Hell or High Water (2016)

The Western genre, a long-standing movie staple, is characterized by a rough-around-the-edges hero, who musters his steely courage in order to exact vengeance. There’s always a small but hardy village standing tough in the middle of a harsh and desolate landscape. Despite its modern context, this movie does not disappoint; especially since, unlike traditional Westerns, the protagonists have realistic flaws. The stakes are high as two brothers, a divorcee and an ex-con start robbing banks out of desperation to save their family’s dying Texas ranch. Not far behind are a couple of old pros, a ranger and his partner assigned to what was expected to be a small time offense. As the lawbreaking escalates, everyone involved quickly realizes their lives are on the line.

The Pirates of Somalia (2017)

The title* of a book by (then still) wannabe journalist, Jay Bahadur, who planned to write an exposé based on a land he grew to love almost as much as his own. Most coming-of-age stories center around a young man’s sexual encounter with a seemingly exotic native from the country to which he has either been forced to travel or to where he escapes from stifling responsibilities. This film depicts a naively brave visit to a place few journalists dared to go at the time.   *“Deadly Waters” in UK/ Australia

Part of its charm is how the casting in no way caters to Hollywood’s distorted racial sensibilities by either rewriting the story to make Jay’s parents’ mixed-race marriage a Caucasian union or by hiring an unconvincing vaguely ethnic actor, who bears no resemblance to real-life, Jay Bahadur. Rather, the family dynamic is believable but casually presented as fact since it has no bearing on the plot. Another component of its charm is in capturing affection, both in actors’ natural chemistry and characters’ scripted interaction. Pay close attention, filmmakers; this is how it’s done. That it intrinsically avoids heavy-handed themes, canned/ preachy dialogue, contrived metaphors and overblown juxtapositions makes this film feel like a blast of fresh air on a steamy day in the desert.

I would be remiss to leave out any mention of countless profanities and blatant drug use that makes this unsuitable for classroom viewing and discussion. However, where home viewing is concerned, realism is lost the moment the camera flinches. Moreover, the goal is sympathy and consideration rather than pity, and certainly not stereotypes. To that end, many striking parallels can be made drawn between African Pirates and North American rappers. At the end of the day, Human Beings are more like than different, which should make international diplomatic relations less convoluted than they tend to be.

Mr. Bahadur returned home right before cargo ship, MV Maersk Alabama was taken hostage by the pirates about whom he wrote. This incident stimulated interest in his book, which took longer than expected to get published. But people soon realized his research challenged inaccurate perceptions about the pirates and their motives. Incidentally, trivia fans will appreciate how movie Jay’s host-turned-friend, who guides him through Somalia is the same actor, who portrayed the lead pirate of the aforementioned hijacking as portrayed in the 2013 movie “Captain Phillips.”

Mildred Pierce (1945)

I liked this movie upon first viewing and have re-watched it since. I should clarify: the original version; while Kate Winslet’s talent is undeniable, remaking a classic film in color serves no purpose. I would, however, be interested in seeing this reinterpreted in a modern context as the themes (e.g. permissive parenting and familial loyalty) are still relevant and need revisiting. History repeats itself, especially when Society fails to pay attention to former generations when they tried to warn us. Some viewers will automatically assume an old movie—particularly one in black and white—is outdated. But its archetypical style is precisely what will induce the connotations necessary to see the film through, such as not being in a hurry to get to the action or the assurance that it won’t rely too heavily upon sequencing gimmicks to explain background information. Ultimately, its enduring legacy can be attributed to superior filmmaking, which includes everything from acting to editing.

Winter’s Bone (2010)

I had the pleasure of watching an advance screening of this pearl at a film festival. Afterwards, a local musician spoke about the making of it. Deep in the Ozarks, lies a population—like a country all its own—sprawled out among the craggy terrain. Fiercely protective of their own, it took years to earn the trust of the community in order to craft a novel based on their way of life.

Most of the supporting cast and extras are locals, and the homes and clothing are indigenous to the area. Lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence (virtually unknown at the time of its release) had to learn to hunt & skin squirrels, to chop firewood and to fight. Her character must find some evidence of her meth cook father, for whom there is an arrest warrant. He’s missing—either in hiding or dead—but “like a dog digging after a Winter’s bone,” as the old Appalachian expression goes, she must find some enough proof to satisfy the authoritys, who are about to seize her family home where she takes care of her ailing mother and two younger siblings.

Waking Ned Devine (1998)

Old Ned Devine bought the winning lottery ticket! Unfortunately, he died from the shock of it. His friends decide to cash in his ticket; after all, that is what their dearly departed friend would’ve wanted. Unfortunately, they must fool the man from the lotto who’s coming to verify Ned’s identity. Word travels fast in a rural village so they must enlist the help of a few others and eventually, the entire town.  Fortunately, there’s more than enough money to go around when split amongst them so everyone agrees… except for mean old Lizzie Quinn. Unfortunately, she’s determined to make good on her threat to rat them out.

The Twilight Samurai (2002)

In Japan’s “twilight” period, during the Meiji restoration, widower, Iguchi Seibei leaves work each night at twilight to go home to his aging mother and two young daughters rather than out drinking and carousing with his coworkers. Though he’s only a low ranking soldier, the position holds more distinction better than his current duties as a warehouse bookkeeper but ut since his wife’s funeral was so expensive he cannot afford to take a new bride as he pays off the funeral expenses.

Then Tomoe, the sister of a childhood friend comes to stay to get away from her high-ranking abusive husband, who suddenly shows up in the middle of night. Seibei is forced into a duel but manages to overcome despite having the flimsier weapon. This victory wins Seibei the respect of higher ranking officials, who want him to revisit the violence of his former profession. Meanwhile, his friend urges him to marry even though it would be a mismatch; Seibei supplements his income by making bug cages in his spare time and has been neglecting his personal hygiene. However, he loves Tomoe and she’s grown fond of his senile mother and two sweet daughters. Torn between loyalties yet bound by honor and tradition, Seibei is forced to fight.