A Touch of Sin (2013)
Starring: Wu Jiang, Lanshan Luo, Baoqiang Wang, Jia-yi Zhang, Tao Zhao, Li Meng
Director: Zhang Ke Jia
Synopsis: Four powerful, unflinching vignettes that each, in their own way, showing a human being pushed past their point of endurance. Exploitation and corruption are a continuing thread that run through each. Excellent acting, lots of shots of modern day China, especially its seedy underbelly.
Etc. Won at Cannes for best screenplay. Chinese film with subtitles.
Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) (may be on Netflix)
Starring: Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Hugo Armstrong, Ashton Sanders, Joseph David-Jones, Andrew T. Lee, Shelley Hennig, Tony Plana, Brittany Ishibashi, DeRon Horton, James Paxton, Amanda Warren, Mark Totty, Nazneen Contractor, Pej Vahdat
Director: Dan Gilroy
Synopsis: Denzel plays the (I suspect Asperger’s) socially awkward but thoroughly brilliant legal-minded Roman, who has been tucked away in a legal office with his partner. The partner makes all of the court appearances and Roman does the heavy lifting with research. The house of cards comes crashing down when the partner leaves. The focus of the movie is how Roman does or doesn’t adjust to the monumental changes in his life circumstances. This is a thinking person’s movie where some knowledge of the legal system and the court process is helpful. It’s one man’s life, but it’s about love and ethics and money and quality vs. quantity. I can’t help but think that this is about a real-life person, and if it isn’t, it should be. The big case at the end is the one to pay attention to, for real!
Etc. Colin Farrell and Carmen Ejogo are strong support cast.
The Farewell (2019)
Starring: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo, Ines Laimins
Director: Lulu Wang
Synopsis: This movie revolves around the widowed matriarch (Nai Nai) of a Chinese family who gets sick. One of her children emigrated to Japan and the other to the USA. Nai Nai’s illness brings them back to visit, but part of Chinese culture is not to let the sick one bear the psychological burden of the gravity of their sickness, which is believed to harm as much as the illness itself. Everyone’s on board – even the doctors – with not telling Nai Nai – except for young adult granddaughter Billi. A wedding is expedited as a reason for everyone’s suddenly coming to visit. This movie might sound like a downer but it is just the opposite. It is a refreshingly upbeat look at one family’s way of dealing with bad news.
Etc. Chinese film with subtitles. Billi really grated on my nerves at first.
Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator (2019) Netflix
Starring: various individuals connected with Bikram, many video clips of Bikram
Director: Eva Orner
Synopsis: 90-minutes of accusations, defenses and film clips of what looks a lot like a part cult, part pyramid scheme surrounding “hot” yoga (temp in the room is jacked up while doing it). The allegations are that Bikram exploited his adoring followers and then kept them quiet because they needed his approval to open their own lucrative studios for hot yoga. Why I watched it was purely morbid curiosity. It’s melodramatic and a study in textbook toxic narcissism. Bikram could write the book on it!
Kill the Messenger (2014)
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Rosemarie DeWitt, Ray Liotta, Tim Blake Nelson, Barry Pepper, Oliver Platt, Michael Sheen, Michael K. Williams, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Andy Garcia
Director: Michael Cuesta (has directed multiple episodes of Six Feet Under, Dexter, and Homeland, as well as producing multiple episodes of Dexter, Homeland, and Elementary)
Synopsis: netflix blurb: “This disturbing, fact-based thriller is based on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gary Webb’s involvement in revealing the CIA’s secret funding and assistance for Nicaraguan Contra rebels during the 1980s.” If the things being shown in this movie were actually done to journalist Gary Webb, be afraid, be very afraid. When I watch how journalists with integrity are shut down in myriad ways back in the 80s, it has only gotten worse in modern times. This was a difficult movie to watch. Renner is great in this, and there is a solid support cast wrapped around him. If you don’t see the movie research the real life headlines from back then.
Embrace of the Serpent (2016)
Starring: Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolívar, Yauenkü Miguee, Jan Bijvoet, Brionne Davis
Director: Ciro Guerra (who co-directed Birds of Passage that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago)
Synopsis: blurb from netflix: “Through parallel story threads set 40 years apart, this absorbing odyssey follows two Western scientists who travel deep into the Amazon jungle looking for a rare plant that possesses healing powers, with enigmatic shaman Karamakate as their guide.” My powers of description fail me here, but let me try. This film lets the “serpent” which is the Amazon River, be the star of the show. The humans look puny up against it. There are two worlds at play, one of the white man and the white, Christian point of view, and one is a spiritual world where there is proof that humans could live in balanced harmony with nature should they choose such a path. The acting couldn’t be better.
Etc. filmed in B&W; made in Colombia; subtitles; nominee Best Foreign Language film by Academy Awards, 46 wins and 32 other assorted international nominations; based on actual diaries of the two “Western scientists” depicted in the movie.