21st Century Treasure Quest #13
Our contributor Renard N. Bansale has completed 10 more contemporary film reviews for your consideration. The rating system he'll use is devised primarily to give those who are trying to decide which films to see, a fun and easy way of (hopefully) choosing a more pleasurable movie-going experience. For a further introduction to this series please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #1. (A.G.)
1 chest: Definitely worth missing
2 chests: Okay to kill some time
3 chests: Not a complete success, but rewarding
4 chests: Well-crafted, creative and memorable
5 chests: A real treasure, deep, profound and original
Bitter Harvest (2017—Director: George Mendeluk)
Longtime television director George Mendeluk tries to dramatize the horrors of the Holodomor (the 1930s Ukrainian famine caused by the Soviet regime under Joseph Stalin), via the romance of Yuri (Max Irons) and Natalka (Samantha Barks). Quite a shame, then, that the final result comes with the thrift-store aesthetics and small-scale skirmishes found in television re-enactments, all adding up to, at best, a bargain-bin Doctor Zhivago.
Everybody Loves Somebody (2017—Director: Catalina Aguilar Mastretta)
Lead star Karla Souza (ABC TV's How to Get Away with Murder) embraces the bilingual script of writer-director Catalina Aguilar Mastretta's modest romantic comedy-drama. A few soap opera-like moments create bumps along the film's otherwise relaxed flow, particularly in the first half. Fortunately, these are off-set by several unforced heartfelt scenes where the script and direction all but vanish and the actors are left to simply "be" their characters—naturally occurring results benefitting this story's exploration of modern challenges within relationships.
The Girl with All the Gifts (2017—Director: Colm McCarthy)
The zombie subgenre continues to produce the best vehicles for nail-biting thrills coupled with thought-provoking commentaries on mankind, as demonstrated by this Scottish entry from television director Colm McCarthy and writer M.R. Carey (the latter adapting his 2014 novel). Newcomer Sennia Nanua as the half-human, half-zombie hero is a revelation as she successfully combines naïvety with confidence through her adept delivery of dialogue.
Kedi (2017—Director: Ceyda Torun)
Director Ceyda Torun and her team of cinematographers patiently piece together a casual and soothing documentary on the declining culture of stray cats that has characterized Istanbul, Turkey for centuries. The fascinating footage of the mischievous, go-getting, street-smart, yet elegant feline subjects will surely soften the hearts of viewers, even though the overall project can, at times, feel like separate little documentaries stitched together.
Logan (2017—Director: James Mangold)
Despite the poignant performances of Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart as X-Men characters Logan/The Wolverine and Charles Xavier/Professor X respectively, not much else distinguishes this superhero action thriller by writer-director James Mangold (Walk the Line, The Wolverine). With its heroes escorting a special passenger (young newcomer Dafne Keen) on a perilous road trip, while evading corporate-sponsored mutant captors (led by a forgettable Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant's cliched evil doctor), Logan's plot feels more tired than energetic. Moreover, the film spends too little time on the heroes' personalities especially regarding their old age crises, stifling the great emotional consummation many fans were hoping for Jackman and Stewart's popular characters.
The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge) (2016—Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit)
Studio Ghibli's collaboration with the German distribution company Wild Bunch and Dutch-British animation director Michaël Dudok de Wit (the Oscar-winning animated short "Father & Daughter"), signifies that the Japanese animation studio is still capable of producing simple but grand animated tales. De Wit employs the best hand-drawn animation talents to unleash this gorgeous distillation of a deserted island castaway experience. By incorporating just enough elements left open to interpretation, De Wit and company craft a delicious and thought-provoking reflection on life—one certainly deserving of its Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination.
Rock Dog (2017—Director: Ash Brannon)
Animation director Ash Brannon (Toy Story 2, Surf's Up) returns from a decade-long hiatus by wringing as many amusing moments as he can from a script (adapted from Chinese rock musician Zheng Jun's graphic novel), with undeniable shortcomings. The film is severely limited by lackluster backgrounds and all too familiar bookending scenes concerning the hero's career dreams opposing those of his stubborn father. Brannon and company can only generate scant dramatic payoff: Had the filmmakers contrasted the classic, good-versus-evil model of the mastiff defending his sheep from the wolves with how modern, business owning "wolves" feed off their foolhardy "sheep", they might have succeeded in administering a measure of conviction and profundity into an otherwise unaffected and forgettable narrative.
The Salesman (Forušande) (2016—Director: Asghar Farhadi)
Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi's (A Separation, The Past) presents a thrilling and unassuming mystery in cinema verité style, with Taraneh Alidoosti (acclaimed Iranian TV actress) and Shahab Hosseini (Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for this film) delivering peerless lead performances. Farhadi's screenplay quietly twists scenes that, at first, seem mundane and in need of direction, until they reveal themselves as key dramatic developments that will leave audiences breathless. Farhadi's second Best Foreign Language Film Oscar is well deserved.
The Shack (2017—Director: Stuart Hazeldine)
This charming adaptation of William P. Young's best-selling 2007 Christian novel caters to a particular perspective on humanity, although its relatable and tough life lessons (theologically in check for the most part), manage to offer a meditative experience for any audience open to its fantasy fable world. The genial attitudes of the three divine persons (played by Octavia Spencer, Aviv Alush, and Sumire) overshadow star Sam Worthington's (Avatar) imperfect and often forcefully distracting American accent.
Table 19 (2017—Director: Jeffrey Blitz)
Writer-director Jeffrey Blitz's (Rocket Science) modest comedy-drama provides too little comedy or drama to make this decidedly worthwhile viewing. Blitz's poorly-paced script (co-developed with the Duplass brothers) centers on a misfit group of wedding reception guests, the actors (led by Anna Kendrick) which wade into promising subplots without ever committing to them. As a result, the main characters undergo some semblance of emotional resolution, most of which come off as much ado about nothing.
For more contemporary film reviews please see 21st Century Treasure Quest #14.