising any of the demons that his titular director calls cliché: jealousy; the balance of individualism and attachment in relationships; the fear of becoming irrelevant, etc.

But the screenwriter/director assigned himself too many tasks to attend to. There are the biographical, historical, and political angles. There are the drama of Godard’s self-doubt and the comedy of his fumbling rebellion. The complex relationship with his wife. Every one of these aspects spread too thin.

Godard was prone to homages early in his career, so it make sense that Hazanavicius would want to pay homage to Godard but, especially in the third act, they are simply too many. Perhaps he felt it a playful approach, but I think “toying” is a better word for it. For a moderately accomplished—and certainly talented—director, getting to the low point of simply toying with his own film is unbecoming and feels almost banal.

Here again the multiple layers of irony in this film reveal themselves. Has Hazanavicius made a film of the sort Godard despises? In a slyly comic, real-life twist, Godard himself, hearing of the project in development, said that this was a “stupid, stupid idea.” Hazanavicius and the U.S. distributor sportingly made a poster with Godard’s proclamation in giant red letters.

However, the mere possibility that the elder might be right must have weighed on the younger director. Bravo to him, though, for daring to open the can of worms he must have known the telling of this story (based on an autobiography by Godard’s late former wife Anne Wiazemsky) would be. And, again, perhaps he felt he must do it for his own well-being.

One also gets the feeling much of Hazanavicius’ clever language gets lost in translation. Even with my limited, beginner’s, high school French, I could tell the translator took liberties every so often, summarizing a dialogue rather than trying to match any poetry in the original verbiage. At one point, the Godard homage involves the characters speaking to each other as subtitles of what each person is actually thinking flash where standard subtitles do. Well, the U.S. release being in French with English subtitles results in this particular scene having two sets of subtitles running at the same time. A bit of a mess.

At its funniest, Godard Mon Amour plays a lot like a good Woody Allen movie. One where Woody Allen plays himself, basically: the bespectacled, clumsy, neurotic filmmaker and his star-crossed love affair. Allen’s Bananas (1971) comes to mind, with its satire of Marxist politics and the clownish, clueless outsider who so dearly wants to be part of the revolution.

At its best, we glimpse Wiazemsky’s heartbreak as she realizes her husband is becoming another person at the expense of their marriage. Their quarrels ring true, especially due to Stacy Martin’s intelligent, subtly intense portrayal of Godard’s young wife. Louis Garrel, as Godard, also succeeds in his comedic turns, while perhaps a little less so in the serious sequences. He must contend with a script that repeats itself regarding the beloved filmmaker’s frustrations with, well, just about everything.

The film also repeats itself in depicting Godard’s boorish behavior. Here’s where Garrel’s Godard becomes tiresome not just for Anne, but for the viewer. Most disappointing is seeing Hazanavicius repeating his own, previously successful shots. In The Artist’s climactic, thrilling moment Peppy (Bejo) and George (Jean Dujardin) complete a ravishing dance number, both look directly in to the camera, and *spoiler alert* you can hear the actors breathing for the first time. It’s sheer brilliance, and the director makes it feel easy. On the contrary, as he struggles through Godard Mon Amour, he takes several actors’ asides to no avail, comedic or otherwise.

Michel Hazanavicius set a high bar for himself when he (along with Bejo and Dujardin) charmed our socks off with his ode to Hollywood and silent film. For his efforts, he went home with an Oscar (and Bérénice) one night in 2012. The talent is most certainly still there. He needs only to find the right story and to rediscover the free spirit that informed his masterpiece, and he’ll be ready to charm all over again.

3 of 5 stars

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Film Reviews

Film Review: Ready Player One

BY RUBI DEL RÍO-HERRERA

If you love 80s pop culture references, then buckle up for Ready Player One, an adventure through not only iconic video games, but through films and music that made Generation X. It’s a trip back to the mall arcade, even though a sock full of quarters isn’t required for this virtual realiTye adventure. So sit back, relax and enjoy Steven Spielberg’s interpretation of Ready Player One based on Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel of the same name.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is our hero, and you get to experience the virtual realiTye trip through his eyes. You become Wade Watts, you are Player One in his journey. He is you. An average teenager in search of adventure, treasures, but most of all acceptance.

In the not so distance future, 2045 to be exact, Wade’s realiTye is far from perfect and being a teenager is hard enough; but living with your aunt and her boyfriend in the slums of Ohio takes realiTye to level zero in any game. How do you escape, when you can’t power up and you’re playing on your last life with the only quarter you have? Simple. You reach in and grab your virtual realiTye goggles and head to The Oasis.

The Oasis is a virtual realiTye world created by a fictional tech scientist, the late James Halliday (Mark Rylance). After his death, James’ last gift to humaniTye is the one last adventure game with the ultimate prize–complete control of The Oasis. Halliday created what is known as “Anorak’s Quest,” and the game requires players known as Gunters (egg hunters) to find three keys that will give you access to an Easter egg and win the game. You follow Watts through his own adventure, and get to experience it in first-person perspective. As you move through the film you get a real sense of what it’s like inside The Oasis.

Sheridan’s Wade Watts is perfect—nerdy, smart, and shy. Tye gives a performance that embodies all of these characteristics, making them believable and likable to the viewer. His interaction with Olivia Cooke (who plays his love interest Samantha), known as Atr3mis in the game, takes the story to the next level, as every hero has to have a princess to save. Except in this case, the princess helps our hero discover his true strengths, through courage, resilience, and wits. Their chemistry works, both as avatars in The Oasis and in the real world.

As a Gunter, Wade (known as Parzival in the game) searches for much more than just the items required in the quest. You see, Ready Player One is an Easter egg itself, and this movie pulls your childhood memories right out into the open as you watch the adventure unfold.  Parzival— together with his friends Art3mis, Aech, Sho, and Diato—takes on an adventure that will have you laughing, clapping, and rooting for our hero and his friends all the way to the end.

I highly recommend this movie for the entire family. The book comes alive on the screen, and it pulls you into that thrilling world of virtual realiTye via master Spielberg’s first-person camera angles. You are right there as Parzival races through a Tron racetrack. You feel the hair on the back of your neck stand as he and the gang enter into Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Shining and Aech is clueless as to what’s in room 237. This is two hours and 19 minutes of complete entertainment and I challenge you to head to the theater and see how many Easter eggs you can spot.

5 of 5 stars