BUOYANCY – movie review

BUOYANCY
Kino Lorber
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rodd Rathjien
Writer: Rodd Rathjien
Cast: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros, Saichia Wongwirot, Yothin Udomsanti, Chan Visal
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/2/20
Opens: September 11, 2020

Buoyancy (2019) - IMDb

Watching this movie, I couldn’t help thinking of the line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” “There are lots of good fish in the sea, tra la, there are lots of good fish in the sea.” We are warned that there’s a limit to the number of fish in the world’s oceans just as there’s a limit to the amount of oil in the ground, but you wouldn’t know it from the catches of a small fishing boat under the rule of the Thai captain, the unhappy catch shoveled into a pit for future sale by a group of enslaved Cambodians. Forget Gilbert and Sullivan because there is no comedy in “Buoyancy,” Australia’s entry for an Academy Award for pictures opening in 2019. If you have to compare, think of Nat Turner’s rebellion in the Virginia of 1831 or of Steven Spielberg’s film “Amistad,” its most heartbreaking scene finding a group of enslaved Africans chained together and thrown overboard by the captain.

Filmed by Michael Latham in Cambodia with Khmer and Thai dialogue, “Buoyancy” is directed by its screenwriter Rodd Rathjien, in his freshman full-length offering. This is an intense, slow-burn drama based not only on a singular event in the life of a 14-year-old boy but standing in as well for human slave trafficking in Asia involving some 200,000 victims.

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be too bright, to think for yourself, to take risks like the hero of “Buoyancy.” Think of Chakra (Sarm Heng), whose father uses him to carry heavy sacks for use in farming rice in paddies without pay, though his dad simply has too many kids to set up a wage-earning business. Like the human caravans we in the U.S. are familiar with, the thousands of migrants from Central America who cross into the U.S. with the hope of making something of their lives, Chakra seeks to make his fortune by being smuggled into Thailand, where he is told he can make some 8,000 bahts ($255 U.S.) a month in a factory. Instead, after crossing into Thailand, Chakra and his traveling friend are sold to Rom Ran (Thanawut Kasro), the captain of a fishing boat, where they are treated like unwanted animals. Those who grumble learn quickly enough to keep quiet. Instead of complaining verbally, formerly innocent Chakra asks Rom Ran when their debt will be paid. After that he projects his dismay, his rage through his facial expressions. He does not smile once though Thanawut Kasro as the skipper loves to smirk when he announces such finality that Chakra will be on the boat “forever.”

Chakra learns soon enough that he will get nowhere following Martin Luther King Jr.’s counsel to meet hatred with love, and forget about the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi. Violence will be the only way out, leading to the audience-expected treat that finds Chakra executing a coup d’état to take over the captaincy.

Sarm Heng doesn’t say much but his expressions serve as sign language for us in the theater. Yet the real guy to watch is Kasro in the skipper’s role. He toys verbally and physically with Chakra, and in at least one scene you might expect him to make Chakra a sex slave as well. No wonder they say that all actors aspire to the role of villain! What’s more Kasro, unlike Sarm Heng, is a professional actor with an impressive résumé, including a role in “Samurai Ayothaya” ten years ago, based on a historic figure during the Ayothaya Era about a Japanese adventurer who gained influence in Thailand.

I’d be seasick on this small boat every waking hour, which would be enough punishment for me. Yet I would have to count my blessings that I am not one of the tens of thousands of poor, innocent young people caught up in the vile human trafficking industry in the South China sea.

The film won various well-deserved awards including Best First Feature at the Berlin International Film Festival. In Khmer and Thai with English subtitles.

92 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

 

MOST WANTED – movie review

MOST WANTED
Saban Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Daniel Roby
Screenwriter: Daniel Roby
Cast: Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Josh Hartnett, Stephen McHattie, Jim Gaffigan, J.C. MacKenzie, Rose-Marie Perreault
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/4/20
Opens: July 24, 2020

When I was in third grade in 1945 I learned that the policeman is my friend. In fact the teacher said that we should call policemen “officers,” and “police” and never use the word “cop” because that was a slang term that the authorities would not like. It means we do not respect them. Things have changed since 1945 when the worst thing a policeman would do was to get a doughnut in the local coffee house and not pay for it.

In June, as though the coronavirus was not enough of a burden for us, the country faced an uproar of protests against the senseless killing of a suspect who was murdered by four cops for the horrendous offence of paying for cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. The idea that there is a thin line between a cop and a criminal, that a policeman can either way, may be extreme, but on top of that we have racist officers not just in the south but in a midwestern blue state, Minnesota. For those who still doubt that the law can be a rogue, just check out movies like “Training Day” (2001), “Bad Lieutenant” (1992), and “Internal Affairs” (1990). A new, sad tale of corruption among the people who are supposed to protect act comes out of Saban Films, and it’s “Most Wanted” written and directed by Daniel Roby, following up “Hold Your Breath” about the struggle of a family to survive while Paris fills with a deadly gas. “Most Wanted” is more down-to-earth with some enlightening shots of Bangkok, surprisingly filmed on location though one would expect the Thai government would object to having a scandal rubbed into its face.

“Most Wanted” is inspired by a true story that takes place mostly in 1989, when Daniel Léger (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), a low-life heroin addict with no criminal record, is set up by rogue cops in Vancouver, though the police are not so much interested in entrapping the usually penniless guy than in having him negotiate the purchase of ten kilos of heroin—for which they could get far more money in Canada than they would have to pay in Bangkok. Légar was caught, found guilty, and escaped the death penalty for heroin smuggling by pleading guilty (after his conviction!), then sentenced to one hundred years in a jail that would make you wish you had not pled guilty and accepted the death penalty. (For stark contrast compare the jails in Norway where prisoners get their own private rooms with cooking equipment.) He would have been incarcerated still were it not for Victor Malarek (Josh Hartnett), a journalist who acted as a one-man Innocence Project, searching for a way to get a page one scoop for his newspaper, desperate for money since he had just had a baby.

Convincing the editor to finance a trip and warned that if he did not come back with a scoop he would never find a job again in the newspaper business, he is motivated even more when his gut tells him that the man may still be guilty, but that as an ameliorating factor the police had paid for his trip from Vancouver to Bangkok: hotels, meals, the works. The film meanders with several time changes, catching up with Légar as he gets a job on a fishing boat from Picker (Jim Gaffigan) who seems like a nice guy but who is involved with the conspiracy to get the heroin. Similarly guilty are a trio or quartet of shady police who, together with Picker pay so much attention to a loser like Légar that he gets sucked into the sordid plan.

Best performer is Montréal-born Antoine Olivier Pilon as Daniel Léger, with twenty-three film credits in his résumé, quite an accomplishment for a twenty-three-year old. Josh Hartnett exudes the electricity running through his body when he is on a mission, buffeted by several roadblocks. However, the movie is so spliced up that you might have to watch for a half hour before you realize the zig-zaginess of the editing. For that reason, “Most Wanted” cannot be enthusiastically recommended.

125 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – D
Overall – C+

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN – movie review

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN

A24 and DIRECTV
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Screenwriter:  Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Cast:  Joe Cole, Billy Moore, Preecha Vithaya, Pansrigarm, Pornchanok Mabklang, Panya Yimmumphai
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/20/18
Opens: August 10, 2018
Hurricane Films » A Prayer Before Dawn
Prisons in Norway allow even murderers to have their own rooms complete with kitchen knives and the accoutrements of middle-class living.  If you think those cells are more comfortable than the jails in Thailand, you’re just guessing, aren’t you?  To check your answer, you’ll have to see “A Prayer Before Dawn,” based on the memoir written by Billy Moore in 2014 which went on to the best-seller lists.  One might wonder whether the horrors of the Klong Prem prison in Thailand, nicknamed the “Bangkok Hilton” by people who are aware that Senator John McCain stayed for five years in the so-called Hanoi Hilton, can be brought out by the book. After all, with  Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s movie, the pure physicality is in your face.  Sauvaire, whose freshman narrative feature “Johnny Mad Dog” deals with child soldiers in an African country, is the obvious man to chart the true story of a British boxer and heroin smuggler who, in Thailand, becomes addicted to ya ba (a particularly potent Thai crack cocaine) and makes a living selling drugs.

The book cannot replicate the punches and kicks and the torment from fellow prisoners at Klong Prem, but with some imagination, the powerful writing of Billy Moore draws you into the violence you’ll see in this film.  Take for example this wording: “The first time Billy Moore walked into his cell packed with seventy prisoners, the floor resembled a mass grave, with intertwined arms and legs, and the smell of human feces was so strong he almost vomited.  That night, he slept next to a dead man.  It wouldn’t be the last.”

Sauvaire does indeed show Billy sleeping next to a dead man, who is carted off nonchalantly by the staff, and the most horrific scene does not take place in the boxing ring where the Thai brand of fisticuffs is called Muay Thai.  It is Billy’s brutal gang rape that forms the prison’s rite of initiation.  Though the editing is itchy, you get the point that you’re better off going straight all your life.

The film does frustrate the viewer in that we don’t know why Billy Moore (Joe Cole) went to Thailand where he appears to be the only farang, or foreigner, but his memoir notes that he went abroad to escape a life of heroin addiction and alcoholism in England.  That’s strange.  Would he not be better off staying in Western Europe to attack his demons?  Perhaps he thought that indulging in Muay Thai, which allows pugilists to use stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques, would draw the drugs out of his system. This discipline is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.  And the masochists who indulge are lucky if the Thai promoters bother giving you a mouth guard, but I would not personally indulge even if they gave me knee pads, a helmet, a bulletproof vest, and an opponent who weighs 90 pounds.

When Billy is not in the ring, he is tormented by the prisoners, who have contempt for a foreigner who doesn’t speak a word of Thai, has no money, allegedly has no family, and cannot even let a fellow bum a cigarette.  The boxing is filmed in the usual way with restless editing, which may be necessary if you want your actors to emerge alive but which can nonetheless be frustrating.  Some of the Thai dialogue has English subtitles but most of the palaver of the prisoners can be understood without translations.

This is all about Billy’s redemption, a man who emerges after three years in a Thai hell-hole, then serves time in the UK.  He converts to Islam; strange since 95% of Thais are Buddhists and most of the rest Islamic.  As principal actor Joe Cole has had prominent roles in other physical dramas, a standout being the character Reece in Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” which finds a punk rock band forced to fight for survival after witnessing a murder at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar.  “A Prayer Before Dawn” shows him with mostly neutral emotional makeup, until he gets a legitimate chance to let it all out in the ring.  In a final scene we see Billy’s father who in real life is…Billy!  He looks terrific but who needs to go through the crunches and the displaced bones before being redeemed?  Outside of Joe Cole, the actors are all Thai and, I believe, mostly former prisoners. You can catch an interview with the director here: https://deadline.com/2018/03/a-prayer-before-dawn-jean-stephane-sauvaire-sxsw-interview-1202339121/

Rated R.  116 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B