Tag Archives: Movie Review

HIFF2020: Ben’s Column – The Outside Story (2020)

The Outside Story (2020)

  • Narrative Feature
  • Director: Casimir Nozkowski
  • Screenwriter: Casimir Nozkowski
  • Cast: Brian Tyree Henry, Sonequa Martin Green, Sunita Mani, Olivia Edward, Asia Kate Dillon

Premise: An introverted editor living a vertical life in his 2nd-floor apartment, always on deadline and in a rut. When Charles locks himself out of his building, he’s forced to go horizontal and confront the world he’s been avoiding in search of a way back inside. Continue reading

HIFF2020: All for My Mother (2019)

all for my mother

3.5 stars

All for My Mother (2019)

Narrative Feature/US Premiere
Director: Małgorzata Imielska
Screenwriter: Małgorzata Imielska
Cast: Zofia Domalik, Maria Sobocińska, Jowita Budnik

Premise: Olka is seventeen years old. For years, she had been looking for her mother. Her constant escapes from the orphanage landed her in a reformatory. She only wants her mother back.

All for My Mother, Małgorzata Imielska’s debut feature out of Poland, is largely comprised of hardships and trauma that befall the lead character Olka. Through her experience in a reformatory with other troubled teens who wish her harm, to a temporary stay with a couple who aren’t as warm and welcoming as they seem, Olka has one simple goal in mind: to reunite with her mother. That’s all she consciously desires, yet it’s not what she truly needs or yearns for beneath the surface. What Olka truly craves is acceptance and a sense of belonging. She is desperate for the stability of family and the journey she finds herself on makes for a heartbreaking and emotional ride. It’s a ride that includes frequent stops as the path she follows becomes more bleak and dour the further she goes.
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HIFF2020: In Case of Emergency (2020)

in case of emergency poster

3.5 stars

In Case of Emergency (2020)

Documentary Feature
Director: Carolyn Jones
Cast: Cathlyn Robinson, Galina Chavez, Jennifer Hanks, Sheryl Hurst, Rabih Saad

Premise: Follows emergency nurses and their patients in seven unique settings across the U.S from urban to rural, shedding light on some of the biggest health care crises facing Americans today

The type of person who works in the chaotic and unpredictable world of Emergency Department medical care has long been something I’ve deeply admired. I simply don’t know how people can harness the amount of emotional strength and the resilience it takes to thrive in that environment day after day. Carolyn Jones’ documentary In Case of Emergency showcases that strength and resilience while also humanizing the profession. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: The Boys In The Band (2020) – Review

The Boys In The Band (2020)

Premise: At a birthday party in 1968 New York, a surprise guest and a drunken game leave seven gay friends reckoning with unspoken feelings and buried truths.

The LGBTQ community is at a crossroads in America in 2020. The Supreme Court may have legalized gay marriage years ago, along with a handful of other civil rights victories, but the current administration has been actively working to roll those protections back since day one, all in the name of “religious freedom”. Seen through this lens, it makes perfect sense why now is a good time for a new adaptation of The Boys in the Band, the Tony-winning Broadway show. This iteration, directed by Joe Mantello, even assembles the original cast from the 2018 stage revival, which was notable at the time for its all-out gay cast – a sign of how far society had come since the play’s inception. Continue reading

Ben’s Column: Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020) – Review

Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)

Premise: A daughter helps her father prepare for the end of his life.

It’s not often that a film can be simultaneously considered a documentary, a drama, and a comedy, but director Kirsten Johnson somehow manages to achieve that feat with Dick Johnson Is Dead. Movies can be used as a director’s way to put their own personal ideas and experiences out into the world: Truffaut channeled his early adolescence in The 400 Blows; Fellini expressed his struggles with the creative process with 8 ½; and Spike Lee used his experiences with racial injustice for Do the Right Thing. Johnson’s latest is not only a loving tribute to her father, but an examination of the grieving process, even when the aggrieved is still alive. Continue reading

Movie Review: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Premise: What was intended to be a peaceful protest at the 1968 Democratic National Convention turned into a violent clash with police and the National Guard. The organizers of the protest—including Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden and Bobby Seale—were charged with conspiracy to incite a riot and the trial that followed was one of the most notorious in history.

Kicking off this crazy and horrid year’s awards season offerings is writer/director Aaron Sorkin’s solid historical courtroom drama, The Trial of the Chicago 7. In telling the story of the notorious trial following riots that broke out during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Sorkin holds a mirror to our country’s continuing fight for social justice while keeping his camera focused on the historical struggle he’s depicting. Chicago 7 has a lot to say and is a confident entry in Sorkin’s still young directorial career. However, while it is a marked improvement over his directorial debut Molly’s Game, Sorkin seems to still be finding his footing behind the camera.

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Movie Review: Rodan (1956)

Rodan (1956)

Premise: A large mining accident sets loose prehistoric insects and giant pterosaurs on Japan.

Ishiro Honda’s Rodan certainly lacks some of the character and subtext from some of his other Kaiju films. But that’s not to say it is a bad film by any means. The rise of the pterodactyl-esque creatures and giant insects to wreak havoc on the citizens of Japan make for an engaging monster movie with some surprising (or not so surprising, given Honda’s pedigree) imagery. With each act of Rodan offering nearly its own movie premise, this creature feature is one that offers plenty of action, if nothing else. Continue reading

Movie Review: Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) – Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films 4

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964)

Premise: A typhoon washes ashore a gigantic egg. It’s soon claimed by greedy entrepreneurs who refuse to return it to its rightful owner, Mothra. Soon Godzilla arises near Nagoya, washed ashore by the same typhoon.

In the aftermath of an intense typhoon, an enormous egg and a strange, radioactive piece of debris are discovered. Capturing the attention of Japanese citizens, the objects naturally kick off a tale of greed and a gargantuan fight of finders vs keepers. It all leads to a fight for the ages as Godzilla takes on Mothra!
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Ben’s Column: Cuties (2020) – Review

Cuties (2020)

Premise: Amy, an 11-year-old girl, joins a group of dancers named “the cuties” at school, and rapidly grows aware of her burgeoning femininity – upsetting her mother and her values in the process.

Perhaps you’ve already heard of Cuties because you saw it advertised on Netflix. Perhaps you heard of it through word of mouth. More likely, you’ve heard of it because of the controversy the film has stirred up which has caused it to be shared on social media and even, yes, Ted Cruz. But to really talk about Cuties is to talk about America’s political discourse in 2020. Continue reading

Movie Review: Enola Holmes (2020)

Enola Holmes (2020)

Premise: When Enola Holmes (Sherlock’s teen sister) discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord.

Based on the YA series of books by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes is a solid period adventure with aspirations for a franchise. Those aspirations are warranted by the performance of Millie Bobby Brown as the titular Enola, sister of the famed Sherlock. Brown’s talent and range continues to impress as she simultaneously does narrative heavy lifting through fourth wall breaking monologues and carries the film’s sense of fun and adventure. The end result is a solid vehicle for the gifted young actress and a fun mystery.

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Movie Review: Mothra (1961)

Mothra (1961)

Premise: A giant, ancient moth begins to attack Japan when coming to the rescue of its two, foot-tall worshippers who were taken by shipwreck survivors.

Mothra, a giant moth monster, made her entrance into the kaiju scene in her eponymous 1961 film directed by Ishiro Honda. The queen of the monsters’ debut on film is a lackluster one, unfortunately. There are impressive scenes of monster chaos to be found in the film’s last act, but the road to that destruction is paved with uninteresting characters and a plot line that, for the most part, plays like a lazy riff on 1933’s King Kong.

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Movie Review: King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) – Godzilla: The Showa-Era Films 3

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Premise: A newspaper and television station funded by a pharmaceutical company want a sensation, which happens to be the discovery of King Kong on an island. He is captured and brought to Japan, where he escapes from captivity and battles Godzilla.

The US version of King Kong vs Godzilla is certainly a less piecemeal repurposing of its Japanese original than Godzilla, King of the Monsters was to 1954’s Godzilla. Instead, the film plays into the spectator sport aspect of this monumental confrontation. Bringing Godzilla into color film and taking Kong to Japan to do battle with him, King Kong vs Godzilla, while over the top in its silliness at times, provides a worthy payoff to the hour (and then some) of set up and contrivances to get these two monsters to duke it out. Continue reading

Movie Review: All In: The Fight for Democracy (2020)

All In: The Fight for Democracy (2020)

Premise: The documentary takes a look at the history, and current activism against voter suppression; barriers to voting that most people don’t even know is a threat to their basic rights as citizens of the United States.

A call to action against voter suppression in the lead up to this year’s divisive and objectively bizarre presidential election, All In: The Fight for Democracy aims to educate and inspire. In its approach, the documentary makes its point clearly and thoroughly as it informs its viewers of both the history and the modern practices of voter suppression in the United States. Backed by data, archival footage, and filled with vibrantly animated visual aids, All In gives the viewer the knowledge needed for its call to action to fight voter suppression while also being eye-opening to the rampant practices occurring today.

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Ben’s Column: Tenet (2020) – Non-Spoiler Review

Tenet (2020)

Premise: Armed with only one word, Tenet, and fighting for the survival of the entire world, a Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.

Tenet feels like the kind of movie Christopher Nolan has been building towards from the beginning of his career – at least on a surface level. It’s easy to spot some of the elements he’s pulling from, elements that have helped to define his aesthetic as a filmmaker: you of course have the incredible mind-bending visuals like in Inception and Interstellar, the action sequences from the Batman trilogy, the third act reveal from The Prestige, the perplexing chronology of events like in Memento and Dunkirk, and the complicated romantic entanglements of The Dark Knight, to name a few. Typically when a filmmaker cribs the best of himself to be put into one film, the result is an unbridled success, but Tenet just can’t make all of its puzzle pieces into an enlightening picture. Continue reading

Movie Review: Love, Guaranteed (2020)

Love, Guaranteed (2020)

Premise: To save her small law firm, earnest lawyer Susan takes a high-paying case from Nick, a charming new client who wants to sue a dating website that guarantees love. But as the case heats up, so do Susan and Nick’s feelings for each other.

The romantic comedy phase of Netflix’s plans for world domination continues with the release of Love, Guaranteed, a legal backdropped meet-cute between hard working lawyer Susan (Rachael Leigh Cook) and serial dater/client Nick (Damon Wayans Jr). The movie is about as formulaic as they come in the romcom genre. Sparks fly between two unlikely people, they experience a hardship, they each confide in eccentric supporting characters, and well, you know the rest. However, that’s not to say Love, Guaranteed is all that bad. On the contrary, it’s a pleasantly sweet distraction from the world and thankfully doesn’t demand much commitment from the viewer. Though it misses a couple of swings along the way, it still delivers that feel-good warmth that is at the very heart of the romantic comedy genre.

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