Movie Review

Mudbound (2017) by Dee Rees

Original Name: Mudbound

Director: Dee Rees

Runtime: 134 minutes

Language: English

IMDB Link:

Dee Rees: Rees was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in New York. Rees is a lesbian, and she described her debut Pariah as semi-autobiographical. Pariah went on to win numerous awards and also earned Dee a spot on the New York Times’ 10 Directors to Watch list in 2013.

I was drawn to the multiple points of view – specifically the inner monologues are what I found most interesting, versus the dialogue between characters. I wanted to make this balance and give it a story of two families. It’s a dark symbiotic relationship showing how they’re both connected to each other because of trauma, because of disinheritance, feelings of economic disparity, motherhood – and also, they’re rooted to the land. They’re all stuck in the muck.

Dee Rees has crafted a moving multi-layered story about the two families, one black (the Jackson’s), one white (the McAllen’s), that intervene many themes together, chief among them the root that tie them as a home and the racial tension, and mostly succeed in all those. Dee Rees, along with Ava DuVernay, prove as leading figures for African-American women voice (which is already rare enough. For Rees’ case, she also represents the LGBT community). Mudbound is one of the few films that I consider a very American movie, not because it can only be made in the America, but because it tells a tale in a specific period and setting of an American history. Dirt plays like a character on its own and has a significant role in the story. The cinematography successfully brings a real sense of this murky field, without being too washed-out. The story starts literally with these soils, as the McAllen family digs a hole to bury their father. As the title suggests, dirt is land. It represents the very ground, the root bounded by the debt of the land, and to a larger extend, the root of American society.

It’s one of the rare time where the narrations work in service for the themes of the story. We have narrations from 6 different perspectives, 3 from each family and they pair the the two families up as well (I’ll get to that later). These voice-overs remind a great deal to those of Terrence Malick’s movies, but here it works in conjunction with the theme. “If you asked me before, I could’ve told you that all white people are the same”, says Florence, the women figure in the black family. And it speaks very well the overall tone of Mudbound. Each character provides different voices, different shades to the story regarding how they deal with racial issues and how they regard themselves within this society, and how they regard the land they live as their home.

At first layer we have Henry and Hap, who are the breadwinners for their respective family, but find themselves in a difficult situation where they can’t provide enough for the family. Hap (Rob Morgan) gets his leg broken and is forced to rest for weeks, Harry (Jason Clarke) is scammed and then forced to take him and the family live together with the poorness of black people, where they can take a bath only once on Friday. Hap takes pride of the field he and his older generations spent their lives working at, whereas Hap sees the land as something to bring food on the table. Then we have second layer of Laura (Carey Mulligan) and Florence (unrecognizable Mary J Blige) who share a mutual feeling about being a mother, and a wife in this land, where black mothers “don’t have a luxury of only lovin’ their own children”. The plot thread where Laura miscarriages, for example, speaks well to this theme. And finally, as the deepest layer we have a friendship between Jamie (played wonderfully by Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), both are WWII vets who find themselves a stranger of the place they live, and whose equal friendship doesn’t bode well with the reception of this village.

All these themes keep building up and tangling together into a brutal and compelling climax. It might seem the movie is too busy with an ensemble cast and way too many themes, but in truth, Mudbound does this story justice with great acting all around, the excellent cinematography (by Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever nominated for an Oscar in that category) and effective editing where the movie switches back and forth several times between the gangs at home and the boys at war without losing its rhythm. If I have to give this movie some criticisms, however, it’s that Harry was simply written out at the climax; the story of a white girl whom eventually stab his cheated husband feels weak and lastly, for a character with not much narrative focus, the old man Pappy (Jonathan Banks) has an important role in that climax that I would love to see the film deals more with him. The said climax, although raw and brutal, feels strangely relevant, not only to the story, not only to that period piece but even to the world we live in now. Dee Rees brings this thoughtful adaptation into light, a story about land, a story about racism and a story about wounds. And the wounds are deeply felt.

2018 Spring Anime, Animation - Anime, Anime, Weekly Anime Summary

Weekly Anime Summary – Spring 2018 Week 10

This season has come to its last legs and as far as week in anime goes, this is another solid week. We have an arrival of a new show, and Megalo Box strips over from its crown, and these two might or might not have a connection. Let’s run it down now

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2017 Women's Cinema Festival, Women's Cinema

2017 Women’s Cinema Festival – Day 3: Summer 1993 & Novitiate


Day 3 into the 2007’s Women Cinema edition, we have 2 debut films but it couldn’t be more different. On the one hand, Carla Simon’s debut is another fine extension to the two films of Day 1, about young girl who faces harsh reality of life, this time with slice-of-life tone. Putting those three films in that context, however, Summer 1993 stands out as the best. On the other hand, we get to the lives of several young girl in America in training in order to become real nuns. One intentionally hides its emotional core, the other overflows with shouting and confessing their dark inner sides. As different as their approach, however, both films are fine example of films that focus on the grow of young girls, from kids well into their teens. As usual, click on the titles for the individual reviews (which basically more pictures, those reviews will appear in the Review Index section) or just read on. Here I present you, Day 3.

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Movie Review

Novitiate (2017) by Maggie Betts

Original Name: Novitiate

Director: Maggie Betts

Runtime: 123 minutes

Language: English

IMDB Link:

Maggie Betts: an American filmmaker and screenwriter. In 2010 Maggie made the award winning documentary THE CARRIER. Through her work on THE CARRIER, Maggie remains involved with numerous charities relating to the plight of HIV/AIDS in Africa. She is also a strong supporter of women’s rights everywhere and the continued advancement of gender equality.  

 ““[] I picked up a biography of Mother Theresa, which I thought was going to be this generic overview. It ended up being a compilation of all these letters that she’d written during the course of her life. And they were to family, friends and intimate people in her life. And they were so obsessively consumed with her relationship with God and her love. I was mesmerized that her life was filled with the same sort of relationship dramas like mine and other women’s.

Set in the backdrop of Vatican II, where during 3 years the Pope released dozen documents in order to innovate the Church’s roles, the story takes place in the far side of America where the nuns (which is called the Sisters of Beloved Rose) at the last period of the conservative and extreme devotion to God, Novitiate is at heart an exploration to the romantic love with Jesus Christ, their lifelong sacrifice in the name of that love and draw a proper picture of the girls’ condition as they learn to become real nuns. Although a bit overlong and as subtle as a brick through the window, the film succeed on drawing a fascinating picture regarding why young girls would devote their whole life exclusively to God, and that love is not only from admiration, but a romantic one (they see themselves as God’s brides). While it’s an intriguing idea, Novitiate sometimes can be a tad bit obvious and loud, for example how the film handles Cathleen’s (Margaret Qualley) family situation. Secondly, for a film where Grand Silence becomes an important part of their lives, there’s too much shouting, laying bare the “truth” which for me doesn’t add up much to their central idea of love and sacrifice. Novitiate has many intriguing ideas, but it loses the impact while it tries to addresses too many themes, resulting in an ending that rather inconclusive and many plot threads that don’t reach full potential.

Novitiate is at its best when it explores the love regarding these young girls to God, the sacrifice they prepare themselves to and ultimately, the belief that love is ultimately a sacrifice. These lines of ideas are conveyed through the characters Cathleen and Reverent Mother Marie (played by Melissa Leo), respectively. Cathleen character explores that “love” theme. She doesn’t have a devoted Christian background, but she finds a special relationship with Jesus that she decides to become a nun, despite her mother dismays. For her and many girls that young age, the idea of an ultimate love, the love where she can devote her whole life into, is something beautiful and pure. But as a case where someone gives so much without having anything concrete but faith in return, she seeks for something more, something “physical” both in the existence of God, and in physical intimate and comfort.

Melissa Leo’s character, on the other spectrum, represents the figure who sacrifices her whole life devoted to strict life and be a worthy servant of God, just so that the very belief is shaken with the intervention of Vatican II. What if for everything she done in service of God, He turns his eyes away from her? Ultimately, it’s the sisters’ belief of love is sacrifice (that line is spoken vocally in one sequence), that through their own physical sacrifice in the name of Christ: be it live the rest of their lives in reclusive area and cut off from the whole world; or Cathleen’s refusal to eat that they believe they form a special connection to Him. The film, quite appropriately, refuses to give their stand on the issue, as it provides the idea through both side of the arguments: the sisters and ordinary people through the eyes of Cathleen’s mother.

At other times, Novitiate stumbles when it tries to show other girls’ perspective, especially those who later question their faith in God or what they originally believe in. While it’s an interesting topic on to itself, put it into this story make Novitiate loses its focus and lessens the impact of the main storyline. Likewise, the final statement about the change in Vatican II has so little to do with the main development of Cathleen that it feels more like a misstep. The performances, however, are pretty solid all around. Melissa Leo deserves special mention as she embraces herself in such difficult role and her character hits all the right note as being scary, ruthless but at times vulnerable. Margaret (the daughter of Andie MacDowell) holds her screen well and Julianne Nicholson plays her role emotionally as Cathleen’s mother who sees her daughter getting farther away from her. With women-exclusive settings, and the production team consist of mainly women (the editor and cinematographer for instance), Novitiate has some neat ideas behind the lives of nuns that usually unrealistically saturated in Hollywood (prime example is Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story), but its heavy-handed approach, along with its trying to handle too many different themes, make it a well-acted but bumpy ride.

Movie Review, Silver Moon in Full Bloom

Summer 1993 (2017) by Carla Simón

Original Name: Estiu 1993

Director: Carla Simón

Runtime: 97 minutes

Language: Catalan

IMDB Link:

Carla Simón: Enrolled at the London Film School where she directed Born Positive and Lipstick, both screening at numerous international film festivals. Las Pequeñas Cosas (Those Little Things) is her graduation film for which she received a Distinction.

 “It’s my history. My mother died of AIDS when I was six years old. My father had died before. And the summer of 1993 was the first that I spent with my new family. And it was also important to keep the context because of all that happened with AIDS in Spain. It is also the time of my childhood and I have sweet memories of it and I wanted to translate them. We shot in the area where I was raised. There is a moment when I don’t know what is memory and what I have invented”

I approached Summer 1993 thinking it’s a movie about a 5 year old kid coping with the death of her parents, and in parts the film deals with it, it was never the main focus of this Catalan-set film. It’s a film that more concern about her adjusting with the new life, while at the same time never forgets that Frida (played marvouslly by Laia Artigas) was still a child who still tries to make sense of what’s going on around her. The movie approaches this tale in a slice-of-life format, and those raw emotions and heavy topic are purposely buried underneath the ground. The cause of her Mother’s death, for example, is never addressed directly, as if it’s a taboo subject that better left unmentioned. It’s a remarkable way to approach this story, considered how autobiographical tale usually dips into soapiness and self-indulgent. In fact, this is Carla Simon’s own story down to the T, not only this was exactly what happened to her when she was 5. The shooting location is the place she lived at the time as well. You can see the love and the eye for extra details in the setting, from their own festival to her secret place that has Mary statue.

Summer 1993 is ultimately a story through the perspective of a child, but with the understand and empathy of an adult. You can consistently see these two qualities running simultaneously during its runtime. The tone is that of a children’s show, with Frida is always on the centre of the screen. Then we have her foster family compose of her uncle, his wife and their toddler girl who do everything they can to live in harmony with Frida. And that goes for both side. Like every kid, her concern is not about grieving; she’s too young to know any of that. Instead, it’s about her enjoying her days and behaving as a kid, while at the same time these deeper emotions still seep through her like an oil sinks through a plain paper. She misses her mother, but she’s incapable of expressing that. Sometimes she let her frustration out to her sister, sometimes she feels like a stranger to the new family. Those scenes play out subtly, it’s more of a suggestion through their look and gestures than being a central of emotional conflicts. In fact, if there’s a usual complain of this feature, it’s the lack if heightened drama. That’s a criticism I don’t agree with, however, given that this film is designed (but not constructed) like a memory from a young girl’s point of view. There’s a sense of wonder everywhere in that world.

Carla Simon asserts that her main message for Summer 1993 is that the adults need to talk to the kid about death, because as cruel as it is, they can still able to understand death. The adults in the picture, likewise, treat this issue with total respect. Most notably is her uncle (David Verdaguer) and his wife (Bruna Cusi), who go through many different troubles of raising her as their own child, yet never give up or let out their frustration. There’s a key scene near the end of the movie, when Frida confronts her aunt about her own Mom and she handles those questions in the best possible way. This scene marks the first time Frida tackles those feeling bottled inside her and she’s clearly struggle to make sense of it, and it could be as easily for an adult to just dismisses those questions with “you’ll understand when you get older”. Yet, her aunt takes her struggle seriously and it’s the best way to let their kid experiencing it instead of locking it away. The respect for the kid’s perspective isn’t restricted only to the story, but also in the way Simon believes in her child actresses. There are many long, unbroken scenes with the two kids as the center, and it doesn’t feel like they’re acting at all. The adults are all fine by all mean but it’s the children (Laia Artigas and Paula Robles as Anna) who are the heart and soul and they carry the movie wonderfully. Summer 1993 draws a right balance between the wonderful time of a kid who coping with the death of her parents by refusing to go to the usual melodramatic route, but always respect their innocent point of view. I know that this film is the one that I’ll keep thinking back for months to come.

2018 Spring Anime, Animation - Anime, Anime, Weekly Anime Summary

Weekly Anime Summary – Spring 2018 Week 9

SO we officially reach the two third of this anime Spring season, and it was a pretty light week with Die Neue These and Darling in the Franxx took a short break, coupled with me dropping Caligula, so for the first time this list becomes some sort of a top 10. Let’s get down to it:

10) Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai (ep09)

After a surprisingly excellent episode, Tada-kun falls back into its usual self. By now I can regard Tada-kun as a mix of unusual ingredients: it’s influenced by both the 50s, 60s Hollywood romance and anime romance, resulting in a product that is always fascinating but not necessary come well together. That’s why this might be the only anime series where high-society ball, PRINCESS exist alongside with school activities and idol girls. Let’s take this episode for a better demonstration. We have the main guy fallen sick after soaking wet from the rain (ANIME TROPES), that said princess girl can’t help herself and kisses him while he’s asleep (HOLLYWOOD TROPES), she realizes her crush and acts strange towards him (ANIME) but he still acts pretty much like a prince – pick out a random caterpillar from her hair (both ANIME & HOLLYWOOD). Doesn’t matter which inspiration this show has, it still embraces too many established tropes that it feels obvious at times.

9) Saiki Kusuo no Sai-nan 2 (ep19)

As I stated before I enjoy Saiki K the most when it focuses on a mini-arc (and by Saiki standard, 3 to 4 short skits), that is to say I’m wholy satisfied with Saiki K this week. Not only this episode brings along their core cast altogether (which the show wittily meta-mentions it), this play serves as a satire to the old classic tale. I bet most of us have bedtime tales that now thinking back don’t make a goddamn sense, right? I have, right here. This whole play escalates to an insane level of hilarity, which pretty much Saiki K at its most confident.

8) Golden Kamuy (ep08)

Welp, this time we get to another side-villain, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, the idea of a murderer who gets aroused at the notion of “seeing death in the eyes” is certainly intriguing, he certainly reminds me of Hannibal Lecter for good reasons. The way Golden Kamiy brings that fetish on a visual level, with that weird shining aura around his pant, is so weird and far-out it’s actually wonderful. The murderer’s personality, however, beside his murder motive, is pretty weak in general. That issue becomes apparent in the later half when it focuses on his point of view, and he just can’t carry the narrative weight. His appearance, in a big picture, also means that the show will go for several small arcs before the three-way standoff of our duo, the police and the tattooed thief, in which I personally feel stall the main plot. With only handful of episodes left, it remains doubtful whether the show can wrap itself up meaningfully.

7) Wotakoi (ep08)

Wotakoi is still sweet as ever. I’m glad that they confront the main issue regarding our main leads, that they don’t have any romantic chemistry together. It always feels that Hirokata is way more serious about their relationship than Narumi, and he releazies that they don’t spend time like normal couples do. Thus the core to improve their relationship is that Narumi needs to find how much he meant to her romantically, and for Hirokata how to express that love clearly. I still think that they need to expand more with new characters, but the main casts are so engaging and natural that I’m fine with whatever way the show rolls. At least though, develop this couple’s chemistry to their full potential.

6) Piano no Mori (ep08)

While I’m not pretty wild about this show when they were kids, the 5 year gap proves to be its big improvement. I mean, Takako can do no wrong (subjectivity hereee) and I’m impressed with the way the first half comes together in a satisfying way with new characters pop in naturally and have their roles in Kai’s performance. It can’t help but praising Kai a bit too much for my taste, however, like the way virtually every character obssesses with Kai’s playing style. Now that everything is in place, I guess the next episode we will have another 1-year jump in to the Chopin tournament and I’m pretty excited for it.

5) Hinamatsuri (ep09)

In my opinion, Hinamatsuri is always at its best when they play around with their new characters. In this episode, we have 2 new additions, to a varied degree of success. Mao is a great addition to this ensemble cast, and the show makes her trouble hilariously (with its Cast Away reference) but never sells her issue short. Nitta’s yakuza brother, on the other hand, is weak and the whole yakuza affair just doesn’t do me much since it adds nothing exciting on the table. The only parts I enjoy in that segment are Hina’s poisonous remark that caused all this and how Nitta wakes up tied up in a concrete box. It’s striking and funny at the same time.

4) My Hero Academia 3 (ep47)

I was thinking during the middle part of this episode that it all comes a bit too easy for the heroes, and then… boom, we have a stake that higher than anything we’ve seen before in this series. That’s one of MHA’s quality, it has just a right balance between action/ character study; good/ bad and easy/ difficult. Now that’s the ultimate villain makes his first official appearance: “All for One” who goes against everything that Al Might and the hero society has built. The fact that Deku again is kidnapped also means that there’s still space for his personal conflict and there’s still room for all the League of Villains members another chance to fight and shine.

3) Hisone to Masotan (ep08)

Well, after a slip up in last couple of episodes, I’m glad that the show picks itself right up with this episode. With the first half the shape of their final arc is formed and overall I’m happy with it. There’s going to be a ritual, in which dragon pilots’ main role is to escort to giant “behemoth” to its new resting place. Not bad of an idea. It both doesn’t go down to the usual save the world plot and it furthers elevate the originiality of this world (also extra plus for Shrin maiden). The romance subplots, however, I’m not too keen on. Hoshino and whoeverheis relationship feels way too calculated to me, although I do enjoy the chemistry between Hisone and Okonogi. The new twist about Okonogi to be a important figure for the ritual, and the appearance of his lover, don’t really bode well with me. It’s like the most common anime cliche ever.

2) Steins;Gate 0 (ep8)

This episode feels like a short detour, and design as one, as Okabe finds himself in the beta world, just so at the end he transverses back to the old one. Part of me feels it’s a wasted opportunity, especially how they could make tons of interesting developments into it. But the focus this time squarely places into Okabe’s own mind. He carries a big burden, and this short visit into the world where Kurisu lives further reminds him that doesn’t matter what his choice is, he still blames himself for the death of either Kurisu or Tutturu. On that front the show succeeds magnificently. The drama this time can go a bit cheesy and it’s a bit too convenient that Kurisu just builds another time machine for him to go back. I would’ve preferred him staying in that world line, if only for the fact that Kurisu and Okabe could then make something interesting to bring Mayuri back. I know Kurisu would.

1) Megalo Box (ep9)

An absence of Die Neue These means that the top slot is very well claimed by Megalo Box. While I feel the overall plot so far is predictable and sometimes even ham-fisted, this show knows well how to build up tension and successfully invites us to get behind and cheer on the underdog Joe. I swear I get the feel of Joe K.Oed the opponent and it feels so worth it that he can make it to the Final 4. Being said that, the fight itself repeats the same pattern of previous fights: Joe gets beaten up pretty bad before defeat the opponent with a one-punch. I hope they don’t repeat much on that and God, him intentionally let his guard down in a boxing matching is way too lame and unrealistic. Speaking of Nanbu, I have a feeling that this time he won’t get away scotch-free, in order for Joe not throwing this match he might put his life literally on the line. Let’s see.

2017 Women's Cinema Festival, Women's Cinema

2017 Women’s Cinema Festival – Day 2: First They Killed My Father & I Am Not a Witch


Welcome to Day 2, where we get to the first pair of the Main Competition titles. It’s always my interest to pair the two features that air on the same day as some sort of a companion piece, and here in the Day-by-Day Journal, I’ll discuss about it in details. The two films this time (First They Killed My Father and I Am Not a Witch) share many things in common. They’re stories about young girls who find themselves dragged around in a cruel world that beyond their comprehension. One works as an autobiography drama, the other one works as a bleak comedy. One happens in the specific dark chapter of a country, the other set in a modern day that could very well be decades ago. Both have passive, almost non-expressive child protagonists. This is not a criticism, though, since they’re designed as windows to invite us to their worlds. We follow their every step, and see their worlds through their points of views. Overall, we have two solid films and it’s a great start for this Film Festival. As usual, click on the titles for more formal reviews, or you can just read them down below

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Movie Review

I Am Not a Witch (2017) by Rungano Nyoni

Original Name: I Am Not a Witch

Director: Rungano Nyoni

Runtime: 93 minutes

Language: Bemba

IMDB Link:

Rungano Nyoni: Born in Zambia, she emigrated to Wales at the age of nine. A graduate of the University of Arts in London, she directed several short films (The List , Mwansa the Great , Listen), which won her awards and welcome criticism.

 “With Dr Strangelove, people laugh because they know that it’s absurd. In my case, even though everything is fictionalised, I wanted to show Zambian humour and how we deal with tragic events, which from the outside may seem very inappropriate. But it’s the humour that I wanted to put across without apologising.”

I am Not a Witch is a bold and confident debut from Zambian/Welsh Rungano Nyoni, whose singular voice makes this film a tragicomedy in a same sense of humor of The Lobster, and that is the best compliment I could muster. The very first sequence of the film indicates us about the absurdist tone that film embraces: a group of tourists visits the witch camp, which consist of twenty, thirty old women with long white ribbon attached to their backs (the long white ribbon is Nyoni’s creation). It comes to the points where these “witches” become nothing more than tourist attraction. The unnamed girl who is accused of being a witch (later people name her as Shula), is helpless and can’t even defend herself. She is dragged through the absurdist investigation where a villager accuses her for ripping his arm off (despite that said arm remains fit), then to the witch camp and finds herself as a golden goose made by the local government man, whom uses her to identify local thieves and even goes so far to advertising her in a TV program. The absurdist, sometimes downright farce humor about a serious issue in a culture full of misogyny hits the message far better than any straight, conventional approach.

There’s a fairy-tale like quality in this tale, as we learn early on about the fates that Shula will has to choose – cut the ribbon and becomes a goat, or keep the ribbon to live as a witch.  It’s the overarching plot thread that Shula will have to choose throughout the course of the film. Although pitch-black undertones where Shula is shopped around helplessly beyond her comprehension, there’s still some moments of hope. At one time she listens to the voice of school teaching nearby, the only time that she’s truly happy in the movie. The film also takes the opportunity to show the lives of the witch camp, where the women doing their labor work, become a public display, and live in a harsh condition all around.

Apart from the absurdist tone, Nyoni also makes this tale stick out with some impressive cinematic visual. The giant reels that contain long, white ribbon attached to the witches so that they can’t fly off come to mind, and it metaphorically represents the social bind that ties them down, restricts them from moving around freely. Shula is often placed at the centre of the shot, to further underline her awkward, almost out-of-place position. The use of classical music, likewise, is bold and compliments its bleak humor very well. The strong color of the white ribbons and some costumes, in contrast with its muted world is also strikingly displayed. This is a confident showcase of a talented filmmaker, both from her fierce idea as well as her sure-handed direction.

It’s through these laughs that we can sense the angry voice underneath, the discontent about the misconception and mistreatment towards the lives those witches, whose often took a sharp turn just out of some accusers’ whims. “In the end I can’t help what people get from it, or take from it, I just hope that they laugh and that they feel the tragedy.” Nyoni said that in one of her interview, and she succeed on doing just that, and then some. Sometimes it’s best to let out your anger by the absurdist humor, be its humor as pitch black as the night sky.