Edson Oda’s Nine Days

I’m just a kid from Canada who blathers on about movies on Facebook, I have no formal literary training or real clout in the journalism foray, and as such every once in a moon there comes a film that’s so good, so powerful, profound and so potentially life changing (what is cinema for, if not that?) that I feel it’s a bit above my pay grade to review it, but in the case of Edson Oda’s Nine Days I feel like I need to or you might miss this unbelievable, perspective shattering indie that seems to have come from nowhere but is here to rock our collective worlds and the lands beyond. The film presents to us a stoic, lone man called Will (Winston Duke, Us). Will lives in a rustic bungalow on a desolation of endless salt flats, and he sits in his house observing a wall of tube TV’s all displaying various human lives unfold in hazy POV. He takes periodic notes, records some of these moments onto VHS tapes and catalogues them in droves of filing cabinets. He’s visited by a colleague and advisor called Kyo (Benedict Wong, Annihilation, The Martian), and the two seem to be the only ones out there. It soon becomes clear that the people on the TV’s are humans living their lives in this world, and that Will and Kyo are in some other plane of existence, their task being to observe those who are alive and when an opening appears, to interview/audition potential new souls for a chance to be born in our world. When, through a heartbreaking tragedy, an opening does show up Will invites several souls into his house for the interview process including a quiet, observant introvert (Bill Skarsgard, It), a gregarious good timer (Tony Hale) and a startlingly observant, intuitive soul called Emma (Zazie Beetz, Deadpool 2, Joker). Now, usually a premise like this in films would be played for satire or just… not taken completely seriously but somehow this very wild concept couldn’t feel more down to earth in the hands of this creative team and, in hushed reverence, I believed every beat of it was happening for real. As Will interviews souls it becomes apparent that he is wounded from his time on earth in a way that is so deep and so painful that even these half formed human souls who aren’t even full beings yet, can somehow intuitively sense it. This goes especially for Emma, who is like an unbelievably precocious child that just picks up on intangible things as a sort of gift. As the selection process unfolds and more souls are eliminated it becomes clear that Will has to fix something broken deep within his own psyche, and this is where the film becomes downright transcendent and also where I just don’t feel qualified to properly convey the messages or themes, which are deep, dense and essential. It’s a film about not taking your time alive as a human being for granted, because there are so many unborn souls who may never get a chance. Not only are the themes compelling and thought provoking, they are multilayered, meditatively introspective and just ambiguous enough to feel like a real and flawed system of beings interacting in a world beyond our own. Wong’s wonderful character comments on the mysterious nature of both our existence and theirs and the aching existential wonder that any sort of being finds themselves in, the forces governing them always just out of reach. Duke and Beetz are unreasonably good here and if the Oscars ever took the time to recognize independent films they would both be front and centre, as would first time writer director Edson Oda (I simply CANNOT comprehending the fact that this is a feature debut, it’s TOO assured) and composer Antonio Pinto who weaves an original score too beautiful for words, full of melancholic, celestial string passages and hypnotic, dreamlike beats in between. One reviewer I saw on IMDb said about this film, and I quote, “After 60 years of watching movies, I’ve finally found the best one.” Well it’s obviously all subjective and personally I could never pick a singular, definitive “best movie ever,” the notion itself is redundant. However, I would consider Nine Days to be just about as close to perfection as one can get in the medium of film, that rare piece that just soars on every level and has the power to change lives. It’s getting a limited theatrical run at the moment and if you notice it playing in your city please go, it’s that one in a million film that lingers in your thoughts and dreams for a long time after, that elusive piece of art that doesn’t just exist onscreen for two hours before fading, but rather lives on in the hearts and minds of those who see it and takes on a soul of its own. Masterpiece and the best film of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

Overlooked, ahead of its time and incredibly important: Ash Baron Cohen’s Bang

What if an ordinary everyday citizen, in this case a woman of colour, found themselves in the role of a police officer for one day, through an extraordinary set of circumstances? Bang is a staggeringly good guerrilla indie film from the mid 90’s that is not only criminally under seen, it feels a hundred times more relevant and important than it already was back then. Filmed off the cuff on about the lowest budget one can have for a feature and without permits or proper sanctions with locations all over LA, it’s a scrappy passion project that contains the sort of class/race and gender commentary, character work, quirky humour and subversive social introspection of a cult classic that has yet to find the audience it deserves, even almost twenty years after its release. Japanese American actress Darling Narita plays an aspiring actress who has fallen on some very hard times. The morning we meet her she’s evicted from her apartment, sexually assaulted by a nasty film producer who tries to take advantage of her at an audition and arrested by a motorcycle cop for something she didn’t do. After the cop tries to assault her as well she grabs his gun, turns it on him, steals his uniform and his bike and wanders around LA in the guise of the law, not as some kind of vindictive crusade but more because she really didn’t know what else to do in that situation, and one thing leads to another after she is simply pushed too far. Her perspective behind the badge reflects how many different factions of society view the police ranging from reverence to fear to abject hatred, and as the day gets longer, stranger, funnier and sadder we somehow cultivate steadfast belief that this station could really be playing out somewhere, helped by the candid, immersive and often heavily improvised nature of the script and a beautifully compiled soundtrack of reggae and ska music. Narita is wonderful in the role and I’m sad she didn’t go on to do much more. She makes this girl angry, scared, vulnerable, empowered, complex and somehow so self assured yet so utterly lost in the space of one day’s time. The great character actor Peter Greene stars alongside her as a hopelessly loopy homeless man who is her friend, companion and sidekick. Greene usually plays villains as a rule and is way against type here as a manic oddball who also has a tragic history with the police and an affecting backstory, the two make a mismatched but perfect pair to share these wild misadventures and together they encounter all sorts of people including other cops, drug dealers, vatos and a prostitute played by a very young Lucy Liu. This is an important film in many regards, it’s not only an exciting, brilliantly acted piece of gonzo filmmaking with a beating heart and something to say, it’s an arresting and incendiary indictment of power dynamics including and up to the relationship between cops and civilians but extends further into the exploitative and abusive nature of Hollywood and inherent sexism within that industry and society itself, the marginalization and neglect of lower class communities overall, the way mentally ill people (Greene’s brain damaged character ducks stereotype and becomes something *real*) are tossed to the wayside and dehumanized and how one woman uses what she’s confronted to fight back for herself and others who need help and attention, even if it’s just for one day. These are heavy, difficult and multitudinous themes for one zero budget guerrilla indie film to tackle but it has been proved time and time again that you don’t need millions of dollars and shiny effects to tell and important and lasting story, all you need is the story itself, and those willing to tell it well. Director Ash, stars Narita, Greene and the whole cast and anyone who crewed this no doubt challenging, at times illegal production should be very proud because the result is something emotionally and philosophically galvanizing, strikingly ahead of its time and altogether remarkable. Available here and there on DVD, and hopefully streaming at some point soon, I’d love to spread as much awareness and exposure to this wonderful film as I can with the resources and network I have.

-Nate Hill

Film Review: Abel Ferrara’s TOMMASO

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There is a beautiful sadness within Abel Ferrara’s latest feature, TOMMASO, starring Willem Dafoe in their fifth collaboration. It’s about the isolation of sobriety, as well as maturity; growing old alone while facing a never-ending and losing battle with fighting your own past.

The picture is a softer version of DANGEROUS GAME, wherein Harvey Keitel played the fictionalized version of Ferrara, the film also borrows the light and vulnerable aesthetic of 4:44, along with Ferrara’s newfound fascination with multimedia that is a conduit to offbeat pop culture. This may be Ferrara’s most direct play at his version of Fellini’s 8 1/2 but isn’t as nearly coarse or dark as his first attempt with DANGEROUS GAME. And while the film does feel very personal, and very true – it also feels like a spiritual successor of Ferrara’s apocalypse film 4:44, which also featured Dafoe.

Tommaso' Review: A Sober, but Not Serene, Life - The New York Times

In TOMMASO, Dafoe plays a gentler version of Ferrara, a filmmaker living in Rome (much like Ferrara) who is trying to formulate his next film, while trying to conquer the demons of his past, while navigating the uncharted parental waters with his very young partner and their daughter (both played by Ferrara’s real-life wife and daughter). Dafoe is just terrific, delivering his finest performance that most will not see, he is spellbinding. Dafoe is perhaps the only actor who can sink into a role like that of Tommaso, and then be seen in AQUAMAN, and then a Disney film, and then working with Lars von Trier – he’s an actor that doesn’t have or would make use of any typecast; he’s boundless and a welcome presence whenever he is seen.

It’s striking to see Ferrara bring such a gentle tone to a film that still works within his authorship: redemption with a dash of Catholic guilt. The film continues Ferrara’s new trajectory of his filmography, not just a transition to digital filmmaking, but also the less transgressive and angsty nature of his most seminal films. It’s a hard film to watch at times, but that’s part of what makes it so effortlessly beautiful. The film is quietly angry, where Dafoe’s character is six years sober, and has nowhere to channel all that rage – the angst of sobriety.

Willem Dafoe Talks Tommaso, Kissing His Friend's Wife & Yoga ...

The fabulous boutique label, Kino Lorber, has released this film on their relatively new streaming service, KinoNow, which offers up a lot of their titles to own and/or rent and of course a standard subscription service to their streaming catalog.

TOMMASO is a great film by a great filmmaker. It isn’t just a vanity piece. Ferrara is showcasing that he still is a flagship mainstay of not just independent cinema, but cinema in general. He’s a brilliant filmmaker that operates on the edges of the film; he may forgo power drills, dirty cops, and crack pipes as he enters a new decade, but he hasn’t lost his punch. The film is funny, sad, romantic, and sexy. It’s tender and angry, all the things that are life.