REVIEW: Beasts of No Nation

23 10 2015

Beasts of No NationAlmost as if anticipating that the majority of people who saw his film would be through Netflix, Cary Joji Fukunaga opens “Beasts of No Nation” with a shot of some young African boys playing soccer literally through the outer shell of a television set.  The film was shot with the likely intention of a sizable theatrical release, so I made the decision to pay more than a monthly Netflix subscription fee to see it screened in this way.

As with the majority of critics who saw it projected (most at one of the three fall festivals at which it played in September 2015), I was wowed by the stunning visuals as well as the immersive aural experience.  I simply cannot imagine this work packing the same punch when the vast foliage of a jungle is reduced to mere pixels even with good bandwidth, nor do I think the layers of complex sound would even be discernible by fraying earbuds.  But, hey, tons more people could see it?!

Though as I sat there, particularly in the film’s more conventional third act, I wondered how many times I might have paused the movie or looked down at my cell phone if watching “Beasts of No Nation” at home. Fukunaga does not shy away from the horrors of civil war, including the separation of families, the slaughter of the innocent, and the conversion of young children into killing machines. He never goes overboard with gore or violence, yet the impact always gets felt like a dagger in the chest.

It takes a very particular mindset to watch this film, not to mention an iron will to stick through its unsparing depiction of atrocity. (Seriously, it’s enough to make anyone remotely squeamish run back to finish the first season of “Grace and Frankie.”) Fukunaga also does not provide much of a strong narrative arc to keep a light at the end of “Beasts of No Nation” faintly visible throughout. He offers little comfort to its viewers as they follow Abraham Atta’s young Agu in his reluctant transition from child to killer under the aegis of Idris Elba’s warlord known only as Commandant.

The film plays like reading Agu’s biography – albeit one told with a bit of a tacked-on inspirational bent – rather than watching a story about him. Yet even at this pace, Fukunaga still finds a great rhythm for his audience, jolting them out of complacency as soon as they settle into a lull. Who knows how well that tactic is employed, however, on viewers who make liberal use of their television remote.  B2halfstars

REVIEW: Jane Eyre

2 09 2013

Jane Eyre” is not a movie in my wheelhouse, I’ll just go ahead and declare.  I am generally not a fan of Victorian-era literature adapted to film, even the ones that people think are good like “Pride and Prejudice.”  In general, I find period pieces and costume dramas to be stuffy and boring.

This “Jane Eyre” is a movie I was predisposed to hate, and while I wouldn’t go that far in my dismissal of it, I certainly didn’t enjoy watching it.  Cary Joji Fukunanga’s latest reincarnation of Charlotte Bronte’s heroine is at least a step up from the unwatchable “Sin Nombre,” but that’s about the brightest praise I can bestow upon it.

“Jane Eyre” is dull and low-energy from the start; I could feel my limited interest evaporating quickly within the first ten minutes of the film.  I kept watching mainly out of my own stubborn reluctance, but I should have stopped myself out of common sense.  I was hoping it might redeem itself (or my $2 on Amazon Instant Video), or perchance I could get a more thorough review out of it.

However, I saw everything I needed to see within a few scenes.  The costumes and sets are well-crafted, sure, but that’s to be expected.  Everyone would balk if the production values weren’t impeccable because that’s practically why these movies are made.  Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre and Michael Fassbender as her Mr. Rochester are suitably poised but as melodramatic and unentertaining as the rest of the film.

This “Jane Eyre” was a flat, boring experience for me … but again, this is not my kind of movie.  It wasn’t made to please people like me, so maybe it’s better that it did nothing for me at all.  C2stars

REVIEW: Sin Nombre

16 01 2010

A few years ago, I watched an episode of “South Park” called “Simpsons Already Did It” that changed the way I view a lot of things. In the episode, one of the cartoon scoundrels is plotting with his best friend to bring about the demise of the show’s four main characters. Every time he comes up with what he thinks is an incredibly ingenious idea, the friend turns to him and says, “No, the Simpsons already did that.” In essence, the message that I got from these deliberations is that something isn’t worth doing is someone else has already done it.

If only someone were sitting at the table with Cary Joji Fukunanga when he was writing “Sin Nombre.” They could have given him a reality check.

“‘City of God‘ already did it.” Not only does “City of God” do a lot of what “Sin Nombre” does, but it also executes it with more grace and skill.

It’s a brutal movie – not the content, the experience of sitting down for an hour and a half and watching this. “Sin Nombre” has the plot sustainability of a ten-minute short film; by doing simple math, it is nine times too long. It wants to be a little bit of everything: a ganster movie, an exposé of poverty, a gripping emotional ride, and a touching human drama. But the movie doesn’t help itself by dividing up its attention between all four of them. It spreads itself too thin even though it has nothing to spread.

I haven’t talked much about the plot, but I will let you know that it is a story about illegal immigrants crossing into the United States. I feel sympathy for them on a human level; however, it’s hard to care too much because these are people who cause constant political turmoil. Given how boring Fukunanga’s movie is, I would have been much more interested in watching the characters stand in line trying to get a green card. D /