Movie Review ~ The Lazarus Effect


The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of medical students discover a way to bring dead patients back to life.

Stars: Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Ray Wise, Amy Aquino

Director: David Gelb

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 83 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  The last film director David Gelb helmed was the well-received Jiro Dreams of Sushi from 2011, a documentary about a legendary sushi master and his heir-apparent.  Bereft of any creative pulse, The Lazarus Effect sees Gelb go from sushi to turkey in one fell swoop because the only thing that needs reviving at the end of this cheap-o effort are the audiences.  Not that Gelb and company don’t try to keep you awake by introducing a host of loud noises and seizure inducing flickering lights at random points along the way…but it’s best to sleep with one eye open so you can make a break for the door by the time the credits roll.

In an unnamed research facility on an unnamed college campus, two scientists (Mark Duplass, Tammy and Olivia Wilde, People Like Us) and their assistants (Donald Glover, The To Do List and Evan Peters, X:Men – Days of Future Past) are joined by a co-ed (Sarah Bolger) filming a documentary on their research.  Strangely (and maybe thankfully), given Gelb’s documentary past and aside from some grainy opening footage there’s none of that hand-held camera nonsense until the film reaches its hyperactive finale when the camera swoops around like it’s been tethered to a ceiling fan.

The scientists are working on a formula to re-animate dead animals…all because they eventually want to be able to “give doctors more time” to heal near-death human patients.  The first of many scientific miscalculations, the reasoning behind the research comes across more like the movie pitch it most certainly is.  Even Duplass and Wilde seem to have trouble making it through relaying their theories of resurrection without cracking a smile.

Now is a good time to really break down how much The Lazarus Effect will remind you of other movies:

Like Flatliners, the film is about a motley crew of apparently brilliant minds making a whole host of stupid decisions and pausing occasionally to talk about what’s on “the other side” and musing about what death really means.  Like Lucy, there are discussions about brain activity, how much of our brain we actually use, and what access to all of our potential would do to a person’s psyche.  Like Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator, the experimenters become the experimented when fate deals the kind of blow that necessitates speeding up the testing process and moving to human trials.  And like Hollow Man, the finale is a cat-and-mouse game where the group is locked in a lab and picked off one by one.

Screenwriters Luke Dawson & Jeremy Slater have Frankenstein-ed their script with so many other ideas that the only interesting thing about the movie becomes matching up the plot points to previously released films.  Eventually, the filmmakers totally give up and increase the volume and amount of times the lights are turned off.  Seriously, at one point I thought that the evil at work was simply an energy conservationist because the scariest thing they do is turn the lights off at the most inopportune times.

Sometimes in knock-off films like this some fun can be had in some well-crafted moments of bloody gore.  I get the feeling the movie was edited down to PG-13 territory because the way that the violence is cut away from suggests post-op censoring of the ickier bits.  There’s nary a drop of blood spilled and death either occurs off-screen or in a non-invasive method such as a twisted neck.

Hound dog faced Duplass is hardly the picture of the driven researcher he’s supposed to be playing.  Changing his intentions every ten minutes because the script tells him to, there’s a missed opportunity to give the character an edge so Duplass just sits on the middle of the fence for most of the picture.  Wilde is his Mozart-loving fiancé and research partner…though he never seems to sleep in the same bed as her as evidenced in three shots of her sleeping in the middle of a bed in the house they share.  It’s a strange thing to get hung-up on, I know, but it serves as an example of the lack of attention to detail from Gelb.  With a little over an hour to tell the story, there’s not time for much character development so the rest of the cast is hardly worth mentioning (though Bolger is perhaps the best of the bunch).

Between a heap of scientific mumbo-jumbo and sleepy performances by its B-grade cast, the only thing you could put in the pro column for The Lazarus Effect would be that it’s short (83 minutes…including a credit sequence that’s better looking than anything else onscreen) and goes by relatively quickly.  Made by Blumhouse Productions (The Purge, Insidious, Sinister) for the low fee of 5 million (yes, that’s now considered a low sum), the film likely won’t have any trouble making that money back from knee-jerk audiences merely in the mood for a cheap thrill.

Movie Review ~ The 2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Live Action



I was lucky enough to be able to watch these selections from the comfort of my own living room and Aya was the short I saved for last…mostly because of its running time (40 minutes).  This Israeli film (though most of it is in English) wasn’t quite what I expected it to be…and that’s a good thing.  I had heard that the movie was ponderous and ultimately of little substance but I thought it was a sweet tale of a woman who is mistaken for the chauffeur of a man traveling to Jerusalem for a music competition.  I could easily see the film, with its meet cute set-up and splendid performances being the basis for a rom-com remake in the U.S.

Boogaloo and Graham
Many a feature length film started off as a short (Oscar nominee Whiplash is a great example) and I always like to ponder which of the five nominees has the best shot of making a case for an expansion.  While Aya may have some legs as a remake, I’d say that as-is Boogaloo and Graham is the one film that I’d want to see more of as long as it brings along the same cast and director.  It’s the 70s in Belfast and two brothers are given baby chicks to care for by their farmhand father.  The mother is incredulous that the fowl are lavished with care while the father is happy that is boys are showing responsibility.  Played against the backdrop of the Troubles, the film feels like a chapter from a larger biographical conception.  A lovely film.

Butter Lamp
After watching Butter Lamp I can tell why it was included in the short list of nominees this year…and it’s for the last shot of the film.  Now, I’m not going to spoil it for you but it pivots around a reveal that’s meant to make a statement but actually feels like a sullying of the unique moments that came before it.  A photographer takes pictures of an array of nomadic Tibetans against a cornucopia of surreal backdrops.  I haven’t done enough research on this one to know how many actual actors were used but at times it felt like I was back watching the Documentary Short nominees and I had to remind myself that this was the Live Action Shorts.

An immigrant girl from Afghanistan is working in Switzerland to make money that she can send back home to help with her ailing father.  Hearing of a place called Western Union that can easily transfer money to her home, she travels to Zurich where she encounters the good and bad that the city has to offer.  Rising above its standard-fare premise, the short is a pleasant and well-acted glimpse into 24 hours in the life of our titular character.

The Phone Call
This UK entry has two familiar names in its credits.  Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) plays a timid mouse of a woman that works at a grief center hotline.  She takes a call from a man (Jim Broadbent, Paddington) in great pain and their 20 minute discussion is the basis for this saccharine nominee.  Hawkins conveys a great deal of nuance as she converses with the suicidal man – you can tell that she’s dealing with her own social problems – and I liked that there was an unspoken internal dilemma of trying to do her job and understanding that perhaps she should just wait with him until the pills he’s taken have their effect.  The film mucks it up with a finale that feels safe and too eager to please.  Pity.

Movie Review ~ The 2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Documentary



Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
The first nominee shown sets the bar so high that all of the others are already behind the eight ball before they even begin.  Following the men and women that answer the calls 24 hours a day at the Veterans Crisis Line, Ellen Goosenberg Kent’s documentary is a powerful glimpse into a workplace that is high tension and high stakes.  We only hear the side of the conversations from the workers and it’s incredible how, not ever hearing the voice on the other side of the line, we are brought right along as the staff goes above and beyond to make sure a veteran (or family of a veteran) in crisis knows they aren’t alone.  It’s a film that could easily have been politicized but instead lets the subjects speak for themselves.

At times during Joanna’s 40 minute running length I forgot I was watching a documentary on a dying mother’s long good-bye to family…most especially her son.  The disease is rarely spoken of, instead the focus is on the conversations and experiences mother and son have, not all of them pretty but all resoundingly honest.  The cinematography is unexpectedly gorgeous and the construction is as good as any major motion picture I saw in 2014…though I did have a problem with the parts of the editing which seemed to jump back and forth in time without explanation.  Still, I can imagine when the young boy grows into a man he’ll feel blessed to have this film as a remembrance of his mother.

Our Curse
After Joanna, Our Curse is the second Polish film nominated for the Best Documentary Short and is director Tomasz Sliwinski’s personal account of the struggles he and his wife encountered after the birth of their son.  Diagnosed with Ondine’s Curse, the young baby stops breathing when he’s asleep…meaning that he’ll likely be on a ventilator his entire life.  Filmed by the parents, we bear witness to achingly private musings between the two on their hopes and dreams for their child as well as a harrowing sequence where they have to replace a tube to help him breathe.  That Sliwinski’s film ends on an uplifting note is one of the biggest surprises to come out of this batch of nominees.

The Reaper
Oh boy was I nervous about this one before going in.  Reading that this doc followed the life of a slaughterhouse employee in Mexico I was white knuckling it praying that they didn’t show death in graphic detail.  While the film goes to great lengths to show every grimy nook and cranny of the slaughterhouse, the actual shots of animals being slaughtered is brief and handled with respect.  While the film is made well, overall I was left cold by the subject.  A man of few words, his musings didn’t leave a lasting impression on me…it’s only when we see him at the end of the day that I felt any sort of connection between him and the material.

White Earth
The most puzzling inclusion (after The Reaper) is this documentary following families that relocate to the frozen tundra of North Dakota to work on the oil rigs.  It’s not about the men and women that toil away but the families (especially the children) that have to find their own path in a new environment.  The problem I had with White Earth was that it felt parsed down from a longer piece and I found myself missing the bigger picture details that seemingly were there but removed.  As it is, the stories and profiles offered are glorified nibbles of what could be a larger bite.

Movie Review ~ The 2015 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Animated



I first saw this short before Disney’s Big Hero 6 and was struck by how much it seemed to be Disney’s animated answer to Boyhood.  Following a dog from his days as a puppy relishing in the single life with his bachelor owner through marriages and children, there’s also an element of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree involved here as well.  The animation is swell (even if the 3D wasn’t working the first time I screened it and I ended up with a set of crossed-eyes) and who can resist an animated puppy?

The Dam Keeper
For my money, this is the short that felt the most complete to me and was delivered with the most heart.  Former PIXAR designers Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi helmed this tale of a pig that lives and works in a windmill that keeps a local town from the brink of darkness held back by a damn.  All alone in the world, the pig carries on the work of his family during the night but also has to go to school during the day.  With his smudged face and dirty clothes, he’s bullied and teased…until a new friend appears and offers him happiness like he’s never known.  With animation that looks like an oil painting, The Dam Keeper has beautiful images to go with a touching tale.

Me and My Moulton
Based on director Torill Kove’s life as a girl growing up in Norway, Me and My Moulton is an often humorous but ever so pedestrian take on the biographical narrative.  With animation that feels straight out of educational cartoons from the 80s, there’s a feeling that the short has sprung to life from the doodles the young girl made in a sketch pad – which serves the story well but didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would.  It’s fine…simple but fine.

A Single Life
The shortest of all nominees this year, A Single Life is a clever little morsel focused on time-travel at the hands of a mysterious record.  It’s fast and funny but lacking in the kind of overall substance that voters would look for in rewarding the creators.  Actually, it would be better off as an ad that played before a YouTube video…because it comes on so strong that you’d think twice before clicking “Skip Ad” to get to your clip of Ellen Degeneres scaring her audience with the help of Justin Bieber.

The Bigger Picture
With its blending of animation and still life scenes, The Bigger Picture may be the most innovative of the five nominees but it was also the only one that had me checking my watch to see how much of it was left.  The story of two brothers caring for their elderly mother (one’s devoted, one’s careless), it’s a chilly little film from the UK that’s notable for what director Daisy Jacobs was able to accomplish but rather dull when compared to its fellow nominees.

Movie Review ~ Nightcrawler


The Facts:

Synopsis: When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmad

Director: Dan Gilroy

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: The best horror film of 2014 wasn’t even marketed as a horror film at all…it’s this nail-biter of a tale from writer Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy) who also makes his feature film directing debut.

Over the past decade I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal, turning up my nose at his more straight-forward/commercial fare (Love and Other Drugs) and having my socks knocked off at this recent penchant for flawed anti-heroes (End of Watch, Prisoners). With the arrival of Nightcrawler my cinematic romance with the star is in full bloom.

Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a nobody that happens upon a way to become a real somebody…at the high cost of life and livelihood of others that have the misfortune of being in his dangerous hemisphere.  Taking place in the seedy world of crime journalists/photographers, Nightcrawler documents how ever-the-opportunist Bloom moves quickly up the ranks from slimy outside observer of the crimes and accidents occurring in Los Angeles to orchestrator of the right angles that will help him advance his star and bank account.

He’s aided and abetted by hungry news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo, Thor, also Gilroy’s spouse) who is also fighting to keep her head above the ever rising waters of crowded newsroom politics.  In many ways, Lou and Nina are the  perfect pair…he supplies what she needs to maintain her station while her willingness to buy what he’s selling only helps to encourage Lou to brush off any moral dilemmas the sleazy work could present.

What I’ve come to appreciate about Gyllenhaal’s movie choices is his willingness to take a character, craft a backstory, and then not let anyone else in to this knowledge he has.  Like his haunted detective in Prisoners, Gyllenhaal makes Bloom a fractured loner.  We don’t know where this guy came from or what troubles he’s had so far in life…making him all the more dangerous because we have no idea of what he stands to lose as he falls deeper and deeper under fame’s spell.

Equally outstanding is Russo in the best role she’s ever been given…no surprise that her husband wrote it specifically for her.  A female news director in a largely male climate, she’s desperate to hold on to her role and is willing to overlook some clear indicators that Bloom is off his rocker and may in fact be creating some of the crimes he’s delivering to her as news pieces.

In supporting roles, Bill Paxton (Million Dollar Arm) plays an old dog of a crime journalist that Lou first comes to for advice and Riz Ahmad (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) makes a strong showing as Lou’s dimbulb assistant.  Both men underestimate the length to which Lou will go to lock down his place in the food chain and Gilroy’s Oscar nominated script cleverly works out a doozy of a finale that is as frighteningly perfect as it is maddening.

Nightcrawler was an unexpected treat for me, I hadn’t planned on it being so skillfully constructed or so breathlessly paced.  It truly is a horror film masquerading as a psychological drama and one that should have gotten more love from The Academy when the nominations were announced.  Maybe it wouldn’t quite have made the cut for Best Picture but recognizing the work of Gyllenhaal or Russo would have been absolutely justified.

Movie Review ~ Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)


The Facts:

Synopsis: Sandra, a young Belgian mother, discovers that her workmates have opted for a significant pay bonus, in exchange for her dismissal. She has only one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job.

Stars: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The morning that the Oscar nominations were announced, between the throngs of people crying their eyes out over The LEGO Movie being subbed for Best Animated Feature and conspiracy theorists writing manifestos over Selma’s exclusion in several key categories there was a small din over Marion Cotillard scoring her second Oscar nomination for this French language film that hardly anyone had seen.  Going into the day, the wise money was on Jennifer Aniston’s worthy turn in Cake to wind up as one of the four women that will lose to Julianne Moore come Oscar night but it just wasn’t Aniston’s year to be called up.

While Two Days, One Night may appear on the surface to be a rather mundane slice of life piece following a central character over a weekend of broken pride and humility, it’s Cotillard’s performance that adds tremendous weight to an otherwise ho-hum viewing experience.

Sandra (Cotillard, The Dark Knight Rises) is a wife and mother coming back from a leave of absence at her blue collar job.  Though it’s never clearly stated, depression or another mental illness has sidelined Sandra and right as she’s coming back to work she’s dealt a terrible blow – her employer has given the other members of the workforce a choice: take a pay bonus and Sandra loses her job, or allow Sandra to come back and forfeit the extra money.  While this offer sets off so many moral/ethical red flags in the eyes of the viewer, writer/directors Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne’s screenplay interestingly stays away from asking that outright question to the employer himself.

What we have here is a film that has Cotillard going from co-worker to co-worker reciting nearly the same plea to each one of her colleagues…some who are receptive and some who have already spent the money in their heads and can’t fathom turning that kind of money down.  Cotillard’s character, already in a fragile emotional state, has to endure not only gobbling down numerous slices of humble pie but has to appear sympathetic to the rationales of her workmates as to why they won’t vote to keep her.

As has been the case for most of her screen performances (including her devastating Oscar winning turn in La Vie En Rose), Cotillard delivers an unfussy yet deeply complicated character.  We don’t necessarily root for Sandra but I found myself waiting for the moment when she breaks apart and loses it on certain individuals who would fancy a new patio instead of letting her keep her job.

In a rather simple conclusion there’s a bevy of complexities, yet it’s a film that leaves you with most questions answered. Is her performance worthy to stand alongside her fellow Oscar nominees?  I’d say yes, there’s a lot of work going on here and Cotillard is able to let a wellspring of emotion rumble under the surface in ways few can.


Movie Review ~ Ida


The Facts:

Synopsis: Anna, a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, is on the verge of taking her vows when she discovers a dark family secret dating back to the years of the Nazi occupation

Stars: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza, Dawid Ogrodnik

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 82 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  At just 82 minutes, Ida is jam-packed with the kinds of images and ideas that many films twice its length and triple its budget could only hope to accomplish.  The Oscar nominated film from Poland is the gentlest of tales, even when it finds itself dealing with horrific situations indicative of the time and place where the action unfolds.

Young novice nun Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is getting ready to take her vows at the small convent in the outskirts of the Polish People’s Republic when her mother superior urges her to make a visit to her aunt before fully committing herself to the church.  Traveling to the city, she meets the aunt that is a stern judge by day and a haunted, promiscuous, addict by night.  Seeing Anna reignites decades of pain in the judge and the two travel together back to the place of Anna’s birth…and back in time to reveal key mysteries that will change the lives of both forever.

I’ll let you figure out what secrets are brought to light because to spoil these intricate developments would be to rob you of the opportunity to experience the film with as little knowledge as possible.  I went in with only that broad framework and my viewing was all the better for it.  Director Pawel Pawlikowski and his co-screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz have designed a road trip picture that seems to go back in time with each mile (kilometer, sorry) the two women travel.  There are moments of genuine surprise, with some critical developments that happen without any warning…making you give thanks for the rewind button on your streaming device.

Not only is Ida nominted (and favored to win) the Best Foreign Language Film award at The Academy Awards but it also snagged a nomination for Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski’s gorgeous black and white cinematography.  Even more impressive is that the camera never moves in any of the crisp shots…there’s no tracking shot as the characters walk down a street or a big sweeping rise of the camera to reveal the expanse of the area around them.  No, the camera is placed and the action happens…so we always feel like we’re on some bench watching the actors play in front of us.  It’s an unobtrusive approach that, paired with the colorless visuals, works to the great benefit of the film’s effect as a whole.

Movie Review ~ Finding Vivian Maier


The Facts:

Synopsis: A documentary on the late Vivian Maier, a nanny whose previously unknown cache of 100,000 photographs earned her a posthumous reputation as one the most accomplished street photographers.

Stars: Vivian Maier

Director: John Maloof, Charlie Siskel

Rated: NR

Running Length: 83 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: What I love about a documentary that isn’t focused on war or politics is that they don’t have to waste precious celluloid (does anyone still use celluloid?) in their attempts to humanize their characters. There’s less excuse making, less partisan grandstanding, and just a general lack of that brazen BS that accompanies any investigation into a hot button issue. No, what is so great about movies like Finding Vivian Maier is that they can interview people who knew our titular character and have them say how aloof she came across, how independent her spirit was, how downright mean she could be, and it doesn’t detract from the fact that this woman had a remarkable talent that she kept all to herself.

Filmmakers John Maloof and Charlie Siskel (movie critic Gene Siskel’s son) have a good looking Oscar nominated documentary on their hands with a central subject so secretive and interesting that I’m actually glad her life remained a mystery until well after her death because to have any concrete answers from the source subject would have spoiled some of the magic.

When Maloof happens upon a box of Maier’s photographs and shares them with an art collector friend, there’s little interest until 2009 when Maier’s work took off like a rocket via the internet. Though she took thousands of pictures, Maier had hardly any developed either because of cost or lack of need. From what we learn, Maier was very much an in the moment photographer and the stunning snaps we see displayed show as much of Maier’s curious complexities as it does the seemingly mundane subjects she captured on film.

Maloof and Siskel’s film traces what little we know about Maier from her upbringing in New York as the daughter of immigrant parents to her days of working as a nanny for several families, many of whom are interviewed here. Maier was a tough taskmaster, relentlessly private, and kept her world very small…making the images she took over 40 plus years all the more interesting because they’ve locked engaging facets of humanity in a single frame forever.

Though she had two former charges that took care of her and paid her rent as she grew older, Maier’s personal life was also a mystery. When she died in October 2009 she had little worldly possessions…save for boxes and boxes of undeveloped film that would become her legacy. In discovering the treasures she kept hidden, Maloof and Siskel found more than an unknown’s life work…they found a valuable piece of history.

Movie Review ~ Mr. Turner


The Facts:

Synopsis: An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner’s life.

Stars: Timothy Spall, Ruth Sheen, Martin Savage, Lesley Manville, Karl Johnson, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson,Marion Bailey, Sandy Foster, Amy Dawson, Richard Bremmer

Director: Mike Leigh

Rated: R

Running Length: 150 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: The more movies I see I realize that I’m developing a real shine to the “Watch Me” kind of film experience. What I mean by that is that I much prefer a director to have some faith in the audience and allow us to be taken in not by telegraphed scenes that are necessarily easy to discern meaning from but by plots/characters/moments that require a little extra attention to be paid. As opposed to the “Show Me” kind of style, the “Watch Me” director has faith in the material and, though it may cater to a specific crowd, it’s not always made for a ridged target audience.

That being said, let me start off my review of Mr. Turner by saying that the thing I like most about director Mike Leigh is that he’s not a “Show Me” kind of director. Leigh has historically given his work a lot of slack, allowing them to mosey forth instead of speed ahead. Let me also say that Mr. Turner is very worthy of its four Oscar nominations for Dick Pope’s Cinematography, the Production Design from Suzie Davies & Charlotte Watts, Jacqueline’s Durran’s Costume Design, and Gary Yershon’s Original Score. All artistically sound and playing perfectly into the historic drama based on the life of artist J.M.W. Turner.

But good heavens, the film is tedious. The old saying about watching paint dry has never been more true (or literal) as in Mr. Turner.

Now look, I’m not one to turn my nose up at long period pieces nor would I begrudge any who would…but Leigh’s languid film surely is paced just as deliberately as the director intended but it’s a murder on the backside unless you have the benefit of taking in Mr. Turner from the comfort of your own lounge chair.

Had Leigh’s direction been less artful or Timothy Spall’s performance been conveyed with the smallest hint of artifice, this would be the stuff of tortuous college lecture halls — but coupled with the aforementioned worthy production team there’s a beauty to the proceedings, giving it quite a lot of purpose even when there’s not a lot of vested interest.

Aside from Spall, there’s splendid performances from Dorothy Atkinson as Turner’s long-suffering maid and Marion Bailey as a widow that provides a bit of spark to Turner’s later years. These are the scenes that carry the movie forward, bridges between more than a few interminable passages of watch-checking.

Whatever portrait this review may have painted for Mr. Turner, make no mistake that it’s a glorious looking film…but time is of the essence and beauty, like a great painting, can only be stared at for so long.

Movie Review ~ Virunga


The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of brave individuals risk their lives to save the last of the world’s mountain gorillas; in the midst of renewed civil war and a scramble for Congo’s natural resources.

Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

Rated: NR

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Browsing your Netflix queue you may lock in on Virunga’s cover image, that of an imposing mountain gorilla and young baby sitting in front of an armed solider and have thoughts of other monkey movies pass through you head. There’s a bit of false advertising going on if you think that Orlando von Einsiedel’s Oscar nominated documentary is just about the protection of the gorillas in the Virunga National Park situated in the African Congo because in reality the film is an engaging look at larger conservation efforts underway at this pristine national park.

Established in 1925, the park was intended to be a sanctuary for the endangered wildlife population being driven out of their natural habitat by land developers and oil companies. Poaching has become a serious problem with the illegal killing of these protected animals as a way to undermine the necessity of the park and acting as a gateway to have the park become less and less expansive.

Following several stories/people that pass through the park, Virunga puts a lot of information out there in quick succession about the history of the Congo as it brings us to the present problem at hand. We meet the various people working to protect the land and all that live and make a living within, from a kindly man that works in the gorilla sanctuary to the rangers that risk their lives stopping the vicious poachers.

All well and good for a portrait of life but the film goes a step further by bringing to light investigative journalism that points to oil companies taking extreme measures to ensure their place in the front of the line for tapping into new oil deposits purported to be under the land deemed protected. A French journalist risks her neck to meet with shady sub-contractors that may or may not work from multi-billion dollar corporations while a family-man ranger wears a wire and secret camera to catch officials attempting to bribe him for looking the other way.

It’s hard-hitting, eye-opening stuff, shining a light on problems that exist half a world away. It’s no shocker that noted conservationist Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) hung his hat on Virunga as an executive producer, it’s exactly the kind of slick product the actor has focused his humanitarian work on in the last decade.

Even if it can feel a bit catch-all at times with its moments of breezy gorilla antics giving way to a breathlessly tense journey through an active warzone, Virunga feels both affective and effective. Make sure to stay until the last credit has rolled.