Taika Waititi’s follow-up to the (also great) What We Do in the Shadows, is a pure delight and the perfect antidote after a bad day or a steady diet of too many sad movies. “Bad egg” Ricky Baker has been bounced out of more foster care situations than he cares to remember until he’s given his last chance with a couple living on a rural New Zealand farm. After tragedy strikes early in the film Ricky and his foster uncle (Hec) find themselves on the run in the bush while a nationwide manhunt is initiated on their behalf. Hip-hop enthusiast Ricky and crusty, cantankerous Hec make quite the inspired pairing; this is a very funny film full of the deadpan humor that has become emblematic of Waititi’s work (Flight of the Conchords, Boy) but it is also oddly touching and full of heart.
As ivory became appreciated in the Chinese middle-class, demand for it has skyrocketed in the past few years. This brought elephants to a dire outlook: extinction in as early as the next 15 years. “Traders in ivory actually want extension in elephants, the less elephants there are the more the price rises” as one of the commentators in the film says. To bring awareness to this threat, filmmakers went undercover for 16 months and followed the ivory from where it was stolen until it hits the shelves of Hong Kong. The result is a genuine thriller, far more gripping than you’d expect from a documentary. It portrays the brave and hopeful men and women trying to combat these atrocities, the battle they may be losing, and all the obstacles they face. An extremely important watch.
Zero Days is a fascinating and alarming documentary about the Stuxnet computer virus that raised red flags throughout the cyber-security world in 2010 due to its complexity and ambiguous threat. Told in urgent fashion with first-hand accounts from cyber professionals from around the globe, Zero Days details the efforts of analysts to painstakingly dissect the Stuxnet code, and ultimately determine that it was the wayward product of a joint effort between the U.S. and Israel governments to sabotage centrifuges inside Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant—in the hopes of slowing their development of nuclear weapons. The unfolding mystery of this story plays out with urgency and dismay, as the implications of this covert operation unfold, including the legitimate threat of retaliation by the Iranian government. It’s a stunning real-life thriller from renowned documentary Alex Gibney (Going Clear, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) that not only details the complexities of advanced coding in a remarkably evocative visual manner, but also spells out much of the modern espionage involved in making such an elaborate operation even possible. Ultimately, the message here is that cyber warfare is very much our new reality, and this film deserves to be seen by anyone with any degree of concern over our safety and security in the 21st century.
Revealing the gaps in the social safety net, I, Daniel Blake, is a tale centered around a blue collar worker navigating the welfare system in England. At a time where class and social mobility could not be more politically salient, this film calls into question the notion of the “citizen” and exposes the inaccessibility to the social protections in which one presumes entitlement.
At the forefront of this, is a heart-warming parable of paternal companionship between Daniel (played by Dave Johns) and a single mother – Katie – (played by Hayley Squires) who is wading through similar terrain. The acting in the film is unfathomably raw which cultivates the deepest source of gut wrenching compassion. Ken Loach has created a film that exposes the true power of empathy, leaving you feeling helplessly human.
A couple decides to raise their six children in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, far from modern culture. They teach them how to raise and kill their own food, how to live in nature, but also give them classes on literature, politics, and music. The family drills boot camp-like workouts and climbs rock faces to create physical endurance. Then the wilderness adventure comes to an abrupt halt with a telephone call, and the family enters the world — with hilarious and sorrowful results. Emotionally raw and honest, with terrific performances by Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay and the entire cast of “children.”
From one small Texas town to the other, two brothers rob banks and travel with extreme precaution yet apparent recklessness. Played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, their journey captures their essence as men and the essence of their surroundings. A character study, not of one character, but of many, Hell or High Water is a magical modern-day crime western that you can get soaked in so easily. Jeff Bridges plays the sheriff that chases them adding another perfect performance to the beautiful aesthetic of this thriller that manages to combine realism with romanticism of the subject matter. What turns good men bad? Some of the stuff in this film, definitely.
How far are you ready to go for a friend? You will find yourself puzzled with this question after you watch 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Set in Communist Romania, it’s about a college student assisting her friend in arranging an illegal abortion. When things don’t go as planned they find themselves in extremely tense and uncomfortable situations. Powerful performances and a realistic script drive a suspenseful and interesting experience. Won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
In 1980s Dublin, a young Irish catholic-school boy, whose family is facing financial problems starts his own band with the sole objective of impressing a mysterious femme fatale. The film will take you on a beautiful and witty journey through the band’s path to success and our protagonist’s quest of conquering his love all to the rhythm of some of the biggest 80’s pop-rock hits and the band’s own original soundtrack. Without a doubt this film is the culmination of John Carney’s work (Once, Begin Again) as a filmmaker and dare I say his long awaited passion project.