Here are four capsule reviews of films I saw recently at New York art house cinemas, which may or may not be coming to a cinema in the Detroit-Windsor area, with the caveat that some of these may end up at the Windsor International Film Festival Nov. 1 – 10, getting underway in just a month’s time!
The Load (Ognjen Glavonić) is a 2018 Serbian film that takes place during the Bosnian War in the early 1990s. Valada, played by Leon Lučev, gets hired to drive a truck from Kosovo – site of massive NATO bombing – to Belgrade. He doesn’t know what’s in the van (he doesn’t ask employers) and must navigate through treacherous and bombed out roads to the capital. The film has been compared to The Wages of Fear (Henri-Georges Clouzet, 1953) but other than driving a truck on a perilous journey it isn’t edge of seat stuff. What it is is a nuanced emotional drama as the workaday stiff Valada prosaically carries out his assignment. The subtlety of the acting is what matters and Lučev puts in an exceptional performance.
Justin Chon’s Ms. Purple delves into the world of an estranged Asian-American family in Los Angeles. Kasie (Tiffany Chu) must resort to prostitution to pay for her dying father’s care while her layabout brother Carey (Teddy Lee) is ambivalent about pitching-in. The film is entitled “Purple” for an obvious on screen reference but the movie is thematically a noir, pitting good against evil in a maelstrom of corruption in Koreatown’s underworld. Great directing and acting.
Loro is yet another extravagant - and in some ways a choreographed masterpiece – by Paolo Sorrentino, a depiction of the gluttony of over the top materialism among Italy’s extreme upper class. In this case the subject is disgraced former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his crowd of handlers and groupies (Loro is Italian for “them”). Like his 2013 film The Great Beauty, the director is obsessed with the theatre of the decaying elite, rotting before our eyes like overripe fruit, and he shows this through immense displays of bacchanalia. Berlusconi, played by Toni Servillo, comes across as not just corrupt but as an exceedingly charming and persuasive showman, though his speech about being representative of capitalism is nothing but the director’s, who co-wrote the script, own left wing political cant.
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool is director Stanley Nelson’s tribute to perhaps the greatest modern jazz musician. Nelson covers all the bases in this almost two-hour long film, from the little-known story of Davis growing up in a household of combative parents in East St. Louis, to his joining the Billy Eckstine band and his meeting Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. The film is best at pointing out the divide between Davis’s irascible and exceedingly cold exterior and the sublime emotional warmth of his songs, notably on cuts on the revolutionary albums Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain. It also doesn’t spare Davis of his well-known personal flaws, indeed bad treatment of women including assaults, and his waves of drug addiction, remerging in the modern rock era as a jazz fusion artist. Strong interviews with various jazz greats (Herbie Hancock, Archie Shepp, Wayne Shorter, among others) give poignant comment, the one flaw being Davis’s most beloved wife Frances Davis who obviously can’t be accused of false modesty.