Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: LUXOR [AFI Fest 2020 – Virtual]

The progression of naturalistic acting is a lost form but it depends on the story and the depth being told. In “Luxor” Andrea Riseborough plays Hana, who has returned from a war zone as an aid worker but is pursuing a sense of purpose amid a loss of identity before she must make her way back. The film follows her almost sleepwalking through the roads and ruins of Luxor and the solace within her hotel. She seems disconnected even from her former love Sultan whom she was with back in her 20s (which would seem 15 years before). The passage of existence for Hana seems to be muted and scattered. While this might be true of aid workers, what got them into the service in the first place is the texture of empathy. Hana, as played here seems broken but that might just be the after affect when she doesn’t have to put on a mask for anyone to see. The movie seems to use a lot of non actors and as a result the acting process seems very matter-of-fact and less smooth. While this works in some instances, many times the performance (one at a bar sticks out as well as one at a lunch) seems like a line reading just to move the story forward instead of letting the places and the people breath. This is true between Andrea as Hana as well as Karim Saleh as Sultan. When they simply sit at times, like in the bedroom after she sleeps curled up in a robe, those scenes have much more power. Now perhaps filming was restricted but the potential and especially the voices that she hears of the past aren’t used as fully as they should. With a title as in intoxicating as “Luxor” there isn’t as much balance. There are some drone shots that begets the majesty but those were probably what could be allowed but the movie could have been an exercise in stillness and might have had just as much power if not more. When Hana gets up an dances at the bar it feels organic but not as meaningful as it could have been. This is to take nothing away from Riseborough’s performance which is both subtle and telling. It is just the superstructure around her could have fed more into that idea.

C

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: SHADOW IN THE CLOUD [AFI Fest 2020 – Virtual]

“Shadow In The Cloud” is that kind of conceptual bad-ass movies that comes out of a script that whittles around for a while. It is just big enough to attract a decent actress but also occupies that weird in-between space where mid range movies used to occupy. Interpolating old school “Twilight Zone” and “Amazing Stories” territory in a World War II time frame, it turns it on its head while still being inherently commercial. This is something Chloe Grace Moretz has been trying to find in her films. She doesn’t want to be the damsel but the instigator yet still retain the essence of great movie tropes but in reverse. Without giving the crux of the movie away, this is why “Shadow” works…even though it might go too overboard at points. One sequence is particular is sheerily unbelievable but it is so much fun and edge-of-your seat that the audience will go for it. The film is a crowd-pleaser for sure which belies the idea that it was reviewed virtually simply because of the current environment. As a project based out of Endeavor Content, it is very economical and uses it to its advantage. One can tell it was on a limited budget but what it did with it and with a very game actress like Moretz is pretty cool. She plays against concepts and stereotypes but again not completely destroying them but turning them on their head. She and director Roseanne Liang use this imagery to paint a new mythology. The story moves in tandem to this and yet the final moments are vintage empowerment of doing it all. The path might be a little dark and crushing to get there but it works. The geography and bigger overarching mythology might be a little too beyond young audiences though a prologue tries to explain it a bit. It is a concept that has been the basis of a Hollywood movie before in a different realm and feel but works here since it is given a much more vicious tone. “Shadow In the Cloud” is a fun ride that never apologizes for itself at all while still blazing a path that feels both modern and new yet with a degree of vintage.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: SISTERS WITH TRANSISTORS [AFI Fest 2020 – Virtual]

The essence of documentaries in modern days is trying to keep away from talking heads and using seldom seen imagery to affect this idea. Ken and Ric Burns with their bigger productions have established this while others including with films like “the Kid Stays In The Picture” find new technological ways to bring their characters to life. In “Sisters Wirth Transistors” all of the music had been curated and on display for years and yet only a small sub set of the population knew about it. This is not club electronic dance music but the creation of true electronic music itself. Most of us even in the business, first really heard this intention with Wendy Carlos with her soundtrack to “A Clockwork Orange”, a theme from “The Shining” and then “Tron”. But the path before then is undeniable and fascinating. From the first air harmonizers to the complex structures that many of these women created, it paints the portrait of women in this sector (and many others) as not being taken seriously for their groundbreaking work. Delia Derbyshire breaking down the essence of certain sounds is like textbook in creating electronic music before computers. Pauline Oliveros has a story even more dynamic because of her more experimental approach as an exploration of self. Wendy Carlos’ story and how identity played a part into it is an eye opener. Unfortunately we only see a brief view into her life then with what footage is available. Carlos apparently has become somewhat of a recluse after her run of great soundtracks. But the film only examines “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” which again might have to do with clearances and footage available.

The symphony of sounds that run through the film really gives a sense of the talent that was passed over in many ways but yet the power of their voices still resonates, With everything that can be done with computers, it is not the same sounds. Like with chemical reaction on film, CGI cannot replicate true natural occurrences. That is what made Bebe Barron and her husband’s approach in the 50s with sounds so interesting. Her husband had the technology but Bebe found the way to compose it which gave way to the “score” for “Forbidden Planet” which is still ahead fo its time. The explanation of a certain pivotal scene is so metaphysical in a certain way that it gives one a glimpse into a reactionary creative process like no other. And yet the studio wouldn’t let it even be considered a score because they thought Barron would take work away from her male counterparts. Oliveros makes a good point that throughout history “why haven’t we heard of great female composers” on the range of Bach or Mozart. It was simply not encouraged. Of course now in certain circles again, film scoring for women is more accessible but it is still very hard. “Sisters With Transistors” exposes this travail while still reflecting the beauty of creation though certain angles (like that of Wendy Carlos) still remain vastly unexplored.

B

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: HEIST OF THE CENTURY [Mill Valley Film Festival 2020 – Virtual]

The key to any great heist movie is not taking its perspective too seriously and yet give it enough personality and reality to make it believable. “Heist Of The Century” is a rare balance where it is both local and international. Like a more concentrated “Oceans” movie, it uses the inherent strengths of its characters to really make it pop. The two lead characters in Luis ,a career thief and Fernando, a weed-smoking mastermind who is more about the idea than the score make the perfect imbalance. The trick is seeing the method to their madness. The production values are exceptional but that kind of refinement, apparently with Warner Brothers International backing this production makes it immediately apparent. As a result the scenes pop. The texture of a Sinatra tune “Nice & Easy” is perfectly used and gives the films one of its best montages. The filmmaker Ariel Winograd keeps the pace moving but it helps that the man per se who pulled off the heist (Fernando Araujo) is in fact one of the screenwriters. This gives the film great detail but also that humor that only people who spend a lot of time together get. There is a lyricism but also a surrealistic element in the texture of the human nature it shows, with all its quirks. Luis, the defacto face of the gang, (played by the cool Guillermo Francella) jumps into the idea of the bank robber even taking acting classes. It is a nice progression while Diego Peretti plays Fernando himself with an aloof intensity that is both easy and fun without being annoying. What makes the movie work though is the little comic riffs between the style. little things that go wrong or misdirects which were in the screenplay. Whether it is the negotiator giving a sideways glance to the distract attorney or during the prep, the robbers arguing over a piece of technology to which one of the guys immediately finds a DIY solution and then says “we have to hurry up because my wife thinks I m fishing”. “Heist Of the Century” works in that regards because in feeling so effortless, it doesn’t give away how good it is. It blends screwball comedies with an edge of sophistication that some films (“The Kitchen” comes to mind) don’t have because they take themselves just slightly too seriously.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: THE INTRUDER [AFI Fest 2020 – Virtual]

The essence of the mind moving towards textures of what it believes is right and needed is a tricky course. Certain illnesses can paint the idea of motivation without explaining the true nature of their cause. With “The Intruder”, the path of the lead character Ines (played by Erica Rivas) has the essence of dreams painted within a reality that is not quite true. Like “Open Your Eyes”, upon which the Tom Cruise film “Vanilla Sky” was based, “The Intruder” uses the misplaced perceptions to form windows into what this lady is feeling and therefore experiencing. The beginning of the film, even before the title comes up, is a progression in perception which is kept quiet until closer to the end of the film. Without giving spoilers, it progresses as a mystery that the lead character almost doesn’t want to embrace. The question becomes what characters are real or have become constructs of her psyche. Rivas plays the role with a mix of terror and complacency which in many ways can be a coy kind of style but works well here, especially when it reveals itself in a closing shot. The aspect of her character being a voice actor who is also in a choir reflects the metaphor of being someone else’s mouthpiece versus the inevitable Greek chorus telling her essentially to do something different. The reasoning of the film is sound but leaves enough detail out of it that some of the pieces essentially don’t fit. While this is on purpose, it would have been nice to have shown slightly more context. The narrative exists in its own sustained bubble creating a focused view without exercising or embracing an eventual consequence.

B-

By Tim Wassberg