JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Neptune Frost | Guántanamo Diary Revisited | Moving in 2008 | Potato Dreams of America (Directors: Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman, John Goetz, Wes Hurley, Calogero Carucci) - June 10, 2022

Neptune Frost | Guántanamo Diary Revisited | Moving in 2008 | Potato Dreams of America

4.5 4.5

A quartet of films that will dazzle the eye and excite the mind
Neptune Frost
Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman
2021, Five stars

“Those motherfuckers don’t want to back down”

Every once in a while, a film comes along that more needs seeing than reviewing.

With a futuristic, high-tech script, internecine squabbles (here all Black, curiously coincidental as I read Jin Yong’s A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes), the film lays bare realities and myths about sexuality, family ties, high (or low, depending on your point of view) technology and vengeance.

Binding it all together is a vibrant score, compelling dance scenes, and a pigeon to die for.

Filmmaking seldom gets better than this.

Miss it at your peril. JWR

Guántanamo Diary Revisited
John Goetz
2022, Four and one half stars

Nothing new under the sun of torture

Even as the atrocities mount in Russia’s “Special Military Operation”, releasing this tale from Guántanamo Bay of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s 14-year imprisonment (finally set free in 2016—no charges laid), is a timely tonic to how “right” the West is when dealing with “those who would harm Americans” in the aftermath of the planet’s last great calamity: 9/11.

Director Goetz has done a commendable job cobbling together the unlawful containment of one man even as his “captors” struggle to put a brave face on their torturing and self-righteousness unhampered by compelling facts—clearly skin colour and unrepentant countrymen (in this case from Mauritania)—are more than enough to put “enemies of America” into detention on hearsay rather than truth (thank goodness those days are over…).

The next thing you know, the insurrection on January 6 2021 in the Capitol will be seen as just law-abiding tourists “viewing” the seat of government—of course guns, battering rams and Confederate flags are part and parcel of a visit to the home of “lawmakers” (more recently law deniers).

This timely, disturbing documentary serves as an extraordinary cautionary tale to Putin’s shameful lust for power at any price (Trump’s “praise” for the Russian dictator more aptly including modifiers evil “genius”, diabolically “savvy”, deadly “smart”), even as—like Slahi—those caught in the wrong place at the wrong time pay a horrific price by those who—just ask them—clearly know better.

So who can claim moral authority? A despot intent on rewiring the USSR or the “home of the free and the land of the brave”, except when your skin tone doesn’t pass muster?

Or in biblical terms: “Who can cast the first stone?” JWR

Potato Dreams of America
Wes Hurley
Four stars

Timing is everything

Certainly completed before madman Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” was launched to disinfect non-existent Nazis from Ukraine on February 24, Hurley’s charming tale of Russian-born Vasili Naumenko (affectionately known as “Potato”) is a cautionary tale with many nuances: online dating, repressed/open homosexuality, born-again Christians and immigration follies.

As the younger Vasili, Hersh Powers charms the camera with his apparent naiveté and boyish good looks; once in America, Tyler Bocock readily exudes his inner gay with panache.

Mom, (convincingly portrayed by Lea DeLaria), is happy to leave the motherland once a suitable amour has been found stateside on a dating site.

Dan Lauria positively soars in this role as Bible-thumping John (pun intended, I am sure) and his comely alter ego, Grace.

There’s comedy, drama, and sexual fun—but under the backdrop of so many Russians being forced to murder their neighbours—for no apparent purpose—this film, unintentionally feels disquieting, even as both sides of the Ukraine-Russia war, harvest a bounty of inedible potatoes of all ages, sexualities and genders. JWR

Moving in 2008
Calogero Carucci
2019, Three and one half stars

American Nightmare

Having finally completed my survey of every Best Picture awarded an Oscar since 1927, my first view of the “films for review” backlog struck me more as an autobiography than a compelling drama.

Set during the height of the financial crisis in 2008, the film’s biggest failure is trying to cover too much ground (family strife, financial ruin, dealing with a young man who has inoperable brain cancer) in just 78 minutes.

In the acting department, the children of the family under the lens (Chase Carucci is entirely believable as not-long-for-this-world Michael; playing younger, inquisitive brother—“What’s a boner, Michael?”—is done up proud by Luca Lombardi; baby sibling Sarah has a fine advocate of innocence from Olivia Skye Wannamaker) largely carry many scenes.

Mom (Lisa Tyronne King) and Dad (Noah Forrest) are saddled with set-piece scenes and dialogue from director-writer Carucci that certainly spoils the narrative broth.

Having lost a Michael of my own to brain cancer in 2001, the majority of the film resonates deeply. Here’s hoping far too others also have the same shared experience. JWR

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