Philip, a German photographer, has been touring the east coast of America, tasked with capturing the American landscape. Lethargic and unmotivated on his journey, Philip is struggling with any form of motivation, drifting along on his journey as he strugglies with loneliness and alienation. Struggling to even begin his article, outside of a few pictures which he struggles to personally connect with, Philip decides to head back to Germany and finish the article there. While at the airport, Philip meets a German mother along with her 8 year-old daughter, Alice. Philip agrees to watch after Alice momentarily but when her mother vanishes, he becomes tasked with taking care of this young girl. Flying back to Germany, Philip forms an unlikely friendship with Alice as the two embark on a journey to find Alice's grandmother and return her home. Wim Wender's Alice In The Cities is a touching film centered around a man stuck in emotional and personal paralysis. Philip is a man who feels emotionally detached from modern socieities changing landscape, with the influences of America's consumerism changing the world we live. This cultural shift has left Philip feeling aliented and the relationship he forms with the young, spunky Alice is what springs Philip back to life. Alice in the Cities is a film that is incredibly touching but understated, never falling victim to sentimental sequences, opting instead to be a quiet exploration of what makes us all human. Wenders showcases the importance of human interaction, subtely showcasing Philip's new found emotional freedom with a beautiful final sequence. The film also seems to put an emphasis of the importance and power of image, as Philip documents his journey through photography, suggesting the emotional bond photography creates in capturing time and a place. Wim Wenders' Alice In The Cities is a touching travelouge that offers a poignant reminder of the importance of human connection.
Chris Rock's Top Five is without question the pinnacle of the comedian's film career to-date, a raucous comedy about celebrity, addiction, race, and artistic merit, that feels personal and refreshingly honest. The film is centered around Andre Allen, a very successful comedian/movie star that has decided he wants to make more serious content. Much of the film is centered around an interview Andre has with a New York Times journalist, where Andre is forced to confront his past career failings and come to terms with what he wants to achieve artistically. Tackling show business with rampant honestly, specifically as it pertains to being a minority in the massive celebrity machine, Top Five is a smart, hilarious expose of "the industry' that also manages to feel very personal. Smart yet raunchy, Top Five features some great comedic performances, specifically some of the most memorable cameos in recent memory, stemming from Jerry Seinfeld living it up in a strip club, to DMX expressing his desire to become a slow-jazz/blues type of singer. My only real critique about Top Five would be centered around the romance that develops between Andre and the Times reporter, which feels unnecessary and almost out of place in a movie that feels so organic and fresh otherwise. Soulful and astute, Top Five is a personal film that says a lot about the current state of contemporary society, being outrageously funny in the process.
Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu centers around an ensemble of characters, all residing in or around the ancient Malian city. In Timbuktu, people are suffering, powerless under the oppressive regime of the Jihadists who are determined to enforce their brand of religious justice. Outside of the city, Kidane, a cattle herder, lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife, Satima and daughter Toya. Kidane and his family have managed to stay out of the way for awhile now, but eventually the Jihadist regime impacts their lives as well . A powerful story of tyranny, Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu delivers a detailed cross section of ordinary Mali people living among Jihadists, who routinely instill their will over the townsfolk. Never manipulative or overly dramatic, Timbuktu is a somber, quiet experience, that never focuses on one central character but instead a host of men and woman, struggling to live freely under oppression. We see how everyone is affected by the Jihadist, most notably woman who are completely stripped of their dignity at every turn. While this film feels like an ensemble, Kidane and his family are centrally important to the film, representing how darkness and despair are almost inevitable when tyrannical regimes are present. Timbuktu meticulously exposes the outright stupidity and hypocrisy of Jihad, doing so in haunting and sometimes comical ways, almost laughing at the pure absurdity of how these men use religion to justify almost anything they desire. Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu masterfully balances its mix of tones, being part satire, tragedy and melodrama, delivering a powerful portrait of life for individuals forced to live under a tyrannical regime.
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