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

Peter Berg’s Spenser Confidential

I was honestly expecting a lot more from Spenser Confidential considering the creative forces of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, like come on dudes. It’s an update of an old PI tv show which I’ve never seen so all I have to go on is what they’ve done here, which is honestly not much more than a predictable, humdrum B movie that just happens to have A list talent on-board kicking back and not trying too hard. Wahlberg is disgraced Boston cop Spenser, incarcerated for kicking the shit out of his scumbag superior officer (Michael Gaston, the dude who shoots dogs in The Leftovers lol). Upon release he hooks up with his former friend and mentor (a nicely crotchety Alan Arkin), who is now also friend and mentor to an aspiring boxer (Winston Duke) and they all live together as roomies in one of those classic flat roofed, 3 story Southie housey things, how cute. Pretty soon Spenser is back to his corruption busting ways, sniffing out a hidden conspiracy involving his slimy former partner (Bokeem Woodbine, who I always love to see in anything), a pathetic fat-ass thug called ‘Tracksuit’ (James Dumont) and shady real estate development deals. Spenser also has a girlfriend (Iliza Schlesinger) who is one of those foul mouthed ‘BAW-STAHN’ skanks and I guess she’s meant to be charming but comes across as just fucking obnoxious. Oh yeah and that weirdo Post Malone is in it too, and isn’t half bad as a nasty Aryan Brother nazi boss, anyone out there who dislikes this dude will get a nice kick out of seeing Wahlberg not only one punch him but blackmail later by threatening to run a train on his wife. It’s a bit frustrating because all this really should have been something fun with the talent attached, like it’s a great idea for a story. Unfortunately the execution comes across as cheap, lethargic and boring. The fights are decently staged but don’t pack the bloody punch that the R rating should warrant, the profane Boston banter comes nowhere close to being a snappy and comedic as it should and it all feels lazy, tired and cheap. If you want a much better crime buddy comedy thing starring Wahlberg check out 2 Guns with him and Denzel Washington because that one really slaps. There is one scene here that does in fact slap, when Spenser drives a jet black 18 wheeler semi right through a convoy of Cherokee jeeps at full throttle, it’s a fun moment and briefly raises a pulse, but unfortunately it’s the only ten second interlude that does so in an otherwise meh film. Big meh.

-Nate Hill

Jordan Peele’s Us

The idea of doppelgängers has been explored before in film, but never in a fashion quite as twisted as Jordan Peele’s Us, a furiously entertaining horror show that gets weird, wild and so refreshingly unpredictable in a genre where the climate tends to flatline with endless Conjuring universe carbon copies and what have you. There’s a ton of ideas at play here and it makes the film hard to pin down as one thing or the other, but it works beautifully as a breathless, streamlined home invasion shocker with deeply unsettling undercurrents and implications that can be read many different ways. When Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) was a young girl, she had a terrifying encounter within a shadowy hall of mirrors on Santa Cruz beach, an encounter which will herald the arrival of feral versions of her, her husband (Winston Duke) and two children (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex) as they vacation at their summer house a stone’s throw away from that very same beach. The prologue with her as a kid is set in the late 80’s and has a retro horror feel as Peele uses his favourite scary movies as both fuel and inspiration for the style on display here. The home invasion of these shadow selves is a brilliantly staged piece of white knuckle suspense and impressive physical acting, especially by Lupita as both shellshocked Adelaide and her other self Red, a growling fiend who is the only one of them that can talk. She rasps enigmatically about stuff that seems like both straightforward exposition and cryptic allegory, hinting at the secrets in store for the third act. Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker are flat out hilarious as the Wilson’s bickering neighbours, bringing uproarious comic relief before confronting their own set of homicidal visitors. Lupita gives the strongest performance here in both her characters, a frantic dual role knockout that holds the film in panicky distress with her wide eyes and instills deep terror with what she does to her voice, she’s a consistently brilliant actress and I love her work in this. This is clearly a passion project for Peele, the imagination on display is something else and fresh new scripts like this are always welcome for me. Some may have issues with certain things in the third act like explanation and climactic resolution, but he deliberately leaves a lot of it for us to ruminate on instead of telling us every detail about what we just saw. There is a scene where Lupita’s Red imparts some of it but it’s still somehow told in a roundabout way and not laid open bare in spark-notes fashion. Some may find this frustrating, but I loved it. This is probably the best horror film I’ve seen since 2014’s It Follows, and definitely one of the most original. A shock inducing siege thriller, an acidic jab at personal identity and a quietly discomforting look at the rifts you can see beginning to form in the world today. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill