Light of My Life

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

In the post-apocalyptic drama Light of My Life, Oscar winner Casey Affleck (as an actor in Manchester by the Sea) steps behind the camera for the first time since teaming up with Joaquin Phoenix a decade ago to make the music mockumentary I’m Still Here. His second film is a minimalist take that hangs firmly on the natural connection of its two main characters and its effectively bleak atmosphere.

Reminiscent of director John Hillcoat’s depressing 2009 drama The Road — although it’s doubtful any scene can be as grim as watching a father teach his son how to commit suicide — and last year’s powerful and emotionally complex drama Leave No Trace, Light of My Life is a slow-burning film that packs a similar punch.

Affleck stars as Caleb, a father surviving in the solitude of the wilderness with his young daughter Rag (Anna Pniowsky), whom he disguises as a boy. His actions come after a global plague has decimated the majority of the female population, including his wife (Elizabeth Moss), who dies when Rag is an infant. He refers to Rag as his son whenever they stumble across someone amid their directionless journey.

Hoping to stay invisible on the fringes of the dystopic society, Caleb is conscious of the danger Rag is in if anyone discovers her true identity, although Affleck, who also wrote the screenplay, steers clear of spelling it out. While he navigates some familiar territory, that takes nothing away from the father-daughter rapport he and Pniowsky share — a bond viewers will likely feel invested in as the narrative moves forward and the risk that they will be discovered increases.

Light of My Life feels the most alive during the seemingly calm scenes where we understand the intense reality that Caleb and Rag face. He’s willing to do whatever he must to prevent anything bad from happening to his daughter. The sense of dread that permeates the film never lets up, much as in Hillcoat’s The Road. Affleck’s ability to keep the nervous, albeit silent, energy consistent is an impressive feat.

Along with Affleck’s compassionate performance, what Pniowsky delivers as a curious 11-year-old is just as incredible. Like actors Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace, Caleb and Rag’s loving relationship is one of the most convincing pairings to hit theaters this year. Affleck has created an intimate film — one that speak on parental responsibility and the great lengths to which a father would go to protect his child.

Sword of Trust

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Independent filmmaker Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister) was no stranger to actor, writer, stand-up comedian and podcast host Marc Maron when she cast him in her new film Sword of Trust. She had already directed him in a few projects, including a couple of episodes of his namesake TV series Maron and his 2017 Netflix comedy special Marc Maron: Too Real. She was also a guest on his popular podcast WTF with Marc Maron two months prior from officially getting hired. It turned out to be the perfect choice to say the least.

Sword of Trust is a heavily improvised and sharply written dark dramedy that comes up short in the homestretch, but not before delivering a handful of funny and memorable moments. Maron stars as Mel, a pawn shop owner in Birmingham, Alabama, who makes a deal with some customers after they offer to sell him a peculiar relic. The “prover item,” as it’s referred to later in the film, is a sword said to be proof that the South won the Civil War. It has been bequeathed by a Confederate soldier to his granddaughter Cynthia (Jillian Bell).

Mel and his employee Nathaniel (Jon Bass) think Cynthia and her wife Mary (Michaela Watkins) are a pair of kooks for the yarn they spin — the women don’t buy her grandfather’s story either but need to make the sale. However, a quick internet search reveals a fringe group of conspiracy theorists who would pay top dollar for the weapon. After locating a buyer, Mel and the ladies decide to team up and split the money. But when the potential customer insists that he meets the sellers, Mel, Nathaniel, Cynthia and Mary find themselves riding in the back of a moving truck to an undisclosed location to do business with a probable racist.

On its surface, Sword of Trust is a whip-smart comedy that pokes fun of people who believe the Earth is flat and the existence of a shadow U.S. government. While much of the snarky script is ad-libbed, Shelton and co-writer Michael O’Brien (TV’s A.P. Bio) create a structure for the narrative that is deeper and more meaningful than an average satire. The emotional load is lifted by Maron, who expresses some of the most heartfelt and natural dialogue in a movie this year with an anecdote concerning a drug-addicted ex-girlfriend (Shelton) and the life he watched pass him by years ago.

Shelton’s film might cover revisionist history, but it’s also about the struggle to believe in something — or someone — when conflicting evidence is too convincing to ignore. Still, in Sword of Trust, Maron shows audiences how a little faith can go a long way.

On the Basis of Sex

January 11, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Therox
Directed by: Mimi Leder (“Deep Impact”)
Written by: Daniel Stiepleman (debut)

Much like last year’s documentary “RBG,” the feature biopic “On the Basis of Sex” doesn’t depict current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s full contribution as an iconic legal scholar but manages to hit enough high points early in her career to deem it mostly inspirational. Still, for a film highlighting such an esteemed women’s-rights activist like Ginsburg, it is unfortunately much too conventional to make a worthwhile impression.

“OTBOS” begins with Ginsburg (Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones), a married mother of one, enrolling in Harvard Law School in 1956, where she was only one of nine women in her class (Harvard started admitting women six years prior). Her husband Marty (Armie Hammer) was also attending Harvard Law at the time, although their relationship isn’t given as much emotional weight as in the 2017 doc.

Written by first-time screenwriter Daniel Stiepleman, who happens to be Ginsburg’s real-life nephew, “OTBOS” focuses on the challenges Ginsburg faced after she graduated from law school (she transferred to Columbia) and couldn’t find a firm that would hire her despite the fact she was at the top of her class. There are plenty of examples of mansplaining to choose from during OTBOS, but it’s during her time in college and while searching for a job as a lawyer that will spur the most indignation from audiences. In one scene, a potential employer explains to her that although her credentials are second to none, his firm couldn’t hire her because the wives would get jealous.

Along with her battle through the unapologetic trenches of New York City law, “OTBOS” follows Ginsburg, who at the time was a law professor at Rutgers University, as she preps for one particularly groundbreaking case — a 1972 lawsuit known as Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The case saw Ginsburg representing Charles Moritz, her client who was denied a tax deduction for caregiver expenses simply because the tax law only identified female caregivers as the rightful recipients of the deduction. She argued the gender-discrimination case in front of Denver’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and won — thus opening the doors for other gender-discrimination cases to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court, such as Frontiero v. Richardson, Ledbetter v. Goodyear and United States v. Virginia.

Directed by Mimi Leder (“Deep Impact”), who is a glass-ceiling destroyer herself (in 1973, she became the first female to graduate from the American Film Institute Conservatory), “OTBOS” plays it as safe as possible and misses an opportunity to package Ginsburg’s six decades of influence on the courts into an absorbing two-hour history lesson for mainstream audiences who only know her as the “Notorious RBG” or as a viral meme. Instead, Leder relies on simplistic storytelling and clichés to drive the narrative forward. Objection sustained.