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PAPILLION | Review

Sometimes the time that one ends up paying for the crime isn’t always justified and in the movie PAPILLION Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) pays a hefty price for stealing a small fortune of diamonds for a local gangster. His biggest crime however may be that he bestows said diamonds on his girlfriend  Nenette (Eve Hewson) instead. In retaliation, his gangster boss frames Papillon for a murder he had nothing to do with which earns him a life sentence at the infamous penal colony in French Guiana.
Directed by Michael Noer, written by Aaron Guzikowski and based on the epic true story and international, best-selling books, “Papillon” and “Banco,”  PAPILLION (so called because of the butterfly tattoo that Henri has engraved on his chest) unfolds as we encounter the numerous escape attempts by our main protagonist along with his meek side kick, currency forger Louis Dega (Rami Malek), who is sentenced to life for producing counterfeit bonds.
Powerful stand out moments occur mostly when we see the effect of hopelessness on the human spirit.  Charlie Hunnam, manages to play broken beautifully.  However, the movie would have greatly benefited from providing more story related to the time between escape attempts and then later, the movie would have felt more complete if we could have seen the impact of the trials and tribulations that prisoners endured during long periods of solitary confinement and how this impacted their lives in freedom if they managed to escape.  What plays well in the movie is the stark physical and emotional contrast between Hunnam and Malek and how each manages to show strength and loyalty to the other in times of need.  PAPILLION also  represent an opportunity to understand how France used a system of confinement and prisoners to help build one of their colonies.
PAPILLION opens in cinemas on August 24th, check local listings for show times

McQueen | Review

Most people aren’t interested in fashion or those designers who make fashion famous.  Most people will however recognize the name Alexander McQueen; the young protege who was as famous for making avant guard clothing as well as living an equally avant guard lifestyle and who at the tender age of forty would succumb to taking his own life having reigned as one of the most influential and original artists of our time
McQueen is a compelling and engaging must-see documentary about Lee Alexander McQueen who was born and raised in an East London working class neighborhood.  Lee as he was better known to his friends and family was likely predestined to have become a plumber, brick layer or cab driver like his father as opposed to one of the creators of the “Cool Britannia” movement that combined fierce romanticism and punk poetry in the 90s making him a reigning and sometimes controversial King of style.  This rags-to-riches story told through archival footage and by those people who knew and loved him to a fault show a thrilling portrait of a complex man who was equally talented and burdened emotionally.
McQueen is equal parts inspiring, sad and haunting and manages to provide a glimpse behind the curtain of a competitive and complicated world where reputation seems to be as important as the end product.  Filmmakers Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui do an incredible job of showing a unique account of someone obsessed with drawing clothes to McQueen’s meteoric rise as the top designer at the house of Givenchy in Paris.
What is perhaps most impressive about this documentary other than seeing the creation of beautiful clothing (that will forever be remembered as art) is the story behind the creator himself and just how the genius came to be.
“The most important question we wanted to answer was how this shy working class young man with no connections became Alexander McQueen” says Eddegui.  Well, they certainly succeeded.
McQueen will open in San Diego at the Hillcrest Cinema on August 10 2018, check local listings for show times in other Cities

After Auschwitz | Review

As the 70th anniversary of Holocaust Remembrance Day approached earlier this year, Poland passed some controversial legislation criminalizing any mention of Poles “Being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich.” They stated that the harshest penalties would be reserved for those who referred to Nazi-era concentration camps such as Auschwitz as “Polish death camps.”  Many in Israel called this an attempt to whitewash the role that some Poles had in the detention and killing of around three million Polish Jews during World War 2.

Regardless of what you may think about who was complicit or how we refer to the role of Poland specifically, one thing is for certain; the holocaust occurred, it was one of the atrocious cases of mass killing, and we need to do everything we can to make sure such horrors never happen again.  This alone makes AFTER AUSCHWITZ critical and compelling viewing.  Recently I was invited to a sedar dinner where our host explained that one of the last remaining holocaust survivors at their local synagogue had just passed.  As the years move on, so do most of the remaining survivors and our ability to hear directly from them about the atrocities each of them faced for a period of their lives

Jon Kean’s AFTER AUSCHWITZ, is a “Post-Holocaust” documentary that follows six incredible women after their liberation from Nazi concentration camps.  It effectively captures what it means to move from tragedy and trauma towards life although we quickly learn that despite these women surviving and going on to build productive lives in the United States, they never truly find a place to call home.  Well-constructed with appropriate archival footage and in-depth interviews, the documentary examines the question around what happens after surviving an unspeakable horror.

For survivors of the Holocaust, liberation was both an incredible moment and a devastating one. It marked the beginning of a life-long struggle. Most wanted to go home, but home no longer existed in devastated post-war Europe. Many came to America and wanted to tell people about their experiences but were silenced. “You’re in America now, put it behind you” is what they were told. The women Kean follows became mothers and wives with successful careers, but never fully healed from the scars of the past

Their stories not only show the indelible role immigrants and women played in the history of America during the second half of the 20th century, but also how each of them tried to assimilate, some more successfully than others. In all cases however, what strikes the watcher most about these resilient and inspiring women and what is captured perfectly is this incredible will to survive and a sense of duty they feel to live a full life.

Although AFTER AUSCHWITZ deals with a specific group of survivors, it is universal in the questions it ponders about which relate to moving on after tragedy and adapting to a “normal” life. It’s a story we see repeated by survivors of other genocides – a sad recurring reality that haunts the women in AFTER AUSCHWITZ. Their suffering from post-traumatic stress is also unfortunately universal, as seen in the lives of soldiers coming home from war and even in victims of childhood abuse.

“We normally learn about the Holocaust as if it started with Germany invading Poland, and liberation was the end of it,” says Kean. “Allied soldiers triumphantly told Jews in camps, ‘you’re free, go home.’ But what happened to survivors on the day after liberation? And the day after that? That’s the film I wanted to make. By seeing the world through the eyes of these amazing women, we not only hear unique female voices, we witness stories of resiliency and determination that audiences have never heard before.”  Mission accomplished.

This is a rush out and see documentary that is compelling, heart wrenching and inspiring all at the same time.

AFTER AUSCHWITZ opens in Los Angeles on May 4th however for more information about the film, including dates, cities and theaters, visit https://www.AfterAuschwitz.com

Beirut | Review

Oscillating between suspenseful spy thriller and geopolitical drama set in the middle east, BEIRUT follows a U.S. diplomat (Jon Hamm) who returns to Lebanon after 10 years, working with a CIA operative (Rosamund Pike) to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind.

Superbly directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, “The Wire”) with a tight script written by Tony Gilroy (The Bourne IdentityMichael Clayton), Beirut will have you on the edge of your seat as you watch an effective cat and mouse chase unfold, only the cat and mouse often change places and we never quite know who is pulling the strings or the political agendas at play.

Set against the back drop of war torn Lebanon in 1982, the movie is relevant to the goings-on in the region today.  This serves to be both depressing in that not much seems to have changed in the two decades that have passed since but also a reminder of just how complicated the politics of this area of the world remain.  The movie effectively holds a mirror to the role that the US often plays in such political treacle using the story of a highly skilled negotiator played expertly by John Hamm who is forced back to the very place he escaped from ten years earlier following tragedy.  A hauntingly beautiful score never lets us forget where we are as we see that war often creates situations and people who can be labelled as hero or terrorist yet when viewed through a different lens, those who are treated as criminals are often the very victims of the situation themselves.

The movie is both thrilling and surprising at times as it twists and turns to a thrilling finale with great performances and well rounded characters.  Rosamund Pike holds her own against a mostly male cast and reminds us yet again of just how versatile she is.  The movie does however expect you to know a little of the history of the region and doesn’t spend a lot of time educating you about it.

Beirut manages to be effectively nostalgic  of an era gone by yet current and fresh despite the fact that it is set in the eighties. The movie opens Nationwide on April 11, check local listings for dates and times.

 

 

 

Review | Viceroy’s House

At no other point in history has it been more fitting or important to share a story about the dividing of a nation and its people; extreme and differing political views, nations ravished by arguments over religion and ethnic cleansing often feature front and center in the news – only this story is set in India in 1947.

Welcome to the stunning epic of VICEROY’S HOUSE; the true story of Lord Mountbatten (played by Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville) who is dispatched, along with his wife Edwina (played by Gillian Anderson), to New Delhi to oversee the country’s transition from British rule to independence.  Taking his place in the magnificent mansion known as the Viceroy’s House, Mountbatten arrives hopeful for a peaceful transference of power. Yet ending centuries of colonial rule in a country divided by deep religious and cultural differences proves no easy undertaking, setting off a seismic struggle that threatens to tear India apart.

The sumptuous period detail created by the director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) brings to life a pivotal historical moment that re-shaped the world.  Indeed, the ramifications of decisions made seventy years ago have led to two nations (India and Pakistan) in a perpetual state of heightened tension with each other since their inception.

It would have been satisfying enough to watch this bygone event unfold through the lens of the Viceroy and his wife yet Chadha, ever an over-achiever, gives us a stirring love story that layers on top. Equally well acted, we experience the forbidden and complicated love story of Jeet a Hindu boy (played by the hundred Foot Journey’s Manish Dayal) and a Muslim girl, Aalia (played by Huma Qureshi) which perfectly demonstrates the impact that decisions made half a world away had on a people that had endured three centuries of colonization by the British.

An heir of this destiny herself, Chadha who describes herself as someone who “grew up in the shadow of partition” took her time to bring this project to fruition and in doing so uncovered some previously unseen documents, “I always got the impression that Partition was our fault, but the documents we found showed us there was already an agenda in place by the British”.

Chadha does a meticulous job of making this Every man’s partition story and as a result no one in this movie is portrayed as either a villain or a hero. Having been reminded by her own family to ensure that the “Mountbatten plan” was exposed, after doing her thorough research about this story, Chadha soon realized that India’s fate had already been sealed by Winston Churchill and that Mountbatten was merely a pawn led to the slaughter, the result of which would be a divided nation with millions of people getting slaughtered themselves in the process.  A tailor-made performance by Bonneville will certainly capture the audience’s empathy yet, when questioned about whether this was the desired outcome, Chadha reiterates her goal was to show just “how ill equipped he was to do such a huge task.”

It would be easy to think of this movie as just a political narrative but to do so would be an injustice.  Scattered with strong bold women like Edwina and Aalia who represent the heart and soul of the movie, we experience firsthand not only the exciting sights and sounds of India but also the heartache and trauma that many including the Viceroy himself experienced.  That along with an often heart wrenching last performance by the inimitable Om Puri makes this a must-see movie

One will easily be transported to another time and place when watching this movie yet when the credits run you can’t help but wonder whether we learned anything from history, given this was one of the largest movements of people from one place to another in the twentieth century.

THE VICEROY’S HOUSE opens on September 1 and is currently available on VOD – check local listings

 

 

Strike A Pose | Review

There are few pop songs that are as memorable as Madonna’s1990 hit VOGUE and along with it the iconic video that brought Voguing as a dance form into the mainstream conscience.  Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza and Luis Extravaganza were the vogue dancers and choreographers from the Harlem “House Ball” community who introduced “Vogueing” to Madonna and who later would become her main choreographers for the video and the Truth or Dare tour.
 
If you grew up in the era of MTV, not only will the words STRIKE A POSE make you wave your arms in the air and perhaps stick out your butt but this is also the name of the acclaimed documentary directed by Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaag abut seven young male dancers  (including Jose and Luis) – six gay, one straight who joined Madonna on her most controversial tour.  On stage and in the iconic film TRUTH OR DARE – one of the highest-grossing documentaries ever – they showed the world how to “Express yourself”, now, twenty-five years later, they reveal the truth about life during and after the tour. 
 
STRIKE A POSE is a fabulously candid documentary that reunites these sleek and effervescent dancers, exploring their lives after the tour and legal battles with Madonna, their glamorous and largely inspirational impact upon society, the horrific effects of HIV/AIDS during and since the 90’s and what it meant to participate in one of the most iconic and controversial tours of pop history. The film also explores what it’s like to overcome shame and find the courage to be who you are.
 
Watching people age over time is always a luxury and so this movie does a wonderful job of showing the promise that was and where these incredible dancers ended up.  As important as the story of the star is the story of those who get to bask in the fairy dust for a short period of time; It is clear that Madonna made a huge difference in these men’s lives and the short intense formative period of time that they spent with her was extremely meaningful for these men that left a long lasting effect.
 
The movie isn’t just a “Where are they now”, at times, it manages to go deep and uncovers the realities of youth, disease and even what the dark aftermath of fame (by association) can feel like.  Watching the genuine love and respect that remains between this group of talent after all of these years is beautifully captured and of course THAT song in the background will have you tapping your toes and clicking your fingers if not striking your own pose.
Following critical acclaim and successful premieres in Berlin and Tribeca, STRIKE A POSE comes to New York for its theatrical release at IFC on January 18, 2017, followed by its broadcast premier, an exclusive VOD release, and a home video release later in June to celebrate LGBTQ Pride month.  Check local listings: http://madonnadancers.com/req.php?req=static.php&page=where-to-see
 
 

LEVEL UP | Review

Adam Randal’s debut feature LEVEL UP starring Josh Bowman (ABC’s Revenge)is an intriguing story about  a deadbeat gamer called Matt whose girlfriend gets kidnapped. This high concept British movie will make you question how real a gaming experience should or could become and shows a hidden, sometimes terrifying and often outright bizarre side of London as the kidnappers keep in touch with Matt by telephone issuing increasingly ludicrous and dangerous challenges that he must complete in order to keep his girlfriend alive.
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The movie’s blend of dark humor against the backdrop of a chase thriller keeps you guessing as to whether this is really happening or whether this is an extension of a gaming experience that Matt is having in response to his failing relationship with Anna. What it does well is question how one would react if awoken wearing a suicide vest with  a cell phone next to you set up to give instructions.  The lines of reality and game fantasy are cleverly blurred in this movie but at its core it questions the lengths that one is prepared to go to for someone that they love.
As we watch Matt attempt to complete the series of bizarre tasks to get his beloved back, we are acquainted with a bunch of colorful yet equally sinister characters. Although the dialogue is a little clunky at times  and the story unfolds a little slowly, Randall’s direction provides suitable tension and there is definitely unpredictability regarding what Matt’s fate will be; maybe like the man throwing himself off of a building in the opening sequence or will love prevail as he fights and realizes what he’s made of and how far he is prepared to go
Part THE GAME, part NERVE set in the gritty urban underground of the city you can be sure of one thing though, this is not your london of NOTTINGHILL
The action packed UK thriller hits nationwide VOD September 19th

Septembers of Shiraz | Review

If you are feeling a touch of summer sequelitis and looking for something powerful and thrilling to watch then SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ is an important must see movie.

Set during the 1979 revolution in Iran SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ is the harrowing story of a secular Jewish family as they fight for their lives in an attempt to escape what is going on around them.  Based on true events with poignant and affective performances by Academy Award® winner Adrien Brody, and Academy Award® nominees Salma Hayek-Pinault and Shohreh Aghdashloo, SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ illustrates the impact of political upheaval on ordinary people and gives us an incisive examination of a troubled moment in history.

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Expertly directed by Wayne Blair this movie brings droves of tension in what ultimately becomes an adrenalin charged cat-and-mouse battle of wills.  SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ is moving and both topical and relevant to current world events.  In revealing what many families sadly encountered over 35 years ago, the genius of this movie lies in its ability to relate the events of that time to experiences that are tragically being suffered by many in a number of countries around the globe today.

The movie cleverly reminds us that the victims of one political party’s agenda versus another are the very people who are promised their protection whilst the accompanying pollution of such communities who ultimately get divided by religion, class and economic factors often end up being the casualties of promised revolutions.

SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ is adapted by screenwriter Hanna Weg from Dalia Sofer’s bestselling novel.
SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ opened in New York, Los Angeles, and additional cities on Friday, June 24, 2016.  please check local listings

Moonwalkers | Review

I LOVE conspiracy theories, Who killed JFK, Area 51 and of course one of my all time favorites The Apollo Moon Landing of 1969.

So what if Apollo 11 never actually made it and what if, in reality, Stanley Kubrick secretly shot the famous images of the moon landing in a studio, working for the US administration?

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This is the premise of the totally plausible conspiracy theory movie MOONWALKERS written by Dean Craig and directed by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet that takes us to swinging sixties London, where a stubborn CIA agent played by the delightful Ron Perlman (HELLBOY) will never find Kubrick but instead is forced to team up with the ever adorable Rupert Grint’s (HARRY POTTER) lousy manager of a seedy rock band to develop the biggest con of all time, in this riotous, high-tempo action-comedy.

Of course It’s a strange set of circumstances that lead our protagonists to meet, including one of their idiot friends who has a tendency to royally screw things up but when they do, there is undeniable chemistry between the pair and a sweetness mainly with the introduction of Robert Sheehan (THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, KILLING BONO) as the idiot friend who is equally huggable and slappable at the same time that forms the foundation of this recreational drug-induced caper of unbelievable proportions.

From it’s innovative psychedelic titles to the groovy sixties production, MOONWALKERS is a really fun and enjoyable movie which is both silly and thought provoking at times with great action and comedy.  Full of 70s clichés and nuanced yet likable bad guys on every corner, our anti-heros (complete in funky and colorful costumes), lead us from one absurd scene to another on their journey to complete an equally bizarre yet extremely important task

“The film is an action/comedy that combines what I love: fights and stupidity. I enjoy situations where two opposite characters must join forces to accomplish a common goal as it leads to the most hilarious conflicts” states Bardou-Jacquet

As trippy as the era it’s representing, this comedy of errors reminds us of the unresolved question that still plagues many of us after all these decades; was the moon landing real?

“Why would an audience be interested in a movie like this?  Bardou-Jacquet continues “Google “moon landing,” and add up the viewers interested in the conspiracy theory about it, and you’ll find millions of hits. All these people deserve at last the true story of how we “never” landed on the moon”

Of course, it also had me thinking about who would actually win in a standoff between America’s supreme CIA agents and England’s finest thugs?

MOONWALKERS enjoyed it’s premier at SXSW 2015 and will be released on January 15th.  Check local listings

San Diego Asian Film Festival 2015 (SDAFF 2015) – The Real Jewel in San Diego’s Crown

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Just over a month has passed since the annual San Diego Asian Film Festival closed it’s curtains and I’m still gobsmacked by all of the incredible movies that were screened.  For it’s sweet sixteenth session, the festival run by the Pacific Arts Movement screened over 130 films from 20 countries and many to record sell-out crowds. All of the beautifully and carefully curated movies had one thing in common – they were thought provoking, poignant and showed off the talents of diverse Asian filmmakers from across the world whilst showing us many of the cultural threads and different lives in the countries that make up the rich tapestry of the continent of Asia.

This is a recap of the coverage that we live tweeted and recorded on Facebook during the festival

If you live or find yourself in San Diego and enjoy movies, you owe it to yourself to get a ticket to the next festivalmiss india america

Some of Moviewallas favorites:

MISS INDIA AMERICA

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Directed by: Ravi Kapoor

Screenwriter:Ravi Kapoor and Meera Simhan

MISS INDIA AMERICA kicked off the festival and tells a story about Lily Prasad (Tiya Sirdar) who is a winner, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Fresh off her valedictorian speech, Lily intends to continue living her storybook life according to “The Plan,” her meticulously-crafted scrapbook that ropes in her less-than-willing high school boyfriend Karim (Kunal Sharma). But when Karim is caught flirting with the reigning Miss India National, Lily is livid and takes aim at the crown to win Karim back, restore “The Plan” forever, and reaffirm her endless magnificence. Lily is appalled though when she finds that the path to glory is challenged by not just a drop-dead beauty of a nemesis (played by New Girl’s Hannah Simone), but also the internal nausea of having to win despite all consequences.

This is a smart and funny movie that transcends race and tells a story which is applicable to any nerdy girl who is threatened by the thought of losing her boyfriend to a model!  Most importantly  it is a feel good tale that reminds us that we are who we are, and deep inside there is a model waiting to get out in all of us.  Sassy and clever dialogue elevates the movie that crosses somewhere between Clueless and Legally Blonde, I can’t wait to see what this talented writing team brings us next

WONDERFUL NIGHTMARE

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Directed by: Hyo-jin Kang

Yeon-woo (played by Uhm Jung-Hwa, Dancing Queen, SDAFF ’12) has the complete bourgeoisie starter package. A slick new BMW. A mixed martial arts personal trainer. Rare red steaks and French wine for breakfast. And she is head legal counsel to the biggest, sleaziest company in town.

But if we know anything about Korean rom-coms, it’s that sudden shocking comas are attracted to the rich and bitchy as much as grizzly bears are attracted to salmon wearing nightgowns of honey.

An automobile accident lands Yeon-woo in heaven, but even death can’t keep her spirit down. Korean angels cut her a deal. Teleport down into the chores, credit limits, and complications of a shabby housewife for one month. Then she will be allowed to return to the glitz, glamour, and unscrupulousness of her old life.

There have been many movies that explore what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes or bodyswap  and most often these fit squarely in the comedy genre e.g. Freaky Friday, Heaven Can Wait and most recently The Change-Up.  However, there are few movies that elegantly explore the emotion that goes with waking up as somebody else with a life that isn’t yours and is everything you didn’t want.  Welcome to the WONDERFUL NIGHTMARE; this is a deep and thoughtful look at what happens when a woman who seems to have it all wakes up in a life that she truly never desired and doesn’t want to be a part of.  This is a delightful movie that will have you laughing whilst reflecting on what it means to be human and what’s really important in life.

THE BEAUTY INSIDE

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Directed by: Jong-Yeol Baek

Screenwriters:Seon-jeong Kim, Jeong-ye Park and Kyung-hee Noh

Woo-Jin wakes up every morning with a different body. At first, it was a shock. Now, years later, he’s used to looking in the mirror and discovering a stranger. With only the companionship of a supportive mother and a highly-entertained best friend, Woo-Jin’s been forced into anonymity, working as a furniture designer taking orders from online clients he never has to meet. Falling in love is of course off limits. That is, until he meets E-Soo, a furniture saleswoman who makes him never want to fall asleep again.

From there, THE BEAUTY INSIDE becomes a most unusual romance, the kind that pushes its protagonists into the ultimate tests of love: can Woo-Jin be in a relationship with somebody who doesn’t recognize him? Can E-Soo feel security from a man who starts every day as a stranger? With all the magic of a good fantasy, THE BEAUTY INSIDE has the audience seeing the romantic comedy anew, much as E-Soo and Woo-Jin treat every one of their encounters like a rediscovery.

THE BEAUTY INSIDE is one of the most unique movies that explores the true nature of who you are and how this changes if you physically don’t recognize who you are in the mirror.  Stunningly shot with elegant dialogue, this film will leave you feeling like love truly can conquer all.  The most impressive thing about the movie is it’s female lead Hyo-ju Han who effortlessly captures our hero’s heart.

IT’S ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG

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Directed by: Emily Ting

Screenwriter: Emily Ting

Josh struggles with his lucrative job in finance, his practical-minded girlfriend, and his desire to become a novelist. Ruby, content with her job designing toys, imagines what she could be doing had she pursued her love of fashion design. Both are young American expats who happen to be on the same Hong Kong street when Ruby gets lost and Josh decides to help her find her way.

Soon though, their serendipitous meeting and stroll through the city leads to the kind of expat fantasy that seems to allow for limitless possibilities – even infidelity. Together, they begin to see their desires come within reach, however stymied by impracticality and fear of the unknown.

IT’S ALREADY TOMORROW IN HONG KONG elegantly and wistfully captures what happens when a spark is ignited between two people with an ocean separating them and the questions that arise when we find ourselves in a situation that we shouldn’t be in.  The chemistry between real life couple Jamie Chung and Bryan Greenberg as Ruby and Josh is electric and we find ourselves rooting for this would-be couple who have more than distance to potentially contend with.  Moviewallas caught a screening of this during LA Film Festival earlier in the year but the movie was so good that we couldn’t help ourselves watching a second time.

MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART

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Director: Zhangke Jia

Screen-writer: Zhangke Jia

At first, the latest from filmmaker Zhangke Jia appears deceptively simple, a step back perhaps, crude even. Why would the director of THE WORLD and STILL LIFE and most recently, the brutally unsparing Cannes winner A TOUCH OF SIN, want to make what seems a visually unkempt and thematically shallow love story. A girl in small-town China has to choose between the affections of her ambitious, pushy, city boss and her aggravatingly shy, local coworker. You wonder if the great Zhangke Jia has finally wandered into a genre – the romantic triangle – that is outside his grasp.

And then you spend the rest of the film realizing how wrong you were to doubt him in the first place. Because it is only after awhile that the ambitions of the movie become evident. And when they do, you sit back in awe. As this film jumps from the initial story set in 1999, to 2014, and then giddily to 2025! And here is why this film needs to be sought out by cinephiles, because even as the movie sprints 15 years ahead with each leap, it also literally opens up, with a widening aspect ratio. The screen widens with the passage of time!  And this was one of the most joyous surprises I witnessed in a cinema hall all year. And the widening is unqualified, as the film opens up thematically (it only lulled you at the start into thinking that this was a romantic melodrama), geographically (from rural China to Shanghai to Australia) and the scope of its reach (easily commenting on the big themes as the film progresses). The film also smartly avoids the rigors of traditional epic storytelling in which the very same characters are examined through a lifetime. Instead MOUNTAINS MIGHT DEPART concentrates, in the moment, on a specific character(s) during each time period. Yes, these characters are related, but the film has no interest in looping back to re-examine each of the original players from the first act.

The visionary filmmakers often tend to put all their cards on the table at once, aiming to dazzle you upfront, but they sometimes have a hard time sustaining that through the last act when things whimper to an end. I am more impressed by films which calculatedly build their fort and become increasingly more breathless on their way to the conclusion. MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART takes off in its last act, when it bravely somersaults into an unconventional (if not transgressive, for some) relationship between two new characters. How many filmmakers possess the bandwidth to grasp for so much.

In watching sons deal with the footprints of their fathers, and in its formal structure, this is like a smarter version of Derek Cianfrance’s THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. But no matter how you cut it, this is the work of a master.