I’ve decided to bring back the film review posts due to popular demand. So here are a few movies I’ve seen recently, with my opinions of them. I’ve said it before, and will say it again: movies can open up windows of creativity for you. If you see the right ones, they can help you in ways you might not anticipate.
Beauty In Trouble (2006)
Director: Jan Hrebejk
This Czech film is the kind of family melodrama that I don’t usually like to watch. This was the rare exception to the rule. The year is 2002, and Prague is devastated by floods. To make ends meet, blue-collar Czech tough guy Jarda turns to crime (stripping stolen cars) in order to support his wife and kids. This of course creates problems; he is arrested and tossed in jail. His wife then begins to gravitate toward an older, wealthy Czech expatriate living in Italy, who might be her meal ticket.
It’s not easy to explain why I liked this film, but I think it has something to do with the vividness of the characterizations, the honesty of the plot, and the sense of humor that runs through the movie. Here, for once, is a film that speaks the truth about male-female dynamics, without all the nonsense that Hollywood peddles. The end result is something that is both life-affirming and sobering.
Box 507 (2002)
Director: Enrique Urbizu
A bank manager in Spanish Andalusia is taken hostage and forced to participate in a robbery. He accidentally discovers some papers in a safe deposit box that relate to a fire that took place in 1996, in which his daughter was “accidentally” killed. It turns out that this is only the first of many layers of discovery that he eventually makes. There are organized crime connections, crooked land deals, and nefarious double-crosses that we are treated to.
This is a competent thriller, well-directed, and with few frills. Even though it feels more like a TV movie than a feature film, I can’t say this is a bad film. It’s just that it has a flat feel to it; it never really takes off in the way that some recent French thrillers I’ve seen have exploded off the screen. (e.g., Sleepless Night). Not a misfire, but not a priority. Watch it for the Spanish language practice if nothing else.
Hearts In Atlantis (2001)
Director: Scott Hicks
Like Box 507, this is one of those mediocre films that may be worth watching if you have nothing else better to do. An adaptation from a Stephen King novel of the same name, this movie tells the story of an older man with extra-sensory powers who rents a room in a house occupied by a young mother and her son. The son befriends the older man, and learns more of his dark secrets.
Yet another installment in King’s coming of age story fixations.
Stephen King seems obsessed with stories about people with second sight and extra-sensory powers, as well as coming of age stories. How many times have we seen these sentimental little trifles before? A lot: too much, in fact. The problem is that in 2016 no one is really that interested in his 1950s nostalgia except aging boomers. The end result is that it all adds up to…not very much of substance.
Cash Only (2016)
Director: Malik Bader
This is the best film on this list. This film is pure neo-noir brilliance. A kick-ass, brutal descent into the grimy world of modern Detroit. The plot: a landlord is facing a bank foreclosure on his rental property because he’s six months behind on rent. So he puts the screws to all his tenants to make them pay up. He’s also taking care of his angelic daughter, who’s about the only character in this movie who’s not a complete dreg.
But in the best noir tradition, the “good guy” is also a crooked son of a bitch. He hates his local priest, he’s banging a married tenant, and worst of all, he secreted cameras in the room of a tenant who is also a call-girl. In this way he discovers he secret stash of cash. He evicts her and confiscates the money for himself. But unfortunately for him, this act has made him some powerful gangster enemies. And they want their money back. Or else.
Tautly filmed, and expertly acted. Many of the characters here are Albanian immigrants, a fact that gives this one a weird, vaguely foreign feel. Every character is looking for an angle, and everyone’s got a dirty secret. See this movie, which should have gotten far more attention than it did.