Boat Ride to Isla Taboga

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Taboga Island, Panama

Movie Recommendations – Volume V

“Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again.”

Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again. Whether it is in the movie theater or at your home theater, this time of the year is best not just for Christmas movies but for watching new releases in general. Between the streaming services, new theater movies, or even documentaries, there are a lot of excellent movies coming out to close out 2022. I recently saw four movies that I would recommend to others with three of them being watched at home and one in the theaters. Even if some of these movies are not in theaters, I would recommend checking them out through Apple TV+ in this case for a short-term subscription.

  1. The Fablemans

A semi-biographical film about one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th and perhaps 21st century, ‘The Fablemans’ is an intricate tale of a genius who discovers his calling slowly but surely through his own ingenuity, his family’s encouragement, and with a little bit of luck. Steven Spielberg may not be named as the main character, but this is his life story told through his eyes and what it was like being a Jewish kid growing up in New Jersey, Arizona, and later California in the post-World War II era as his parents struggle to provide for him and his two sisters.

While Spielberg has this innate talent for filmmaking, he wasn’t always set on doing it for a living and struggled with his own doubts. His parents, while supportive, did not always see where his dream could go and were distracted by the issues in their own marriage that caused a divorce to occur. On top of that, having to move for his father’s work in the dawning of the computer age to communities out west not as friendly to American Jews, Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’ covers the ugliness of antisemitism rearing its head and how Spielberg as a teenager was forced to confront it and the bullies who continue these vile tropes.

While not exactly a feel-good story, it is an excellent semi-biographical tale on how The Fablemans as well as The Spielbergs made his dream work and were crucial to the man who would become the most famous director in the world. It is an immensely personal movie with both its tragic and triumphant moments. It is a story that I believe a lot of us can relate to these days on how to overcome setbacks and trials in the pursuit of a life’s goal or dream.

2. Causeway

Not all wounds of war are physical. If I had to sum up the movie, ‘Causeway’ starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Lila Neugebauer, it would highlight how post-traumatic stress disorder highlights those wounds that are mental but brought on by physical trauma. Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Lynsey, an American Army Corps of Engineers specialist who suffers a traumatic brain injury from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that causes her not just physical pain but PTSD as well. Her memory suffers, her eye and hand coordination, and even her ability to form complete sentences is affected. It is a long road to recovery but luckily, she meets people along the way including a home health aide who cares for her upon her return to the States doing backbreaking work to give Lynsey the chance to get her mental and physical faculties together.

Even after the physical recovery seems to be going well, Lynsey suffers from the PTSD that the explosion caused and the horrific memories of seeing her fellow soldiers die in front of her eyes. While the home health aide and physical therapy helps, as a returned soldier, all she wants to do is get back to the front to continue the work she was doing in Afghanistan. She sees that people including her own mother, who was neglectful to her as a child, while she cares about Lynsey, has moved on without her and doesn’t understand quite what she’s been through. Lynsey finds a job cleaning rich people’s pools in New Orleans where she’s from but doesn’t see it as worthy of her skills she acquired while on active duty in Afghanistan. Lynsey has an older brother as well who is away and out of her life due to his involvement in drugs, so she does not have him around either as a steadying influence.

The one person she does relate to is a man named James who has been through his own trauma involving a car accident that left him with an amputated leg. They’ve both seen more than they would care to in life and they are able to bond with each other despite the difficulties of their past. In a world where both feel increasingly isolated and distant, the bond they share as friends may sustain them for the future and keep them from turning to despair. ‘Causeway’ is a great film that really shows you the reality of what it can be like to return to home from war and the mental and physical scars a soldier can take with him or her that never fully heal.

3. Emancipation

There have been multiple movies about the Civil War and about Slavery, but ‘Emancipation’ is an excellent recent film starring Will Smith as an escaping slave in Louisiana yearning to be free and reunite with his still enslaved family. Antoine Fuqua’s directing is on point in this one with sweeping views of civil war battlefields, old plantations, and muddy swamps with a unique choice of filming ‘Emancipation’ in black and white with red being the only other color represented usually by a character’s blood being spilt. This film does not sugarcoat anything and is based on true events and the real-life story of an escaped slave of Gordon or ‘Whipped Peter’ who was whipped repeatedly before escaping from a Louisiana plantation after killing two of the slave drivers before running towards where Lincoln’s army was fighting around Baton Rouge.

‘Emancipation’ does not hesitate to show brutality on screen as well as the violence of a Civil War battle where freed slaves would fight to liberate others from their enslavement. Some viewers may be turned off by the sheer violence of the film, but I thought that it was a rather accurate portrayal of the cruelty of slave owners, the terrible conditions that they were forced to do labor in, as well as the dogs, snakes, alligators, and muddy swamps that an escaped slave would have to go through to reach the Union Army. Many slaves like Peter who were able to escape were not treated that much better than the Union Army besides being free although they had no choice usually but to fight for the Union to free others and to hope to see their families again if they were able to liberate other plantations.

I would recommend this film due to Smith’s performance, the excellent cinematography, as well as the historically accurate nature of Peter’s experience in escaping from slavery, preventing himself from being captured again and fighting with other African Americans in the Union Army to end the horrors of slavery once and for all.

4, The Banshees of Inisherin

It is not every day where you’re able to watch a comedy and a tragedy take place in the same movie but ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ succeeds on both accounts. Led by an excellent cast including Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon, the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of mainland Ireland is made up of a real bunch of characters who live out a life of repetition, tomfoolery, and drinking, which is a bit of community unifier. Set against the backdrop of the real Irish Civil War of 1922-1923, most of the Inisherin population is ignorant of what happens on the mainland and choose to tend to farm, to shop, and to drink, often excessively, as part of their daily routines.

One of the main characters, Colm Doherty (played by Brendan Gleeson), is fed up with a life in Inisherin that would revolve around just that and as he gets older, wishes to be remembered for his music and his song lyrics rather than getting drunk each day. That is the premise of the falling out he has with drinking buddy and friend, Padraic, (played by Colin Farrell), and while Padraic is nice, he is not someone Colm wishes to hang out with him again even though they are bound to run into each other.

The friendship was so strong and close that one day when it goes away, Padraic refuses to give up on Colm even though he tires of never getting a straight answer out of him. The refusal to lose out on a friend in such a small community, which conflicts with his desire to remain a ‘nice’ guy in the community causes Padraic as well as his sister, Siobhan, a lot of consternation and disappointment leading Padraic to undertake drastic and even ruthless measures to get his friend, Colm, back.

‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ while a fictional movie taking place in a fictional island is one of the best films of 2022 and is well worth a watch. It will make you laugh out loud, hold a tear back or two, and think of a time where you had a hard time letting go whether it was of a former friend or even a family member due to some personal grievance or a difference that came up. The film ponders some philosophical questions and does not belittle the audience with simplistic answers. It is an excellent tragicomedy and one worth seeing especially for Mr. Farrell and Mrs. Condon’s performances.

Parque Nacional Soberanía

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Soberania National Park; Las Cumbres, Panama

‘Triple Frontier’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Heist movies in Hollywood are a dime a dozen these days and can be quite predictable as well as not very engaging in terms of the characters and their backstories. ‘Triple Frontier’, a film released in early 2019 by Netflix takes the genre and makes it fresh again.”

Heist movies in Hollywood are a dime a dozen these days and can be quite predictable as well as not very engaging in terms of the characters and their backstories. ‘Triple Frontier’, a film released in early 2019 by Netflix takes the genre and makes it fresh again. The film explains the background of the characters, their individual motivations for conducting the heist, and the twists and turns along with a few surprises that happen along the way that will make the audience feel like it’s worth watching until the very end.

Not only is the film shot well with great cinematography, pacing, and direction so you know what is always going on even with the quick-paced action, it’s an intelligent heist movie, which is well thought out and involves a greater mission that the characters have despite their own personal motivations. The scope of ‘Triple Frontier’ or ‘Tres Fronteiras’ in Spanish is unique in that the film is set in the tri-border region of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil so it is an excellent way for the various sets to highlight this unique region of the world. From tree-covered jungles to rocky highlands to snowy mountain tops, the initial heist phase of the movie is bolstered by the 2nd half’s battle against not just external enemies but also by geographic factors.

The heart of the ‘Triple Frontier’ film is the story of the protagonists themselves. Each of them from different backgrounds but united by their special forces’ experiences, which bind them together as brothers. While the story does not get into their past experiences together, the film does a good job selling how close the bond is between the five of them is and how much they still care for each other. Civilian life has treated each of the five men differently but what they hold in common is their desire to improve their lives and go back to doing what they do best. Each of them is financially struggling to get by whether it is by dealing with a costly divorce, or by beating a misdemeanor drug charge, or by needing to fight in mixed martial arts to make more money, or by making dozens of motivational speeches to current soldiers to make ends meet.

The leader of the group, Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia, is not so much as motivated by the money but rather to capture a notorious drug lord and leader of a prominent cartel in the ‘Triple Frontier’ who has been able to evade Pope for years as well as his Colombian counterparts. Pope has a hard time trusting the locals he is meant to led and needs a group of soldiers as well as his friends to ‘watch his six’ and help deliver Lorea for him. Pope has a local informant, Yovanna, helping him locate Lorea’s whereabouts and he just needs a solid team behind him to lead the raid as well as the heist but who better than his four ex-special forces colleagues who he knows can get the job done.

As with most things regarding a heist, it takes expert planning, a reconnaissance mission, as well as expert timing to make sure that things don’t go sideways when it comes time to exfiltration. After hearing from Yovanna that ‘the house is the safe’, and Lorea hides his money not in offshore banking accounts but in his fortress in the Amazonian jungle, Pope has the intelligence he needs to move forward with the heist. While each of the men have their own personal motivations to go on the heist with Pope, they are unified at first by their innate need for the large sums of money that can make them set for life and never have to worry about bills, MMA fights, or tedious motivational speeches ever again.

While each of Pope’s men question the ability for the heist to go smoothly, they feel like they owe it to each other to get it done especially each of them have a set of skills including one being a pilot (Francisco ‘Catfish’ Morales), one being a leader of the squad (Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis), a reconnaissance guy (William ‘Ironhead’ Miller), and the last being a stealth expert able to enact unarmed takedowns, (Ben ‘Benny’ Miller). Without each of his compatriots, Pope knows he cannot get the job done. With the help of Lorea’s money, Pope knows he can get Yovanna, his informant, and her brother out of the region safely without compromising their lives in the process.

While viewers would consider each of the men ‘greedy’ and ‘selfish’, the film makes their decision much more complex than that. They each know that his Lorea and his men pose a danger to the region and that they have a responsibility to look out for one another as brothers given the bonds, they formed with each other as previously active servicemembers. However, seeing as each of these five men have never experienced what it is to have $1 million at their disposal let alone tens or hundreds of millions, the film excellently portrays what it’s like when you finally stumble upon a smorgasbord of money never seen before and how that kind of greed can overwhelm someone, even the leader of the entire heist squad.

Money, like anything in life, when it’s too much with you or weighing you down, can cause things to go haywire when its impact is fully felt. Without spoiling the film for those readers who have not seen it, it’s not just the heist that could go wrong but also how to get the money back to themselves or their families after risking everything in the process. You can also carry so much physical money before you have too much where it starts to drag you down or also others with you, which could also put them in harm’s way if you are not careful. Each of the five men are very skilled in what they do, are loyal to each other, yet are fallible like the rest of us, and how they deal with their own greed, jealously, ego(s), and adversity in seeing the heist through carries the money to be one of the best of 2019, and a film to revisit for multiple viewings.

‘Triple Frontier’ is better than your average heist film for multiple reasons but most of all because it’s a very human film on how to overcome your own fears, doubts, shortcomings, to make sure your friend or brothers makes it back alive. The men are not good or bad men per say but are flawed in that they have given a lot to their country and the world, and now look to get what they desire in return, even if it may end up costing them dearly. The movie is not ‘black or white’ in terms of morality like other heist movies but rather shows the ‘grays’ in how people make decisions not just based on ‘self-interest’ but in a desire to be useful to the group and to put their skills to use.  

While it would be easy to say that ‘greed’ is a central theme that the film is based around, I would argue that the central theme is more about confronting our own nature and how to deal with murky aspects of right and wrong, and how that while money makes the world go around, that does not substitute for the guy or girl next to you who will fight with you, and even die for you. There are some things that money cannot buy and the film exemplifies that in its squad of five men, who while money is their motivation, they quickly learn that it is also a weight that will drag you down if you let it, and is no substitute to the man next to you, whose life is worth more than all the money you can carry, who is impossible to replace, and for which is truly worth fighting for and dying for, if necessary.

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