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 five 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.
Update. The first one hundred Movies for Movie Buffs reviews are now available in paperback form: details here.
106. A Dangerous Method, Biography/Drama/Romance, Director David Cronenberg, 2011 UK, 78%/6.4
Ordinarily, I would not recommend reading detailed summaries of storylines and critical reviews of a movie before viewing the movie. Storylines frequently include hints to major twists, if any, and reviews often contain overt or subtle spoilers thereby removing the pleasure of some aspect of the movie. How can a critic criticise a movie without revealing some details about the target of his or her criticism? But the biopic, A Dangerous Method, is exactly the opposite. If you are not versed in the art of psychology, before you watch the film you will definitely benefit from background information about the people involved—Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Sabina Spielrein— and their theories about human psychology based on psychoanalysis (Freud) and analytical psychology (Jung).
In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud, living in Vienna, was developing his techniques of psychoanalysis based on his belief that mental disorders could be traced back to childhood events, including sexual experiences, and their effect on the unconscious mind, and that the events could be raised to the level of consciousness by, among other techniques, the interpretation of dreams. Freud’s methods of analysis came to the attention of a younger psychiatrist, Carl Jung, working at a hospital in Zurich. Jung considered Freud’s definition of the unconscious mind too narrow and advocated that it should also include events related to immediate conflicts as well as childhood conflicts. Thus began a 7-year series of discussions between Jung and Freud, starting in 1907, during which they tested their theories and attempted to reconcile their differences. Eventually, in 1913, there was a breakdown in their relationship and, in particular, it was exacerbated by Jung’s relationship with a young Russian woman, Sabina Spielrein. She came to Jung suffering from hysteria which he traced back to sexual arousal caused by her father punishing her physically when she was a child. Following treatment and recovery, Spielrein became Jung’s assistant and subsequently embarked on an extramarital affair with him in direct contravention of the doctor-patient no-sex rule. Eventually, when Jung refused to father a child with Spielrein, she went to Freud for advice on how best to handle the affair. Freud’s intervention saved Jung from social disgrace but also served to drive the two men further apart.
I’ll say no more other than to say that the film contains riveting performances from Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, and Kiera Knightley as Sabina Spielrein. There is also a cameo by Vincent Cassel who portrays Otto Gross, the polygamous hedonistic maverick student of Freud who influenced Jung’s eventual acceptance of extramarital affairs. If you do feel the need to dig a little deeper into the background of Freud and Jung’s theories of psychology before watching the film, try this article on the DifferenceBetween website. Alternatively, I found Wiki’s synopsis of the film to be very useful and the links through to Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Sabina Spielrein will shed enough light to allow you to enjoy the movie plus, of course, you will be able to expound knowledgeably (sort of) when next you attend a dinner party provided there are no psychologists present!
107. Ballad of a White Cow, Drama, Directors Maryam Moghadam, Behtash Sanaeeha, 2020 Iran, 88%/7.0
Huda’s Salon, Thriller, Director Hany Abu-Assad, 2021 Palestine, 75%/5.8
This double feature from Middle-East directors reflects upon two different issues within the region: the marginalisation of women and their rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the ongoing conflict between the Israeli government and the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
Islamic sharia law demands an eye for an eye and Muslims are committed to slaughtering an animal once a year to commemorate the Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail as a test of his faith in Allah. (Ibrahim is known as Abraham and Ismail as Isaac in the Old Testament’s telling of this story.) The directors of Ballad of a White Cow use the sacrifice of a white cow as a metaphor for the execution of an innocent person. Mina (Maryam Moghadam) learns that her husband, Babak, has been arrested and sentenced to death for a murder he believes he committed and subsequently confessed to. At the beginning of the film, Mina visits him for the last time on the morning of his execution. Later, she learns that the real culprit has confessed to the murder and she is offered financial compensation. A representative of the Iranian legal system says, ‘So a mistake has been made and we are very sorry about it. We take full responsibility and compensate you with the full price for an adult male. 270 million tomans will be paid to the heirs.’ This is the Qur’an’s eye for an eye doctrine and, in this case, values the execution of an innocent man at 270 million tomans (around £48,789/$63,913 at today’s exchange rates).
Mina contemplates the offer of financial compensation but she wants more than just money. She wants an apology from the judge who sentenced her husband to death but discovers that senior male members of the Iranian criminal justice system do not apologise to widowed victims of injustice—’Of course, nothing can replace your husband…, but it was, after all, God’s will.’ Defenceless, with no male protector and fighting off her father-in-law’s attempt to obtain custody of her deaf-mute daughter, and brother-in-law’s attempts to gain access to the money, Mina is at her wits’ end. But, help is at hand when a knock on her door reveals a man, Reza (Alireza Sanifar), who says he owed money to Babak and wishes to repay the money and, if she will let him, help her restore her life and that of her daughter to some level of normalcy.
With Reza in her life, Mina starts to come to terms with what has happened and the intransigence of the legal system but then something happens that throws her life back into turmoil.
Ballad of the White Cow is not a complex movie but quietly and with no judgement, the movie illustrates what it means to be a young-ish widow in modern-day Iran and how the noble concepts of justice are warped by the interpretation of the contents of the Qur’an and the supremacy of male over female within an Islamic theocracy.
Huda’s Salon explores the same theme of women in a patriarchal society oppressed by archaic religious beliefs but is completely different in its storyline. Set in the West Bank Palestinian town of Bethlehem, a young mother, Reem (Maisa Abd Elhadi), and her baby go to the local hair salon owned by Huda (Manal Awad) for a routine cut ‘n finish. Unbeknown to Reem, Huda is not just a hairstylist. She is also a recruiter for the occupying secret service (the Israeli Secret Service but not named as such) and, by a devious and shocking betrayal of trust, she places Reem into a situation that will force her to become an informant of any ‘terrorist’ activities by the resistance (the Palestinian Resistance Movement but, again, never named as such). Distraught and clutching her baby, Reem wanders around Bethlehem desperately trying to work out how to extricate herself from the position in which she has been placed by Huda but, initially, unaware that Huda herself has been captured by the resistance and is now undergoing interrogation.
From this point on, the film switches frequently between the two parallel stories showing Reem’s attempts to act normally in front of her husband, extended family, and friends, and made more complex when she learns of Huda’s arrest; and Huda’s discussion with her interrogator, Hasan (Ali Suliman), who tries to discover why Huda ‘turned traitor’ and the names of all the women Huda has recruited as informants. The discussion between Huda and Hasan is particularly interesting when it is revealed that Huda has the intellectual measure of Hasan but is also fully aware of her fate. Reem’s story is more focused on the impact of her situation on herself, her husband, and her young baby.
Huda’s Salon is a stimulating but sad indictment of female oppression for either political or religious reasons and, if you watch it as a member of a group, will certainly cause lively discussion afterwards.
108. Drunk Bus, Drama/Comedy, Directors John Carlucci, Brandon LaGanke, 2020 USA, 98%/6.2
Michael (Charlie Tahan) and his virginal let’s-wait-until-we’re-married girlfriend Amy (Sarah Mezzanotte) both graduated from a nondescript college in a nondescript Ohioan town at the same time but Amy took off to pursue a career in New York leaving Michael disillusioned, stranded and totally devoid of any plans for the future. So, what does he do to earn money? He drives the drunk bus every night, picking up college students from the downtown bars and other entertainment venues and depositing them safely back in their fraternity and sorority houses. Along the way, he puts up with raucous singing, gentle joshing, students who pass out, the occasional barf (and worse), and, sometimes, advice on how to better his life. It’s a job and Michael gets by but on one particular night drive, he gets into a minor altercation with an obnoxious alpha-male jock that results in Michael receiving a punch on the nose. The bus company responds by appointing a security guard to ride the bus: enter Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa), a 300 lb heavily tattooed Samoan who, it turns out, is a walking encyclopaedia of life coaching knowledge, aphorisms, and altruism. From here on, the Drunk Bus film just gets better and better with many laugh-out-loud events accompanied by contrasting moments of comeuppance and, for Michael, a hilarious sexual coming of age.
Drunk Bus is one of those movies you probably would not watch based on the one-line IMDb synopsis but it’s a movie gem, simple in its storyline and satisfying in its entertainment value. Try it, and look out for ‘Fuck-You’ Bob. He’s hilarious.
109. Please Hold, Sci-Fi/Comedy, Director K.D. Dávila, 2020 USA, -/7.2
In the not-too-distant future, criminals will be arrested by an armed drone proffering handcuffs and which then invites the criminals to accompany it to an unmanned building where they are secured in a prison cell to await trial by an AI-driven automated legal system. The criminals’ only contact with the system is via a screen on which smooth-talking avaricious lawyers advertise their legal skills and costs, and a quirky sexless cartoon character based on Lady Justice acts as a prison officer and runs pre-trial simulations of the results of the impending trial.
Sounds great, eh? No more real law enforcement officers. No more judges and juries. No more miscarriages of justice. No more… Wait! Miscarriages of justice? What if an innocent person is arrested in error? That’s what happens to Mateo (Erick Lopez) in this short (19 minutes) Please Hold film. While on his way to work, his virtual assistant, Evie, informs him that he is under arrest and, sure enough, the police drone appears and escorts him to the holding cell. But, try as he might, Mateo cannot find out why he has been arrested and he is horrified when he learns from a simulation of his trial that there is an 89.5% chance he will be found guilty with a sentence of 45 to 47 years in prison which will reduce to 5 to 7 years if he pleads guilty. ‘Plead guilty to what?’ asks Mateo. Good question; no answer.
From this point on, Mateo struggles to get straight answers from the automated system on the screen and for those of us who have encountered the frustration of such systems in our everyday life—If your query is about this, press 1; If your query is about that, press 2; … You are number 78 in a queue; Your call is important to us, please hold—will immediately sympathise with Michael’s plight and, like him, may cause you to start shouting at the ever-smiling cartoon character on the screen.
Please Hold is categorised as a comedy and there are comedic scenes but there is an underlying seriousness about the fallibility of societal systems based on artificial intelligence technology. Scriptwriters Omer Levin Menekse and K.D. Dávila (also the director) are to be commended for a sharply-observed piece of visual art concerning modern life and how it might develop.
110. Motherly, Horror/Thriller, Director Craig David Wallace, 2021 Canada, 86%/5.1
If you have an occasional yen for a straightforward psychological horror movie, try Motherly. Kate (Lora Burke) and her precocious 9-year-old daughter Beth (Tessa Kozma) live in a secluded house and mostly keep themselves to themselves. Two years earlier, Kate’s husband, Brad (Ian Malone), was tried and convicted of the murder of one of Beth’s friends, 7-year-old Courtenay (Angel Gallego), and was now serving time in jail. Having set the scene of a mother trying to bring up her daughter while living with the conviction of her husband for child murder, Kate receives a visit from a witness-protection officer, Hal (Colin Paradine), who occasionally picks up her groceries and helps out with house maintenance tasks. He breaks the news that Brad has committed suicide in his cell and left a somewhat enigmatic note for Kate. While Kate struggles to absorb the contents of the note, she receives unwanted night-time visitors in the shape of Mary (Kristen MacCulloch) and Lewis (Nick Smyth), the parents of Courtenay, the murdered girl. From here on, the movie plays out as a home invasion movie with gradual revelations of what really happened two years ago accompanied by a smattering of violence. Enjoy!