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This Week's Film Reviews (Apr 3, 2020)

31 Mar 2020

With all the cinemas closed, thee are still ways to see films.  One is using the Virtual Theatre.  Checkout the review for BACURAU below, whicch tells how you can watch this excellent films.  Many films have had their release dates UNSET.  A few films will be released directlty toiTunes or other viewing platforms.  These films will br reviewed as they are releaed.  RESISTANCE is released March 31st. and is reviewed here.

 

FILM REVIEWS

 

BACURAU (Brazil/France 2019) ***** Top 10

Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles

If the name of one of the directors Kleber Mendonca Filho sounds familiar, the reason is that it belongs to the one who has directed two of the best known Brazilian films recently, the brilliant NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS and AQUARIUS.

Bucurau is the hit from Brazil that has been seen by more than 1 million Brazilians.  The film plays like a Sergio Leone western adventure coupled with a sci-fi mystery element in which an entire village is forced to take up arms to protect itself from extinction.  The film won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2019 sharing the prize with LES MISERABLES.

The welcome sign to the fictitious village of Bacurau reads: “If you go, go in peace”.  The film begins with a girl, Teresa (Barbara Colen) coming to the village, riding on the water truck to attend her grandmother’s funeral. 

BACURAU was filmed in the village of Barra in the municipality of Palelhas and in the rural area of the municipality of Acari, at the Sertão do Seridó region, in Rio Grande de Norte.

Something is amiss.  When a political candidate, Tony Junior (Thardelly Lima) enters the village, he is greeted with hostility, accused of shutting off water the village obtains from the dam.  This is the reason water has to brought by the water truck.  The truck shot with holes indicate that someone higher up wishes the village to disappear.  The climate gets worse.

Directors File and Dornelles build up audience anticipation very well, starting from the welcome sign to the village.  Then, things get dicier.  First the water truck is riddled with bullet holes from shots out of nowhere.  Then the local teacher, when attempting to show Bacurau on the map to his students find that the village has disappeared from the online map.  The cellphone signals then disappear.  Out of the blue, two strangers from motorbikes appear.  Are they intruders or just innocent tourists out to tour the country?  Bacurau runs 2 hours and ten minutes, is a bit slow moving but never boring for the above reason.

The directors also pay attention to detail, like a brief camera shot of a dog scratching itself as two bikers enter the village.  The flies on the food emphasize the heat, stink and the rural setting.

Sonia Braga, the sex bomb from past films like DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS and KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN appears in the supporting role of a doctor in the village.  Braga is now 70 but still commands a powerful screen presence.  Her character is given key lines and Braga is till a pleasure to watch.  Most of the villagers are played by non-professional from a similar village in the area.  Udo Kier, the German actor who is famous for play crazed madman has his role of a lifetime as an over-the-top crazed mercenary.

At one point in the film, a dialogue line goes: “You are staying here like the fag, Che Guevara.”  There is absolutely no reason for that gay decretory term and it is films like this one that creates the notion in people’s minds that comments like these are ok.  Still there is a queer element in the film that won it the Palm Queer award. 

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the partners of Kino Lorber, the film distributors are setting up virtual theatres in order for audiences to view the film

There are 2 Toronto theatres presently on this initiative: Details below: ($12 is good for a 5-day pass to see the film)

**NOW OPEN! Digital Screenings for Toronto audiences 
to attend & support their local arthouse & virtual theaters!**
 
NOW OPEN! Regent Theatre, Toronto
 
OPENING VIRTUALLY APRIL 3, Fox Theatre, Toronto

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi961003289?playlistId=tt2762506&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

RESISTANCE (UK/France/Germany/USA 2019) ***

Directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz

(Note: Though set in France, thee is hardly any French spoken.)

The closing credits read that we should not forget the WWII efforts of the RESISTANCE workers.  With that, one would find it difficult to fault a well-intentioned film that pays tribute to the Resistance fighters of the Nazi Regime.  Still, RESISTANCE is a flawed, if earnest look at too many stories told in a WWII setting.

The first and foremost is the story of the world’s most famous mime of all time, Marcel Marceau.  I was unaware that this person served in the Resistance saving thousands of Jewish children.  Thanks to writer/director Jonathan Jakubowicz for bringing the information to light.  Jakubowicz researched his material from many books - on Marceau, on Klaus Barbie, the French Resistance as well as from the testimonies of contemporary survivors. 

RESISTANCE is clearly about paying tribute to Marceau and the Resistance fighters who have saved millions of children from those damned Nazis.  The story is told from the point of view of Marceau, who is also a talented theatre performer and painter.  His painting skills allowed him to forge passports.  Marceau falls in love with a local girl, Emma.  They get pulled into helping Jewish children.  They soon realize that the Nazis will get the children sooner or later and the only option was to move the children out of Occupied France.  Unfortunately, the film swings from one premise to another.  At one point, it is about Mareau’s entertaining skills, next it is a WWII action flick, then it attempts a biography of Marceau and then a tribute to the resistance fighters.  Of those mentioned, the latter stands out and forms the at least satisfying climax of the film.

Where the film works, is when it gets a bit emotional though the sappiness is thankfully held back.  The debate between Marceau (Jesse Eisenberg) and Emma (Clémence Poésy) is particularly moving.  The opening segment where a young girl Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey) watches her parents killed by the Nazi’s and Marceau’s mime performance at the end are worthy of mention.

Eisenberg, the Oscar nominated actor (for THE SOCIAL NETWORK) with the motor-mouth surprisingly speaks much slower in this film, for obvious reasons.  Eisenberg speaks English with an odd Jewish slant, as do all the Fresh actors in English.  The Germans speak German.   Eisenberg could be better in this role but the script does not allow him to excel as in THE SOCIAL NETWORK.   Eisenberg does ok with the miming, but he is not that good.  But who can blame him?  No one could ever be better than Marcel Marceau.  Ed Harris has a cameo as General George S. Patton but his performance lasts no longer than 5 minutes.   Matthias Schweighöfer, who also is one of the film’s co-producers plays Klaus Barbie, the ruthless Gestapo agent who is shown with a nice quiet side with his family.

RESISTANCE feels pretty depressing, especially if watching during the COVID-19 self-isolation/lockdown all over the world.  One can feels for the Jewish isolation with regards to fear of an outside incontrollable threat.  RESISTANCE opens on iTunes March the 31st, so you will be able to see it.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3863133977?playlistId=tt6914122&ref_=tt_ov_vi

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This Week's Film Reviews (Mar 20, 2020)

14 Mar 2020

All cinemas are closed as of this week.  So, VOD platfrom Films are the way to go.  This week sees the unset dates of otherwise films that were scheduled to be released this week.  These films include QUIET PLACE 2, NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS, THE CONDUCTOR and THE REST OF US.  VIVARIUM, which was supposed to be released this week is released instead on VOD platforms.  Its review is inlcuded below.

Stay safe, everyone.

 

As the cliched line goes : "We will get thorugh this."

FILM REVIEWS:

VIVARIUM (Ireland/Belgium/Denmark 2019) ***
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan

An eerie, strange and unexplained story but a possibility that could have happened in real life.  These are traits of the stories appearing in Rod Sterling’s famous TV series THE TWILIGHT ZONE that was also adapted into a play at London’s west end.  Add the element of wry humour and what one would get is the new film VIVARIUM starring and executively produced by its two leads Imogen Boots and Jesse Eisenberg, two of the film industry’s brightest young actors.

The film opens with Gemma (Poots) ending her class of young ones as the kids head home.  There is nothing connected in this sequence with the story except to show Gemma’s soft spot for children.  The audience is then introduced to her boyfriend or husband, Tom (Eisenberg) the film never makes clear, not that it matters.

Ready to buy a home together, the couple meet with Martin (Jonathan Aris), a strange real estate agent who takes them to a suburban community called “Yonder” where empty green cookie-cutter houses (green chosen for lily the film’s Irish roots) stretch endlessly down the streets.  Each home is painted the same mint green and landscaped with the same perfect tree.  Even the clouds look fake, like cotton balls pasted onto the sky.  After showing the couple house no. 9, Martin disappears.  But when Tom and Gemma try to drive home, they keep ending back at no. 9.  Then a box arrives with a baby and a note: “raise the child and be released.”  Within
weeks, the baby has grown to the size of a seven-year old boy.  And then a young adult.

According to the press notes: The film takes its title from “an enclosure for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions.”  It touches on hot-button topics such as food origins (tasteless strawberries) and gender roles (is Gemma expected to mother the boy while Tom toils in the yard?).   The script written by Garret Shanly (who also collaborated with Finnegan’s last horror film WITHOUT NAME) could have done more with leaving a statement on suburban living or being more ironic on the male and female roles as well as the rearing of a child.  The script is lazy in its omission for care of the baby.  After receiving the baby in the box, the next segment has the baby grown up as a kid.  The film goes downhill after the baby is received.  The note ‘raise the child and be released’ sort of spoils it all.  Not many surprises arrive after this.  There is nothing much to reveal in the story except to show the drama that goes on between the changeling boy and his foster parents and between Gemma and Tom.

VIVARIUM was scheduled to open theatrically this week Friday March the 20th but due to the Covid-19 pandemic will only be available on VOD platforms.  Despite its flaws, VIVARIUM is often than enough a good home entertainment nail-biter.  Think of it as an extended Twilight Zone episode.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4132224793?playlistId=tt8368406&ref_=tt_ov_vi

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This Week's Film Reviews (March 13, 2020)

03 Mar 2020

 

THIS week surprisingly has three excellent and highly recommended films opening, that MUST be seen.  They are the Romanian film THE WHISTLERS, the Irish comedy EXTRA ORDINARY. and the drama FIRST COW.

 

FILM REVIEWS:

EXTRA ORDINARY. (Ireland/Belgium/Finland/UK 2019) ****
Directed by Mike Ahern and End Loughman

EXTRA ORDINARY. feels so much like and will likely have the same fate as the small budget 1997 Australian comedy, THE CASTLE by Rob Sitches.  THE CASTLE followed a down-to-earth Melbourne family fighting and eventually winning their case against City Hall that wants their house removed to build an airport runaway.  I remember how funny the film was though it had not been released yet in Toronto when I first saw it.  I was in Sydney that Christmas when the video was first released in Australia.  So popular it was there that all the video stores had all the copies rented out.  I only managed to secure a copy while in Perth and indeed it was one of the funniest comedies I had seen in a long time.  EXTRA ORDINARY. is very much similar a film.  EXTRA ORDINARY. like THE CASTLE is inspired by a true story, based on quirky characters and is very, very funny.

The film opens with a driving instructor, Rose (Maeve Higgins) placing flowers on the roadside grave following her father’s death being hit by a truck.  Actually the father was killed by the truck while exorcising a dog in a pothole.  When she takes off in her car, a garbage truck arrives immediately after and the flowers chucked into the truck.  The scene is done in an overhead shot which writer/directors Ahern and Loughman appear to be very fond of.

Rose, a sweet, lonely driving instructor in rural Ireland, is gifted with supernatural abilities which her deceased father used to make use of.  Rose has a love/hate relationship with her 'talents'  and tries to ignore the constant spirit related requests from locals - to exorcise possessed rubbish bins or haunted gravel.  But Christian Winter (Will Forte from SNL), a washed up, one-hit-wonder (Cosmic Woman, the hit is called) rock star, has made a pact with the devil for a return to greatness!  He puts a spell on a local teenager- making her levitate. Her terrified father, Martin Martin (Barry Ward), asks Rose to help save his daughter.  Rose has to overcome the fear of her supernatural gift and work with Martin to save the girl.  Rose runs away during one dealing with the supernatural saying. “I cannot do this.  This is way over my head.  I am having a panic attack!”  “Get a hold of yourself , woman,” screams Martin.  While all this is going on, a romance buds between Martin and Rose.

The film draws inspiration from films like THE EXORCIST and even GHOSTBUSTERS.  With the floating possesses teenage daughter of Martin, Rose says that exorcism is not all vomit and masturbating with crucifixes.

Anything can happen…… (mostly funny things) at any time in the movie.  Chinese food can arrive in the midst of a devil ceremony; a virgin can lose her virginity before being sacrificed and be saved.  The film also includes a car chase at the climax on pursuit of the levitated virgin.

EXTRA ORDINARY. destined to hit cult status, is a small budget film from Ireland full of quirky characters that is the funniest thing I have seen this year.  Totally recommended!

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi385924121?playlistId=tt8233874&ref_=tt_ov_vi

FIRST COW (USA 2019) ****

Directed by Kelly Reichardt

The film opens with titles that are dimly lit in a dark background reflecting the bleak times the film’s subjects are forced to endure.  The film shots never brighten and neither do the incidents affecting the film’s characters.  Still the cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt is magnificent and appropriate for Reichardt’s film.  Such a dismal theme is often found in a Kelly Reichardt film, Reichardt, a director who takes great pains to effect a realistic setting.

FIRST COW’s setting is the United States, in 19th century Oregon where times are bleak and people are trying to settle down while selling beaver pelts.  Among them is Cookie Fogiwitz (John Margaro) who is strangely a talented cook at the wrong place.  He makes a quick buck when he can selling goods he baked.   One night, he meets a naked Chinaman (Orion Lee), who is escaping Russians, one of whom he has apparently shot.  Cookie gives him food and a blanket.  The two become lifelong friends, despite their opposing personalities.  Both are opportunists though Cookie earns an honest living while the other convinces him to steal.

The film is entitled FIRST COW because the creature is the first of its kind to be brought into the region by a wealthy man, Chief Factor (Toby Jones).  He has the cow tied outside his residence, not knowing that the cow is milked daily by thieves in the night.  He only wonders the reason the cow is producing so little milk for him, though he knows the cow is of superior breed.  One of the best lines is when Cookie tells his buddy that the cow is of better breed than him.

One of the most observational facts of the film is the misplacement of everything.  The baker and the Chinese are the protagonists in a story set in the pioneer times of Oregon.  There are a misplaced wicked cruel Englishman (Toby Jones) and an uncouth Scots (Ewen Bremmer) as well.  The men are hunting beavers for their pelts while this fashion is going out of style in Paris and the other parts of the world.

Social status is eminent also in these bleak times.  Chief Factor wishes to impress the captain of a ship and asks Cookie to bake a kind of blueberry cake.  This man is totally oblivious to kindness, often wishing the mutineers on a ship be flogged and even killed to be made an example of other men thinking of doing the same.  It is not surprising then, then he goes after Cookie and the chinaman for stealing milk from his cow.  He hunts them down to be killed.  This makes the last part of the film.  Do the two escape their predators?  This is not the film’s purpose.

FIRST COW is based on Jonathan Raymond’s novel “The First Half” based on a script by Reichardt and Raymond. FIRST COW is smaller in scope than Reichardt’s previous films such as OLD JOY, WENDY AND LUCY and MEEK’S CUTOFF, but her attention to detail and meticulous directing make FIRST COW no less riveting.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi158580505?playlistId=tt9231040&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

LA GOMERA (THE WHISTLERS) (Romania/Germany/France 2019) ***** Top 10

Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

The film begins with the protagonist taking a ferry to an island.  No dialogue, no titles - just information that has to be deciphered by the audience cinematically.  The protagonist is stern, quite and thoughtful and different from the other ferry passengers who are clearly tourists.  When the ferry arrives, he is met by a man who addresses him as ‘inspector’.

In a typical Hollywood movie, titles, something like ‘5 week earlier’ would appear on the screen when the film would flashback to the events leading to that beginning.  No such thing in writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu’s excellent tale of corruption and mystique.  It takes a while before the audience (and this reviewer included) realizes that the film is not in chronological order, also moving back in time to the incidents that led to the man taking the ferry to a place revealed as La Gomera of the Canary Islands.

The foreign title of the film is the name of the island - LA GOMERA.  The English title THE WHISTLERS refers to the people that speak the land’s native tongue, a language totally formed out of whistling - a whistling language called El Silbo Gomera. 

Cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) learns to speak this language from his Spanish-speaking Mafioso ‘friends’ so that he can communicate with them without the knowledge of the cops who has every place under surveillance including Cristi’s home.

The story unfolds in 8 chapters each one (except for one called El Silbo Gomera) named after a character in the story.  (Last film/novel that had this was Mike Nichols CATCH-22).  The first one is entitled Gilda (the femme fatal pf the film noir), another Zsolt (a Mafioso prisoner) and the last Cristi, the name of the cop protagonist. 

For such a serious theme on the Mafioso, director Corneliu Porumboiu is unafraid to inject his brand of humour.  This can be observed in one scene where the mafioso in a factory is discussing their plans of freeing Zsolt from prison through poison.  A knock is heard and the meeting is interrupted by a filmmaker who says: “I am scouting for locations for my film and the outside of your factory is ideal.  Can I come into the factory and look inside?”  “Come in,“ is the reply.  Two shots can be heard afterwards.  Porumboius’s film is full of similar surprises.  The Hitchcock PYSCHO-style shower scene, complete with identical looking stabbing knife also deserves mention.  The film has a totally unexpected ending that takes place at the Gardens by the Bay in, believe it not, Singapore.

Besides the nod to PSYCHO, director Porumboiu brilliantly places a clip from John Ford’s THE SEARCHES that includes a scene where a whistle signal is made in a crucial moment.

The soundtrack is also diverse and relevant to the film’s story.  The beginning scene with Cristi as a passenger on the ferry has the Iggy Pop “Passenger” song heard on the soundtrack.  There is also a whistling version of the German song “Mac the Knife” as well as French opera music and assorted classical music like The Blue Danube and Ravel’s Bolero.

It is the attention to detail and the outrageous plot unfolding in absolutely dead seriousness with style and wit that makes Porumboiu’s film so deliciously wicked and entertaining.  The film was an immense hit when premiered at Cannes early this year and is a must-see for both cineastes and those who love their crime dramas really dark.  And the greatest marvel it all?  When Gilda whistles at the end of the movie, the audience understands what she is saying.  The El Silbo whistling language has been communicated to the audience. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7I6i943qUA

 

HOPE GAP (UK 2018) ***1/2

Directed by William Nicholson

 

The film is set in a seaside cove supposedly called HOPE GAP in Seaford, Sussex in England.  There really is such a place called Seaford with a stunning landscape effectively captured in all its glory by cinematographer Anna Valdez-Hanks.

HOPE GAP follows the break up of a 29-year old marriage as told from the points-of-view of the husband and wife.  It is a rocky road that is more travelled than recognized.

The typical hen-pecked husband and domineering wife is the stereotype of a British family.  In HOPE GAP, the male is given more prominence, as the script allows the husband to tolerate the wife’s nagging before finally making his stand.

As good as many times Oscar nominated actress Annette Bening is, she looks uncomfortable in this role, while sporting a British accent.  Bening has been type cast as the shit-disturber wife as she proved excellent opposite Kevin Spacey in AMERICAN BEAUTY.  Bill Nighy, always good in always he has been in (he was the only exciting character in the BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL) looks, in comparison, totally at ease in his role as the dissatisfied husband.  There is a certain pleasure watching quiet traits of a person forced to explode, as in this case.

Of all the film’s bleakness, there is one colourful segment on the beach where a colourful (orange, blue, yellow, green) row of changing tents is displayed.  This scene looks something right out of Ken Russell’s 1972 THE BOY FRIEND.

There is a neat segment where Edward complains about paying two pounds for an ice-cream cornetto.  It is a brilliant message snuck in about over-pricing.

Another recent film about a breakup that needs be mentioned, by inevitable comparison is Noah Bambauch’s A MARRIAGE STORY which also examines in detail the breakdown of a marriage.  Both films are excellent though MARRIAGE STORY goes deeper in-depth of the breakdown of the marriage while HOPE GAP goes for the emotions.  Performances by the actors in both films are though, extraordinary.  In fact, watching Nighy and Bening alone is worth the ticket price.

“No matter how bad it gets, I know that it could have been better knowing the you have gone there before me…”  These are some of the lines in HOPE GAP going over the top that overrides the overall mood of the film.  Still, in all earnestness, one has to give credit for effort.  The segment in which the desperate Grace enlists her son to save her torn marriage as a last, last resort is one that looks all too familiar in a marriage break-up.

The main trouble with HOPE GAP is after the revelation of the breakup a third into the movie, the film stumbles in trying to keep the audience’s attention span.  The big surprise could have been reserved for a bit later in the film.  All the happens after is nothing much, much a lot of moping, by all the parties including the son.

Ultimately HOPE GAP and MARRIAGE STORY though identical in theme, are largely differently films, and excellent ones as they are and should be seen for their uniqueness.

 Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2774122265?playlistId=tt7587876&ref_=tt_ov_vi

THE HUNT (USA 2019) ***
Directed Craig Zobel

A Blumhouse production, THE HUNT delivers what is expected from a Blumhouse horror film - low budget horror, effectively done, pure shock entertainment, and maybe a little message as in GET OUT and a little in THE HUNT where the privileged wealthy hunt for sport.

The outrageous plot gets even more outrageous towards the end.  Very little is explained at the beginning and figuring out the mystery is half the fun.  The film opens in the first class cabin of  a plane where a snotty passenger makes small talk regarding caviar and champagne with the flight stewardess.  It is clever that the passenger talks about three vintage champagne bottles discovered on a sunken ship, the only three existing in the world because the next thing is the audience assuming that the bottle of champagne next seen in the film is one of those precious three.  Back to the plane, mayhem ensues as a passenger from economy freaks out entering first class.  Someone of authority says that he is not supposed to wake up yet, to which the man is killed off.  The next scene takes place in a field where a number of such drugged passengers have been kidnapped and left there for THE HUNT.  The cat-and-mouse killing game in the field makes up one of the film’s most exciting action sequences.  In all of this, the main protagonist is singled out till, crystal (Betty Gilpin) about a third into the film.  Crystal is a female fighting machine.  The reason given is that she served in Afghanistan.  After the field, the next set piece is a gas station where the husband and wife owners turn out to be associated with the bad guys, unexpectedly.  With this respect, the film is quite clever and audience anticipation is kept maintained at a maximum.

The film contains references to George Orwell, with a pig bearing his last name and the main protagonist nicknamed Snowball, the name of the pig in Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM, the reason given in the film towards the end.  Are the references relevant?  Definitely irrelevant, but the references are still fun, regardless.

The script by Nick Cuse and Damon Lindel contains  a few of could be could-not-be scenarios.  Was one of Crystal’s mates with the bad guys or was he not?  Crystal wastes him regardless and the audience never knows the truth.  Not that it matters.

The cat fight between the villain, Athena (Hillary Swank) and Crystal at the film’s climax is high octane, edge of the seat excitement - an over-the-top fight full of violence, kitchen cutlery weaponry and acrobatics.  The only complaint is that it lasts too long - in terms of credibility and holding interest.

The story returns to the airplane setting in the beginning of the film for closure of plot.  The film could have closed at any other point without much difference.  THE HUNT is passable mindless fun though the film loves to play with ones mind with plot details that make no sense.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi189054745?playlistId=tt8244784&ref_=tt_ov_vi

MY SPY (USA 2020) ***

Directed by Peter Segel

Stars have in their careers made kid comedies, that are so-so though usually making tons of money.  Examples are Dwayne Johnson in TOOTH FAIRY, Arnold Schwarzenegger in JINGLE ALL THE WAY and even Eddie Murphy in DADDY DAY CARE.  Dave Baustista attempts the same playing covert spy J.J. Cena who has to deal with a precocious 9-year old who is evidently quite smart and intent of setting him up with her recently widowed mother.  J.J. (Baurista) has been sent undercover to do surveillance on her family, i.e. her and her mother, Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley).

Baustista looks reasonably comfortable with a kid as his side-kick, keeping a straight face (probably in order not to show his discontent) most of the time.  The usually annoying and boisterous Kim Jeong is actually a pleasure to watch here, as David Kim, J.J.’s boss.  Actress Kristen Schaal deserves  mentioned as J.J.’s jealous ‘partner’ who is totally infatuated by him.  She totally reminds one of a similar character in Alex de Iglesia’s EL CRIMO FERPECTO (FERPECT CRIME) in which there is a character who has an uncanny resemblance to Schaal, who is also infatuated with the protagonist.

The comedy is sufficiently free of toilet jokes and foul language.  There is a little violence - except in a few action scenes and in another where a poor rescued bird is eaten up by a bigger predator.  The latter scene was supposed to be funny but all that scene got were gasps from the audience.  At its worst, the film gets occasionally sappy, trying to pull at the audience’s heart strings.

The film’s soundtrack contain a solid variety of music.  The escape car chase at the film’s start is amusingly shot with a wide range of songs as  J.J. escapes from his attackers in a car switching radio stations to different tunes.  The film also keeps the film’s romantic part to a bare tolerable minimum.  The introduction of Bobbi the romantic interest’s rival is at first awkward, but the story eventually brings her in.

As an action comedy, the actions scenes are executed with the usual fanfare.  The car chase at the film’s climax is plain awful with continuity thrown right to the wind.  There is no flow from one scene to another and the chase could have been shot in different cities for all that matters.  The comedy is occasionally funny, with a few neat bits like Bautista trying to show off his dancing skills.  The film should be a hit with kids of 16 and under, I am sure.  Director Segel and writers Jon Hoeebr and Erich Hoeber try very hard and it shows!  For others, MY SPY is an all right sit-through.  MY SPY was not intended to be a cinematic masterpiece and with that respect it is what it is, a passable time waster.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3936992793?playlistId=tt8242084&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

 

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This Week's Film Reviews (March 6, 2020)

27 Feb 2020

Of all the films opening this week, highly recommended is Ken Loach's latest drama SORRY WE MISSED YOU - one of his best in years!!!

FILM REVIEWS:

GREED (UK 2019) **

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Director Michael Winterbottom (THE TRIP, WONDERLAND, and his best film JUDE) and Steve Coogan have worked together many times and they seem too comfortable in this latest offering that tackles too many subjects.  The fashion industry, celerities biographies, Bangladesh garment manufacturing, the Greek commercial collapse, refugees are all targets that Winterbottom cannot decide what should be the most important.  His film is centred on a court inquiry of a retail fashion billionaire Sir Richard MCreadie (Coogan) nicknamed Greedy for short.  His ex-wife (Isla Fisher) and dutiful subordinate (Sarah Solemani) aid him all the way.  While all this is going on, a clueless biographer (David Mitchell) puts in his two cents worth, but turns out more annoying than funny.  GREED indulges in expensive looking production sets and exotics locations and appears to be going against all the film is supposed to be fighting against.  Coogan prances around in this role like a wealthy peacock.  The entire result is less than impressive, like the amphitheatre being built by the refugees.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NNZHlIoA4U

LIE EXPOSED (Canada 2019) *
Directed by Jerry Ciccoritti

LIE EXPOSED arrives with warning bells.  Number one is that the producer Leslie Hope is also the star of the movie which implies that the project might be a vanity one.  The film is based on a play called ‘Pornography’ by Jeff Kober who also penned the film’s script, who also happens to be in the film  The film begins with an art display.  Art and pornography usually means pretentious disaster especially when in this film the exhibition involves ‘vagina’ photos.  When the story involves relationships over the span of a single night, more people might be turned off.  LIE EXPOSED turns out less than a play than glorified pretentiousness, which if is ones cup of tea, then go for it!

Melanie (Hope) is trying out a black dress in prep for a shoot. “Am I too fat?”  she says as she tries to zip up the back of her dress. “Is it too late to cancel?”  She asks her husband (Bruce Greenwood).  The more important question is whether the audience cares as she goes on and on.  This is one self-centred annoying bitch, who the audience soon learns through flashback that has left her husband to go on a drinking binge in L.A.  There she agrees to pose for a mysterious tintype photographer (Kober).  Upon her return to Canada, freshly sober Melanie and her husband stage a surprise art show for their friends.  The tintype “vagina” photos ignite discussions amongst the guests, none of whom initially knew that Melanie is the subject of this provocative work. 

So strong are the reactions, in the aftermath of the show, several couples find their relationships teetering on a tipping point.  The several skits depicting the arguments of the couple make up the rest of the movie.  The couples are played by Megan Follows and Kris Holden Ried, Kristin Lehman and David Hewlett, Grace Lynn Kung and Benjamin Ayres, and Paula Rivera and Tony Nappo.  

The play nor director Ciccoritti do nothing make their audience connect with their characters.  The characters are aloof and stuck in their own sorry world of self-pity and pride.  The result is a flat film that tries to be clever.  Clearly trying is insufficient.

  Melanie has a few wise sayings like: “Drinking is a good idea gone too far…”, “When things go really bad, I drink.”.  Melanie also says of her husband that they never get drunk together and that she does not know what kind of drunk he is.  Kober’s dialogue is not particularly insightful, funny or relevant.

Director Ciccoritti has a series of TV films and series under his belt and is one of the most in-demand directors today.  LIE EXPOSED is the scene collaboration between him and Leslie Hope, their first being in 1993 for the film PARIS, FRANCE.  Lets hope (sorry for the pun) that this is their last collaboration.

Trailer: (unavailable)

 

RUN THIS TOWN (Canada 2019) **

Directed by Ricky Tillman

RUN THIS TOWN written and directed by Ricky Tillman begins with a Parliament debate on increasing the office budget for the Government.  It is a diarrhea of verbal discourse that leads nowhere except to prove Ricky Tillman’s chops as the film’s writer and director.  But starting off a film boasting about ones abilities merely encourages critics and audiences to be less lenient on the film.  And RUN THIS ROWN, despite Tillman’s talent, has major flaws.

Firstly, It should be noted that this is a film that heralds maverick journalism (though not very successfully) and not a film about Mayor Rob Ford, though it is set during the last year tenure of Ford as Mayor of Toronto.   Those who venture to see the film thinking it a story about Rob Ford will be sorely disappointed.

The film is focused on rookie journalist Bram Shriver (Ben Platt).  Bram is first shown in an interviewer for the job of journalist.  He is hired and given the menial task of making lists (like the best 10 eateries) which he dislikes.  When he comes across a stranger who as a video showing Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine, he jumps on the opportunity to rise in the journalism field but bungles it.  He tries to make good.  This is a film about journalists who should be given a chance to prove themselves when they are diligent and earnest.

The film then goes on to show how Bram gets to be fucked over and how he eventually redeems himself.  Amidst all this are scenes with Mayor Rob Ford at his office.  The film paints an awful picture of the mayor showing all his bad qualities which includes sexually harassing a female staff.

The climax of the film returns to Bran interviewing for his job and how he convinces his hirer of his ability.  He stammers, ranting on and on and is not convincing at all.  I myself would not hire anyone in this capacity.  So, this is a bad choice for the film’s climax.

The irony of it all is that though the film condemns female sexual harassment, RUN THIS TOWN faced criticism for excising the role of investigative journalist Robyn Doolittle in exposing the scandal, instead replacing her with a fictional male journalist.  At the Toronto Star, Robyn gained note for coverage of Toronto mayor Rob Ford's political and personal life, which led to her authoring the biography Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story (2014).   At The Globe, her focus is on sexual assault cases deemed "unfounded" by police in Canada.

British actor Damian Lewis (he played Steve McQueen in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD) does a fantastic turn as Major Rob Ford with the aid of prosthetics.  He appears only for s very small fraction for her film.

The film contains unlikable characters in unpleasant situations with few feel good moments.  It is therefore difficult to like a film which stresses unpleasantness and negativity instead of the opposite.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1969930009?playlistId=tt7596680&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

THE SOCIAL ONES (USA 2019) *

Directed by Laura Kosann

From the National Enquirer to the National Influencer….

THE SOCIAL ONES is a mockumentary.  Which means it is all untrue - the unreal made to look real.  Every since Rob Reiner’s 1984 THIS IS SPINAL TAP put mockumenatry on the filmmakers’ map, the genre has been tapped many a time successfully.  The key is an interesting premise/subject and hilarious set-ups.  The social media seems an idea set up for Laura Kosann’s new mockumentary but hilarious it is not.  In fact the film has characters who are almost totally irritating or if one want to put it more mildly, annoying. 

The premise of the film is the covering of the making of The National Influencer's Fifth Anniversary issue - and the big cover shoot is just four weeks away.   The film begins with the Influencer’s two owners/spokeswomen talking to the camera in a supposedly funny banter (Did I already not say that they are unfunny).  They pick for the issue the following with many, many followers.  They include: a Meme God at his peak, a Snapchat teeny-bopper, Dan Summers, a teen addicted to stunts, a food Youtuber who will put an egg on just about anything if it means engagements, an eccentric fashion blogger willing to go to drastic lengths for a perfect #nofilter shot, and a Facebook blogger obsessed with dressing animals up in costumes.  They are all unfunny and totally boisterous and annoying.  How these people got millions of views is totally beyond anyone. 

Of all the candidates, the most unwatchable is the Meme God best compared to the also annoying Jack Black at his most annoying.  The candidates shout their lines as if the audience is deaf, they thinking that they are hilarious when they are indeed not.  They all also have interns who they abuse to no end.

Besides the candidates, there are other characters in the film - and again, unfunny ones at that.  Apparently one thing the candidates all have in common is social media anxiety disorder.  It all starts when when Dan Summers - the quintessential Snapchat celebrity with the largest following - disappears after having a social media induced breakdown, forcing all to face the question of why we are all so consumed with social media.  This gives an excuse for the introduction of the character of Dr. Mirian Spacelli (Stephanie March) who begin to rationalize the weird behaviour of the candidates.  All things considered, her lines are a bit funny and believe it or not also insightful on the behaviour of her patients.  Less successful is the self professed character of Dr. Peter Scolari (Stephen Schelnick), a lecturer on social media with more coloured bow ties than brains.  Why this character is in the film is a mystery in itself.

To social media (Instagram Youtube) fans, THE SOCIAL ONES might entertain more, due to connectivity and relevancy.  The film does delve more deeply into the medium during the second half by including the topic of relationships (cyber sexuality by a Best Selling Erotic Novelist) between social celebrities. 

The new comedy comes exclusively to the Comedy Dynamics network via Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video, Dish, DirecTV, Spectrum, Google Play and more.  It does not open theatrically. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tspZA4btHPY&feature=youtu.be

 

SORRY WE MISSED YOU (UK/France/Belgium 2019) *****Top 10

Directed by Ken Loach

The recent Irish film ROSIE (1998) revealed the housing problem in Dublin, Ireland.  Director Paddy Breathnach’s film followed ROSIE as she tries to find temporary housing for her family, most often with no luck.   SORRY WE MISSED YOU treads on similar territory, but in Newcastle, England.  British working class problems are the British Ken Loach’s expertise and his latest film is a minor masterpiece that follows a striving Newcastle family of 4.

Ken Loach’s (I, DANIEL, KES, MY NAME IS JOE) latest film centres once again on the common man facing injustice in the working system.  The film begins laying out the structure of employment at a parcel delivery company.  “You don’t work for us.  You work with us.  You are the owner, the driver, the franchiser.” says Ricky’s supervisor during the interview.  As such, it becomes apparent later on in the film that offering freedom to the worker is an excuse for the company not taking responsibility for work accidents.

Set in Newcastle, Ricky (relative newcomer Kris Hitchen) is a former construction worker who lost his job and home in the 2008 financial crash.  Eager to make a go at being his own boss, he takes a quasi-freelance delivery gig, though it means punishing hours, working under a ruthless manager, Maloney (Ross Brewster) and making a substantial investment up front.  Ricky convinces his wife, Abby (Debbie Honeywood), a home-care nurse, to sell her car in order to buy the van he needs for the job.  Indeed, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Complications mount as Ricky starts to discover the harsh realities of supposedly autonomous labour.  His son Seb (Rhys Stone) courts trouble in his new-found, semi-politicized vocation as a graffiti artist.  Ricky and Abby have two kids, Seb and a daughter.  The film paints a more encouraging picture with the daughter, who is still young, and not old enough to rebel like Seb.   One of the film’s best segments is the extremely moving confrontation between father and son.  Ricky scolds his son: “I am doing my best!” to which Seb retorts: “Perhaps the best isn’t good enough.”  Mother then steps in: “We want the best for you, Seb.  You know that!”  But Loach’s film also shows a brighter side of hardships - the side when a family sticks together, joking and laughing amidst their problems.

One knows, from previous Loach’s films that things will not be going to go smoothly for Ricky and family.   Loach goes deep into emotions and makes his audience feel the agony faced by both Ricky and Abby.  The results are astounding.  The audience at the TIFF screening where I first saw the film wept and cheered.  This is a remarkable and fully charged emotional ride.  Make sure you are not sorry to have missed this one!  One of Loach’s best films since my favourite KES.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysjwg-MnZao

THE WAY BACK (USA 2020) **
Directed by Gavin O’Connor

Alcoholism seldom make feel-good movies but often offer actors to show their chops as Nicholas Cage did in Mike Figgis’ 1995 LEAVING LAS VEGAS and Jack Lemmon did in Blake Edwards’ 1962DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES.  In Gavin O’Connor’s (WARRIOR) THE WAY BACK, alcoholism is combined with basketball, which results in a less melodramatic form of the treatment.

Ben Affleck plays Jack Cunningham, a former basketball player who had turned down a scholarship to the perennial power house college basketball program, the University of  Kansas.  Jack is now an adult struggling with alcoholism, is offered a coaching job at his alma mater, Bishop Hayes High School.   As real life goes, it is not surprising that actor Affleck is playing himself, a supposedly tortured soul also suffering from alcoholism.  Audiences might be sympathetic to and thus care for his character.  Affleck sports a small beard throughout the film, and looks out of shape and could very well pass for a has-been, the original title of the film.  Rational decision on the Studios to change the title from THE HAS-BEEN to THE WAY BACK though the former title may have been more appropriate.

Cunningham takes his basketball seriously, and at times, especially during matches, too seriously.  This results in his swearing and found language much to the shock of the players parents and the teachers.  Cunningham’s basketball players seem to respect him.  Cunningham spends the first half of the film whacking these players into shape and form.  The film stresses a lot on Cunningham’s outburst.

It is when one of his players die, that Cunningham is pushed his past his limit.  The segment where he is picked up at the bar and enters wrong house for a quickie is simply hilarious.  But one wonders the purpose of all this.  Cunningham finally gets the sack while going back on a drinking binge.  Again one wonders the purpose now of the entire film as Cunningham is still susceptible to alcohol.

` Clearly, THE WAY BACK is Ben Affleck’s project.  But THE WAY BACK, though occasionally entertaining still is a muddled mess.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2639839001?playlistId=tt8544498&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 28, 2020)

22 Feb 2020

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

 

 

BEANPOLE (Russia 2019) ****

Directed by Kantemir Balagov

BEANPOLE is a harsh but excellent movie set during harsh conditions in Leningrad post war in 1945.  Based on the 1985 book “The Unwomanly Price of War”, the film sees the struggle of two tenacious women, one a nurse, Iya and the other a soldier, Masha as they share an apartment. 

In post-WWII Leningrad, two women, Iya and Masha (brilliant performances from newcomers Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina), intensely bonded after fighting side by side as anti-aircraft gunners, attempt to readjust to a haunted world.  As the film begins, Iya, long and slender and towering over everyone-hence the film's title-works as a nurse in a shell-shocked hospital, presiding over traumatized soldiers.

As the story goes, Masha, infertile convinces Iya to bear a child for her, but with disastrous results.  The film premiered at Cannes last year following screenings at TIFF.  If there is a film about women in power over men, BEANPOLE is the one.  Iya exhibits gay feelings towards Masha.  The film has echoes of D.H. Lawrence’s novella “The Fox” where a man enters the two women farm though the results are different.  Director Balagov paints a bleak look of poverty in Leningrad especially with the poor hospital conditions and the tended wounded soldiers trying to recuperate under those conditions. 

The 28-year-old Russian director Kantemir Balagov won Un Certain Regard's Best Director prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival for this richly burnished, occasionally harrowing rendering of the persistent scars of war.  An accomplished piece of filmmaking though not always an easy watch at 140-minutes.  The film was Russia’s Best International Feature entry for the Academy Awards.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfWhQXg4GrA

 

 

DISAPPEARANCE AT CLIFTON HILL (Canada 2019) ***
Directed by Albert Shin

Albert Shin is a Canadian writer/director who specializes in mystery/dramas.  DISAPPEARANCE AT CLIFTON HILL, his latest film leads more towards mystery than drama.

DISAPPEARANCE has a very impressive 15-minute opening involving the protagonist  Abby as a child.  With her family on holiday in a cabin by the lake, a huge fish is caught and she brings it and a bucket to fill in with water at a standpipe to keep the fish alive.  Director’s Shin’s shots of the situation and the camera angles of the fish depict something ominous on the horizon.  True enough, Abby sees a boy with one eye bandaged.  She then witnesses him being beaten and dumped into the trunk of a car.  Abby cannot forget the incident.  Neither can the audience in a film that never rises above this unforgeable executed segment.

The plot involves a single woman by the name of Abby (Tuppence Middleton).  When Abby (Middleton) returns home in Niagara on the Lake following the death of her mother, she intends to continue with The Rainbow Hotel that her mother worked on.  But the local developers wish the property be sold to open a Paintball facility.  Abby becomes obsessed with fragmented memories of the kidnapping she claims to have witnessed as a child.  The relationship between Abby and her younger sister (Hannah Gross) is tested as Abby’s obsession spirals out of control.

Abby goes all out to hunt down the culprits of the boy’s death/disappearance.  This makes the rest of them film - coupled with family drama.  The film sounds better than it actually turns out, as the mystery is revealed to the audience a bit too early.  Director Shin also paints a not-so-healthy picture of Abby as she apparently is hiding the fact that she could have been institutionalized before.  Thus, can the audience really believe her?  Some incidents are also a bit confusing though they are eventually cleared up.

According to press notes, Director Shin lived at a time on Niagara on the Lake with his mother, also running a motel.  He supposedly also witnessed a kidnapping.  The film could be Shin’s story.

The film industry has bit actors that shine above and beyond the material they are given to play.  One of these actors is Canadian actor Dan Hett.  In DISAPPEARANCE, Hett appears in only two scenes but his screen presence is immediately felt.  He plays the family’s lawyer/advisor, one who gives advice with a hint of sarcasm, the advice of which eventually gets ignored.  He plays a similar character as the subject’s father in the last film, David Sagan’s 2017 THE MEANING OF LIFE.  I could watch him forever and it would be good that this actor be given more recognition and  bigger roles to play.  Hett has also played in major films like THE SHAPE OF WATER and MRS. SOFFEL.

Director Shin eventually resolves his mystery in good time.  DISAPPEARANCE is not bad but not as good as his previous film IN HER PLACE.  But Shin’s affinity for quirky characters and peculiar details makes DISAPPEARANCE stand out from the typical mystery thriller.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2422914841?playlistId=tt5919756&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

EMMA. (UK 2020) ***1/2
Directed by Autumn de Wilde

 

The first thing to note about the new film adaptation of the novel EMMA by Jane Austen, the last novel published by her while living is that the period following the title indicates the film to be a period piece.  Three things the filmmakers wish the audience to know first and foremost about the Austen character, Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is that she is handsome, clever and rich.   And at the age of 21, she has never been vexed in any way.  Other traits of Emma soon revealed are that she is spoilt and a meddler in the love affairs of her friends and family.

EMMA. is clearly a woman’s picture.  From the first image of a full nude male body - that of Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn), Emma’s obvious main love interest, it is clear that the film is made to satisfy the woman first and the man secondary.  The story plays like a Harley Quinn novel and it does not take a genius to figure out who will end up marrying whom.  It is still a fun comedy of manners, nevertheless that both sexes would enjoy.

The story of the perils of misconstrued romance takes place in the fictional village of Highbury and the surrounding estates of Hartfield, Randalls, and Donwell Abbey.  It involves Emma as she manipulates the relationships among individuals in a country village.  It is also a story that depicts the issues of marriage, sex, age, and social status.

When the film opens, Emma Woodhouse (Taylor-Joy) is delivering a bunch of freshly picked flowers for Miss Taylor, her former governess.  Emma is of such a privileged social status that she does not have to pick the flowers herself but instructs those under her employ to do the task under her instruction.  The reason is to celebrate Miss Taylor’s wedding to Mr Weston.  Having introduced them, Emma takes credit for their marriage and decides that she likes matchmaking. After she returns home to Hartfield with her father, Emma forges ahead with her new interest against the advice of her sister's brother-in-law, Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn), and tries to match her new friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) to Mr Elton (Joh O’Connor), the local vicar. First, Emma must persuade Harriet to refuse the marriage proposal from Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), a respectable, educated, and well-spoken young farmer, which Harriet does against her own wishes.  And so Emma carries on and on till her own relationships are affected.

The Jane Austen period adaptation  delivers in terms of what is expected in terms of dialogue (the word games are particularly fun), performances and logistics.  The costumes by Alexandra Byrne are nothing short of divine as are the sets, paintings and props. 

South African singer/songwriter Johnny Flynn who also plays Mr Knightley performs the song “Queen Bee”, the lyrics of which suits the character of Emma that is heard during the closing credits.  The catchy song is worth staying to the end for.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2031927065?playlistId=tt9214832&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

THE INVISIBLE MAN (USA/Australia 2020) ***1/2

Directed by Leah Whannell

THE INVISIBLE MAN is part of Universal’s shared cinematic universe consisting of classic movie monsters like The Mummy, Frankenstein and of course THE INVISIBLE MAN.  After the disastrous 2017 THE MUMMY with Tom Cruise, Universal re-thought their strategy.  The result is indeed positive with a fresh look at H.G. Wells’ THE INVISIBLE MAN given a feminine make-over - and for the better. 

THE INVISIBLE MAN is part of Universal/s change in plans from a serialized universe to films based on individualized story-telling,  The result is a new horror psychological thriller with Elisabeth Moss in the role of a traumatized hero.  And in the #MeToo environment.

The film opens with a risky but effective 15-minute suspense sequence in which a woman escapes the gorgeous cliff top mansion overlooking the sea of her sleeping lover.  She has drugged him, as revealed later on in the film, the audience not knowing this fact enhances the suspense.  She succeeds from the physical escape.  But does she escape him psychologically?  Apparently not.

Trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with a wealthy and brilliant scientist, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) escapes in the dead of night and disappears into hiding, aided by her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), their childhood friend, James (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid).  But when Cecilia is informed of her abusive ex commits suicide, who also leaves her a generous portion of his vast fortune, Cecilia suspects his death was a hoax.  The plot thickens. 

The main flaws of the film arise from the implausibility of the plot.  The irony of it all is that the twists and turns of the plot are necessary in the suspense mystery, so it is best that credibility be shown to the wind.  There was quite a bit of laughter from the audience at the promo screening I attended as the plot unfolded during the climax.  But director Whannell tries hard and it almost works.  Still it may be argued that the story will not come to proper closure if the mystery was not resolved to its satisfactory Hollywood ending.

The implausibilities include Cecilia’s first attack by the invisible man.  She is left alone in her friend’s house for no reason except for her to be attacked.  The friend does apologize that he should not have left her alone in the house later on in the film, but still that is no excuse.  During Cecilia’s escape while being attacked by the invisible man at the Security Treatment Centre, all the guards are too conveniently disposed off.  A few of them should have been more alert and effective.  Another plot point is how Cecilia or Adrian could have carried all these practical impossible tasks while invisible.  These would take a lot of luck, planning and coincidences.

Despite its flaws, it should be remembered that THE INVISIBLE MAN is sci-fi fiction suspense/horror.  In this respect, Whannell has pulled off a solid mystery thriller aided largely by Elisabeth Moss’ stunning performance.  Hopefully, Universal will pull similar personal retellings of the other horror classics in the same manner.

Trailer:https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1941028377?playlistId=tt1051906&ref_=tt_ov_vi

THE JESUS ROLLS (USA 2019) **
Directed by John Turturro

THE JESUS ROLLS is so called because the main character has the name of Jesus who is played by John Turturro who also directed the film.

Turturro plays Jesus Quintana, a character right out of the Coen Brothers’  1998 hit film THE BIG LEBOWSKI.  The characters appeared in the big bowling scene.  The film opens with Jesus just released on jail after a chat with the warden played by Christopher Walker in a cameo.  The audience learns a bit about Jesus as well as a bit of his background.  Outside the prison, he is picked up by his good friend, Petey (Bobby Cannavale).  Before long, they are on the road courtesy of their new stolen car.

Nothing makes much sense in the film, like the age of Jesus’ mother played by Sonia Braga.  Petey says to Jesus: “ She looks like the same age as you.”  No explanation is offered regarding this remark.

The film, which uses the BIG LEBOWSKI character is actually based on a book and the film by French auteur Bertrand Blier (GOING PLACES - LES VALSEUSES - 1974).  Turturro puts his heart and soul into the character but film-wise, it fails..  Turturro does not have the comic insight of the Coen Brothers and plays his comedy for broad, coarse laughs, often resorting to fouls language - fuck this and fuck that.  The French are particularly comfortable with sexual comedies as in Blier’s films like GOING PLACES and GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS which featured bi-sexual relationships.  In JESUS ROLLS, this comedy does not work - especially not in America.  At least Turturro realizes  this and plays the same ex encounters for laughs.

Turturro is fine in his performance as Jesus but taking the director shoes as well might be too much for him.  Bobby Cannavale tries very hard too as Petey, Jesus’ main pal but Cannavale is not given much to do but to complain about being shot in the ass.  French actress Audrey Tatou  I(Best town fro AMELIE) does not fare too well either, demeaning her star status portraying a down and out lowlife sexually deprived accomplice.  Her sex scenes (see image inset) with both men turn out terribly embarrassing and silly.

There is also another lady in the story, Susan Sarandon as Jean who is also involved with sex with the boys.  Another Coen Brothers regular, Tim Blake Nelson (THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS) has a small role as a doctor whom Jesus and Petey rob.

THE JESUS ROLLS rolls all over the place and never settles down in any one place.  One wonders of the purpose of the film and what Turturro had in mind when taking on this project - except maybe showing off his talent in too many a trade.  Funny only in a few parts, THE JESUS ROLLS proves that it takes more than just an interesting character to make an entire film. 

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4133273369?playlistId=tt5974030&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

SEBERG (UK/USA 2019) **
Directed by Benedict Andrews

SEBERG is the bio-pic inspired by (as stated in the opening credits) real events in the life of French New Wave icon Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) best known as the chic in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS).  In the late 1960s, Edgar J. Hoover’s FBI targeted her because of her political and romantic involvement with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie).

Director Andrews really means it when he uses the words ‘inspired by’.  SEBERG is less  a bio-pic about Jean Seberg than the evil the FBI performs in the line of duty.

After hitting star status, Seberg return to America only to meet Black Panther activist, Jamal (Anthony Mackie) on the same plane.  Fascinating by the work of the Black Panthers as well as being infatuated with Jamal, she starts an affair with him while donating massive funds for the Panther cause.  This signals a red flag for the FBI who has Jamal under surveillance.  The FBI decide to come down on the Seberg and her destruction is the basis of this film.

One problem of the film is that it never digs into the reason Seberg is so dedicated to the Black Panthers. Their meeting between Seberg and Jamal is shown in a confrontational scene between a flight stewardess and him) in a plane -  executed with little fanfare.  The audience will not be moved. It is hinted that a reason of Seberg’s dedication to the Panthers could be the drawn from the affair with Jamal.  But Seberg comes across as a brainless floozy who has wealth and fame and not much intelligence and one who does not really know what to do with it. 

Kristen Stewart has been an actress to be reckoned with ever since she first appeared in PANIC ROOM and the TWILIGHT films.  In SEBERG, her thin body frame and short, blond hair suits the look of the actress she is playing.  Anthony Mackie is also good in his role has Jamal.  But the script does not know what to do with the Seberg character so that Stewart looks amiss in the role.

The script is unexciting, just relating one incident after another without any pace or variation in suspense or mystery.  The script includes the husband and wife relationship of the main FBI agent Jack Solomon’s (Jack O’Donnell), the sound expert that has the task of bringing down Seberg.  His sympathy for her brings him into conflict with his FBI superiors.

Many will go to see SEBERG because they know Jean Seberg the actress and want to see more of the actress than the FBI’s investigation of her activity.  No such luck.  A short scene shows her burnt doing the shooting of Otto Preminger’s JOAN OF ARC.  Almost nothing in the film would remind audiences of Seberg’s hit film, Jean-Luck Godard’s A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS), where she played opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo.

SEBERG is not a badly executed film, but the biopic concentrates on the parts of the actress’s life less interested by the film’s target audience.  The FBI investigation is hardly interesting at all and why spend time on FBI life in a film about SEBERG the actress/star?

SEBERG ends up a flat film the that does not do its subject justice despite Stewart's and Mackie’s strong performances.

Trailer:https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1302707993?listId=ls090647824&pf_rd_m=A2FGELUUNOQJNL&pf_rd_p=05677061-8d08-440b-af24-ef63f9e5f77b&pf_rd_r=KC3557JRV7CZBENF0HF9&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_t=15021&pf_rd_i=tt1780967&ref_=tt_tiff_seb_vod_i_1

 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 21, 2020)

18 Feb 2020

Lots of excellent foreign language films now playing.  There is the multiple Oscar Winner PARASITE if you have not already seen it.  Also opening are CORPUS CHRISTI from Poland and BEANPOLE from Russia, bith highly recommended.

 

Gilbert's Picks

Hlighly Recommended are

1.   Les Miserables

2.   1917

3.   Beanpole

4.   Portrait de le Jeune Fille en Feu

5.   Parasite

6.  Corpus Christi

 

FILM REVIEWS:

 

BEANPOLE (Russia 2019) ****

Directed by Kantemir Balagov

BEANPOLE is a harsh but excellent movie set during harsh conditions in Leningrad post war in 1945.  Based on the 1985 book “The Unwomanly Price of War”, the film sees the struggle of two tenacious women, one a nurse, Iya and the other a soldier, Masha as they share an apartment. 

In post-WWII Leningrad, two women, Iya and Masha (brilliant performances from newcomers Viktoria Miroshnichenko and Vasilisa Perelygina), intensely bonded after fighting side by side as anti-aircraft gunners, attempt to readjust to a haunted world.  As the film begins, Iya, long and slender and towering over everyone-hence the film's title-works as a nurse in a shell-shocked hospital, presiding over traumatized soldiers.

As the story goes, Masha, infertile convinces Iya to bear a child for her, but with disastrous results.  The film premiered at Cannes last year following screenings at TIFF.  If there is a film about women in power over men, BEANPOLE is the one.  Iya exhibits gay feelings towards Masha.  The film has echoes of D.H. Lawrence’s novella “The Fox” where a man enters the two women farm though the results are different.  Director Balagov paints a bleak look of poverty in Leningrad especially with the poor hospital conditions and the tended wounded soldiers trying to recuperate under those conditions. 

The 28-year-old Russian director Kantemir Balagov won Un Certain Regard's Best Director prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival for this richly burnished, occasionally harrowing rendering of the persistent scars of war.  An accomplished piece of filmmaking though not always an easy watch at 140-minutes.  The film was Russia’s Best International Feature entry for the Academy Awards.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfWhQXg4GrA

 

 

THE CALL OF THE WILD (USA 2019) ***

Directed by Chris Sanders

Jack London’s 1903 novel CALL OFTHE WILD has been made into no less than 4 films in 1935, 1972, 1976 and 2009.  A TV series in 2000 was also created on the subject.  The question is whether audiences today need another adaptation?  The answer is debatable but the 2020 version offers the effects of CGI and other new cinematic technologies.  And it also stars Harrison Ford.

THE CALL OF THE WILD is directed by Chris Sanders, in his live-action directorial debut, written by Michael Green.

A domesticated St. Bernard/Scotch Collie dog named Buck is stolen from his Santa Clara, California home and sold to freight haulers in Yukon.  Buck goes through different adventures with different owners.  Crossing paths finally is with a man named John Thornton (Harrison Ford), the two embark on an adventure where Buck finds his true place in the world.

These are quite different stories and the script divides the film among each with roughly equal screen time.  The first story with Buck in Judge Miller’s huge home in Santa Clara is the silliest, laying for laughs though not really working.  The life of Buck gradually gets tougher and tougher.  The huge piece of the drama in the London novel involving Buck holding his own against the other wild dogs is clearly missing in this film.

Set in Yukon around 1890s about the Klondike Gold Rush, the film offers stunning scenery of the wild outback of the Yukon.  Yet, its should be noted that this film was not shot on location.  Some of it was also shot on sets in Los Angeles and some exteriors in Santa Clarita, California.  Still, cinematography is by Academy Award winner Janusz Kaminski (for SCHINDLER’S LIST).  The film relies on heavy special effects work from MPC Montreal.   Actor and stunt coordinator Terry Notary stood-in for the CGI creation of Buck, whose model was scanned after an adopted dog.

But more interesting than the Harrison Ford John Thornton character is the other owner of Buck, the black postal worker, Perrault played by French actor and comedian Omar Sy.  Omar Sy is the Cesar Best Actor Winner for the 2011 comedy hit LES INTOUCHABLES. 

But the film looks and feels authentic enough that many will not be able to tell the difference.  It would be exciting to watch one fo the older film adaptations to see the difference.  THE CALL OF THE WILD has the feel of a Disney animal film.  There are scenes of cruelty, especially when Buck is beaten but Disney films always had some sense of cruelty, example BANBI’s mother dying.

To the more observant, the studio logo at the films start reads ‘20th Century Studios’ instead of ‘20th Century Fox’ marking THE CALL OF THE WILD to be the first film released under the new brand to reflect 20th Century Fox’s acquisition by Disney Studios.

The film comes with a lofty budget of $109 million and looks like it is going to be a big loss at the box-office.
Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi264945433?playlistId=tt7504726&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

CORPUS CHRISTI (Boze Cialo) (Poland/France 2019) ****
Directed by
Jan Komasa

In a tough year for foreign films, CORPUS CHRISTI, the Polish entry for the Best International feature at this year’s Oscars made the short list and now stands as a nominee.  It will be hard fight against the favourite PARASITE and underdog LES MISERABLES, but CORPUS CHRISTI has impressed critics everywhere it has been shown and is a very good film.

The film begins with a violent incident in which an inmate, assumed who have betrayed the others gets his due.  His trousers are pulled down in the workshop and balls crushed in a drawer.  The next scene shows the inmate who likely had orchestrated the previous incident preparing for a religious service.  The camera pauses showing the gleam in his eyes as if emphasizing the irony and hypocrisy of the religious service.  It is just then that the director surprises the audience with the priest’s speech.  “If you don’t want to be here, you can go outside to play football.  But remember this…Each of us is a priest for Christ.”  These words are soon to echo true for the young protagonist, Daniel.

The question that arises in the film is why Daniel survives?  The answer is shown that Daniel is born a survivor.  Daniel uses his common sense and adapts to the situation at hand.  He can can fool anyone as a priest offering solid advice, often fooling even himself in the process.  In contrast, he can live the other worldly life, fornicating, snorting coke and indulging in drunkenness. 

The film shows that there is some good in man despite outward appearances.  Daniel, the juvie has been bad most of his life but after pretending the be a priest learns that life offers him a chance to do good.  “When asked what penance should be given to her when a mother confuses to hitting her son for smoking cigarettes, “Father’ Daniel tells her her penance is to take the son for a bike tour.  Daniel also conducts mass in a comical manner, director Tan not offending the Catholic religion but executing the scene in good taste.  Daniel's sermon are also something else - even receiving an unanimous applause from the congregation.

Better still is the scene when Daniel who the youth still believes is a priest hangs out with them in civii’s.  So what is life all about?  It is the topic that they eventually discuss, which of course no one has an answer to.  But it is a lively session, which opens ones eyes to life.

The message that there is good in man and that one good deed follows another is a good one.  But CORPUS CHRISTI is not an entirely feel good film, and this what marks the film’s difference.  It is grounded in reality.  It is likely the reason the Polish film got nominated and made the short list for Best International Film at this Year’s Oscars. 

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4006199065?playlistId=tt8649186&ref_=tt_ov_vi

THE LODGE (Canada/UK/USA 2019) ****
Directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz

A soon-to-be stepmom, Grace (Kiley Keough) is snowed in with her fiancé's two children Mia (Lia McHugh) and Aidan (Jaeden Lieberher) at a remote holiday lodge. It is the perfect scenario for a high tension horror movie.  Richard (Richard Armitage) is about to wed and his children resent their new step-mother.   When the father has to go to the city for business and the three are forced to be together, an evil game begins to unravel resulting in strange and frightening events taking place.

The film contains a few scenes of ‘what could be’ or ‘what could not have happened’.   At the lodge, Grace is having dinner with the family when blood starts dripping from her nose.  The children look at her.  She wipes the blood away.  the children continue eating.  Did the nose bleed really occur or was it an imagination?

Excellent additional drama is provided by the non-acceptance of the children of their father’s future bride.

Directors Fail and Franz use audience anticipation to elicit more suspense.  One involves Grace being shown a gun and taught how to use it.  This means that the an intruder might find the way into the cabin and Grace in need of the weapon’s use - especially when the dad has to go to the city leaving Grace with the kids. Or something else.

Sound and setting are demonstrated to be effective ingredients to create scares.  The ticking of a grandfather clock, the mechanical noise (the  sound of moving mechanical parts) of the generator in the soundtrack are used multiple times, the latter reaching to a screeching peak.  Good use of the wintry snow and ice setting include a fall into the icy waters from thin ice and and lost dog, Brady outside in the snow.

The film pays nods to horror classics including Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, HEREDITARY (the doll house) and CABIN FEVER, appropriate for a film set in a lodge.  There is a shower scene in THE LODGE and a surprise disposal of a key character akin to Janet Leigh’s murder in PSYCHO, but details will not be revealed in the review.  But be prepared to jump out of your seat!

A big star of the film is the lodge itself.  Directors Fail and Franz use various means such as sound (the creaking wooden floors, the ticking clock, the sounds of the generator), darkness (the corridors, attic and basement) and white (the outside snow storm) and religion to create scares.

A big turn in the plot arrives an hour and 10 minutes into the film - and a very neat one at that.  It would be criminal to reveal the key plot point, but be forewarned of something totally unexpected.  The mystery point throughout the film is whether there is supernatural element in the story.  It is only during the last half hour that the audience can finally realize what is going on.

Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz prove here that they understand the fundamentals of how to scare audiences while taking things a few steps further.  The result is a solid mystery horror chiller that is one of the best so far this year. 

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1885847321?playlistId=tt7347846&ref_=tt_ov_vi

ORDINARY LOVE (UK 2019) ***
Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn

ORDINARY LOVE navigates through the trials of a middle aged couple in Northern Ireland as they undergo the wife’s breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The loving couple is Tom (Liam Neeson) and Joan (Leslie Manville) who are first seen taking a long walk before settling in for the night.  They bicker and joke, making small talk as loving coupes do.  It is when Joan takes a shower that she notices a lump on her breast which Tom and their family physician insist is likely nothing but perhaps a cyst.  A medical examination at the hospital reveals that Joan has breast cancer and the difficult journey begins.

The script which is written by Irish playwright Owen McCafferty based on his wife’s breast cancer takes its time to show all the steps involved in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.  As Joan screams and cries at one point in the film: “This is my disease.  I have to go through it, not you.”  As Tom has to suffer as well, he gets terribly upset when Joan does not take her pills in all seriousness.  They both end up losing it in one of the film’s key confrontation moments.

The film clearly shows all the stages both parties have to go through - the initial denial; the hospital waiting; the acceptance of the awful truth; the blame; the coping; the anger and finally the coping.  The film need not end with Joan’s death or recovery for that is not the film’s purpose.  The propose is to have audiences see and understand what a couple tackling a serious illness has to go through. 

There are a few clear omissions in the script.  There is little mention of Tom’s or Joan’s occupation.  There is no mention of either’s family.  They do not seem to have any friends in their lives either. Though these may distract the film from its main aim, the omissions would make the story more credible.

The film benefits from the excellent performances of its two leads Liam Neeson and Leslie Manville, particularly the latter.  Manville is brave enough to show the ugliness of chemo, having her head shaved bald and even the part when she can pull clumps of hair from her scalp.  Manville is an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress) nominee for her role in P.T. Anderson’s PHANTOM THREAD.

For a film with a depressing theme, the music is quite lively.  The beginning song by Billie Holiday “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Working” is a good choice.  There are a few good laugh-out loud humour as well.

What stands out in the film are the keen observations.  At one point, Tom replaces the dead goldfish in the tank so that Joan will not notice it.  They want their love to continue as if the illness never occurs - which is near to impossible.  The best insight comes from Joan who confesses: “Going through the experiences did not change me.”

Despite certain flaws, ORDINARY LOVE accomplishes its aim which is to show what a couple with a serious illness have to go through.  Clearly a marriage is for better or for worse.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1637400345?playlistId=tt6012380&ref_=tt_ov_vi

SEBERG (USA 2019) **
Directed by Benedict Andrews

SEBERG is the bio-pic inspired by real events in the life of French New Wave icon Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) best known as the chic in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS).  In the late 1960s, Edgar J. Hoover’s FBI targeted her because of her political and romantic involvement with civil rights activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie).

One problem of the film is that it never digs into the reason Jean Seberg is so dedicated to the Black Panthers. Their meeting between Seberg and Jamal is shown in a confrontational scene in a plane -  executed with little fanfare.  The audience will not be moved. It is hinted that a reason of Seberg’s dedication to the Panterhs could be the drawn from the affair with Jamal.  But Seberg comes across as a brainless floozy who has wealth and fame and not much intelligence and one who does not really know what to do with it. 

Kristen Stewart has been an actress to be reckoned with ever since she first appeared in PANIC ROOM and the TWILIGHT films.  In SEBERG, her thin body frame and short, blond hair suits the look of the actress she is playing.  Anthony Mackie is also good in his role has Jamil.

But the script is unexciting, just relating one incident after another without any pace or variation in suspense or mystery.  The script includes the husband and wife relationship of the main FBI agent John Solomon’s (Jack O’Donnell), the sound expert that does not appear to serve any purpose or cause in the bio-pic.

Many will go to see SEBERG because they know Jean Seberg the actress and want to see more of the actress than the FBI’s investigation of her activity.  No such luck.  A short scene shows her burnt doing the shooting of Otto Preminger’s JOAN OF ARC.  Almost nothing in the film would remind audiences of Seberg’s hit film, Jean-Luck Godard’s A BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS), whee she played opposite Jean-Paul Belmondo.

SEBERG is not a badly executed film, but the biopic concentrates on the parts of the actress’s life less interested by the film’s target audience.  The FBI investigation is hardly interesting at all and why spend time on FBI life in a film about SEBERG the actress/star?

SEBERG ends up a flat film despite Stewart's and Mackie’s strong performances.

Trailer:https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1302707993?listId=ls090647824&pf_rd_m=A2FGELUUNOQJNL&pf_rd_p=05677061-8d08-440b-af24-ef63f9e5f77b&pf_rd_r=KC3557JRV7CZBENF0HF9&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_t=15021&pf_rd_i=tt1780967&ref_=tt_tiff_seb_vod_i_1

STANDING UP, FALLING DOWN (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Matt Ratner

As the title STANDING UP, FALLING DOWN implies, the film tells the story of a stand-up comic falling down on his aspirations of becoming one.  Ben Schwartz plays Scott, the lovable loser, who leaves L.A. after not making it in the stand-up business, to return to Long Island to stay with his parents.   He meets again his sister, who is also living with the parents.  At the local bar, he meets a drunken dermatologist, Marty (Billy Crystal).  Marty comes with a lot of baggage, including two late spouses and a son who blames Marty for his mother’s (Marty’s first wife) suicide.

The script offers many situations ripe for typical stand-up routine jokes.  One is moving back to the family and living with ones parents.  Others include unemployment and the opportunity of silly jobs like the postal service.  There are two funerals in the film, but the script refrains any off coloured humour on death.

A few jokes - bad ones perhaps executed in poor taste are left unedited in the film.  My ex-wife when died did not like to be buried.”  Reply: “I dig that.”  “My other wife died of stomach cancer.  It ate her up.”

A few messages on life are included for good measure - nothing life-changing, just keen observations.  “The older one gets, the fewer friends one has.”  “Regret is real - Happiness fades!” 

In a film about the life of a standup comic, there will come the time for the segment when the protagonist does his standup comedy routine.  This part comes right at the hour mark of the movie.  Whether the routine is funny depends on the flow of the story but funny helps.  Whether the routine works is left to the audience - no comments here!  Only part of the routine is shown, indicating that the director Ratner is more interested in propelling the plot that indulging in his actors, as actor Schwartz is in real life, a stand up comic as well.  Schwartz is a veteran of the Upright Citizen's Brigade comedy troupe who began making his way into the world of television by appearing on shows like Parks and Recreation and in sketches on CollegeHumor.com

Three time Golden Globe Nominee Billy Crystal (best known for THE PRINCESS BRIDE, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY and CITY SLICKERS) nails his role as the mostly drunk dermatologist and Scott’s friend, Marty.  Crystal, himself born in Longe Beach where the film is set,  proves both his dramatic and comedic chops here, winning the audience instead of being annoying, as the role could have turned out in the hands of a not so experienced actor.  Ben Schwartz holds his own comfortably aside Crystal.

STANDING UP, FALLING DOWN ends up a well intentioned small comedy that is sweet enough to charm audiences while elicits quite a few laugh-out loud laughs along the way.  There is the bonus of a message about regret to boot.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi895336217?playlistId=tt6173484&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

TERRA WILLY: PLANETE INCONNUE (France 2019) ***1/2

Directed by Eric Tosti

Note that the film also known as ASTRO KID is also known by its French title ‘Terra Willy: planète inconnue’.

French animator Eric Tosti who has helmed other children’s classics like SPIKE (2008) and THE JUNGLE BUNCH (2017) returns with an imaginative boy’s space adventure, that takes nods from the famous TV series LOST IN SPACE.

The film begins on the spaceship of an explorer space family.  The boy age-10, Will loves video games and has the nickname of Captain Arrowboard.  When the spaceship is hit by an asteroid storm, the boy and his trusty robot is hurled in a pod into outer space, landing on an unknown planet.  But there is more the meets the eye.  Upon closer examination, TERRA WILLY is actually the coming-of-age story of 10-year old Will as he matures from a kid playing video games to one understanding survival, friendship, loneliness and other human values.  “You are right, Buck.  I cannot keep doing what I want,” says Will at a key point during the film.

At this point, the film could be an episode (out of the total 84) taken from the LOST IS SPACE series that aired on TV from 1965 - 1968.  In LOST IN SPACE, the Robinson family (headed by actors Guy Williams and June Lockhart) travel through space with their son, also named Will played by child star Billy Mumy.  The family often land on unknown planets where adventures begin.  Will is also accompanied by a faithful robot.   One of the key lines in the movie is the robot warning the boy: “Danger, Will Robinson…… Danger, Will Robinson!!”   One would expect similar words coming out of Will’s robot as well.

Director/animator Tosti’s imagination is at its peak in TERRA WILLY.  The unknown planet with unknown creatures and vegetation allow Tosti to use his entire palette of colours to feed his imagination.  There are orange, blue heart-spotted like human companions like Flash similar to a dog (or even Toothless in the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON films) but with two tails and 8 legs, pink butterflies, glow-flies and a myriad of colourful fruits that often have side effects when eaten, even after analyzed to be non-toxic by Buck, the robot.

The film might appear a bit too childish for the average adult but Tosti’s imagination more than makes up for it.  There is new wonder around very corner and in an unknown planet, any kind of animation can pop up.

The film is made in two versions in the French and English versions, with different actors (French and English) doing the characterizations.   Timothy Von Dorp and Edouard Baer voice Will and Buck in the French version while Landen Beattie and Jason Anthony do the English honours.  The film also contains a couple of songs (‘Everlasting Holiday’ and ‘Flash and I’).

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi845265433?playlistId=tt8329148&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

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Valentine's Week Film Reviews (Feb 14, 2020)

09 Feb 2020

The week right after the Oscars. Tme to see films like 1917, PARASITE, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOOD and the other winners.  A rather slow week in terms of opemin films,excepting DOWNHILL nd SONIC THE HEDEGHOG.  No review of the latter film as I totally forgot to go to the preveiw after an evening of drinks and stuff.  Apolgies!   Recommended is Oscar nominnee PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE, the best film opening this week.

 

Gilbert's Picks

Hlighly Recommended are

1.   Les Miserables

2.   1917

3.   The Traitor

4.   Portrait de le Jeune Fille en Feu

5.   Parsite

 

FILM REVIEWS:

DOWNHILL (USA 2020) **
Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash

The closing credits proudly state that DOWNHILL is inspired by the Swedish film FORCE MAJEURE.  Ruben Ostland’s (he went on the next year to direct the incredible THE SQUARE) FORCE MAJEURE ‘wow’ed critics wherever it debuted, a dead serious drama with some biting humour about a father and husband who runs away during an avalanche on a ski trip in the French Alps, leaving his wife and children and to later re-appear as if nothing had happened when no one got hurt.  

DOWNHILL builds on the same premise but gears towards comedy.

Pete Stanton (Will Farrell), after the death of his father, takes his wife, Billie (Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and two sons (Julian Grey, Ammon Jacob Ford) on a ski trip in Austria.

The comedy found in DOWNHILL is the comedy of awkwardness.  This is evident in the film’s two funniest segments, which had me laughing out loud, despite the film’s faults.  The best of these is the banter between Austrian ski hostess, Charlotte (Australia’s Miranda Otto) and Billie as they exchange sexual encounter stories.  The other is the first and huge confrontation between Billie and Pete of his cowardice in the midst of company - Pete’s colleague Zach (Zach Woods) and the latter's new shroom taking girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao).  Their awkwardness at the situation is priceless.

But the film’s chief flaw is the uneven blending of the story’s drama and the comedy.   It does not help that Will Farrell is totally miscast.  A few actors can do comedy and drama, as evident in UNCUT GEMS where the audience feels sympathetic to Adam Sandler’s dirtbag character  No such luck in DOWNHILL.  Ferrell’s Pete is a total f***ing asshole, which no one would feel sorry for.  So, when the climax calls for him to redeem himself, the story falls flat.  Never mind the cop-out twist ending (that will not be revealed in the review) that turns out looking ridiculous and unfunny instead of ironic, which I assume is the aim of the directors.

Though supporting actress Otto is simply hilarious, the humour is really out of place in what essentially in a drama gone all wrong.  Louis-Dreyfus appears to emerge less unscathed by all this disaster.  She is clearly better with drama than comedy.  Her funny scenes with an encounter with an Italian ski instructor Guglielmo (Giulio Berruti) ending in her masturbation in a toilet stall with her ski boots on did not generate many laughs at the promo screening I attended.  Farrell blows it in both the comet and drama departments.  His character’s constant bewildered look only reflects the actors discomfort in his role.  Surprisingly, Zach does pull in quite the few laughs, matched by his girlfriend’s solid character.  “If he does the same to me, I will kick him in the balls and leave him,” she tells Billie.

The filmmakers have publicly said that DOWNHILL is not a remake of FORCE MAJEURE.  It clearly isn’t, as the two films are quite different.  One must admire the directors for trying to put their own stamp what many have considered a classic, but effort does not necessarily mean desirable results.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3010182937?listId=ls093993028&pf_rd_m=A2FGELUUNOQJNL&pf_rd_p=65de9922-2ae7-4a4d-8f7f-d119f6ac2881&pf_rd_r=R3ZZWZY86M9Y080H9P88&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_t=15021&pf_rd_i=tt4558376&ref_=tt_sun20_down_lc_i_1

 

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) (France 2019) ****

Directed by Céline Sciamma

PORTRAIT OF A LADY begins with a segment that sets the tone and pace for the entire movie.  Amidst the opening credits are the chalk sketching of a painter.  When the camera pulls back, a class of painters is in progress.  One student asks the instructor, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) about a painting.  The painting, the class is told is called “Le Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu” and the film then goes into the past as the story is told of how this painting came about.

The film is set in France in the late 18th century, the film telling the story of a forbidden affair between an aristocrat and the painter commissioned to paint her portrait.

The story begins with Marianne arriving by boat on an isolated island in Bretagne (Brittany).  She had been commissioned to paint a portrait of a young woman named Héloïse (Adele Haenel), who is to be married off to a Milanese nobleman.  Marianne is informed that Héloïse has previously refused to pose for portraits as she does not want to be married. Marianne acts as Héloïse's hired companion to be able to paint her in secret, and accompanies her on daily walks by Bretagne’s gorgeous cliffs to memorize Héloïse's features.  Marianne finishes the portrait, but finds herself unable to betray Héloïse's trust and reveals her true reason for arriving.  The two begin a relationship.

The film contains a lot of silent drama, which would be more appreciated when discovering it on ones own.  One is the scene where Héloïse runs towards a cliff, when Marianne thinks what could have been a suicide.  Another has Marianne dive into the sea to retrieve her boxed canvas.

There is some but little humour.  Every character is quite serious.  At one point, Marianne is asked by the maid “Have you started painting her yet?”, to which she answers, “No.  I have not even seen her smile?’  “Have you tried to be funny?” the maid answers, in the film’s first and funniest moment.

The film is a slow watch.  But this does not mean it is any less riveting.  There is a beautifully crafted segment of a story involving Euridice where it is revealed that a choice made regarding death is the choice of the poet and not of the lover.  And an even more beautiful segment by a fire where women sing in a cappella. 

The same sex scenes are sufficient erotic without going into the extreme as in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR.  The lovers’ first kiss occurs 90 minutes into the film.

The film has so far, garnished praise from critics wherever it was shown.  The film won the Queer Palm at Cannes, becoming the first film directed by a woman to win the award.. The director Sciamma also won the award for Best Screenplay at Cannes.  The film is to be appreciated akin to a painting - slow, pensive with it growing on multiple viewings.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi94879513?playlistId=tt8613070&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

TO ALL THE BOYS: P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU (USA 2020) **
Directed by Michael Fimognari

The new Netflix young adult teen romantic comedy TO ALL THE BOYS: P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU based on the 2015 novel by Jenny Han might appeal to the film’s target audience, which are young adults but to the others, it is a complete bore, full of cliches, uninteresting sub-plots, unfunny jokes and cardboard characters.  15 minutes into the movie, I wanted to leave, but I regrettably did not, hoping that the film might improve as Netflix had a run of good films like THE TWO POPES, THE IRISHMAN and MARRIAGE STORY. 

To note, the film is a sequel to TO ALL THE BOYS I LOVED BEFORE (2018), and the second instalment in the To All the Boys I've Loved Before film series. 

When the film opens, it is a new year and Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo), are no longer "pretending" to be a couple.  They are a couple, since they have had a first date.  Expect Lana tone as prissy as Doris Day, as in all the Doris Day movies.  “Ooooh”, would be the typical response from Doris Day and Lana Condor when  things go beyond the first kiss.  But when John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), another recipient of one of Lara Jean’s old love letters, enters her life again she must rely on herself more than ever as she’s confronted with her first real dilemma: Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?  Does anyone really care?

The story plays between the two boys.  Who will Lara finally settle down with?  It is a story that can go either way.  When Lara kisses Ambrose a real passionate first kiss, to the boy who had always faithfully loved her, the audience at the promo screening went ‘wow’ and expected Ambrose to be the one.  This ploy undermines the integrity of the story.

The other problem is the introduction of Lana’s mentor and confidant Stormy (Holland Taylor), a senior at the Senior’s Home where Lana is volunteering, to help her manage the complex emotions that balancing a relationship and figuring out her inner self.   Stormy’s character is totally cliched, unfunny and more of an annoyance.

Lana Condor is unimpressive as Lana Condor.  Her beginning lip synching dance introducing her character at the film’s start is a big yawn.  She is supposedly Korean in her upbringing.  Her mother is Korean in Korea but she and her sister live with their separated father, Dr. Covey (John Corbett).  No background of the separation is given, so one is expected to have seen the first film or the series.  There is nothing in this film that shows the father to be a doctor either. One would expect more from the lazy script by J. Mills Goodloe and Sofia Alvarez.

Young adult teen comedies could work for a more general adult audience as evident in last year’s exceptionally clever BOOKSMART directed by Olivia Wilde with pomp and finesse.  No such luck with this one.  Avoid at all costs, even when free on the Netflix channel. 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=555oiY9RWM4

 

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TIFF Next Wave Film Festival 2020

09 Feb 2020

TIFF NEXT WAVE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 

The TIFF Next Wave Film Festival runs February 14–16, promising a jam-packed weekend with the always epic Battle of the Scores and Opening Night Party, In Conversation With... Kelvin Harrison Jr., the Growing Pains Movie Marathon, an Official Film Selection featuring some of the boldest new films from around the world.

This is the festival’s 9th year, almost half the age of the festival’s organizers.  Best of all, the festival is totally FREE for youth under 25.   There is also a chance to learn from industry pros at the Young Creators Co-Lab: a full day of panels, workshops, and film inspiration.

For those above 25, it is clear that a few of the films will not relate, so one has to be accommodating.  Below are capsule reviews of selected films to be screened.

For complete information and program of films please click on the link below:-

https://www.tiff.net/nextwave

 

CAPSULE REVIEWS of Selected Films:

CHILDREN OF THE SEA (Japan 2019) ***

Directed by Ayumu Wantanabe

Ruka is a young girl whose parents are separated and whose father works in an aquarium. When two boys, UmiSora (the CHILDREN OF THE SEA), who were raised in the sea by dugongs, are brought to the aquarium, Ruka feels drawn to them and begins to realize that she has the same sort of supernatural connection to the ocean that they do.  Umi and Sora's special power seems to be connected to strange events that have been occurring more and more frequently, such as the appearance of sea creatures far from their home territory and the disappearance of aquarium animals around the world.  If all of these sound interesting, it is less so on screen.  It is hard to relate with a young girl who has fondness for two weird sea creatures.  For one, it does not make much sense.  The sea animals are supposed to be having this big sea party here the Dolphin song are supposed to attract the party-goers.  The animation in CHILDREN OFTHE SEA is commendable, with fluid drawings amidst stunning colour.  But is is hard to connect with the story.

Trailer: (unavailable)

HOUSE OF HUMMINGBIRD (SOUTH KOREA 2018) ***1/2
Directed by Bora Kim

HOUSE OF HUMMINGBIRD is a quiet South Korean film about a female teen Eunhee who undergoes the typical problems faced by a schoolgirl of that age.  The film is set in Seoul 1994, the year the Seongsu Bridge collapsed, with 14-year-old Eunhee (a convincing performance from newcomer Ji-hu Park) wandering the city searching for love.  Eunhee has a slightly dysfunctional family with her brother beating her up and parents arguing; a boyfriend with a curious relationship; a best friend and a teacher, Miss Youngji who appears to understand her.  She also has a lump behind her ear, causing some worry.  All the events that place in and around school which is interesting for western audiences to see what life is like (even for a teen) in South Korea.  Unpretentious, real and occasionally moving, HOUSE OF HUMMINGBIRD, runs a bit long at 2 and 1/4 hours but nevertheless is a worthy watch.  The film has won more than 330 international awards from screening in festivals around the world.

Trailer: (unavailable)

SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM (Australia 2019) ***

Directed by Samuel Van Grinsven

Written by director Van Grinsven and Jory Anast, though the film is quite sparse in dialogue, this is the kind of gay film that will shock straight audiences but for gay people in the know, what transpires on screen is quite commonplace or at least well known.  Casual sex, sex parries saunas, abuse are all part and parcel of growing up gay.  So for SEQUIN IN A BLUE ROOM (Sequin is the name of the gay twink and the blue room is code name for the place where the sex parties occur).  After a chance encounter at an anonymous sex party, a sixteen year old boy hunts through the world of a hook-up app to track down the mystery man.  The search turns out to be a dangerous one as he encounters a sadistic stalker.  Sequin’s father is of course, unaware of his son’s activities.  Though occasionally erotic, the film does not reveal anything really new to the gay audience who frequently attend club parties and such.  The rather cop-out happy ending does not help much either.

Trailer: (unavailable)

TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE (Netherlands/Bosnia 2019) ***

Directed by Ena Sendijarević

Cool-looking film in which nothing appears on the surface to be going on.  The story centres on Dutch girl, Alma who leaves her mother in the Netherlands to visit her father in hospital in Bosnia.  Things turn out more complicated than expected.  She is met by her lazy loutish cousin Emir.  She has sex with Emir’s partner-in-crime.  Just as director Sendijarević loves playing with weird camera angles, her characters are equally as weird.  But the is Ama’s coming-of-age story, done with the director’s odd sense of humour and aplomb.  The joinery is quite an entertaining watch.

Trailer: (unavailable)

 

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This Week's Film Reviews (Feb 7, 2020)

01 Feb 2020

Gilbert's Picks

Hlighly Recommended are

1.   Les Miserables

2.   1917

3.   The Traitor

4.   Oscar Shorts

 

FILM REVIEWS:

THE ASSISTANT (USA 2019) ****
Directed by Kitty Green

THE ASSISTANT is described by its writer/director Kitty Green as a quiet film about a very loud subject.  Indeed, it is a withering critique of workplace harassment and systemic oppression.  The film helps explain how sexually predatory behaviour by powerful men often remains hidden. 

The opening sequence shows what is assumed to be the assistant, Jane (Julia Garner) outside a building in the dark leaving work.  But then she is shown at the office turning on the lights.   Jane is thus not leaving work but going to work in the morning.  A case of first in and last out (LIFO acronym) of the office.  Jane is a recent graduate given a chance to prove herself at her first job.  It is not an easy task.

Jane never or seldom smiles.  She is in a male dominated workplace and has to endure male related jokes of her colleagues who are one up from her, experience-wise.  When she fouls up, she has to resort to writing a letter of apology, which in the film occurs twice.  A male colleague leans over her shoulder as she types the apology on the keyboard.  “Thank him for the opportunity for working in the company and then promise that the mishap will never happen again.” is the advice given to her which she reluctantly takes.  There is a lot to be read in the scene.  Has the male colleague also undergone a similar humiliating process?  Is he being snide?  Whatever the reason, writer/director Green makes her audience think.

THE ASSISTANT is a tight 90-minute drama.  The film aim has one aim and it is to show the abuse of the female in a different way from say the recent BOMBSHELL where the abuse is crystal clear.  In this film, there is a bit more ambiguity.  Unlike many female dominant films, the males in THE ASSISTANT are not complete bumbling idiots.  Jane’s male supervisor is a cunning one, even complementing her that she is a smart one and will likely succeed.  The males here are not easy targets to take down.

An incident that occurs in the film is when a pretty actress enters the office and leaves.  The actress leaves a ring behind that Jane takes after cleaning up the office at night. Jane assumes that the male has had sex with the actress and lodges a complaint to her superior offering the ring as proof.  The result is far from what she expected.  She is chided for being nosy and for making assumptions.  Worse still, she is reminded to take her scarf from the office which she forgets - implying someone could have assumed she might have had sex taking off her scarf in the process.  She now has to write a letter of apology and eat humble pie.

Julia Garner is totally in her comfort zone playing the distressed Jane.  In an interview (see link below) she mentions admiring the director Green’s work.  The working bond between Green and Garner clearly pays off in the film.

THE ASSISTANT turns out to be a subtle often brilliant film and that rare one that allows the audience the privilege to figure out what is actually going on besides what appears on the screen.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1195228953?playlistId=tt9000224&ref_=tt_ov_vi

Interview (source: imdb): https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1902952217?listId=ls093993028&pf_rd_m=A2FGELUUNOQJNL&pf_rd_p=2cd6c824-f790-4d23-82a4-23b13daa7541&pf_rd_r=ASEZNGJTJB2KR9QCRR5D&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_t=15021&pf_rd_i=tt9000224&ref_=tt_sun20_jg_asst_i_1

BIRDS OF PREY  (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (USA 2020 ***)

Directed by Cathy Yan

BIRDS OF PREY follows the adventures of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), who audiences last saw in the THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2015) where she was one of the squad members.  Quinn was a super annoying character and she can get quite again so in BIRDS OF PREY.  But Robbie is excellent in the role, even able to squeeze out lots of sympathy from the audience.

The film opens in comic book animated form in which Harley Quinn narrates the events of her life. The Joker has broken up with Harley, throwing her out on the streets of Gotham City.  She is taken in by Doc, the elderly owner of a Chinese restaurant.  Recovering from her abusive relationship with the Joker, Harley cuts her hair, adopts a spotted hyena (whom she names after Bruce Wayne), takes up roller derby, and blows up the Ace Chemicals plant where she pledged herself to the Joker.  No one dares to stand up against the Joker, cops or thugs alike, so Quinn has got immunity, managing to get away with almost anything till now, when the Joker’s protection is over.

Why is the film called BIRDS OF PREY?  The answer is only evident at the end of the film.  The script by Christina Hodson has its story unfold non-linearly time wise, resulting in quiet the confusion at the film’s beginning.  An event takes place.  The a flashback 4 minutes ago.  Then, 4 weeks before that.  When Quinn is arrested by the police in Gotham City, the next scene shows her free because of a flashback, that can seem quite confusing.  If one tries to follow the plot, one can also get quite muddled up.  So it is best just to relax and take in whatever can be taken in, never mind not following the story totally.  As such, the film only gets on its feet after the first third, but then, it gets pretty solid terms of quirky action and humour. - 

The film lies almost entirely on Margot Robbie who is nothing short of excellent in her role, she also serving as producer of the film.  Of the supporting cast, Rosie Perez, is always a pleasure to watch,  She plays a female version of DIRTY HARRY, only she is unable to do what she wishes.  McGregor does the rare turn as a villain, and a rather nasty and sadistic one at that.

BIRDS OF PREY is clearly a woman’s film all the way from production, direction, script action to characters and theme.  This is to be praised of course, especially when the males are not treated in the story as complete idiots but a challenge to be defeated, also thanks to an excellent performance of Ewan McGregor as a villain, Black Mask to be contended with.  The film has visual style, adult humour (the second R-rated film and 8th film by Warner Brothers in the DCEU).

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi3883843353?playlistId=tt7713068&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

COME TO DADDY (Canada/Ireland/New Zealand 2019) ****

Directed by Ant Timpson

COME TO DADDY as its title implies, is a delicious wicked horror film, a mix between horror and comedy, a co-production among Canada, Ireland and New Zealand.

The protagonist in the story is a mild mannered mother’s boy who now COES TO DADDY for the first time, as he has never met him.  The visit prompt him to exhibits hidden violent nature in order to survive, akin to the Dustin Hoffman’s characters in Sam Peckinpah’s famous STRWA DOGS.

COME TO DADDY stars three solid actors Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie and ration Donovan.  These three actors are known for odd roles anti is a pleasure to see them do weird things together.  Wood is famous for playing Froddo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.  Here he looks as if he is taking another unexpected journey (as if from his comfortable shire) to visit his dad for the first time.  Wood has a weird look too, which he uses to h fuller in the film.  Canadian McHattie plays older rascals while Donovan, whose fame could be attributed to the early Hal Hartley films like TRUST and SIMPLE MEN is also no stranger at playing strange characters.  Donovan and McHattie both apparently play who the Wood character things is his father until truth comes out.

The film plays like a family drama for the first 30 minutes.  Abandoned son gets a letter from dad whom he has never seen requesting a visit in Port Hope (according to the words on a cap worn by a coroner).  His visit (hence the title COME TO DADDY) shows the father to be kind of weird, prompting him to query the purpose of his visit.  At the 30 minute mark, the horror starts. The father comes charging to with a bad attacking this son.  This is the turning point when the fun starts.

One of the film’s odd moments concerns the arrival of a car that shows California license plates.  What is an American car doing in Pope Hope?

One of the film’s best segments (if one can handle the extreme violence)  has Norval fight for his life against a fat Oriental (Simon Chin).  The entire fight is totally gross with extreme violence and  humour that is guaranteed to have ones heart beating twice as quickly as before the fight started.

Good trivia to know: (Source: imdb)

The films that influence the film; and Ant's reasoning for them, are Snowball Express (1972) ("for the cat & mouse twists") , Sexy Beast (2000) ("for the jarring lead antagonist and turns from comedy to violence"), The Servant (1963) ("for the mind games with those we're inavoidably [sic] linked with"), The Birthday Party (1968) ("for the pitch-black comedy of menace") and Sam Peckinpah's 1971 masterpiece Straw Dogs (1971) ("for the simmering violence awakened in the lead”)

COME TO DADDY is real blast for horror fans who love their horror with an extreme dose of violence and sardonic humour.  It gets my vote for the Best Canadian Film seen so far this year!

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4078944025?playlistId=tt8816194&ref_=tt_ov_vi

IL TRADITORE (THE TRAITOR) (Italy/France/Germany/Brazil 2019) ****

Directed by Marco Bellocchio

THE TRAITOR is the true story of the Cost Nostra criminals of the heroin trade in Palermo, Italy.  Almost all the heroin in the world passes through Palermo.  THE TRAITOR, Tommaso Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) tells his story which allows the film the basis to be made.  Veteran director Marco Bellochio (DEVIL IN THE FLESH) is not stranger to excellent films, and this (true) Cosa Nostra tale is as effective and riveting as any crime film can be.

Director Bellocchio takes his time to reach the point where Buscetta

 decides to confess.  All the reasons, very important to the story, are proposed.  Among the factors that help make his mind up include:

  • the protection the law will offer him and his family
  • the revenge he can get from the criminals that have killed his family and other families
  • his limited choice of other options
  • the convenience of leading a better life afterwards

It is clear that it not one but the combination of these reasons that Buscetta have taken into consideration.  This makes his decision and the film more relevant.

The betrayal begins only after 40 minutes from the film’s start.  Judge Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi) questions Buscetta who says: “I am not an informant.  I am not a spy, a rat.  I’ve been a man of honour and ready to pay my debt with the law.”  It is at this point that the focus of the story, which is a little confusing at first, finally comes into place.  A sort of summary is given by Buscetta as he confesses of the pyramid structure of the Cosa Nostra.  The villain of the piece Riina (Nicola Cali) is established, the one who has slaughtered half of Buscetta’s family including two sons after he wanted to quit, forcing him to come back to Italy so that he can join back the Cosa Nostra so that he can be killed. 

In order to make make his film more interesting and have the audience connect with his movie, director Bellocchio makes a hero out of Buscetta.  The film therefore has Buscetta articulate his own praises, never killing innocent people but exposing only those who deserve to be disposed of.   His informing appears justified from his family members executed by the Cosa Nostra.

Director Bellocchio has one scene, the one with Falcone killed his car from an explosion on the highway executed with great finesse.  Not only did I jump out of my seat, but the experience of the crash as seen from the insides of the car through the windscreen is totally impressive and remarkable.

THE TRAITOR premiered at Cannes followed by a screening at TIFF, garnishing praises wherever it played.  The film was also selected as Italy’s entry for this year’s Academy Award for Best international Film, though it did not make the short list.  THE TRAITOR is a brave film that should have at least made it.  It is probably too real and violent for the Academy’s liking.

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/video/vi547602201?playlistId=tt7736478&ref_=tt_ov_vi

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Oscar Nominated Shorts (Animated/Live-Action/Doc)

27 Jan 2020

OSCAR SHORTS 2020

The Oscar shorts are comprised of three separate programs - animation, live action and documentary.  each is separate admission.   

These are a delight to watch with something new and unexpected around every corner.  The program runs from January the 31st till the Oscar presentation.

Listed are the titles (including country and running times) in each program and below that are capsule review of selected shorts. 

ANIMATED SHORTS (Running Time: 83 minutes)

Hair Love – Matthew A. Cherry, USA, 7 min.

Dcera (Daughter) – Daria Kashcheeva, Czech Republic, 15 min.

Memorable – Bruno Collet, France, 12 min.

Sister – Siqi Song, China/USA, 8 min.

Kitbull – Rosana Sullivan, USA, 9 min.

PLUS A SELECTION OF ADDITIONAL ANIMATED SHORTS:

Henrietta Bulkowski – USA, 16 min. (featuring the voices of Chris Cooper and Ann Dowd!)

The Bird and the Whale – Ireland, 6 min.

Hors Piste – France, 5 min.


LIVE ACTION SHORTS (Running Time: 104 minutes)

A Sister – Delphine Girard, Belgium, 16 min.

Brotherhood – Meryan Joobeur, Tunisia, 25 min.

The Neighbors’ Window – Marshall Curry, USA, 20 min.

Saria – Bryan Buckley, USA, 23 min.

Nefta Football Club – Yves Piat, Tunisia/France, 17 min.

CAPSULE REVIEWS OF SELECTED SHORTS

(More reviews will be added on this site as they are seen by me…)

OSCAR SHORTS - LIVE ACTION

BROTHERHOOD (Canada/Tunisia 2018) ***

Directed by Meryam Joobeur

 

The short film is the result of the TIFF talent lab in 2016 which saw the birth of BROTHERHOOD.  Set in rural, Tunisia, Mohamed is a hardened shepherd living with his wife and two sons.  The family ties are put to the test when the eldest son Malik returns home after a long journey with a mysterious new wife.  The film centres on the tension between father and son rises over three days until reaching a breaking point.  Not a bad film that rivals the hardship of farming, but there are too many issues, besides the one mentioned brought up which are unresolved.  This is likely the reason a full length feature based on the identical premise is in the making.

NEFTA FOOTBALL CLUB (Tunisia/France 2018) ***

Directed by Yves Piat

A playful comedy centring on two young brothers, one naive and the other not so.  They come across a donkey in the desert.  Strangely, the animal is wearing headphones over its ears and carrying packets of what the younger brother thinks is laundry detergent.  The elder one knows better but his decision to keep the info from his brother pays dearly.  Not really a fable with a message, but the short is a pleasant and light watch.

OSCAR SHORTS - ANIMATION

HAIR LOVE (USA 2019) **

Directed by Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr. and Bruce W. Smith

An African American tale of a daughter and her hair or is it of a daughter and a father.  The girl is obsessed with her hair, undecided on what hair style to adopt.  Her father helps her in what appears to be tear-jerker tale of father/daughter relationship.  The short gets even more sappy when they visit their mother at the end.  Nothing really exceptional about this animated short except for the extreme sappiness.

KITBULL (USA 2019) ***
Directed by Rosana Sullivan

Director Sullivan has worked on Pixar-Disney’s famous box-office success, COCO.  Hr short KITBULL is a combination of the words pitfall and kitten.  The film reveals an unlikely connection that spark between two creatures: a fiercely independent stray kitten and an abused pit bull.  At first apprehensive, they eventually experience friendship for the first time.  Touching and well-animated, as expected from someone who has worked and studies at Disney’s Pixar.

MEMORABLE (France 2019) ***
Directed by Bruno Collet

The most impressive of all the animated shorts in terms of animation MEMORABLE deals with a painter’s dementia.  The painter looks a little like Van Gogh, which makes one wonder if this is the inspiration of Collet’s film.  As the painter, Louis’ dementia worsens, he experiences strange events with his world slowly mutating with furniture, objects and

people losing their realism. Unfortunately the film lacks a solid conclusion despite its impressive look at dementia.

SISTER (MAI-MAI) (USA/China 2018) ****

Directed by Siqi Song

This short gets my vote for the BEST in this section - being clever, imaginative and current in social issues.  The film tackles the morality of China’s one-child family policy, something necessary to curb China’s growing population but a policy that comes with strong moralissues.  The Mandarin title is ‘younger sister’ and tells, in flashback of a man’s growing up with what seems to be his annoying younger sister.  Revealing more of the story would only spoil it for the surprise.

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