Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! This week’s bunch will have you on the edge of your seat in one way or another. I write them up as I see them and I see them with no rhyme or reason.
Starring: Edi Gathegi, Melora Hardin, Angela Sarafyan, Tony Amendola, Robert R. Shafer, James Jagger, Andy Mackenzie, and many more.
Director: Aaron Fjellman
Genres: drama, horror, prison
Synopsis: Psychiatrist, Dr. Harlow Reid (played by Gathegi) is an innocent man who has been convicted of killing his wife and has been sent to prison. The story begins where Dr. Reid finds himself placed in solitary confinement. The rest of the film takes place in Dr. Reid’s cell, where he struggles against Officer Sacks, a sadistic guard (played with malicious relish by Hardin,) Warden Perez (played by Amendola) and his cruel and moronic policies and procedures, a criminal justice system that is ill-equipped for justice, and maybe most of all his own mind as it starts to deteriorate over the inescapableness of all of it.
Impressions: I’d like to say this is far-removed from reality, but this movie is more like a fictionalized documentary than is comfortable to acknowledge. Prisons are designed for the guilty and policies aren’t designed to accommodate the innocent trying to prove they are; case law has held up to challenges that assert that a person in prison is being doubly punished when they not only have their freedom taken away but are also placed in inhuman and cruel living conditions; corrections officers need ongoing psychological assessments to weed out the psycho ones or who are inappropriate for other reasons. It doesn’t matter if the guards are on the outside of the bars, they still spend their work lives in a prison – it does things to their minds!
Gathegi has a very challenging role in this but he is up to the task. The movie does a good job of building tension and cultivating empathy for Dr. Reid. For anyone living in the US, I recommend you see this movie so you can see what your tax dollars are paying for.
Etc.: The movie asserts that there are currently 80,000 individuals in solitary in US prisons. If you want to learn more about solitary (sometimes called SHU for Solitary Housing Unit,) follow this link or do some independent research on it.
Awards: 1 win and 1 nomination
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, Alex Anguno, Manolo Solo, Cesar Vea, Roger Casamajor, Ivan Massague, Gonzalo Uriarte, and many more.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Genres: war, drama, fantasy
Synopsis: Set in 1944 Falangist Spain, Carmen’s (played by Gil) husband has been killed in battle. She looks to the dashing Captain Vidal (played by Lopez) for protection in unsafe times. The story begins where Carmen, now ill and towards the end of a difficult pregnancy, travels with her ~10-year-old daughter, Ofelia (played by Baquero) to a country villa which has been converted to a military headquarters to live. It doesn’t take long to see that Captain Vidal and Ofelia have a mutual dislike for each other. Further it becomes clear that Carmen may or may not survive the birth of the baby. Ofelia, who uses fantasy and books to escape her unpleasant, bordering on dangerous, circumstances is pulled more and more into her fantasy world as the cruel and sadistic Captain Vidal exerts himself into her reality. The parallel plot to the story is the rebel forces, fighting against the fascist army, that hide in the woods and mountains. The rebel forces have many sympathizers, some even amongst the many staff that serve the captain and his soldiers.
Impressions: The special effects are spectacular and the creatures range from frightening to terrifying. The sets are fabulous! The atmosphere is oppressive and it never lets up. Not a movie you want to see if you’re feeling depressed! The character development of Captain Vidal is exceptional. Not a movie for younger children!
Etc.: Spanish language with English subtitles; filmed in 5 locations in Spain; there is a wealth of trivia on the movie at imdb which you can see here. WARNING: extreme graphic violence
Awards: 110 wins and 115 nominations
Guillermo del Toro is famous for compiling books full of notes and drawings about his ideas before turning them into films, something he regards as essential to the process. He left years worth of notes for this film in the back of a cab, and when he discovered them missing, he thought it was the end of the project. However, the cab driver found them and, realizing their importance, tracked him down and returned them at great personal difficulty and expense. Del Toro was convinced that this was a blessing and it made him ever more determined to complete the film.
One Night in Bangkok (2020)
Starring: Mark Dacascos, Vanida Golten, Prinya Intachai, Michael S. New, Kane Kosugi, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Julie Kondra, Shivam Pawa, Siripon Yuktadatta, and several others.
Director and Writer: Wych Kaosayananda
Genres: action, drama
Synopsis: The story begins when Kai (played by Dacascos) flies into Bangkok. He’s made arrangements to pick up a gun and then calls for an Uber (or equivalent.) His driver is Fha (played by Golten.) At the destination Kai asks her to please wait; he returns fairly quickly. As the two are making conversation Kai learns how much money Fha usually earns in one night of driving. He offers her an amount many times over it if she will drive him to a series of destinations all night. At some point Fha realizes that Kai is killing someone at each stop; by then she’s in too deep to refuse. As the night progresses each learns more about the other and the truth is eventually revealed as to what is motivating Kai to do what he’s doing.
Impressions: This movie is a strange duck in its format of extremes. It alternates between thoughtful conversation between the driver and the killer as they travel to the next kill and James Bond type action once the killer gets out of the car. It’s strange, but it works. By the end of the movie you are caring for both of these two characters, who are usually the kind of characters that are overlooked shells in movies. I picked this movie after seeing Dacascos in, “Brotherhood of the Wolf,” the French werewolf movie as I really liked him in it.
Etc.: Made in Bangkok, Thailand, but actors speak English language.
Awards: none known
The Quarry (2020)
Starring: Shea Whigham, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Michael Shannon, Bruno Bichir, Anna Watt, Alvaro Martinez, Abel Becerra, Jimmy Gonzales, Bobby Soto, Rose Bianco, Hector Presedo, Julia Vera, Raul Ruletta, and many more.
Director: Scott Teems
Genres: crime, mystery
Synopsis: The Man (played by Whigham) is picked up by David Martin (played by Bichir,) a kindly preacher from Mexico who is headed to a US border town to become their new preacher. When Preacher Martin pushes The Man a little too hard about cleansing his sinful nature, he snaps and kills him. An opportunist, he decides to assume the preacher’s identity and carry on to the town. Celia (played by Moreno,) the niece of the original preacher, lives in her uncle’s house and provides room and board for whoever fills the role. She’s a beautiful though jaded and somewhat bitter woman who feels she’s at a dead end in the two-bit town. Police Chief Moore (played by Shannon) is a widower who is in a relationship with Celia but afraid to commit. He’s a laid-back kind of guy but he’s also got the nose of a detective. He isn’t suspicious of “David Martin” at first, but as the clues keep dropping… A parallel plot is with The Man and his preaching connection with his flock. Add in a couple of juvenile delinquents who grow pot down at the quarry (see title,) one of whom is a cousin of Celia, and you’ve got yourself a decent plot.
Impressions: I liked this movie way more than I thought I would. Shannon was the initial draw, but Whigham and Moreno stepped up with compelling performances as well. I liked how each of the characters, regardless of which side of the law they were on, were facing the same struggles of finding purpose, acceptance, and peace. I loved how the The Man developed an authenticity to his role that at first was just a front but at some point became something more.
Etc.: Surprisingly filmed in New Orleans, yet the place has the look of TX, OK, AZ (i.e. dust dry.); the director was also involved in a really good TV series I saw awhile back, “Rectify.”
Awards: none known