Listen to the (automated) podcast version of this week’s review at Anchor.
Fourteen (2019): This is a powerful, lesser known drama about two friends, Mara and Jo, one sober and pragmatic, the other exuberant and quirky, and the frustrating dynamic between them. It almost feels like I am spoiling what the movie is about by writing it out here, particularly given the understated approach of writer-director Dan Sallitt. But it’s hard to not make a comment on it – because Fourteen is a rare duck that goes about mental illness in an usually subdued manner, steeped in and obscured by the vagaries of day-to-day life. I thought it was pretty special. 8/10
Blow the Man Down (2019): It’s funny in a way, because there are certain tonal similarities between this and last week’s I Care a Lot. Except that Blow the Man Down feels like something distinctly different, anchored in its own gritty reality and shot with enthusiastic flair. Indeed, some scenes are almost transfixing in their unexpected juxtaposition, conjuring an otherworldly atmosphere that goes some ways to justifying the state of mind of all its characters. Seeing Margo Martindale return to a bad-ass role reminiscent of her performance in Justified is a tasty treat and the manner in which all the pieces fall into place makes up for the more trivial, worn-down aspects of the story. And the final few scenes are perfectly brusque. 8/10
Uncle Frank (2020): Alan Ball (of Six Feet Under fame) might not be at the top of his game in Uncle Frank, but he still wrote and directed a sensitive story that proves a welcome addition to the LGBTQ pantheon of movies. Set in the 1970s and starring Paul Bettany, Sophia Lillis and Peter Macdissi (in a strong ensemble cast), it’s not as much the coming-of-age story you’d expect, but a coming-to-terms story of a turbulent father-son relationship, that we experience through momentary glimpses. Difficult not to feel for most of the characters, which is a testament to how well written Uncle Frank is. 7/10
Persuasion (2007): There’s nothing quite like a 19th century, British upper class romance. The otherworldly stiffness and decorum associated with the strict norms of the times have always fascinated me in Jane Austen’s work. In Persuasion, 27 yo Anne is still pining over her failed relationship with Captain Wentworth, who had not been deemed suitable some eight years prior. Things had changed, of course, and now his status made their union more tenable, but, as always, there are some pride and prejudice to overcome. It is what it is, an overly dramatic story of…I don’t even dare to call it “love”, with long stares and silent rebuttals, drier than some other Austen stories and characters, more rushed an adaptation, but with intensity between its star-crossed protagonists. 7/10
One Child Nation (2019): If you’ve seen 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, just try to imagine that situation, only multiplied by a few hundred million. Of course, in Romania the aim was to forbid abortions in order to increase the population, while the one child policy in China desired to achieve the opposite. The movie doesn’t really look to debate the overpopulation issue or offer any insight into whether the monstrous sacrifices demanded of parents provided any real economic benefit. It is a personal tale of exploration, post-enlightenment, i.e. after understanding the level of propaganda and inoculation the Chinese government exerted on its people. The ramifications of the whole affair are sinister, but with such a complex topic, a mini-series would probably have done better in providing a complete understanding of the reality and its consequences. As it stands, One Child Nation sits forlorn in the middle ground between personal testament and factual trial. 7/10