I watch a lot of movies: good, bad, indifferent; all genres; English and non-English speaking; and, occasionally, I write a few comments about those I enjoyed. Here are six mini-reviews, in no particular order. The percentage/numerical ratings in the title fields are from the review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes (where I look for 60% or higher), and the internet movie database, IMDb (where I look for 6.0 or higher). Movies for Movie Buffs: Index lists all my reviews so far posted.
49. Sold, Drama, Director Jeffrey D Brown, 2014 USA, 56%/6.9
Innocent Voices (Voces Inocentes), War/Drama/Family, Director Luis Mandoki, 2004 El Salvador/Mexico, 72%/7.9
Loss of innocence. Loss of childhood. These two films bring home the impact of child sex trafficking and child soldiers. Neither movie is easy to watch but both deal with their subject matter in a mature manner and without the sleaze.
Sold, based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Patricia McCormick, tells how Lakshmi (Niyar Saikia), a 14-year-old Nepalese village girl, is sold by her unemployed disabled father to an Indian woman who promises a bright future for Lakshmi working as a maid in India but, in fact, is procuring her to become a sex worker in a brothel. Sex trafficking of young girls is a resident evil around the world and the story of what happens to girls like Lakshmi has been told countless times. Sold contains the usual ingredients of scenes showing a laughing pre-abduction Lakshmi flying a kite as she runs carefreely through her village; how she is trafficked across the border by guards who turn a blind eye; friendship with the other girls in the brothel and with the young son of one of the older prostitutes; a semi-evil madame who, ultimately, is only concerned about the money; a leering male customer who has a preference for young virgins; and unscrupulous male guardians who ensure the girls do not escape.
As a side story, Lakshmi is photographed shouting for help through an upper window by an American photographer, Sophia (Gillian Anderson), who has arrived in India to work with an anti-trafficking organisation. Sophia recognises Lakshmi’s situation and she works with one of the organisation’s investigators, Sam (David Arquette), to secure Lakshmi’s rescue. The story ends happily but, I’m sure, this is not always the case. End of movie credits state that 5.5 million children are victims of human trafficking worldwide, attributed to the International Labour Organisation in 2014. A post-movie search using Google revealed a more-recent estimate from the same organisation—1 in 4 victims of modern slavery in 2016 were children – a total of 10.1 million child victims.
Regardless of how you define what is meant by child and whether modern slavery is restricted to sex trafficking, these are frightening figures and if films like Sold succeed in raising the awareness of what is happening to youngsters as portrayed by actress Niyar Saikia (aged 15 when Sold was made), then the movie was worth making and deserves your attention.
Innocent Voices covers young boys forcefully recruited into resistance groups, armies and guerrilla organisations and trained to become soldiers with the knowledge and wherewithal to kill people. The setting for this film is the 1979–1992 civil war in El Salvador fought between the American-backed military junta government and an internal organisation of left-wing resistance fighters known as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The war was savage with, particularly, many atrocities committed by the government military forces. Boys who reached the age of 12 were forced into military servitude by the government. Innocent Voices, based on the true story of Óscar Torres’s (one of the scriptwriters) childhood, is a fictional account of one such boy, Chava (Carlos Padilla), who is about to celebrate his twelfth birthday and the attempts of his mother, Kella (Leonor Varela), to shield him from the attention of the ever-present government soldiers. For example, on his twelfth birthday, she only places eleven candles on the cake; an act Chava does not understand and which causes him to become angry.
Innocent Voices is a harrowing film. The village where Chava and his mother live is located between an area held by the insurgents and an area controlled by the government forces and every now and again, gunfire is exchanged between the two opposing groups with complete disregard for anyone who is caught in the crossfire, either in the open or through bullets that easily penetrate the flimsy walls of homes. These scenes, when they happen, are shocking and happen they do—frequently. Like Sold, the story is told through the eyes of the children involved. Chava is a normal exuberant 11-year-old boy, enjoying adventure playing with his friends, beginning to develop feelings for one of his classmates, Cristina Maria (Xuna Primus), and occasionally tasked with looking after his younger sister and even younger brother while Kella makes clothes to sell to support her family. Indeed, there is one mealtime scene involving the mother and her children that I guarantee will cause you to burst into laughter but, make no mistake, this film is not a comedy. The scenes towards the end of the movie are shocking and will not fade quickly as the credits roll.
Of the two movies, Innocent Voices left a deeper impression on me than Sold. Sex trafficking, especially of young girls, disturbing though it is, is a topic that is often aired on news websites and through other well-known movies such as Trafficked (2017), Eden (2007), Eastern Promises (2007), and Trade (2007). The topic also achieved high coverage in Taken, the 2008 controversial movie starring Liam Neeson. I fear we have become immune to it.
The abduction and induction of young boys into military positions has not received as much attention however. One movie I watched a few years ago and which had a profound effect on me is Beasts of No Nation, the 2015 film set in what might be Sierra Leone and detailing the experiences of a young African boy captured and trained by a rebel force attempting to overthrow the government in power. Like Innocent Voices, Beasts of No Nation pulls no punches when violence explodes and you will not forget these scenes in a hurry. Similarly, when the bullets fly indiscriminately in the village in El Salvador.
50. Jolt, Action/Thriller, Director Tanya Wexler, 2021 USA, 39%/5.5
Kate Beckinsale, best known as the deadly Underworld vampire-human Death Dealer, wreaking havoc on the Lycans (werewolves) who she blamed for the slaughter of her family in the 14th century, has turned her acting skills to becoming yet another superheroine but with unkempt hair, loose-fitting clothes, and a raft of sexually-inspired quips in the thriller, Jolt. Given the ever-expanding stable of sexy superheroines (see the recent Black Widow and Gunpowder Milkshake movies), it’s hard to come up with yet another new idea about how and why a superheroine is created. Jolt’s scriptwriter, Scott Wascha, decided to make use of an apparently genuine behavioural disorder known as Intermittent Explosive Disorder, IED, wherein the person so afflicted is prone to extremely violent outbursts for the least provocation. Now we all know that bad guys are not best known for their good manners and politeness and thus are very likely to suffer badly when in the company of Kate Beckinsale’s character, Lindy, especially since she seems to have retained all the fighting skills she acquired back in the days of her battles with the Lycans.
The story, as always, is preposterous but zips along with car chases, bruising fights, and the occasional jolt of an electric charge self-administered by Lindy when she feels an outburst about to burst out! She wears a vest lined with electrodes through which she can apply a charge to cool her rising anger using a control she carries in her hand. Now, this could be bad news if the control falls into the hands of a bad guy and… I’ll say no more.
The fight scenes are not as spectacular as in the two previously-mentioned movies—too many close-ups where you have to imagine what’s happening— but the movie is decent enough and will satisfy those who enjoy a good guy versus bad guy beat-‘em-up revenge movie with, as always, a twist at the end that is fairly predictable.
51. Kick-Ass, Action/Comedy/Crime, Director Matthew Vaughn, 2010 USA, 76%/7.6
Kick-Ass 2, Action/Comedy/Crime, Director Jeff Wadlow, 2013 USA, 32%/6.5
2010 was a seminal year for super-young super-profane superheroes and, particularly, superheroines. Chloë Grace Moretz, 13 years old at the time, portrayed the F-word- and C-word-spouting 11-year-old purple-haired leather-clad black-masked Hit-Girl assassin, eradicating the world of bad guys with ruthless efficiency and athletic grace in the ground-breaking Kick-Ass movie. Although not the titular Kick-Ass superhero—that accolade goes to Kick-Ass himself, played by 20-year-old Aaron Taylor-Johnson wearing a modified yellow-and-green scuba-diving outfit—Moretz stole the film with her acclaimed performance, subsequently acknowledged to be her breakout role. Trained as a vigilante by her ex-cop father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), Hit-Girl teams up with Kick-Ass to take out a local crime boss, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong at his gnarliest) and his son, Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Along the way, many henchmen die in spectacular fashion and Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl finally get to confront Frank D’Amico in a scene that does wonders for the sale of bazookas and jet packs.
Kick-Ass has become a cult film, considered essential viewing for any aficionado of superhero movies and, especially, for pre-teens and new-teens who have aspirations to dress appropriately and train to take out the bad guys. It’s an entertaining movie if you can stand the top-shelf expletives coming out of the mouth of a young girl, and well worth a second viewing. Unfortunately, the follow-up, Kick-Ass 2, three years later fell flat on its face. The movie sports the same main players—Moretz, Taylor-Johnson, Mintz-Plasse—but the innovation was missing and the humour tended more towards the scatological end of the comedy spectrum. Watch it only if you want to see how not to make a sequel.
52. Love Crime (aka Crime d’Amour), Drama, Director Alain Corneau, 2010 France, 64%/6.5
Meryl Streep’s portrayal of fashion magazine editor, Miranda Priestly (allegedly based on Vogue editor, Anna Wintour), in the 2006 movie The Devil Wears Prada, epitomised a professional woman who is simultaneously ruthless and charming, outwardly sympathetic but inwardly unemotional; in short, a career woman with dubious morals.
Jessica Chastain played an American lobbyist with similar characteristics in the political thriller, Miss Sloane (2016) as did Rosamund Pike in the 2020 care-home drama, I Care A Lot. And who can forget Lena Headey’s evil ice-queen, Cersei, in Game of Thrones? It seems that actresses of calibre like to sink their teeth into such meaty characterisations and Love Crime, a French movie directed by Alain Corneau, allows Kristin Scott Thomas to show off her considerable acting skills, and fluent French, in a tale of executive intrigue and ambition in a large multi-national corporation. Thomas plays the part of a high-flying company executive, Christine Riviére, who claims ownership of an audacious money-making idea created by newcomer assistant, Isabelle Guérin (Ludivine Sagnier), in order to clinch a prestigious promotion. Isabelle, at first somewhat naïve in matters of office politics, learns fast from her boss and, with the aid of a colleague, plots to exact revenge. The screenplay, written by Alain Courneau and Natalie Carter, fairly zings along with twists and turns, sparkling dialogue, and terrific performances by the two main protagonists. In my professional past, I was once embroiled in office politics and was blindsided by a colleague in a move that clearly had been well-thought-out and, in my case, resulted in my abrupt departure from the company. I accepted I was no office politician and I empathised with several of the characters in this movie as they were manipulated to serve the ambitions of others. Love Crime is an entertaining movie, well-made and executed, and will keep your attention until the credits roll. Watch it!
53. Night Drive, Thriller/Drama, Directors Brad Baruh and Meghan Leon, 2019 USA, 100%/5.5
A rideshare driver’s life is turned upside down after an unexpected series of misfortunes. (IMDb)
Night Drive is one of those movies whose one-sentence synopsis may not attract you and, to be honest, I’m not sure why I was drawn to watch it but I’m glad I did.
Quirky doesn’t even come close to describing this intriguing and very entertaining indie movie. Rideshare driver, Russel (A J Bowen), picks up a young female passenger, Charlotte (Sophie Dalah), for what turns out to be the ride of a lifetime involving a mysterious small case, a hit-and-run accident, an incident with a burly policeman, and enigmatic replies from Charlotte as Russel tries to understand what on earth is happening. It’s difficult to be more precise about what happens in this movie without creating spoilers but I urge you to give it a shot. The dialogue between the two protagonists is simply superb, as is the chemistry. Two-thirds of the way through the 82-minute runtime, there is a major plot twist that might evoke a drawn-out ‘Whaaaat?’ response from you but persevere through this ‘reveal’. It’s worth the ride.
54. Get In (aka Furie), Drama/Horror/Thriller, Director Olivier Abbou, 2019 France, 50%/5.6
Get In depicts every homeowner’s nightmare. Married couple, Paul and Chloé (Adama Niane and Stéphane Caillard), and their young son, Louis, take a 2-month vacation in a camper van. Before they go, Paul and Chloé invite their regular babysitter, Sabrina (Marie Bourin), and husband, Eric (Hubert Delattre), to move in and look after their home, signing an agreement that allows the house sitters to pay the utility bills as they arrive through the post.
Arriving back home, Paul and Chloé discover they cannot gain vehicular access to their home: the main gates are locked. Eric emerges from the house and informs Paul he is trespassing and that the police have been called who, when they arrive, reinforce Eric’s assertion that Paul and his wife are indeed trespassers. In shock, the owners drive their van to a nearby campsite managed by Mickey (Paul Hamy) and ponder their next move. It turns out that the agreement they signed allowed Sabrina and Eric to claim squatters’ rights and even though they are the legal owners, Paul and Chloé must now go through the law courts to secure an eviction order; a process that becomes more and more hopeless as time progresses leaving Paul and Chloé only one option: invasion.
To add to the complications, Paul is of North African origin whereas Chloé, his wife, is whiter-than-white. It also turns out that Chloé the wife and Mickey the campsite manager have history. Thus, elements of racial discrimination and sexual tensions creep into the story.
The second half of Get In develops into a home invasion movie but in reverse. Instead of the owners defending their house against invaders, the squatters are forced to defend their ‘home’ against the owners who are reinforced by Mickey and some of his dubious associates. Here is where there is a complete tone change and where you will find the scenes that merit the horror tag attached to the movie.
The critics were not that enamoured by the movie—a routine home invasion movie, they said— but I was intrigued by the racial undertones and by mild-mannered Paul’s struggles to overcome his natural reluctance to become embroiled in violence given that he’s a black man living in a white man’s world or, as he is cruelly described by one of the characters in the movie, he’s an Oreo (an American sandwich biscuit, black on the outside, white on the inside). I also had my doubts that the document Paul and Chloé signed was a sufficient basis for the babysitters to claim squatters’ rights despite the claim upfront that the events in the movie are ‘based on a true story’ but, hey, it’s just a movie, right?