Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Impression: In the new movie by Yorgos Lanthimos, Collin Farrel’s character (Steven) seems like a continuation of the part he played in the The Lobster. The acting is the exact same deadpan, no emotion with rapidly fired words said in monotone.  But it is more than that, the type of things he says are things that are just not said in society: people might think them, but they don’t say them.  Because they are uncomfortable and go against conventions about what is appropriate and what is not. Things like “Our daughter started menstruating last week,” are not normally said in small talk at a work function. Basically, his character is what would normally be seen as socially awkward. Except that the society which Lanthimos constructs has different rules than ours and there is no reaction to what he says,  just the audience’s laughter at the inappropriateness of the situation. In our world.
In the worlds Lanthimos constructs inside his films, there is actually no concept of inappropriateness. And this is the basis upon which he then builds situations which would otherwise be absurd, like the world in which you have to be coupled up or turned into an animal in the Lobster, or lack of knowledge of the outside world beyond what their parents make up for the kids in Dogtooth, or a teenage boy (Martin) constantly invading Steven’s family life in this film.  The smaller inappropriate behaviors are never questioned, and so the characters keep pushing against each other. But eventually, even in Lanthimos’ world, it does get to the point where it makes his characters uncomfortable. Because even without societal norms, on an individual level, there are lines that can be crossed.
In this movie, Steven is a surgeon with a seemingly perfect family.  He spends a lot of time interacting with Martin, who he introduces to his family. Eventually, the boy demands more and more of his time and attention.  When Farrell awkwardly starts avoiding him, things beyond his control start happening to his family, and the boy’s revenge plot is foisted on him.  Lanthimos’ previous films, just like this one, dealt with rules, and arbitrariness of rules. In Dogtooth, it was the parents who made the rules for the world in which they kept their children, in Lobster, the rebels made rules to rebel against the rules of the mainstream world. Here, Martin makes up his own rules about what is right and what is wrong and has the power to make others conform to his rules. Lanthimos’ films leave me with a sense of unease. Where do rules come from? Are all rules basically arbitrary? Must all human interactions be governed by rules? Even if we acknowledge them as arbitrary?
Facts:  Supernatural events start transpiring to Steven’s family once he refuses to have contact with a teenager who seemingly started out as a friend.
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. It was my favorite film I saw at TIFF this year.
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Okja (2017)

Impression: What a strange and imagination-filled adventure this movie is? I am not sure what category to even place it in. It’s a little bit sci-fi-ish, a little kids-movie adventure, a little over-the top comedy, a little action, and a little vegetarian. 🙂  I definitely had second thoughts about eating pork in my Chinese food the day after seeing it. So if its goal is to use cuteness to make you question eating meat, it has succeeded. This is a new film from the director of Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho. Thankfully, his love of Tilda Swinton as a villain has not subsided. While in that movie she built a character that she described as a mix of Margaret Thatcher, Colonel Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler and Silvio Berlusconi, in this one she is more like a female Donald Trump with an even more evil twin sister which he is trying to prove his worth to, while running a pig butchering empire marketed by cute piglets. But this is peripheral. At the center of the story is Okja, a very cute super pig raised by a farmer and his grand daughter in the Korean mountains. Ten years later, the Mirando Corporation (cleverly named) who gave them the piglet in a marketing ploy wants it back, for more marketing, and to sell its meat. While the farmer acquiesces, the girl will not let her best friend go, and sets on an adventure to bring Okja back home. She runs into an animal activist cell whose leader is played by Paul Dano (always best cast as a fanatic leader!). They are mostly on her side, but also have some agendas of their own.  Their ambiguous relationship to violence is well portrayed: on the one hand they want to avoid pain to all living things, on the other, they are thirsty to beat up people who stand in their way and instigate violent clashes with police. Reading other reviews, some people did not find the special effects all that successful, but I thought the CGI was very realistic, and I totally bought Okja as a central character in this movie.  I especially liked the use of a kids adventure and over-the-top action movie trope to tell a story of corporate greed. The way genres (which I would otherwise think are pretty incompatible) were blended was surprising, but mostly, the wild imagination that was on display throughout the film was thrilling.

Facts: A “super piglet” grows up care-free with a human girl best friend roaming the mountains of Korea, until the food industry wants it back… as food.

Patti Cake$ (2017)

Impression: I can’t think of a more quintessentially American movie (or maybe just New Jersey) I have seen in a long time, or maybe ever. And I mean that in all the positive ways: the optimism, the American Dream (but in this case with a good dose of realism, and also clearly showing that idea often does not work out), people from very different backgrounds coming together to work on something they love. But it does not gloss over the details: it shows the hopelessness of working dead end jobs in a small town, the bitterness when your life does not work out the way you hoped, our completely failed medical system, and people just being mean and cruel to each other.  It’s amazing that the movie is able to touch on so many issues in less than two hours, but at no point does any of it feel forced. Sure, hundreds, of movies have been made about someone having a dream and overcoming obstacles to make it happen. It’s probably the most cliche Hollywood plot there is.  But I can’t think of a single other time, where I enjoyed it more. The performances are outstanding, the cinematography and editing are excellent. There are a couple of really cool, and also hilarious sequences when we see what Patti imagines in her dreams, the opening sequence especially.  This movie is basically everything a movie should be: entertaining throughout, funny, but also thought provoking.  You also can’t stop singing P B N J once you leave the theater.

Facts: Patricia works in a dive bar, cares for her nanna, and puts up with her alcoholic mother, and hangs out with her best friend Hareesh, all the while dreaming of one day being discovered as a rap superstar, Killa P, AKA Patti Cake$.

Extra: I saw this as a closing film at the 2017 Indy Film Fest.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Impressions: It is true, I have some leftover bitterness towards Boston and surrounding areas from living there for a little over a year. It’s not at all what I feel for the rest of New England area; I have nothing but lovely memories of my 5 years living in Vermont.  But that aggression in the air, as portrayed in this movie is all too real. Riding the T or a bus to work, I often felt as if a physical altercation could break out any second. And I am sure not all those people had things as horrible as what happens in this movie happen to them. It is an attitude that this movie captures perfectly. I felt it acutely when I lived there.

This is a VERY depressing movie. It has the distinction of being the only movie I saw made in 2016 that fits in the “shoot-your-knee-caps-off” category of depressing. I knew it was a sad movie, and avoided it for a while. But I did not realize just how depressing, until I saw it. It is beautifully shot, and captures the mood and emotion of a place better than anything I have ever seen. It is also terrifically acted. The dialogue is just there to fill the space, it’s really the silences that convey the emotion and the underlying plot.

Something horrible has happened to Lee, and he has run away from Manchester.  He returns to help take care of his teenage nephew, but has to face his past. I’ve seen You Can Count on Me by the same writer/director, which also, interestingly features a messed up uncle. Although in that film, everyone else is portrayed as messed up to some degree as well. Here it seems everyone else has it relatively together, but Lee just keeps messing up and ends up deciding that the only solution is to try to protect everyone else from himself. While there are some lighter scenes thrown in with the teenage nephew trying to juggle his many girlfriends, this movie is very heavy. Some scenes are so heart wrenching I don’t think I could see them ever again.

Facts: A slow moving story set in New England, about a tragedy and its toll on the man who feels responsible and his wider family dynamics.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

Impression:  I’ve fairly recently become reacquainted with the fine acting of the kiwi actress Ms. Melanie Lynskey through an amazing and short lived series called Togetherness written and directed by the Duplass brothers. At this point I am thinking I really should make an exception to only reviewing films here and review that show as well, because it very much deserves it, and I keep feeling compelled to bring it up in multiple reviews. I have of course originally seen her as a teenager in an amazing and disturbing little film called Heavenly Creatures more than 20 years ago where she starred alongside a young Kate Winslet.
In her latest acting reincarnation, Ms. Lynskey’s gift is basically looking like a frumpy middle aged mom, lulling the audience into believing she is playing a really boring, yet likable character and then doing something to shock them. She does this both in Togetherness and in this movie in different ways. But while this is something the script calls for, her unique talent is in being so damn believable as both: a frumpy mom AND a badass. So, yes this movie is worth watching for Melanie Lynskey first! But also for an amazing role for Elijah Wood who plays a nerdy heavy metal listening, martial arts practicing, church going loner, who becomes her sidekick. And the premise, and the hilarious writing. The only unfortunate thing is the ultraviolence that takes place in the last 30 minutes of the movie, which will probably turn off some of its potential audience, but then also earn a cult following with the people who dig it. I am definitely not a fan of pointless ultraviolence, but in this movie, it is in some sense inevitable. The movie starts with a very basic premise: the main character is annoyed with people, and the way they treat each other. She tries to confront people who are assholes in hopes of changing the world, or at least changing the world that surrounds her. But at every step along the way, the consequences of her actions are more and more amped up until she gets involved in a mass carnage scene at the end. But since the premise of the movie is that every action leads to some over-reaction, there was no where else for the plot to go, but to more and more extreme ends. In conclusion, the first 2/3 of this movie are fabulous, the last 1/3 will probably not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Facts: A nerdy nurse, tired of people being assholes to her, goes out seeking vigilante justice and  gets messed up with some sketchy characters.

Ignorant Fairies (His Secret Life) (2001)

Impressions: The film opens with a sequence showing a woman who seems to be leading a very happy, if not perfect life.  She is married to a great guy, she has an important job where she is respected. Ok, maybe she doesn’t get along with her housekeeper. A major tragic event interrupts her life, and leads her to seek answers to her past, which leads her into a world completely foreign to her.  Through her sadness and confusion, she slowly gets sucked into this world, and keeps revisiting it. The communal type life, the fabulous Sunday meals on a gorgeous terrace overlooking rooftops of Rome are all so attractive that she soon becomes a part of that community.  The shots of food preparation, the splashes of color, the colorful characters, they are all like something very much out of an Almodovar movie. Who wouldn’t want to be preparing food with these people every Sunday?

Facts: A sudden tragic event, leads a woman into a world she knew nothing about, and sends her on a major re-evaluation of her identity and place in the world.

Extras: In 2001 when I saw this film, it was titled Ignorant Fairies. For some reason for the American distribution it got renamed into His Secret Life. This is still my favorite movie I have ever seen during 11 years of going to TIFF and probably close to a 100 movies. Getting to see it by not making the line to another one, made it even more of a treat, and actually inspired the way I do festivals from then on: always open to serendipity and suggestions, and very light on prep and background, because my favorites have always been the ones that did not sound interesting when I read the descriptions. It’s maybe also inspired how I live my life, but that’s a whole other post :).

Presumed Guilty (2009)

Impressions: Mexican documentary about the inner workings of the legal system, might seem like a relatively dry topic, but it was actually fascinating, and compelling throughout. My favorite thing about documentaries is coming across one on a topic I know nothing about, and would not have even contemplated seeing, until I was already there. “A Great Day in Harlem” was another great example of this. This film follows a guy accused of murder through the whole ordeal including living in prison, his appeals, and a face-off with the witnesses. Some of the processes are mind boggling, especially the witness face-off, and the fact that once convicted no amount of evidence can convince anyone of anything is frustrating.  The two young lawyers who took on the case, use the filmmaking process itself as a tool in their fight to free an innocent man. Very interesting and really well done, you should see it! If you ever had your doubts, this one definitely makes you not want to end up in a mexican prison!

Facts: Two young Mexican lawyers fight to free a man convicted of a crime they have ample evidence he did not commit.

Extras:  I originally had very brief notes which I wrote in 2009 after seeing this film at TIFF. In order to write a more meaningful opinion, and jog my memory some,  I looked at the wikipedia page on it. It’s apparently become the most watched documentary in Mexico, breaking box office records, and was eventually banned in 2011, causing it to be even more popular. It would be very interesting to see what someone from Mexico thought about it. The system and the process were all very new to me, and made me wonder if it’s common knowledge that this is how the system works.