To the Ends of the Earth

Written by Michael Clawson

90/100

No matter what she’s asked to do, be it to suffer on a janky amusement park ride that’s more like a torture device or eat an under-cooked plate of food, Yoko has a peppy, exuberant personality so long as the camera is rolling. Behind the scenes though, she’s anxious and fretful. As the host of a Japanese reality travel show currently on assignment in Uzbekistan, Yoko and her small all-male crew often attract the attention of on-lookers as they meander around the country documenting cultural customs and sites, but Yoko (Atsuka Maeda, so wonderful) is too nervous to even make eye contact with the locals, let alone actually engage with them. The fact that she can’t say more than a word or two in the local language doesn’t help. 

In crafting in this delightfully strange character study, Kurosawa moves between tonal registers with the same ease as that with which Yoko turns her bubbly persona on and off for the camera. Offbeat comedy mingles with nerve-wracking tension and suspense as we follow Yoko’s winding, unusual path towards something like self-actualization, or at least a newfound self-confidence. Yoko is a young woman with a fear of the unfamiliar, but even more than that, she’s afraid of feeling trapped. Rather than straightforwardly dissect Yoko’s psychology, however, Kurosawa takes a thrillingly unconventional approach to character, stringing together moments that follow one another unpredictably and reveal only partial, incremental insight into Yoko’s desires and insecurities. It makes her an impossibly alluring character, and Maeda delivers an immensely charming performance. Rather than TV reporting, Yoko’s true dream, we learn, is to be a singer. That detail allows for two slightly surreal musical moments that are as rapturous as they are unexpected.

Recommended

To the Ends of the Earth Trailer

To the Ends of the Earth is currently available to watch through select Virtual Cinema Venues

The Weasel’s Tale

Written by Taylor Baker

78/100

After waiting more than a year for The Weasel’s Tale to become available in the U.S. it’s safe to say I had expectations that bordered on unfair. The mystery drama Campanella takes us on seems familiar. The luxuriant digital cinematography, the violence indicated by an early chicken coop scene, an award placed in the center of an entry way, the title itself, and a Sunset Boulevard-esque aging star. These ideas each feel familiar and when the grift begins the genre is cemented as an Agatha Christie type mystery. Thus redistributing some early expectations and allowing the viewer a great deal of question marks in what may happen. Even though we know the rules of this particular cinematic game.

The Weasel’s Tale doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or compel a viewer more than recent murder mystery Knives Out might. It does feel original and sincere, though there are limitations to that in such a tread genre. Campanella after all is an aging artist, telling a personal story in a genre he knows all too well. Just with a spin and some flair on it. While watching I was delighted to see Borges’ performance. Akin to an apex predator playing with her meal before the kill. That’s something I’ve always loved from female lead performances in particular. Elegance with menace, innocence with tenacity, victim-hood with total control. To ensure I give nothing away, I’ll leave it at that.

Recommended.

The Weasel’s Tale Trailer

The Weasel’s Tale is currently available to watch thru select Virtual Cinema Venues

Belly of the Beast

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

65/100

Erika Cohn’s directing and storytelling do not do a worthy story the justice it deserves. Clocking in at 72 minutes, this documentary is a concise exposé on forced sterilizations in California prisons. Throughout the movie we focus on two women: Kelli Dillon, a Black woman who was imprisoned after killing her husband, and Cynthia Chandler, former Co-Founder of Justice Now and current director of the Bay Area Legal Incubator (BALI), an attorney for compassionate release.

The driving narrative behind this doc is the intentional sterilization of women in prison. The filmmakers emphasize that women of color, and Black women in particular, are who suffer most from these practices. They detail at least a dozen or so cases of forced sterilization. On the surface, this is a story about reproductive injustice but, at the same time, it is so much more than that.

“Did this happen to me because I was all three?

Kelli Dillon, a Black woman and former inmate

The documentary is at its strongest when it talks about the intersections between health care service provision, race, and class in the United States. When these issues are intertwined, they make a compelling argument. The filmmakers also trace the history of eugenics to the early 20th century in the US. During that time period, about 20,000 forced sterilizations occurred in California alone. Later on, state audits and prison reports showed that 1,400 forced sterilizations occurred between 1997 – 2003.

This piece concludes on a more cheerful note with the passage of Senate Bill 1135 (2014), with bipartisan support, that prohibits the forced sterilization of inmates for birth control purposes. In 2019, Assembly Bill 1764 was introduced to establish compensations for forced or involuntary serializations victims. Kelli Dillon hopes that her story will help others come forward and set a standard that other states should follow. I would recommend this movie for anyone who wants a quick introduction to the US criminal justice system or is interested in law.

Recommended

Belly of the Beast Trailer

Belly of the Beast is currently available to watch through select Virtual Cinema Venues

Follow the links below to read the bills’ text, learn more about Justice Now, view a petition for survivors of forced serialization, and access the doc’s official site.

SB-1135 | AB1764 | Justice Now | Petition | Official Site Get Involved Page

Belly of the Beast is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up and Double Exposure Film Festival 2020 line up.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

Finding Yingying

Written by Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde

80/100

I could see myself in Yingying Zhang’s story. I came to the US to study as well. I came here looking for a better future and aware of the financial and emotional sacrifices my family made for me just like her family did for her. Yingying’s description of independence, loneliness, and homesickness are also emotions that I grappled with when I first arrived in this country.  

While, the cinematography was nothing remarkable Yingying’s passion for learning and her family’s determination to find her made this a compelling watch. The story was told through a mix of Yingying’s diary entries, testimonials from friends, family, and the FBI as well as interrogation footage of her assailant. 

As we began to uncover what happened Yingying’s family discusses the differences between the criminal justice system in the United States and China. Her family respected the work of US authorities but grew increasingly frustrated waiting for the trial. I wish they spent more time explaining these differences.

It pains me to even suggest that I wanted to “learn” more about her assailant. But when incidents like this happen we forget to ask how did this radicalization occur. I think about this question frequently when similar acts of violence occur around the world. How can someone torture, assault, decapitate another human being? 

This documentary should be an urgent call to action for academic institutions to invest more resources in counseling and mental health services. Some might say that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign failed to act when the assailant discussed thoughts of hurting others during a counseling session. However, in April 2019, a judge sided with the University when he dismissed a case brought up by Yingying’s family claiming the University should have alerted the authorities. 

By all accounts Yingying was an independent, curious, steadfast, and passionate woman. In the end, my heart broke for Yingying’s family. They were never able to find her remains despite their best efforts. It was devastating to see her family, especially her mom, come to terms with what happened. One of Yingying’s diary entries mentioned “life was to short to be ordinary.” This is the only fitting way to remember a woman who wanted to pave a future for herself in her own terms. I sincerely hope Yingying’s family finds the comfort they need to overcome her loss. 

Recommended

To find more details about the latest lawsuit check here.

Finding Yingying will be available in Virtual Cinemas on December 11th you can find screenings here.

Finding Yingying is part of the Heartland International Film Festival 2020 line up and Double Exposure Film Festival 2020 line up.

Thanks to David Magdael & Associates for providing this film.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.