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.
91. Honey Cigar (Cigare au Miel), Drama, Director Kamir Aïnouz, 2020 France, 67%/5.9
Selma (Zoé Adjani) is the 17-year-old daughter of affluent Berber parents who originally lived in Kabylia in Northern Algeria but have now settled in Paris. She is beginning to experience sexual feelings and is warming towards a fellow male student, Julien (Luis Peres) who makes his intentions very clear when he first meets and greets Selma with the statement, “Tres joli sourire. Et t’as de tres beaux seins.” (“Very nice smile. And you have very nice breasts.”) Selma shrugs off the reference to her breasts but is clearly attracted to his open attitude to sexuality and the general freedom of sexual behaviour among his social group of friends. But her parents have other ideas. Although well-adjusted to life in Paris and living a secular life, there is still a hint of traditional values of the Berber people, including attitudes towards girls’ education and arranged marriages. When Selma starts staying out later than the father approves, arguments ensue. When Selma’s mother starts inviting ‘eligible young men’ to dinner to meet Selma, Selma objects. When one ‘highly eligible’ young man in the banking profession wines, dines, and subsequently forces himself upon Selma, she begins to question her very identity. Is she French with all the freedom that offers or is she a Berber with all the confining trappings of a traditional pre-Arab culture that has been modified by Algerian Arab culture?
It’s a tough choice and the movie follows Selma’s progression as she fights to reconcile her two identities. The title of the film, Honey Cigars, refers to cigars made from traditional tobacco infused with honey before wrapping. Two very contradictory flavours, honey and tobacco, combine in the mouth to produce something quite unique and which is liked by some and loathed by others.
92. Hydra, Action/Crime/Drama, Director Kensuke Sonomura, 2019 Japan, 80%/6.0
Hydra is a fairly routine story about a girl, Rina (Miu) who runs the Hydra bar in Tokyo, aided by an affable male friend, Kenta (Tasuku Nagase) and mysterious tight-lipped emotionless chef, Takashi (Masanori Mimoto) who may or may not have knowledge about the inexplicable disappearance of Rina’s father resulting in her takeover of the bar. Stories like this are ten a penny—mysterious protagonist’s background gradually revealed and shown to be linked with other protagonists, and antagonists—but what distinguishes this movie are the two fight scenes between Takashi as the good guy and a villain linked to Takashi’s past, Syu (Naohiro Kawamoto). I’ve watched many martial arts movies featuring the likes of Bruce Lee (Fists of Fury et al.), Tony Jaa (Ong Bak et al.), Takeru Satoh (Rurouni Kenshin franchise), Iko Uwais (The Raid franchise), JeeJa Yanin (Raging Phoenix et al.), Jet Li (Romeo Must Die et al.), and many more but I have never seen anything like the two knife-and-fist hand-to-hand fights in Hydra. The first fight is a 2-minute sequence (00:48:34 to 00:50:34) but, boy oh boy, is it fast and it sets the scene for the second longer fight (1:04:30 to 1:09:05) which took my breath away. The fighting techniques are not based on any standard form of martial arts such as wing chun (Lee), muay thai (Jaa and Yanin), Hiten Mitsurugi-Ryu form of kenjitsu (Satoh), silat (Uwais), wushu (Li), or other standard forms. The best way to describe the fights in Hydra is to liken it to two schoolboys fighting at the extreme end of the schoolboy fighting spectrum. It’s savage, fast, vicious, and absolutely exhilarating even though you know it is carefully choreographed. The two fight scenes occupy just 9 minutes of the 77 minutes runtime but for any fan of martial arts movies, they are a must-see. Note: the longer fight scene is available on YouTube. Search for ‘Fight scene from Hydra’.
93. The Novice, Drama/Sport, Director Lauren Hadaway, 2021 USA, 92%/6.5
What does it take to become a top-notch athlete able to compete at the highest level of competition? Guts, determination, adherence to a dedicated physical and mental regime, skill, single-minded exclusion of all else (an obsession) and, possibly, a ruthless streak. That’s according to debuting director Lauren Hadaway’s interpretation of a US college first-year student’s desire to become a member of her university’s top rowing team. Actress Isabelle Fuhrman, who when 12-years-old played the utterly evil Russian orphan, Esther, in the 2009 movie, Orphan, plays freshman Alex Dall who is determined to pass the grade by hook or by crook and exhibits an obsession that threatens to alienate her from her contemporaries and coaching staff and cause her mental instability. The Novice is a remarkable journey into the effects of an obsession and the movie comes close to becoming a horror movie with sweat replacing gore. Fuhrman’s performance has been described as visceral, powerful, and masterful, all of which descriptions I agree with. She was evil personified in Orphan and is now obsession possessed in The Novice. Watch the movie and experience what it takes to become the top dog or maybe the top bitch is better suited here.
94. The Ledge, Action/Thriller, Director Howard J Ford, 2022 USA, -/5.0
I don’t really have a head for heights. I’m acrophobic. I cannot stand at the edge of a cliff and look down. I worry about walking on a clear view platform above a ravine or in the floor of a viewing room in a tall building. I had the heebie-jeebies watching the opening scene of Vertical Limit (2000) when dad, son, and daughter were climbing up the sheer face of a mountain in Monument Valley, and later when scaling K2 in the Himalaya. After just fifteen minutes, I stopped watching Alex Honnold free-climbing El Capitan in the Yosemite in the documentary film Free Solo (2018) although I did watch it all on my second attempt. All of which makes me wonder; why did I watch The Ledge? Maybe I am a glutton for acrophobic punishment or a closet masochist?
The story is simple enough. Two experienced female climbers, Kelly (Brittany Ashworth) and Sophie (Anaïs Parello) are camped out at the base of Monte Antelao in the Dolomites in north-eastern Italy, ready to climb the sheer southern face side of the mountain up to the summit. Their pre-climb evening preparations are interrupted by four inexperienced male climbers, more intent on partying than climbing, who invite the two girls over for a drink and which ends in tragedy for Sophie. Kelly witnesses the event and is forced to flee before the men can catch her and ‘remove her as a witness’. She can only escape by going up. Ill-equipped, she starts scaling the sheer face knowing the men cannot come after her but they scale the mountain on the easier north face and arrive above her, waiting for her to appear. She becomes trapped on a very narrow ledge about 20 feet (~6 metres) below an overhanging wider ledge on which are camped three of the four men. She can neither ascend nor descend. What follows will curl your toes, put your heart in your mouth, create goosebumps on other parts of your body, and put you off climbing forever.
The Ledge is not for the faint-hearted but, for reasons unknown, I enjoyed the film. Maybe it was the adrenaline I generated even though I was sitting in an easy chair when I viewed the film—armchair adrenaline overcomes acrophobia?
95. A Hero (Ghahreman), Drama, Director Asghar Farhadi, 2021 Iran, 96%/7.5
The Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi, first came to my attention with his penetrating study of a middle-class Persian marriage on the rocks in the 2011 movie, A Separation; a movie that went on to receive the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, an accolade he repeated four years later with his film, The Salesman. Can he make it a hat trick with his latest character-led drama, A Hero? Possibly. A Hero is another intense study of ordinary life in Iran, this time dealing with unpaid debt, questions of honour and respect, and an elaborate plot to garner sympathy and accumulate wealth to pay off the debt.
Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is in prison for his inability to repay a debt of 150,000 tomans (~£26/$35) to his ex-wife’s brother, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh). He obtains a 2-day pass in order to find the money, repay the debt, and be released from prison. He meets his new girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) who, as yet, has not been introduced to Rahim’s family: his son from his earlier marriage, his sister, and her husband. Fortuitously, Farkhondeh has found a bag containing seventeen gold coins that may be enough to repay the debt. Unfortunately, the value of gold has fallen and the coins will only realise 70,000 tomans (about half the debt) and so Rahim hatches an elaborate plot to find and return the coins to the original owner thereby acquiring praise for his honesty and, with it, donations from a local charity and other well-wishers, enough to pay off the debt—in short, Rahim becomes a hero.
But all does not go to plan. Bahram, the creditor, is made out to be the bad guy for demanding the debt be paid and he begins to smell a few rats in Rahim’s story such as Rahim’s claim to have found the bag himself and a suspicion that Rahim is attempting to get back with his ex-wife, Bahram’s sister, who is now planning to marry again. From this point on, the story unravels to show Rahim’s increasingly frantic efforts to maintain and feed off his new celebrity status to obtain the money to pay off the debt without revealing Farkhondeh and her role in the story.
A Hero is not a sit-back-and-enjoy-with-brain-disengaged movie. You have to pay attention to who’s who and understand their objectives and role in the drama. But, A Hero, is a very rewarding film, one that is rich in character play and interplay, and one that might send you to Wikipedia’s very comprehensive summary of the plot if some of the threads don’t quite connect.
96. Piper, Drama/Animation, Director Alan Barillaro, 2016 USA, 100%/8.4
Ever since two of my granddaughters became hooked on the 1998 animated film, A Bug’s Life, and watched it incessantly for many weeks, I have been fascinated by animated films produced by Pixar Animation Studios. The storyline, the actions, the dialogue, the depictions of animals and their habits, everything about their movies both entrance me and amaze me. Recently, while browsing YouTube, I came across Piper, a 6-minute short animated film from Pixar Disney that won the 89th Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2017. The story is simple; the animation incredible. A fledgling sandpiper is persuaded by her mother to leave her nest on the shoreline and go down to the edge of the sea to forage for food. As she does so, the tide rolls in and catches the small bird unawares, knocking her over and soaking her feathers. The bird, frightened, retreats to her nest and refuses to try again until, encouraged by her mother, she plucks up courage and somewhat anxiously runs down to the water’s edge again. But, as the tide rolls in, she runs back and takes shelter under some seaweed. As the tide retreats, two friendly hermit crabs come out from under the seaweed and encourage the piper to follow them back down to the water’s edge. When the water rushes in, another hermit crab shows her how to submerge herself under the sand in order to withstand the force of the water. The piper does so and while underwater and following a tap on the beak from a tiny claw, she opens her eyes and marvels at the abundance of food available. From that point on, her fear conquered, the piper collects food for the whole sandpiper community as the mother watches proudly from afar.
Piper is an enchanting movie about conquering fear, watching and learning from others, motherhood, and with incredible detail regarding the bird’s characteristic movements on land, the nature of sand, and the swirling motions of tidal water. Enter ‘Pixar Piper full movie’ in YouTube’s search engine to experience the wonder of Piper.