This Week's Film Reviews (July 14, 2017)

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is the big movie making its debut this week.

Best Bets of the Week:

Best Film Opening: CHASING CORAL

Best Horror: ALIEN: COVENANT

Best Family: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Best Foreign: GRADUATON

Best Documentary: INTEGRAL MAN

Best Comedy: BABY DRIVER

 To find a review for a past film, type the title of the film in the SEARCH box on the front page of site.

FILM REVIEWS:

CHASING CORAL (USA 2017) ***

Directed by Jeff Orlowski

 

Opening Friday July 14th on Netflix and in a few few cinemas (if one can be found in your city), is a Netflix original documentary, and one that is worthwhile to take a look at, in terms of education and importance of the consequences of global warming.

Those familiar with filmmaker Jeff Orlowski will remember his Emmy Award winning documentary CHASING ICE that demonstrated the disappearance of ice on the planet’s surface over time due to climate global warming.  This new documentary CHASING CORAL traces the death of corals around the world, again due to global warming.  The film is timely arriving at the same time as Al Gore’s sequel to AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH and when President Donald Trump opted out of the G20 climate accord.

CHASING CORAL is both a horror story and a feel good film.  Director Orlowski who co-wrote the film follows the standard format for this kind of documentary.  The problem is stated, and emphasized throughout the film, then shows the facts on film with the hard and tireless work put in by those involved.  He then shows where the problem is headed and what one can do about it.  Experts are interviewed to underline the key points in the film.

CHASING CORAL also turns out to be entertaining through the many stunning photographed shots of corals with fish and other creatures that survive on it.  Though the complicated cameras are shown, most of the technical details are just lightly touched.  All the audience is told is that it is a very tedious and difficult process with turns out very frustrating for the time involved.

Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world.

The film takes the audiences to various coral reefs around the world.  Photographs are shown of dying reefs, bleached white from as far as Thailand, the Florida Keys in the U.S. and the Philippines.  The most famous reef of all, The Great Barrier Ref on the east coast of Australia is where the film spends most of the time on.  The most horrific fact revealed is that 29% of the corals in the northern part has died in the one year of 2016.  The world has also lost 50 % of all the coral life in the past 30 years.  A presentation of the fact is shown with spectators wiping tears from their eyes.  It is a devastating fact.  The reefs feed the ocean life and with that gone, the forests and eventually man will perish through the destruction of the Eco-system.

It i weird that despite all the warnings Orlowski has sounded during his film, he ends it on a positive note saying the emission of carbon fuels are already cut down and that many cities around the world are already doing their part.  The U.S. is not on the list of countries doing their part.

Trailer: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=b6fHA9R2cKI

THE LITTLE HOURS (USA 2017) **
Directed by Jeff Baena

THE LITTLE HOURS is a naughty sex comedy based on The Decameron

by Giovanni Boccaccio, written and directed by Jeff Baena who is reportedly did some studies in Medieval History.

The story involves a young servant, Massetto (Dave Franco) fleeing from his master (Nick Offerman) after been discovered frolicking with his wife.  He takes refuge at a convent full of nuns pretending to be a deaf mute at the advice of Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly).  The nuns led by Sister Mare(Molly Shannon) are no innocent creatures of God and prayer.  The tim concentrates on three of these ‘mean nuns’ Sister Alessandra (Alison Brie, Dave Farnco’s real-life wife), Sister Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) and the most naive of all Ssistr Ginerva (Kate Micucci) who turns out to be the worst of the lot.

The humour is lame at best.  It seems as if the script is grabbing at last straws at being funny.  Take the dialogue of a nun at confession out of a scene from nowhere: Father, I have sinned.  Yesterday, i took out a whole turnip and ate it without sharing with the sisters…”  to which she is told to stop being greedy.

It does not help the narrative that there is no strong lead character but multiple character including three nuns, the Father and the supposedly deaf-mute.  The film appears to aimlessly move along with any goal, message or purpose.

The film is clearly not a harmless sex comedy for it contains some nasty parts.  One is a graphic description of torture methods that thankfully are not shown on screen.  The sex scenes are too erotic for comfort with too much nudity for a normal film.  It is not surprised that the film was chosen and premiered at Sundance in the Midnight madness Section, implying tat all is possible and that audiences can be shocked.

For a film that puts in so much effort into location, look and period atmosphere all the characters speak in modern American accent, using words like “Get the f*** out of here, don’t f***ing tap to me,” even though the f word was clearly never used in those times.

The film occasionally has the feel of a Monty Python film, hat can get as raunchy at times.  The most identical scene is the one in the castle where two guards look after the cell of a prisoner.

Aubrey Plaza (most memorable as the bikini clad girl Robert De Niro drops his ice-cream on) who plays a naughty Sister Fernanda also serves as producer of the movie.

Director Baena attempts to pick up the film’s pace with a climatic rescue of Massetto from the castle prison by the three sisters.  The decoy is a tortoise with a candle on its shell -  a possible metaphor for the story’s pace.

For all THE LITTLE HOURS is worth, the film appears like an alternative remake of MEAN GIRLS set in a convent in the Decameron Tales era.  But with less plot and unfortnately less humour.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dc_wqGyXCs8

 

PAST LIFE (Israel/Poland 2016)***
Directed by Avi Nesher
 
      Director Avi Nesher (THE MATCHMAKER, TURN LEFT AT THE END OF THE WORLD) sets the stage in the film’s first scene when Sephi (Joy Rieger) performs (she is a tenor in a choir) in Berlin.  An elderly woman ( Katarzyna Gniewkowska) reproaches her after, in public, accusing her of being a murderer’s daughter.  Back home, she relates the incident to her feisty sister, Nana (Nelly Tatar), a writer for her husband’s journal and she insists of finding the truth of what happened in the war with their father, Dr. Baruch Milch (Doron Tavory).
 
      The film is a period piece, beautifully mounted with vintage cars and sets and set in the year 1977.  It is a spellbinding tale that tracks the trans-European odyssey of two sisters as they try to unravel a wartime mystery that has cast a shadow on their lives.   Sephi is an aspiring composer, determined to succeed in the male-dominated classical music world.  Her older sister Nana is a scandal-sheet journalist and aspiring playwright.  The daughters of Holocaust survivors, the two are bent on uncovering the truth behind a dark family secret.
 
      The entire film hinges on what the secret is.  To keep the film interesting from start to end, Nesher inserts a rift between the siblings.  Sephi is content not to unravel the skeleton in the closet while Nana is the opposite.  Nesher paints a more interesting character in Nana as she is one hot female, always searching, always wanting the truth which damages her relationship with her husband who owns the journal she writes for.  To make matters worse, Nana believes that he flirts with Sephi.  This makes the story more down to earth though the tension feels forced at times.  Nesher also inserts a segment that involves the timely discovery of the father’s document in the archives just before the starting of a concert.  This tactic is obvious to heighten tension though it compromises the authenticity of the story.
 
        Nesher’s film is also clearly devoid of humour.  The light touches in dialogue come mainly from Nana’s lines, especially the ones in the hospital or seeing the doctor.  But rather than being funny, they come across as cynicism.
 
         Neshe’s strength are in the dramatic parts.  The film’s best segment is unexpectedly the meeting in the park at night of the girl’s mother (Evgenia Dodina) and the elderly woman at the concert at the film’s beginning.  The mother’s begging of her forgiveness for her and her husband  is both moving and riveting.
 
        The film was inspired by Dr. Baruch Milch’s book Can Heaven Be Void?, which is based on  a diary he kept during WWII, and the extremely difficult decisions he had to face during the times.  Nana in real life edited the father’s book while the sister Sephi composed the orchestral piece to exorcise their demons.
 
          Nesher is himself a Holocaust survivor, so making this film must be a story he wanted to tell from his heart.  PAST LIFE eventually turns out to be a powerful film about the importance of forgiveness.
 
 
 

TO THE BONE (USA 2017) *

Directed by Marti Noxon

 

The credits both opening and closing proudly announces TO THE BONE a film about anorexia, the eating disorder a Netflix original movie.  It has been proclaimed that Netflix gets to make films studios are scared to make.  This definitely holds true for this depressing, unglamorous project on a subject suffering from anorexia and shunned by her family.  But TO THE BONE is so bad that one wonders if the studios could foresee the fact.

One would expect more from director Noxon and lead star Lili Collins who both suffer from the disorder.  But the film glamourizes the illness in the way Collins looks so beautiful in every scene and everything she does appears ok and everyone else especially her stepmother is wrong.  But unforgivable is the fact that the film is a really boring exercise from start to end.  It does not help with the weird ending in which her real mother, Susan (Lili Taylor) feeds her milk from a baby bottle and a fantasy scene in which Ellen she's herself nude on the ground, presumably dead.

It is hard to judge Collin’s performance when the film is this awful.  Taylor does the best she can and Keanu Reeves has the odd role as Ellen’s charismatic doctor who is supposed to a do wonders with his unconventional methods. “I’m not going to treat you if you do not want to live!” He tells Ellen the first time he interviews her.

The story follows teenager Ellen who has dropped out of college.  Her stepmother, Judy who lives with her real dad wants her to be cured from her anorexia.  But Judy is shown as a very intolerant and bad mother, always criticizing poor Ellen and downright silly, making silly assumptions that Ellen and her stepsister always laugh about.  So, Ellen is convinced to go to this medical facility led by Dr. William Beckam (Reeves).  There is nothing in the film that shows him to be revolutionary in his treatment.  His insistence of telling Ellen’s inner voice to ‘ f*** soft is laughable if not downright unbelievable.  The facility consists of an assortment of skinny patients that are there to make Ellen look good.  The subplot of Ellen having a romantic fling with the one boy, Luke (Alex Sharp), who wants to be a singer/dancer leads nowhere.

The film at least looks crisp and clear, especially with the desert landscape at the end, courtesy of cinematographer Richard Wong.  Music is decent with an original song near the end.

But the film teaches nothing about anorexia nor does it offer any real insight on the people suffering from it.  The least the script could have done is provide some medical information on the subject.  The film also inserts unnecessary new age material.  Ellen’s mother is a lesbian.  In one scene, she praises her own breakdown saying people should have them to learn from them.  Susan also puts a Ellen in a tent with no electricity with kerosene lamps for light and a bedpan if one need to go do their stuff.  Ellen (or Eli, since she changes her name half way through the film for no proper reason) has not come out of life any smarter and neither has the audience.

Trailer: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=705yRfs6Dbs

 

 

 

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (USA 2017) **

Directed by Matt Reeves

 

The original PLANET OF THE APES films were camp and occasionally goofy.  They were never taken that seriously.  The first featured Charlton Heston stripped naked so that the audience could see his bare buttocks and ended with him cursing God after discovering the Stature of Liberty half buried in the sand.  This followed with BENEATH THE PLANT OF THE APES where subterranean creatures were battling the apes that ending with Earth blowing up.  What next?   ESCAPE FROM, CONQUEST and the most ridiculous BATTLE FOR which ended the series.

The series reboot began similarly with PLANET OF THE APES flowed by RISE and DAWN OF and now WAR FOR.  The primary difference is that the reboot series is serious fodder.  The camp and fun is gone.  What is left is a serious man vs. ape and the fight for what is right, things that also can get quite ridiculous.  When things get ridiculous, the series will end.

The plot takes place two years after the events of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes have been embroiled in a war against humans.  As the ape population decreases, Caesar wrestles with his darker instincts (isn’t the film serious enough?) in order to avenge his fallen companions.   The encounter with the apes and humans puts them into the ultimate confrontation, to determine the fate of the Earth.  But the plot is not as simple as it sounds. It also involves a mad colonel (Woody Harrelson) a kind of Marlon Brando character from APOCALYPSE NOW.  (There is a poster with the words APEPOCALYPSE NOW, as if the similarity is not already evident.)  The actual war involves two factions of human beings - one led by the colonel who believes that sick human begin should be totally destroyed and the other the rest of the world who believe that the sick can be cured.  The apes are caught in between.  The problem with all this is the oversimplified plot.  What about the other nations of the world like he Chinese, Indians etc.  Also, the number of apes can never outnumber the number of humans, though the excuse given is the virus that eliminated most of the human population. 

Caesar leads the apes out of the jungle to the new land like Moses in the Bible’s old Testament.  The analogy is so obvious and makes the film even more serious for the fact.  To the filmmakers’ credit, the film has excellent production values and looks absolutely stunning on film.

So what is the attraction of the PLANET OF THE APES films?  Someone once told me he wanted to go see it because he was so obsessed with seeing apes riding horses with rifles slung round their backs.  The question is whether the fascination will hold after 4 or 5 similar films.  WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is the 4th of the reboot series and cost a whopping a amount of money with a running time of 140 minutes.  Perhaps enough is enough!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEP1Mk6Un98

 

 

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