Uplifting GBLTQIA+ love stories free of melodramatic or tragic tropes aren’t always easy to find; sometimes you have to go to western South America for a really good one. Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo’s Los Fuertes (aka The Strong Ones) (B+) is a thoughtful and engrossing romantic drama about love that emerges between just the right people at almost exactly the right moment. Samuel González plays a student buying time in Southern Chile before graduate studies in Canada who meets a mysterious fisherman (with a most uncommon side hustle of historical battle reenactments in local fortresses) played by Antonio Altamirano. This is a film of wisely observed episodes in which there’s not a huge sweeping plot, just a swoon-worthy coastal courtship and the onslaught of potential longing and loss. Both ruggedly handsome actors are excellent in portraying men letting down their guards. They commit fully to authenticity on screen. Hidalgo wisely foregoes heavy-handed symbolism or amped-up high stakes and simply captures this love in bloom in sequences of joy, yearning and consequence. The gorgeous scenery and surroundings lend a lived-in quality to the proceedings equally interpreted as epic or fleeting, and the reality of the relationship that plays out is worth exploring.
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Kornél Mundruczó’s Pieces of a Woman (B-) is a devastating and uneven glimpse at a tragedy befalling an American couple soon after bringing a child into the world. The performances are so stunningly good that it’s a shame there wasn’t a more compelling or urgent through-line to maintain the interest generated in a searing prologue. The film will undoubtedly be remembered for the hook of a prolonged childbirth sequence magnificently filmed in a single take and the central performance by Vanessa Kirby, whose acting is incredible especially as she has to show viewers her interior struggles. Shia LaBeouf is good in an underwritten role as her husband, but the other acting powerhouse here is Ellen Burstyn in the kind of fierce role that begs for its own movie. The film’s autumnal elegance and grace is maintained throughout, but its plot and pacing keeps viewers at a slight distance just when you want to find out more about what’s driving the relationships and maternal instincts. It’s a tough watch, recommended mainly for awards season completists because the female performances are peerless.
First-time director Regina King’s assured film adaptation of stage play One Night in Miami… (B) is a fierce four-hander with magnificent acting by Kinglsey Ben-Adir as Malcolm X, Eli Goree as Muhammad Ali, Aldis Hodge as Jim Brown and Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke experiencing a fictionalized meeting after a Florida boxing bout circa 1964. King creates safe space for a dramatic moment in time showcasing religious, civil rights, sports and music titans getting real in dialogue about their lots in life and a collective summons to seize their destinies. These kindred spirits’ struggles pulse with resonance in a social justice reckoning culture some five and a half decades later. It’s a handsome production with lovely period detail and art direction. All the actors are superb, with Ben-Adir an empathetic and humane standout (he actually out-Denzels an already iconic screen performance). King brings a sensitive voyeur lens to conversations these Black men have when utterly unfiltered, akin to a style pioneered by Spike Lee in the superior Get on the Bus. The talky technique doesn’t always transcend the audacity of its premise, but it’s ultimately a night of uncanny wake-up calls.