Ambulance (2005), Ambulance (2022), Goddess of the Fireflies (2020), Malcolm & Marie (2021), Raging Fire (2021), Winter's Bone (2010)
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.
116. Malcolm & Marie, Drama, Director Sam Levinson, 2021 USA, 57%/6.6
If you enjoy intense dialogue-driven movies presented by actors who understand how natural conversations occur—the ebb and flow of the power of argument, the collection and expression of verbal and visual emotions, the value of pauses, and the need for brief respites—and who deliver their lines flawlessly then Malcolm & Marie is just the movie for you. It is a superb example of how two actors in the confined space of a house can hold your attention for 100 minutes with no let-up of intensity on their part nor inducement to boredom on your part. John David Washington, the son of actor Denzel Washington, plays Malcolm, a film writer/director whose latest film creation, Imani, has just received a very favourable premiere viewing in front of film critics and members of the public. His movie centres on the personal and social problems faced by a recovering drug addict, a young black girl named Imani, and, he hopes, will place his name alongside well-known socio-political black directors such as Spike Lee (Malcom X, BlacKkKlansman,…) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk,…). Returning from the viewing, flush with success, Malcolm is accompanied by his girlfriend, Marie (Zendaya in her first true role as a mature adult rather than a rebellious teenager), who, it seems, is harbouring a grudge concerning Malcolm’s thank-you speech he made after the viewing and is anxious to express her concerns which will, of course, dampen Malcolm’s euphoric mood.
From here on, the power play between the two protagonists constantly shifts as revelations are made and guilt is either denied or admitted. Within the film, there are two powerful soliloquies, one by each actor, and one extremely intense event towards the end of the film. Malcolm & Marie is labelled a romance/drama by IMDb. There is some romance but the drama dominates the style of the movie. I would also add that the movie will appeal more to those who, after watching a film, read the reviews of professional film critics to check their own conclusions against those of the professionals. There is considerable dialogue about the nature of professional reviews which was of interest to me. Finally, writer/director Sam Levinson makes clever use of songs performed by artists such as James Brown, Dionne Warwick, OutKast, and others whose music, especially the lyrics, are exactly matched to what is happening on the screen.
117. Ambulance (Ambulancen), Action/Crime/Drama, Director Laurits Munch-Petersen 2005 Denmark, -/5.3
Ambulance, Action/Crime/Drama, Director Michael Bay, 2022 USA, 69%/6.2
Here is another compare-and-contrast double feature. In 2005, the Danish film, Ambulance, was released into the film festival circuit where it received a variety of awards followed by a mix of comments on IMDb, some good, some bad but which resulted in an overall rating of 5.3 (out of 10.0). The story is simple enough. Two brothers, one an ex-con, decide to rob a bank in order to pay for life-saving medical treatment for their mother. The heist is bungled and in their frantic efforts to escape before the police arrive, the brothers highjack a passing ambulance and make off at high speed pursued by the police cars. With a bit of luck and some inspired driving, the brothers manage to shake off their pursuers and, eventually, pull into the place where their getaway car is stored. As they come to a halt, they hear a noise in the back of the ambulance. Alarmed, they open the communication hatch to discover a male patient lying on the gurney with a frightened nurse sitting by his side using a walkie-talkie to communicate with her control centre and who says the patient has suffered a heart attack and will die if he does not get to a hospital very soon. All this happens in the first 8 minutes of the film and the remainder of the 75-minute run time develops the story with the central dilemma of “save the mother or save the patient whilst evading the police?”.
The movie is good enough in its own right but the story was a natural for a Hollywood makeover and who better to direct this than Michael Bay, he of the slick dialogue, hyperactive action sequences, and lots of explosions movies? (See my comments on his 2019 movie, 6 Underground.) Comparing the Hollywood 2022 remake, also named Ambulance, to the original 2005 Danish movie is like comparing the roadside café’s offering of a full English breakfast—eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, and tomatoes—with the gourmet version served at the Ritz Hotel in London—two eggs (cooked to your preference), back bacon, Cumberland sausage, grilled mushrooms, and vine tomatoes plus, I’ve no doubt, other delicacies such as black pudding, baked beans and hash browns on the side if requested. In the 2022 remake, the story is embellished, the humour exaggerated, the chase through Los Angeles’ busy streets prolonged with more than one police car in pursuit (to provide more spectacular crashes), and the introduction of a burgeoning love interest between the nurse and the younger brother. And, at a runtime of 136 minutes, almost twice as long as the original movie, the remake provides more spills and thrills and… well, this is what Michael Bay does well and he does not disappoint in this remake.
118. Raging Fire, Action/Crime, Director Benny Chan, 2021 Hong Kong/Chinese, 91%/6.6
Occasionally, all I want to do is sink down into an easy chair and watch a solid action movie with good guys pitted against the bad guys, decent set-pieces, a reasonable storyline that doesn’t demand a close inspection for plot holes, a little bit of jingoism to raise a smile, a bit of love interest to allow a breather between the action scenes, some good-guy banter and humour, and a big fight at the end that pits the hero against the villain. The Hong Kong Chinese movie, Raging Fire, ticks all these buttons. Renowned top-action martial arts actor Donnie Yen plays the good guy policeman who, at age 58, can still turn in a decent performance using just his fists, agility and martial art skills when it comes to mixing it with the bad guy. His bad-guy opponent, actor Nicholas Tse Ting-fung, almost twenty years younger than Donnie Yen, is no slouch when it comes to flexing the muscles and utilising anything that comes to hand—sticks, a sledgehammer, knives, bits of broken furniture, a screwdriver—as a weapon to test Yen’s skills at parrying and countering. The film is a blast and the big fight is worth waiting for!
119. Winter’s Bone, Drama, Director Debra Granik, 2010 USA, 94%/7.1
Jennifer Lawrence achieved her breakthrough performance into stardom by way of her character, Katniss Everdeen, in the 2012 to 2015 Hunger Games trilogy based on the young-adult novels of Suzanne Collins—right? No, wrong. Her breakthrough performance was as the impoverished teenager, Ree Dolly, struggling to look after her two younger siblings and their mentally-ill mother in a close community of unscrupulous backwoods meth-cooking families in the Ozark Mountains region of Missouri. The film, Winter’s Bone, was released two years before the first Hunger Games appeared and garnered much praise from the critics, especially relating to the performance of Jennifer Lawrence. In the movie, her character, Ree, discovers that her meth-cooking father, recently released from prison but whose current whereabouts are unknown, has put up their rudimentary home as bail following his release. If she is unable to locate him, the home will be repossessed and she, her siblings, and her sick mother will be evicted. Desperate to find him, Ree penetrates the criminal, secretive and often violent world of the methamphetamine industry within her community. She is aided by her father’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes), who is a meth addict and liable to explode with violence at the smallest provocation. Teardrop leads Ree to the local crime boss, Milton Thump (Ronnie Hall) and his highly-protective prone-to-violence wife, Merab (Dale Dickey). Throughout all the encounters, Ree has to tread the delicate line of persistence versus conformance to the unspoken rules of the community.
It’s a stunning performance by Jennifer Lawrence and the movie received many plaudits from the critics and awards from a variety of film festivals and, as we now know, became the platform for the launch of Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen character in the blockbuster Hunger Games films. Today, Jennifer Lawrence is one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. If you watch Winter’s Bone, you can see the beginnings of why this is so.
120. Goddess of the Fireflies (La déesse des mouches à feu), Drama, Director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, 2020 Canada, -/6.8
Set in the 1990s in a town in Quebec, Goddess of the Fireflies tells the story of 17-year-old Catherine (Kelly Depeault, also 17 years old at the time of filming) and her introduction and descent into a world of teenage sex, drugs, and rebellion influenced by seemingly out-of-date parental control and her own ambivalence to what lies beyond the next dose of mescaline, a psychedelic hallucinogen made from the peyote cactus. It’s a classic story. Cat, as she is addressed, is doing well at school but discovers her contemporaries are pushing on their behavioural boundaries and experimenting with newfound sexual prowess and reactions to the drugs. At first, hesitant to join, Cat is finally pushed to join the group by two significant events: an announcement by her parents that they are seeking a divorce and a violent reaction from another girl when Cat throws a more-than-casual glance at the other girl’s boyfriend.
There are many films that explore sexual awakenings and drug-taking in teenagers and most concentrate on the lurid and sexual side. Goddess of the Fireflies is more about the girl’s attitude to the taking of drugs, her indifference to the dangers, and how the stronger personalities of her associates easily influenced her progression from an innocent child to a rebellious young adult. In that respect, the film raises questions in the mind of the viewer about how, just before the dawn of the internet, young adults were so easily led into perilous, even life-threatening, situations. We are left with unanswered questions about how the youth of yesteryear survived to reach full adulthood.