Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: THE EAGLE’S NEST [Austin Film Festival 2020 – Virtual]

The essence of life around the world, especially the dark essence of survival can take place anywhere. With “The Eagle’s Nest” which was made in Cameroon in Nzonsamba near the border of Nigeria, life is hard but it is not unlike the struggles of The West. It is still about power and survival. Oliver Assoua creates a movie replete with choices and betrayal. While morality does have a flimsy line with many of the characters, some fall more deeply than others. The lead character Paris, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Rhianna but with long blonde flowing locks longs for a new life a world away and yet she drifts through the essence of this home while vicious lies happen around. She is not innocent but is also trying to live the best life she can under the circumstances. She is a bit punk but also carries around a walker assist though we never quite get if she is crippled (she uses it more often a weapon). While the narrative drifts back and forth in terms of its credibility as far as its details of betrayal, Paris always keeps her focus. While some scenes bequeath an element of revenge, her best friend seemingly draws her into a web of deceit beginning with an accident they can’t undo. This leads in essence into an unraveling of their lives with one simple action. While the contrivances in the plot are a bit cliche to the general, the women are running the show even though many of the men are pulling the strings somewhat in the background (mostly by chance). Sentimentality is used as a weapon all the while the bronze backdrop with the Atlantic Ocean in the background paints a view of a jungle-like Casablanca replete with underhanded criminals but also people looking to get ahead and make a difference. The climax at the end of the films plays to this strength and the addition of great overhead shots via drone show the production value to even smaller films in the region that can highlight the intimacy and the grandiosity of a little seen area like this in Africa but through a genre of a local crime film.

C+

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: TWO DEATHS OF HENRY BAKER [Austin Film Festival 2020 – Virtual]

Initially perceived as a modern Western, “nside reel” plays in the notion of caricatures but also the idea of intention in lead characters. The character of the title is a bad man and yet his idea of power even in showing machismo to his son is misplaced since it simply creates more problem. There is an essence of double identity which works in a way but there is a lingering thought that doesn’t explain how the twist truly works. Placing families against each other, especially sons who don’t realize the impact of their actions and the build of what they are seeing is nicely played. But it is supposed to be exciting and suspenseful and, in many ways, it is shoddily done. The imagery including the dark and dingy bordello elements hark back to The Old West where good guys or the heroes were in many ways bad to the bone and just trying to survive on their own. Even the authorities here are brutal. What is interesting is flipping the texture of what one son in the piece wants and his differing perspective which is a new approach in the genre.

He is shaped by the absence of his specific father but it is not made clear why the past 20 years happened in the way they did except for ego. The mother figure too seems completely undone by the actions at the beginning of the film yet it almost seems overwrought without exceptional reasoning. The antagonist of the piece is supposed to retain an element of darkness but he is painted as weak in a way that makes his approach to blackmail in a way less than believable. The violence especially in the “Two Deaths” spoken of in the title comes across as little more than mimicry used to explain a metaphor and then reflexively used as the crucial plot point. While visually the film does create some interesting homages inside the would-be saloon, it comes across a little ham-handed. While this may have worked decades ago as a hark back to the gangster pics of the 30s and of course westerns, modern audiences will nonetheless question the choices of the characters since they are mostly not drawn into a corner but simply fall prey to coincidences that aren’t quite grounded. Ultimately “Henry Baker” as an overarching character is simply an idea. Like “Max” from “Cape Fear,” he is a terror waiting around a corner but the sins of the father don’t amplify in the right way upon the sons, so their path ends up feeling narrow.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: NEW ORDER [Denver Film Festival 2020 – Virtual]

The aspect of dystopian movies is the matter of relation in terms of how close to the truth they can stay. The more disturbing ones take notes from history and place them within new context and modern settings. With “New Order” set in Mexico or in a version of Mexico City, the film starts showing the extreme separation from the rich and “the help”. Establishing during a wedding between Marianne & Cristian, the film moves more like a “Short Cuts” stream of consciousness through different rooms while showing the different moving perspectives of different classes. Specific aspects of need pour right on the doorstep during this celebration and sets up the conflict (however internal). But things aren’t going right. There is a sense of disturbance with the essence of green paint. Encroachment slowly comes in with invading forces but what becomes interesting is the flip that happens. Even while one area is subjugated, another area takes advantage and that is where the real damage lies. Production values are realistic as different landmarks almost look like news footage melded with a cinema verite quality which shifts from the earlier elegant camerawork (a tone shift obviously done with purpose). The reality is that those who tell the eventual story of history dictate how it is told. The use of phone camera is interesting although not used in the way one would think. Without giving too much away, the machinations move to the very end and are slicing. No one is safe. Human cruelty is brutal especially in desperate circumstances. Some of the scenes inside a certain garrison are harrowing because political correctness does nothing in those situations. It is about surviving when their seems there is no hope and the power struggle is apparent. There is no line between man and woman and yet the ignorance of the characters (even as a caricature of sorts seems extremely harsh). The film is very effective in displaying that movement while also showing that people one thinks are friends or confidants can easily manipulate aspects to their own advantage to the immense tragedy of others. Some of the images are downright horrible and yet one knows they happen all over the world. In a country that faces its own governmental problems currently in what is supposed to be one of the most free countries in the world, it brings into sharp focus the small crevice between light and darkness. The film also shows people exist with good souls but it sometimes it doesn’t reach mass effectiveness and rather is swept under the rug. “New Order” is a vicious take on a story told once too often that bears repeating as it continues to happen but arts is always a reflection of the life seen.

B

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: DAVE’S NOT COMING BACK [Austin Film Festival 2020 – Virtual]

The context of “Dave Not Coming Back” is almost mythic in its progress. A feature film in narrative style would have harmed its poignancy but the irony of a documentary film that was initially being made to document a rescue of sorts in a deep water cave located in the desert plains of South Africa is mind boggling in its own structure of Bushman’s Hole. This freshwater sinkhole descends to close to 1000 feet underwater. Many have dived it. one such diver, not a full professional, (the title character of Dave) set the world record by going to the bottom where he found the body of a former diver who was lost a decade earlier. The initial documentary footage done in 2005 was created to capture that effort and its success. What it turned into was something much darker and human. The only way to recover the body was to have a string of divers almost relay the body up since otherwise they couldn’t rise to the surface that quick or risk bad decompression sickness. From nearly 1000 feet it takes near 12 hours stopping at different depths to decompress. Without giving too much away, something went wrong but watching the layers being pulled away including footage actually taken by the man who went down to the very bottom is both harrowing and strangely prescient and moving but also disturbing. These kinds of stories are the ones that sometimes people who lived them don’t want to tell because of guilt but with others, it is about setting the record straight. Don, who was almost hand-in-hand with Dave (who didn’t come back – hence the title), recreates in a way but also shows his path without overwhelming the story (which on its own is harrowing as well — yet he survived). Balancing the new info, underwater recreations (to a point) [done by Don] and footage going down into a mine shaft plus some beautiful drone bridges of the actual sinkhole from above, it is a story that perhaps most of us in the US never heard about but it is universal. It also needed time to simmer and manifest if you will. This event was very unique, tragic but also deeply human and ambitious but also fraught wit themes of regret, ego and legacy. Ultimately it creates a texture vision into the mindset of explorers, the motivations that drive them and the ones that are left behind. Many of the worlds and footage are prescient yet paint a distinct picture of a moment in time, perhaps secular from the world but undeniably global in its universality.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: I’M YOUR WOMAN [AFI Fest 2020 – Virtual]

The intention of period piece is to understand the impact on its characters and their reaction to stimuli. In this way, “I’m Your Woman” which stars Rachel Brosnahan of “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” fame, is an interesting move. It is a film from a first time female director and there is a sense of intention but one where the lead character basks almost in her ignorance until she is confronted not to. Like Karen in “Goodfellas” but much less worldly, Jeane’s life seem stilted but comfortable. Her husband loves her yet she knows that he is a criminal. We are never given a full view of what he is up to but by placing Jean at the center and adding a baby to the mix, it becomes an interesting mix of genres. The only issue is that at times it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Like “the Kitchen”, there are stylistic flourishes at different points in the film that are borderline brilliant but aren’t thoroughly consistent. Brosnahan works herself different in the role on purpose to show the difference in a character from “Maisel”. Jean doesn’t talk fast. She pointedly asks question but rarely and with trepidation. She is not brazen and she is not methodical but her instincts get better. She is not a person used to taking care of herself. She ends up embroiled with another person who worked with her husband who protects her and yet more goes on below the surface. His wife shows up which adds another layer. But it is when Jean needs to peel back the blinders that the film starts to work. One specific scene through a hallway back and forth from a specific POV gives the harrowing feeling and being in the 70s you can guess the texture of the club. That said, even though Amazon is known for having the money to license music, the filmmaker decided to use two very specific Aretha Franklin songs and there is one soul instrumental where one can’t tell if it was written today or then. What it does do is completely set the pace at one point which is where the movie gets part of its flow. Director Julie Hart also has enough confidence to let the camera sit on her actors, especially Brosnahan. Though the performance is not absolutely out of the park, it is effective and nuanced though at times you can see the cracks and the effort being made. The blonde hair and 70s era outfits completely the idea of transformation in Brosnahan. This is not “Fargo” but it does reflect the mid-range pictures that used to be commonplace in Hollywood. And the streamers know that can be its bread and butter. Pittsburgh too takes a great role in the film creating that 70s angle and vibe without saying “Here I am!” That said as “I’m Your Woman” moves towards its conclusion, it does take risks creating a brutal but riveting sequence at the end that although budgetarily constrained does relate a grittiness. The title itself is an odd one as it means different things but doesn’t truly explain the intent of the film. “I’m your Woman” though seems to know what it is and doesn’t shy away from its identity.

B-

By Tim Wassberg