REVIEW: The Letter Room [2021]

I didn’t write him to get letters back. The fact that we’re being asked to sympathize with a man working as a corrections officer on death row isn’t lost on writer/director Elvira Lind. If anything, she wants us to make certain we acknowledge the moral disparity that exists so that we realize Richard (Oscar Isaac) is an exception and perhaps an answer to so much of what’s wrong with our current prison system. What he learns in The Letter Room is what too many in his position refuse to believe:…

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REVIEW: Nobody [2021]

Do you remember who you used to be? What if John Wick wasn’t so brooding and his boogeyman was forced to live out his retirement in the real world rather than one filtered through an embellished mythology? Can you see him waking up each morning to yell obscenities at the garbage truck, frustrated that he forgot to leave the tote on the curb again? Can you see him punching a clock every morning to pore over spreadsheets before climbing into bed on the other side of a pillow divider blocking…

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REVIEW: The United States vs. Billie Holiday [2021]

It’s about human rights. I think a lot of what’s proven to be a lukewarm response to Lee Daniels‘ The United States vs. Billie Holiday can be understood upon discovering that this biopic about one of our country’s greatest singers was based on an English journalist’s book about the historical context and lasting impact of America’s “War on Drugs.” That right there shows that this film isn’t going to really be about Billie Holiday. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering how much damage Harry Anslinger and the…

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REVIEW: バトル・ロワイアル [Batoru rowaiaru] [Battle Royale] [2000]

It’s not my fault. The idea that a totalitarian government would target children as a means to subdue opposition wasn’t a far-fetched concept even before such YA-fare like The Hunger Games arrived over a decade later. You don’t have to look further than twentieth century wars wherein teens were drafted to serve as cannon fodder while the adults in charge sought to destroy the world. Transform draft dodgers during Vietnam into bratty fifteen-year-old punks rebelling against high school authority and you have your unwitting band of so-called “disrespectful counter-culture” types…

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REVIEW: Quo vadis, Aida? [2020]

We just need to stick together. Some stories don’t leave room for a hero even if they provide ample opportunity for one to enter. And when it comes to the 1995 Bosnian genocide that occurred in the town of Srebrenica at the hands of the Serbian army, there’s hardly room for hope let alone saviors. With over eight thousand men murdered while the UN and the world looked on, what is truly left but mourning and memorial? What is there to say besides the truth of its horrors so that…

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REVIEW: Judas and the Black Messiah [2021]

Anywhere there’s people, there’s power. Despite top billing and the majority of media focus, Daniel Kaluuya is not the star of Judas and the Black Messiah. As the title of Shaka King‘s film alludes, his Messiah in the form of Fred Hampton is secondary as the angel on Bill O’Neal’s (LaKeith Stanfield) shoulder. It’s his Judas that holds our attention, caught between preserving his people and preserving himself while participating in the civil rights movement after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Ask him before he…

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REVIEW: Crisis [2021]

We can’t quit. There’s little room to find hope in the ongoing and extremely deadly opioid crisis that’s afflicting our country. How could there be when we’re talking about a legal drug being manufactured by multi-billion-dollar corporations? They want authorities to track down the illegal outfits buying prescriptions from the poor to then sell it back to addicts and the authorities want to comply since a government ruled by lobbyists supplementing career politicians’ salaries with million-dollar incentives isn’t conducive to hitting the source. No, the only way to get them…

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REVIEW: Boogie [2021]

Love will melt the sharpest sword. As writer/director Eddie Huang‘s fortune teller states, when a dragon and a dog come together, they create a snake. That’s what Alfred ‘Boogie’ Chin (Taylor Takahashi) is: temperamental like his father (Perry Yung), culturally respectful like his mother (Pamelyn Chee), and intuitive enough to realize he’s been trapped between them without a voice of his own. Both parents see him as the answer to their financial woes, but Mr. Chin plays the long game while Mrs. Chin seeks a quick payday. Neither negates Boogie’s…

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BERLINALE21 REVIEW: Tabija [The White Fortress] [2021]

Something always comes up. The line between fairy tale and horror proves a thin one in Igor Drljaca‘s Tabija [The White Fortress] thanks to the differing perspectives of young love in Sarajevo. Whether Faruk (Pavle Cemerikic) and Mona (Sumeja Dardagan) believe a life together may yet be possible for them despite coming from opposite social and economic worlds doesn’t factor in because they’re just teenagers buckling under the pressure of outside forces that refuse to let them be free. So while the idea of a happily ever after is nice…

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BERLINALE21 REVIEW: La Mif [The Fam] [2021]

We’re a fam now. The big draw to Fred Baillif‘s fictional look inside a residential care facility housing teenage girls is the fact that he refuses to pretend his setting is anything more than a “safe space.” It’s a place to find separation from whatever heinous environment they’ve left and begin the healing process. Some will inevitably be sent back to the place they sought to escape. Some will remain until their eighteenth birthday and suddenly have to figure out what it means to live alone. And no matter how…

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REVIEW: Silk Road [2021]

It kind of felt like the future. Ross Ulbricht (Nick Robinson) wanted to change the world. And he did. Whether you believe it was for the better (bringing the Dark Web and Tor into the mainstream via his anonymous marketplace Silk Road) or worse (using that marketplace to profit off illicit, criminal activities once selling designer drugs online quickly turned to hard narcotics, firearms, and even shadier “services”), the infrastructure he utilized coupled with the advantages afforded by Bitcoin ignited a firestorm of possibilities. Because at the center of it…

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