Black Girl (La Noire de…) (1966): The Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray]

Director Ousmane Sembéne’s drama is less an art house film and more of an observational drama that explores how one woman’s idyllic views of French life traps her in to a life of indentured servitude. Actress M’Bissine Thérese Diop is great as Diouana, a young woman stuck in an African village who finds that her options there are limited. She’s not very capable of doing much but servant work and longs to see the world. When she gets a job with a wealthy couple, she’s taken to the French Riviera for the season and asked to live with them to work as their live in nanny. Diouana comes to France expecting luxury, shopping, amazing adventures, and exploration of the beaches.

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45 Years (2015): The Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray]

It’s stunning how subtle and delicate “45 Years” introduces itself, only to end on such a heavy and gut wrenching final scene that leaves you with the weight of questions and uneasy answers. From beginning to end, director Andrew Haigh confronts many of life’s very difficult problems, including how easy it is for a relationship approaching a century, can be dismantled in only a week. Haigh almost seems to count down to the final day where couple Kate and Geoff celebrates their four and a half decades together as a married couple. Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are stellar as a seemingly mundane husband and wife whose life is changed one day with a letter that arrives for Geoff.

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Channel Zero (2015)

John Nicol’s “Channel Zero” is an unusual but ambitious film that will inspire a lot of avid movie lovers to check out more than once. It’s packed with some heavy ideas and unique themes about reality, and the state of existence, all in the face of what is a pretty vicious prologue and epilogue. Director Nicol has a very striking directorial style that makes “Channel Zero” feel like an absolute nightmare. And though the movie is considerably low budget, director Nicol manages to evoke a world that feels very empty and barren. It’s not very easy to do, especially with independent filmmakers, but director Nicol is able to accomplish that task.

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Glimpse (2016)

I don’t know how many audiences will click with “Glimpse” but for folks that can appreciate film as an experimental form of art with no real narrative, John Nicol’s movie is solid. It has no story and no dialogue and often time feels like some kind of music video, but it’s well made. Director Nicol seems to know what kind of movie he’s making, even if it’s never quite clear throughout the eight minute run time.

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The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge) (2016)

This is one of the very few animated productions where Studio Ghibli’s fantastic storytelling is given a hint of European flavor. While “The Red Turtle” is branded a Studio Ghibli production it garners much of the same elements from Ghibli’s library including a wide open world, a menacing series of creatures and the overtones of the symbioses of nature and humanity. It’s best to think of “The Red Turtle” as a fairy tale, as the movie relies on a lot of inexplicability to tell its thin narrative. The narrative being thin is by no means a criticism as “The Red Turtle” is a lot about raw events, and simplicity at its finest.

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The Squid and the Whale (2005): The Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray]

Director Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” explores the prospect of a family at war, and a family that will likely always be at war. Director Baumbach has a lot to say about family and how parents can decide what kind of people we ultimately grow up to be. “The Squid and the Whale” is a weird, darkly comic and often demented look at how the eternal grudge of a man and his ex-wife will likely keep their sons at odds with then and one another for the rest of their lives. Director Baumbach contorts the dynamic of a grudging family, but also stays true to a lot of themes that find two sons on a diverging road and a dark path. Jessie Eisenberg is great here as the son of Jeff Daniels’ Bernard, an educated often pompous individual who has a keen sense of attempting to make his equals feel inferior.

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Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Lee Chandler is a man who is literally a hollow individual who spends his entire life going through the motions. He works a hard job as a superintendent for four apartment buildings, gets little to no respect, and falls asleep every night in his basement hole in front of his television. On rare occasions he stops by his local bar to get drunk and engage in fist fights with locals. He may not have died the night his house burned down with his children in it, but he might as well be in his grave. Chandler isn’t a man who has given up any hope of a happy life, but a man who has given up on himself and only himself. “Manchester by the Sea” has every opportunity to be a sickly sweet sitcom about a man learning to live again thanks to his nephew. Until the very end, though, director Kenneth Lonergan’s drama is a somber, incredibly compelling masterpiece that confronts guilt, grief, and the difficulty of dealing with losing someone we loved.

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